Everyone deserves an opportunity to experience the joys of yoga.
For Mimi Hahn, program manager with the Kentucky Yoga Initiative (KYI), bringing yoga to new facilities and locations is all part of improving the community’s overall health.
“It’s a start to transforming your health,” said Hahn, an avid runner who has completed two marathons. “Many people start for the physical benefits and stay for the mental aspect.”
She touts surveys that show how yoga’s benefits extend beyond the physical and that people who regularly practice yoga experience less stress and anxiety and get better sleep.
However, in many parts of Greater Louisville, classes are difficult to find or don’t exist at all. That’s why KYI has set up classes in community centers and signed up more than 70 volunteer instructors to teach classes. Among the locations are Louisville Central Community Center, Shawnee Community Center, Americana Community Center, the St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, and Dismas Charities.
Most classes offered by KYI have no charge, though donations are accepted. The organization began with a $10,000 grant from the Lululemon apparel company, and now has other grants that help it remain in operation.
The surge in interest is evident in the organization’s numbers. In 2014, its first year, KYI offered 71 classes and had 121 new students. By 2017, those numbers had grown to 972 classes and 1,668 new students.
“People in some parts of the city just don’t have access to yoga,” said Hahn, a certified instructor who coordinates schedules with groups and teachers. “The reason may be financial or physical, but we believe in the benefits because we see it all the time.”
Hahn, a Louisville native, said she discovered her passion for working with others working briefly at the Home of the Innocents. She has an English History degree from Loyola University Chicago and spent two years in Florida as a canoe-trip instructor. In addition, she is the co-founder of Endless Summer Paddle Company, which offers stand-up paddle board experiences around Greater Louisville.
The core of KYI’s mission is its outreach programs, which bring yoga to locations including halfway houses and organizations working with at-risk youth. Any group can request that KYI set up a class at its facility by simply filling out this form.
A schedule of community classes, which are generally open to anyone, is available on the KYI website at kentuckyyogainitiative.org. Hahn said one of the most satisfying aspects of her work is seeing families come together for classes, often initiated by the children.
“We’ve had so many kids in the program, and they go home and tell their parents about yoga,” she said. “When the kids bring it home, the parents come in and want to learn.”
Another aspect of KYI’s mission is developing students who want to go beyond the basics and become teachers themselves. KYI created a scholarship program that provides funding for students to take their interest further. Many of the program’s instructors began as students, and volunteer their time to teach outreach classes.
There is little dispute that practicing yoga has immense health benefits, both for the mind and body. And by making yoga available to individuals, KYI is making communities in Louisville better.