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Indy yoga studio aims to make wellness more accessible in underserved communities

After feeling invisible while visiting a boxing studio, The Hot Room yoga instructor Jasmine Morrison strives to make everyone feel seen during her classes.

INDIANAPOLIS — In Jasmine Morrison's yoga class, she wants you to feel welcome, no matter your size, color, gender, or age.

"Yoga means unity," Morrison said.

She's completed 500 hours of teaching training at the The Hot Room. Feeling included is important to Morrison, who said she felt invisible after visiting a boxing studio.

"I felt left out. I was actually the only person of color in a studio. And I never was cued to do anything. I was never told, 'Hey, instead of do this, try this.' So I was left thinking I was doing it right... but I wasn't utilizing my punches. I wasn't stepping into my fullest expression," Morrison said.

Creating an inclusive wellness environment is intentional for The Hot Room CEO Hye Jin Kalgaonkar.

"A big part of our mission is to create this community where everyone feels welcome. And that starts from our team," Kalgaonkar said.

But it doesn't stop there. She's investing, too. 

Yoga teacher training takes hundreds of hours and costs thousands of dollars. To remove that barrier, Kalgaonkar created a nonprofit called The Breathe Foundation to improve access for BIPOC, or Black, indigenous, and people of color.

"This year, we're looking to raise $40,000 to fund 10 scholarships, so 10 new yoga teachers in our local communities that will help make a big impact," Kalgaonkar said.

Kalgaonkar's efforts go beyond her brick and mortar studios. She also hopes to introduce yoga into underserved communities that may not have daily access.

Morrison is 27 and leads seven classes per week. She hopes her presence pulls more people into a practice she loves. She believes there's value to having diverse teachers.

"Coming into a setting where you only see a particular group of people, (it) can kind of pull you out of things when you don't have anyone to identify with. When you come into a studio, you expect to be lean, thin, or white and you're like, 'No, I can be Black. I can be brown. I can be anything and be able to practice.' So it's very important for me," Morrison said. "It helps take away the stress of having to fit in so you can stand out."

This month, the Hot Room is hosting a pay-what-you-can "One Breath" class, led by BIPOC teachers and created for the BIPOC community, to create a safe and welcoming environment and entry point for people to try yoga and see if it's a fit for their wellness journey. The class is Sunday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m.

"What makes me the best me is knowing that I am just not my skin. I am not my name. I'm the person within," Morrison said. "So getting to be myself, to be seen and to be heard, and to know that I have a place and I don't have to worry about what others think of me. I can just be myself and I think that makes the best me."

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