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Oregon nursery offers yoga classes for farmworkers

By ANDREA CASTILLO

The Oregonian

Nine employees showed up for the yoga class on a recent Wednesday, both men and women.

CORNELIUS, Ore. (AP) — In more than three years, Juan Luis Vasquez has barely missed a yoga class.

During peak summer season, the 40-year-old agriculture worker forces himself awake in time for the 5:45 a.m. session.

But Vasquez has an advantage: He works at Blooming Nursery in Cornelius, where owner Grace Dinsdale converted her first commercial greenhouse into a yoga studio around four years ago. Inside, the ground once covered in hundreds of seedlings is now a hardwood floor.

“No other place gives us the chance to do this,” said Vasquez, who has worked at the nursery for 18 years. “It’s really good for the body.”

Attendance at the yoga class varies week to week, but Vasquez is one of a few regulars. He’s even learning to lead the class himself.

When Vasquez tells his friends about it, “they are jealous,” he said.

Yoga Hillsboro owner Brant Rogers is a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor, whose clients include Hillsboro police officers. He started teaching the agriculture workers at Dinsdale’s nursery about three years ago.

Nine employees showed up on a recent Wednesday, both men and women. Each worked through the poses to their individual ability.

Using a mix of Spanglish and hand signals, Rogers slowly guided his students through a series of poses.

“Derecha atraz; right foot back,” he said. “Guerrero segundo; second warrior pose.”

Rogers said he works very therapeutically, akin to the aches and pains of his students. He modifies yoga poses by using blocks, straps and a wall to aid the farm workers with a limited range of motion.

“Most of those folks work hands-on with their bodies a lot,” he said. “There was a fair amount of stiffness and unfamiliarity with flexibility. I don’t push, but we do things that are relevant to backs and shoulders.”

Over time, he said, the nursery students have begun to relax and move more freely.

Dinsdale started Blooming Nursery in 1982. Last year, she expanded with a nearby retail location called Blooming Junction.

Yoga has been an important part of Dinsdale’s exercise routine for 15 years. Around seven years ago, she decided she wanted to share the benefits with her employees.

“People here work really hard,” she said. “They get really tired. For them to get up an hour earlier to do that is a big deal. We are not people of leisure.”

The class, offered every Wednesday at 5:45 a.m. during the summers and 6:45 a.m. the rest of the year, is open to the public but a bit of a well-kept secret. Dinsdale pays Rogers $110 per session. She said she’d be willing to add more classes every week or expand it to include a class at Blooming Junction if attendance increases.

Yoga isn’t the only class Dinsdale has offered her employees. The nursery was once part of a training consortium with Portland Community College and five other nurseries that received a grant to offer math, English and leadership classes.

“It was very important to the people here to have that training,” she said. “A lot of them haven’t had a formal education.”

Dinsdale said she knows of one other nursery in the area that once offered yoga classes to its employees, but stopped for lack of participation. Though it’s hard to see the direct economic benefit, she said, there’s no doubt that offering the class has made a positive impact.

“Exercising together gives us a commonality,” she said. “It’s something we share.”

Maria de la Luz, 46, a planting supervisor, took part in Wednesday’s class. She said her work involves a lot of heavy lifting, which often makes her back hurt.

But after a yoga class, De la Luz said she doesn’t feel it. Instead, she feels relaxed.



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