Yoga instructor healing Detroit 'one breath at a time'

Donna Terek
The Detroit News

Kerrie Trahan looks at the city she grew up in, where her family has been rooted for generations, and sees an awful lot of troubled minds and ailing bodies. But she knows what can help: yoga.

And she believes in starting young.

"Yoga is great for kids," said the 30-year-old instructor, "because it gives them the tools to self-regulate." They learn that when they feel angry they can use the breathing techniques they learned in yoga class to calm down instead of instantly reacting.

Trahan began teaching yoga and nutrition to third- and fourth-graders in Detroit's schools as a volunteer for the Danialle Karmanos 'Work It Out' program in 2012. The nonprofit uses volunteer yoga teachers, about 20 of them, and it's Trahan's job to organize them. It's a paid position, but Trahan still spends four days a week doing what she did as a volunteer: bringing yoga to the classes.

She says it helps with concentration and focus, especially with kids who may have skipped breakfast or don't have access to nutritious foods. "They're going to these liquor stores and party stores and buying junk food and candy," Trahan said, "and they're coming to school all wound up and full of sugar. They can't concentrate that way.

"But with these tools we give them, they can just relax and focus on what's in front of them."

Kids love doing the poses. "Today we learned Cat and Cow," she said, "and they got to meow like a cat and moo like a cow. It's a fun way to engage them."

At the end of the 10-week program, the kids get to keep their yoga mats so they can continue their practice and bring yoga to their families.

"One of the schools we've been going to for a few years is Charles Wright and some of the kids I taught when they were in third grade are now in fifth. Whenever I see them in the hall I ask them if they still do yoga and they almost always answer, 'Yes, Miss Kerrie, we're still doing yoga.' "

She took her first yoga class at the Boll YMCA in 2007, but wasn't committed to it. Then she moved to South Korea to teach English as a second language. "Dealing with culture shock and studying for the LSAT at the time, I was very stressed, so I started practicing yoga regularly," she said.

As if living the vida yoga all day isn't enough, Trahan and her friend Ruby Hurliman (who now lives in Florida) started their own program, Yoganic Flow ( to offer free yoga and meditation classes in southwest Detroit's recreation centers.

"We're offering yoga to Detroiters for free because poverty in Detroit is pervasive," Trahan said. "Your average Detroiter, when they have to decide to put bread on the table or pay $15 for a yoga class, they're going to choose the bread.

"We want people to still choose to be active, to take the initiative to take care of themselves without having to make that (choice) to eat or try to get healthy."

Trahan believes yoga can help with many health issues Detroiters face, like anxiety and depression, addiction, diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic pain. Her adult students come from all over the income spectrum, but the vast majority are low income.

"Yoga is not self-help for the privileged," she said. "Yoga is for all people." Trahan sees yoga as a tool to heal a city with a history of segregation that persists today. She counters this by holding some of the most diverse classes of adult students in the city.

She said she sees the influx of new residents to downtown and midtown as deepening the rift between the central city and Detroit's neighborhoods.

"Yoga is that one thing that brings us together," she said. The word itself translates as "unity."

"The way I define yoga is coming to fruition before my eyes," Trahan said. "It's people from all backgrounds coming together to connect, not just with themsleves – their minds and bodies – but with each other.

"Our vision is to transform Detroit one breath at a time," said Trahan. "Inner peace to inner city peace."

If you go

Yoganic Flow's free classes are 6-7 p.m. Tuesdays at Patton Recreation Center, 2301 Woodmere, Detroit and 6-7 p.m. Wednesdays at Roberto Clement Recreation Center. Both nights feature Hatha Yoga for all experience levels.

Yoganic Flow will hold free classes at Detroit Market Garden and Lafayette Greens starting in May. Check for details in the coming weeks.