The Montrose Center offers free yoga for beginners every Monday night.
By Megan Smith
Don’t know the difference between child’s pose, downward dog, and chair pose? Well, you’re not alone. Yoga can be intimidating, but with the Montrose Center’s free LGBT-inclusive beginners’ yoga class, you’ll soon be maneuvering your asanas with ease.
The class—held every Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. as part of the Montrose Center’s Wellness Activities program—has been running for the past four years, with a steady increase in participation since its beginning. Each week features a different volunteer instructor, allowing students to experience a variety of yoga styles. Current instructors include Beckie Kirsch, Venita Ray, Darrin Brindle, Daryl Shorter, Robin Mack, and Kathi Crawford.
“We realized that with the boom [in interest] for yoga, there were more people who wanted to volunteer,” explains Robin Mack, lead volunteer for the center’s yoga program and a 12-year yoga veteran. Mack notes that the class also greatly benefits its instructors, as many are required by their teacher-certification program to volunteer at a place that would not otherwise offer yoga.
As with all of its programs, the Montrose Center aims to make its yoga class a safe space for everyone, as well as a healthy, sober atmosphere for people to build community. “One of the cool things about the Montrose Center’s demographic is—because it’s a free class—you get everyone, from someone just wanting to be in community to people who have experienced [a recent] trauma and have nowhere else to go,” Mack says. “So all of our teachers have to be LGBT-friendly and able to accommodate everyone. It’s not just yoga. It’s community coming together and being inclusive and accepting of one another.”
It was that sense of community that first attracted yoga student Zack Mattson to the Monday-night class. After moving to Houston for work following graduation from Purdue University, Mattson sought ways to better himself and to meet new people. He stumbled across the Montrose Center’s yoga class while using the Meetup app and decided to give it a try. A year later, he still attends the class on a regular basis and has met a core group of friends through his practice. “The Montrose Center provides an accepting atmosphere where you can be yourself and practice at your own pace,” Mattson says, noting that even though the class is aimed at beginners, all skill levels attend. “There is no judgment if you need to take a break, slow your pace, or if you need to modify your pose based on your flexibility.
“The stress from work seems to slip away when I begin practicing yoga,” he adds. “Afterwards I feel great, mentally and physically.”
Class instructor Daryl Shorter, who teaches the fourth and fifth Mondays of each month, first happened upon yoga during his time as a college student at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine. “I just sort of tripped and fell into this studio,” says Shorter, who is also a psychiatrist specializing in addiction at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “I don’t even remember what brought me there, but I loved it.”
At first, however, Shorter focused purely on the physical aspects of yoga and soon found himself in competition with those around him—the opposite of what yoga is supposed to be about, he notes. It wasn’t until he went through a bad breakup in 2012 that he truly realized the internal power of the practice. While staying with friends (who were also yogis), Shorter decided to buy a $30 Groupon for 30 yoga classes in 90 days. “Because I love a bargain and because I wanted to get my money’s worth, I decided to get as close to my 30 classes in that 90 days as possible.”
He almost made it, too, attending around 27 classes. “I felt horrible because of the breakup, and I found that yoga made me feel more centered, less anxious, and I started experiencing all of these emotional benefits,” Shorter says. “It was on my mat during those 90 days that I realized that I don’t breathe at work. This was my first real breath of the day. And I think a lot of people connect with that.”
Desiring to deepen his own personal practice, Shorter completed yoga teacher training at Svasta Yoga School starting in January 2015. “I needed more,” he explains, but notes that teaching wasn’t really on his radar until his final month of training. “I thought, ‘Maybe I do have something to bring to the table, something to share.’”
Shorter, who has also been on the board of the Montrose Center for the past four years, found the center’s class the perfect place to start sharing his practice with students. “It’s not really important to me to spread my message through a formal yoga studio where people come and pay money,” he says. “At this point in my life, I am able to offer it as a gift to the community. To be able to stop for that 50 to 60 minutes to focus on the breath and to move—hopefully with a little bit of grace and compassion for ourselves—we can begin to see an awareness of our bodies that we don’t always have when we’re rushing through our days.”
And for those who are skeptical newbies, he offers some advice: “Focus on your breath. Being able to breathe while in a pose is the foundation—it’s critical. As long as you’re able to breathe, that’s yoga. Just keep going.”
What: LGBT-inclusive beginners’ yoga
When: Mondays, 6–7 p.m.
Where: The Montrose Center, 401 Branard St.
Details: Free and open to the public. No experience required. Mats are provided, but participants are welcome to bring their own. A free meditation session is held after each yoga class for those who want to expand their practice. More info: montrosecenter.org/hub/introduction-to-yoga
Need More Yoga?
Try these other LGBT-friendly classes.
What: Yoga Connection
When: Tuesdays, 7–8 p.m.
Where: Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 W 11th St.
Details: Facilitated and founded by community member Darrin Brindle, and co-facilitated by Robin Mack, this free/donation-based, non-competitive class is suitable for all body types and skill levels. The class is held in a large gym with plenty of space to spread out and be comfortable. Participants focus on their breath and may participate in some or all of the sessions. All are encouraged and reminded to let go of judgments and expectations of themselves and their fellow yogis. Bringing your own mat, towel, and water is recommended, but extra mats are available. Info: resurrectionmcc.org/connect/events Contact: [email protected]
What: Yoga in the Park
When: Classes resume in March and are traditionally held on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.
Where: Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney
Details: Head downtown to the park for a free hour of stretching, posing, and breathing. This beautiful outdoor venue provides the perfect way to get the morning started or to wind down from a long day. Info: discoverygreen.com/ebevents
What: Yoga with Robin Mack
When: Various times available
Where: The Yoga Institute, 3311 Richmond Ave., #307
Details: Robin Mack has a wide range of experience teaching yoga to the LGBT community, 12-step recovery groups, veterans, and beginners. No matter what level you’re on, Mack provides a renewed sense of relaxation, connection, and joy as you practice in community. Info: yogainstitute.com
What: Yoga with Nathan Herrington
When: Various times available
Where: Big Power Yoga, 3115 Allen Pkwy.
Details: Whether you are brand-new to yoga or are looking to step into a new level of leadership as a teacher, Big Power Yoga has a variety of programs that will support your growth. Instructor Nathan Herrington provides an LGBT-friendly environment, with content that is accessible and impactful. Info: bigpoweryoga.com
What: Breakfast Yoga Club Houston
When: Once a month on Saturday or Sunday mornings
Where: Various locations
Details: The Breakfast Yoga Club, a grassroots organization run completely by volunteers, meets once every month for donation-based yoga featuring different teachers, studios, guests, and music. Events are held on Saturday or Sunday mornings, and breakfast is provided when possible. Info: breakfastyogaclub
What: Yoga for Veterans
Where: Expedition Balance
Details: Expedition Balance makes it easier for veterans with PTSD to engage in the healing journey that will bring them back home. This treatment program (done outside of the traditional clinical setting) consists of a multi-day expedition with licensed experts and trained yogis in a beautiful natural environment. LGBT veterans are welcome. Info: expeditionbalance.org