It takes a while for new residents of Alhambra to notice the plain-looking storefront near the corner of Fourth Street and Main Street. This is Yoga Darsana and it’s an integral part of a socioeconomically diverse Alhambra.
Yoga studios are generally associated with wealthy, homogenous neighborhoods like Beverly Hills or Silver Lake. Walking into Yoga Darsana, you’ll see women and men of all backgrounds, who are happy to tell you how much they get out of the Iyengar yoga classes taught here.
“Yoga Darsana does give one a feeling of belonging to a group of like-minded people who enjoy the poses and collective synergy of yoga,” said Michael Lawrence*, one of the students at the studio. “There are great physical benefits as well as some intangible awareness of connecting your mind and body. This blend of physical and mind motivates one to return and find out more about the process, which is different for each person.”
As the only Latino in the yoga classes she took in Culver City many years ago, owner Dora Hasenbein wanted to bring yoga to the Latino community. She also hoped her parents could practice yoga and reap the benefits from practice. This vision and the support from her friends and family helped her give birth to Yoga Darsana.
Before discovering Iyengar yoga, Hasenbein tried other types of yoga, including “hot yoga,” which did not resonate with her. She was impressed by how her teacher taught her to be present and loved what she called the “skillfulness in action” of Iyengar yoga, which requires paying close attention to anatomical details and the alignment of each posture. Designed to systematically cultivate flexibility, stability and awareness, this method is a process of “involution” in Hasenbein’s eyes, where practitioners become more evolved at the end of each session.
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Although many yoga studios near Alhambra offer a variety of yoga classes, Yoga Darsana specializes in Iyengar yoga because Hasenbein “believed in this type of yoga and decided to focus on it.” She hired teachers who were trained specifically in Iyengar yoga to teach in other languages.
Tina Jen, a Mandarin-speaking teacher who has taught at the studio for 10 years, said that other types of yoga are more “flowy” and she appreciates the structured style of Iyengar yoga. Jen shared how yoga helps her concentrate. She has taught yoga at Dharma Drum Mountain, a Buddhist center in Taiwan, and says that yoga helps people relax their bodies before they meditate.
Over the past 16 years, Asian students have been the majority of students in Hasenbein’s classes because of the demographics of Alhambra and neighboring cities.
Hasenbein feels fortunate to be accepted by her many Asian students, as she is often the only non-Asian person in her classes at her studio. “I find that Asian and Hispanic cultures share many similarities,” she said. “To name a couple of them is their respect for the teacher, the importance of family and the respect of our elders.”
Janet Huang, an Asian student, echoed this observation. “This studio is like a family. Everyone cares about each other in this class. Sometimes if I don’t see anyone for days, I email or text them, saying, ‘How are you doing? I haven’t seen you for a few days. Are you okay?’ Sometimes we have gatherings. We grab dinner together. I went biking with some other students.”
The students also appreciate the fact that Hasenbein’s parents attend her classes and are impressed when her over 89-year-old father does a chair shoulder-stand, a pose where you invert your body with your shoulders resting on a support on the ground and your lower back on the edge of a chair.
“Folks really enjoy seeing my dad demonstrate the pose as they can see that he is not afraid,” she said. “They clap and are amazed to see him practice this pose. It gives them confidence to see his demonstration.”
*Michael Lawrence has contributed to the Alhambra Source.