Practicing and Teaching Yoga In Rural America
Jenny Gore works full time as a police dispatcher. Her shifts are long-- sometimes twelve hours--and she’s often on the road. It’s a hectic schedule, and there’s no shortage of stress in her life. Still, she tries to make room for yoga. In fact, she’s surprised at how important yoga has become to her.
"I think you see the whole OMMM meditation thing [laughs]," says Gore. "I had no idea that it, you know, it was stretching and toning, and the breathing was a big thing too, learning how to breathe, and doing it with the motions. I finally just went to a class, and just fell in love with it immediately. I was like, yes, I’ve definitely got to stick with this."
Despite yoga’s increasing popularity across the United States, few yoga classes can be found in rural areas. Gore takes yoga classes whenever she can at the YMCA in Carlisle, Kentucky. She is grateful to have access to this class, in a region where staying healthy is a challenge. The smoking rate is high, life expectancy is low. The county’s hospital closed in 2014. Many residents travel twenty miles or more to see a doctor. Gore has a friend whose doctor is in Lexington, an hour away.
"I have a best friend who’s been going through the breast cancer thing, and she had it in her lymph nodes, and her doctor told her that she needed to do yoga. I’ve always tried to get her to exercise with me, but it’s easier for me, she lives in Fleming County, quite a ways, but she did say she’d like to come to yoga in Carlisle. It just hasn’t happened for her yet."
With a population of just under 2,000, Carlisle is lucky to have its own YMCA. Nine students fill the small room during this Thursday lunch hour class. Jennie Lee, the yoga teacher at the Carlisle Y, has to drive almost an hour from her home in Robertson County to get here. She says she feels as if she lives in a “yoga desert.”
"I’m teaching currently, but I don’t teach in my home county. I have to drive a couple of counties in either direction to teach. We’ve lived here for a year and a half and I’ve spent a lot of that time puzzling over the best way to introduce people to yoga," says Lee. "A lot of folks around here, if they’re lucky enough to have a job, it’s in a factory that’s a county over, and they probably work a twelve-hour shift, and then they’ve probably got a farm. For people who are working at least two jobs and trying to raise families, there’s no space in their day to day life where yoga really fits in very well."
Lee herself lives on a farm, and made a living as a farmer before becoming a yoga teacher.
"I know that during my truck farming days, if I’d had yoga, I would have been a lot more comfortable. There’s a lot of repetitive use tensions that you create when you’re hoeing 400 feet of carrots or whatever," she says.
Most of the people in Jennie Lee’s yoga class at the Carlisle Y are retirees. She’s happy for their presence in her class, but is always thinking about how to bring yoga to more people. Especially those who may not know they need it.
"I’d love to do a yoga for farmers class, but I don’t think anybody would come."