Yoga means to unite, to bring together, to yolk.
On a cool Saturday morning, a mixture of people stream through the doors of the Milwaukee Art Museum, yoga mats in tow. People of different races, ages, and backgrounds gather for OmTown Yogis‘ monthly Yoga @ The Museum — a community event where anyone of any skill level is invited to participate in a 90-minute session. On this morning, a total of 222 people join together to practice yoga side-by-side.
It is the most diverse group Claire Stillman has ever seen at this event. She’s the Executive Director of OmTown Yogis. This diverse, inclusive turnout is exactly what OmTown Yogis is all about.
“We are here to broaden the practice of yoga because it is a super powerful system of tools for well-being of self and community. We do this by serving as a collective, by leveraging group power, to do local, social good,” she said.
This “local, social good” reaches the community through events like Yoga @ the Museum and the Milwaukee Global Mala which recently took place at Turner Hall Ballroom. OmTowm Yogis generates this “good” by supporting yoga teachers across the city by awarding grants and scholarships, most recently people living or working in underserved areas of the city.
“Our scholars this year are primarily Black and Latina women — that’s who we’re seeing coming to us for this and that’s who we are supporting. That’s who we’re seeing coming through the doors. We support them to get their yoga teacher training certification,” Stillman said.
OmTown Yogis is starting a partnership with nonprofit Walnut Way, on the Northside. OmTown will provide grants to pay the newly certified teachers to serve their neighborhoods through yoga mentorship and education.
Stillman asks, “Where are our relationships? Where are the greatest needs?”
One place, she says, is our schools. OmTown-supported teachers have been going to Cass Street School weekly to teach yoga, mediation, and breathing exercises to 1st graders.
“These kids are learning to find calm and respond rather than react, in the realm of mindfulness. They learn what if feels like to be calm and centered,” she said.
She says teachers need help, too. So, OmTown Yogis is planning training programs for all yoga teachers in Milwaukee, to help them deal more skillfully with trauma. Plans also focus on fostering relationships between different cultures of people that come together during OmTown events. Another idea: “Welcoming Spaces.”
“What are the ways we can help yoga practitioners or studios be more intentional about being inviting and welcoming? That is the concept of ‘Welcoming Spaces,’ it’s not only about being accessible, but being welcoming.”
The idea is to spread this concept to local businesses and organizations to have them raise their hands, post a placard, and really say, “We welcome you.”
“This is for everyone, this is for you, whoever you are,” Stillman said.