When community members walk into the Tree Yoga Cooperative, they are often surprised as they take in the spacious, airy studio filled with light.
“There is this stigma that things in South L.A. are not beautiful,” said Jenni Alvarez, one of the worker-owned cooperative’s founders. “Senoras are taking a bus down Central, and walking over to make sure this is real.”
Los Angeles is known for its wellness culture, and the practice of yoga plays a starring role. But yoga studios are few and far between in South L.A., a swath of historically Black neighborhoods where now the vast majority of residents are Latino.
Alvarez and co-owner Rita Ortiz-Contreras never saw yoga in their neighborhood growing up. But they did see it in mainstream media, practiced by women who didn’t look like they do.
After years of teaching yoga and meditation in the area, Ortiz-Contreras, Alvarez, Jonie Cole Thomas and Jana Johnson decided to start the cooperative in August 2020, at a time when their community needed resources for healing more than ever. Since then, they’ve virtually trained more than 70 yoga teachers from around the world who were seeking a trauma-informed program grounded in social justice, marketed to bodies of all sizes.
“We want Black and brown people available and equipped to teach the communities that we serve,” Johnson said.
The co-op has also cultivated relationships with community organizations across the city, like Wallis Annenberg GenSpace, which provides activities and opportunities for older adults. Tree Yoga facilitates four classes of chair yoga each week for seniors at GenSpace and leads free yoga in parks across western South L.A. for kids and teens as part of a partnership with Council District 8.
The co-op’s studio opened in June in the Florence neighborhood. To help ensure the space is accessible to all residents, regardless of funds, there are eight donation-based classes on the schedule. Locals, students and seniors get discounts.
The studio also hosts monthly sound baths, and the owners eventually plan to offer massage, acupuncture and reiki.
“It’s been a long road to get in this space,” Johnson said, “so we are very appreciative to be in it.”
The Tree Yoga Cooperative: English and Spanish classes available. 918 E. 60th St., Los Angeles, (310) 710-0744, thetreeyogacoop.org/thetreeyogacooperativestory