Yoga class helps charity serve its people

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

When Marilee Ossip, 64, started taking part in a new yoga class last fall, she was in a hard place. On her fixed income, she hadn’t been able to find a yoga class she could afford. She had been diagnosed with diabetes. She knew her health would get worse if she didn’t make changes in her diet and exercise habits.

Now, six months later, Ossip finds herself in a much more positive state of mind. Her doctor can’t believe the improvements she has made in a short time. Ossip credits her improved health to the health and wellness programs, including yoga, provided by Bounty & Soul.

Bounty & Soul, a Swannanoa Valley charity that collects fruits and vegetables and makes them, recipes and cooking demonstrations available to qualifying residents at five Valley locations, has partnered with The Yoga Service Movement, a newly formed, local nonprofit organization, to provide yoga instruction to its clients. Bounty & Soul ( has expanded its mission by providing the weekly yoga-style, gentle movement class.

Last fall Danielle Rottenberg and Allison McLeod, cofounders of The Yoga Service Movement, approached Bounty & Soul director Ali Casparian with their desire to offer yoga to underserved residents who might be experiencing stress. Casparian recognized the need for - and benefits of - the service.

“We are thrilled with this partnership and chance to grow together and serve more people,” she said. The 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. yoga class draws close to 20 people each Tuesday at St. James Episcopal Church in Black Mountain.

Tuesdays are busy for Ossip and other Bounty & Soul participants, staff and volunteers. The yoga movement class is followed by a heath and wellness class taught by Bounty & Soul staff. At noon, the free produce market tables are filled with seasonal produce, ready to be taken home to eat.

Attendees look forward to a morning of fellowship and education. Most of them are staying for all three of the weekly programs, staff members reported.

Ossip is taking what she’s learning in the yoga class home to use when she feels pain and other stresses. She never realized how helpful simple breathing techniques could be.

“It’s so amazing to have Bounty & Soul here in our community. They support those of us that want to live a better life and eat better,” she said. She believes the combination of programs Bounty & Soul offers is responsible for many of the positive changes in her life.

“The class has been so positive,” Casparian said. “We are now seeking grant funding to be able to offer similar movement classes at our other produce markets during the week. So many of our participants are dealing with high levels of chronic stress, whether that comes from finances, medical conditions or everyday life.

The yoga class is another tool clients can use to better cope with stress, she said. They learn to better live in the present and be intentional. No prior yoga experience is needed, and universal movement for all ages and mobility levels are incorporated.

The Bounty & Soul wellness classes feature cooking demonstrations and education about topics such as whole ingredients and selecting foods with great benefits to the body.

Down the road, health coaches may be part of the programming provided to participants, Casparian said, but for now, this once-a-week class that might be otherwise unaffordable to clients is a great start.

“By bringing this service to them, we empower them with ideas of what is possible to do for their own health,” she said.

The Yoga Service Movement is founded upon the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity for self-improvement. It offers programs in the practices of yoga and meditation to unserved and underserved populations, seeking to build community based on the values of inclusion, interdependence and equality, according to the organization’s website.

One of its core beliefs is that each person matters.

“Any and every time one of us has the opportunity to experience greater self- awareness, we all benefit,” McLeod, a class instructor, said. “My well-being is deeply connected to your well-being, and vice versa.”