By Paulina Keen, Hecho en Bs As
Every Thursday afternoon at 4pm, people inside the headquarters of Argentinian street paper Hecho en Bs As [‘Made in Buenos Aires’], sit on the floor, cross their legs, stretch out their arms and say “Ooommm”.
For two hours the street paper’s office on Avenue San Juan, close to the city’s Puerto Madero Waterfront, is transformed into a makeshift yoga studio. It’s part of a popular initiative that encourages interaction between vendors and their readers through the ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice.
The street paper launched its free yoga classes for vendors and readers in January 2016. So far, the sessions, led by professional instructor Camila Alarcón, have been a hit with vendors. Daniel and Victoria attend the sessions regularly. They agree that their posture has improved and their minds are more open and relaxed.
“Yoga teaches you to understand the world,” says Daniel.
Victoria adds,”You start to notice whether you are tense and stressed and punishing your body because of it. This teaches you to respect yourself. I’m more aware and in tune with my body. After the first class I realised that I had muscle spasms!”
As most students were new to yoga, they began by mastering the basic principles and asanas (postures) of Iyengar Yoga, one of world’s most widely practised methods devised by supreme yogi Yogacharya Sri B.K.S. Iyengar from Pune in India.
As with all beginners, some initial aches and pains were to be expected, admits Camilla.
“For the HBA vendors, what happens is what happens to everyone: physical pain, a mind that won’t stop, an inability to relax or lack of will,” says the instructor.
But it’s worth it. “Those who practice the asanas gain confidence, flexibility, stability, strength, balance and peace of mind. After the classes, the students say that they feel taller and that they felt muscles they never knew know they had!” she adds.
Camilla puts the results down to her favoured brand of Iyengar Yoga, adding that “Alignment is the basis of the Iyengar instruction method. The alignment of the bones and joints permits the optimal use of the muscles, creating balance both in the physical body and through to the innermost layers of our being.”
But despite its benefits, yoga can often be an expensive pastime. Making it available to low-income vendors is an admirable aspect of the project, says HBA reader Bea Provitina, who also attends the classes.
“With this space, Hecho in Buenos Aires provides all of us the opportunity to come together,” she says.
“I like the commitment and energy of the group. Taking part as a volunteer in order to support the activity and motivate the vendors is worthwhile.”
She adds that having an opportunity to speak with vendors in a quieter and more relaxed setting is another bonus, and has inspired her to volunteer at the street paper.
HBA’s director, Patricia Merkin, is thrilled with the success of the classes, which attract up to ten participants every week.
“As a social enterprise, we see ourselves as a laboratory for social change,” she says. “We know that yoga improves self-esteem, strengthens your body and your mind. On the other hand, this is an opportunity to socialise, to grow, and to meet other people, among other benefits.”
This isn’t the first time a street paper has embraced yoga to support its vendors and encourage their interaction with readers. Apropos, a street paper in Salzburg, Austria, implemented a similar project in October 2014.
The classes are run by the street paper’s editor-in-chief Michaela Gründler. She says the programme has helped to improve her vendors’ physical and mental well-being.
“They have learned how to relax, get rid of stress and improve their energy levels by mobilising their spine and developing a relationship between their breathing and their body,” she says.
Camilla hopes her yoga classes will enjoy the same popularity in Buenos Aires.
“I hope that those who are curious but wouldn’t normally afford a class will join in,” she adds. “We hope to bring in more people who are living in vulnerable situations, little by little, as yoga is for everyone.”