May's Supporters of the Month Are. . .Peggy Kwisuk Hong and Laurie Blakeney of AASY Action!

May 1, 2013 | 826 Blog Post

As you probably know, 826michigan is a cat of many colors. Although our primary focus is encouraging young people to write, we approach that goal from a variety of angles — which is why you might find a volunteer helping with Calculus homework at tutoring, a workshop about the engineering of paper airplanes on the summer workshop schedule, or students at our after-school program at Ypsilanti Middle School engaged in. . .yoga?

Yes, it’s true! As part of our holistic tutoring program, students at Ypsilanti Middle School engage in all sorts of fun activities including yoga, gardening (thanks to our friends at Growing Hope!), mix-master classes, and mentorship clubs. By the time students arrive in the tutoring space at YMS, they’ve already had a loooooooong day of sitting in a classroom — and as we all know, sitting all day is no fun for anybody, much less an active 12- or 13-year-old.

That’s where AASY Action comes in. AASY Action is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to providing yoga classes to people who may not otherwise have access to them. 826michigan has partnered with AASY Action and its leader, Laurie Blakeney of the Ann Arbor School of Yoga, to bring teacher Peggy Kwisuk Hong to YMS for yoga classes once a week. 

We asked Peggy to write a few lines describing what it’s like to lead yoga classes with YMS students, and she returned with this, which we can’t help but print in its entirety because we LOVE it

During adolescence, when our bodies are changing faster than our minds can keep up with, what is the role of yoga? The students come to their mats self-conscious, embarrassed, and anxious. They don’t even want to take their socks off, for the feet are a surprisingly vulnerable part of the body. During our hour together I joke around with them, affirm them, and try to nurture them. We move fast through yoga poses, one after another, jumping in and out, back and forth. I model “not being afraid to make a fool of myself” and tell stories about my three young adult children. They notice the tattoo under my sleeve. I tell them. “it’s a yoga tattoo. and I’ll show it to you after class.” When we do seated poses, we look at those lowly feet of ours, stretch the toes, and celebrate them. I give them a homework assignment of coming up with a trick or game to do with their feet. At the end they lie down, and after they work out their giggles and wiggles, become quiet and settled. Maybe, just maybe, over the course of their week, they will remember a pose or two, or remember what it felt like to lie down and listen to the rhythm of their breath, and maybe even look at their feet and marvel at what those feet can do.

Thank you so much for those words, Peggy, and for your work at YMS!

We also asked Laurie a few questions about AASY Action and life in Ann Arbor:

How did you hear about 826michigan and why did you want to become involved?
I am interested in all the arts non-profits in Ann Arbor and have known of 826 since it first arrived in Ann Arbor.  My son Newcombe Clark has worked with 826 in the past.  My yoga school, the Ann Arbor School of Yoga, hosted a free yoga class to 826 National members when your annual meeting was held here in Ann Arbor a few summers ago.

It is AASY Action that is partnering up with 826michigan to offer the yoga classes at Ypsilanti Middle School.  AASY Action is a separate entity from my yoga studio.  It is a 501(c)3 organization offering Iyengar Yoga classes to folks who possibly would not have access to trained teachers, good equipment, etc otherwise.  AASY Action is funded through donations from the students of Ann Arbor School of Yoga.

What is your favorite (non-826michigan) thing about life in Ann Arbor?  

I was born and raised in SE Michigan, and love our state.  I moved to Ann Arbor straight out of high school in 1971 and have enjoyed the arts and culture in Ann Arbor.  So family, love of Michigan, and the arts keep me in Ann Arbor.

Family, love of Michigan, and the arts: sounds great to us! We send our sincere thanks to Laurie, Peggy, and the patrons of AASY Action for making this important partnership possible. 

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a few Triangle Poses to get to ourselves. Namaste, everyone!

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