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Living up to the name: Oxford Community Yoga creates environment of inclusion

<p>Oxford Community Yoga founder Jessica Lohrey in her studio. </p>

Oxford Community Yoga founder Jessica Lohrey in her studio.

Soothing flute music plays as sunlight streams across the room, highlighting a collection of plants whose only similarity is the pots they’re planted in. There are statues dispersed in between the indoor garden, ranging from the Hindu God Shiva to a small Buddha sitting in the soil of one of the pots. 

Is this some sort of spiritual paradise? 

Well, sort of. This is the Oxford Community Yoga studio.

Oxford Community Yoga (OCY) was founded in 2021 by Jessica Lohrey, an Oxford-area native and Miami University graduate who returned to the town during the COVID-19 pandemic. She saw a need for a yoga studio after noticing that Root Yoga (a previous Oxford studio) had closed its doors.

“I thought [that] this is a place that needs a yoga studio, found the spot that we’re in, and I opened it up in December 2021,” Lohrey said.

Lohrey is a firm believer in “decolonizing yoga,” which is a movement aimed at returning yoga to its more traditional roots of meditation and connecting with one’s own spirituality. She explained that while yoga was originally more of a spiritual practice, Western influences changed it to more of a physical exercise.

“Out of the eight limbs of yoga, only one involves postures,” Lohrey said. “In the West, yoga has been geared toward and marketed toward middle and upper class white women … Since the origins of yoga lie with people of color, the beginning of decolonizing yoga is to give them a voice within the community.”

This goal is reflected at the front door of the OCY studio, where entrants will find a sticker that declares how the studio is a “safe space.” The studio also offers scholarships for BIPOC people, incorporates meditation and breathing exercises in addition to physical ones, and emphasizes that yoga is for everyone, regardless of their background or body shape. The studio also goes on an annual trip to India for those who want to learn more about the historical roots of yoga.

Photo by Provided by Shr-Hua Moore | The Miami Student
A sign reading "safe space" sets the intention for Lohrey's studio.

Lohrey said that part of creating an inclusive environment also involves making sure no one is too overwhelmed by her studio’s teaching methods.

“If someone is, for example, a devout Christian, I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable in my class,” Lohrey said. “[In order] to be inclusive for students, I’m trying to be sensitive to their beliefs as well. I try to only drop little bits [of spiritual practices] into the class so people don’t leave and think that we’re ‘weird yoga folks.’”

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Naaborle Sackeyfio is an associate professor of global and intercultural studies at Miami who began a course with the studio to become a yoga teacher. She said she was already familiar with the idea of decolonization in other disciplines, but was blown away by how committed OCY is to it.

“[OCY] is the most inclusive yoga studio I’ve encountered, including the ones that I’ve attended in New York City or New Jersey,” Sackeyfio said. “[Lohrey] created a welcoming environment with such care that it really just astounded me … she’s really provided a space where we can address challenging topics.”

Sackeyfio hopes to use the philosophy taught at OCY and apply it to her own classes.

“I envision bringing some practices into the classroom — maybe not a yoga session, but something that will allow students to stop for a few minutes, reflect, and get their bearings,” Sackeyfio said. “While we’re lifting, we often forget to take a pause.”

Despite the Miami Recreational Sports Center has its own yoga program, but there’s no tension or direct competition between OCY and the university. In fact, there has been collaboration and participation from Miami students in attending the studio and helping it grow.

Liv Snow, a senior at Miami majoring in art education, was part of a team in an entrepreneurship class that worked with Lohrey to figure out ways to increase the studio’s visibility in the community.

“The initial goal was to increase enrollment in the teacher training program and [to] get more Miami student engagement, but [the project] kind of shifted to how we can make OCY a diverse and equitable place where yoga is accessible,” Snow said.

The students created a recommendation that included getting media presence and taking professional pictures for the website. Throughout the process, Snow said that Lohrey was an excellent person to work with.

“[Lohrey] is awesome,” Snow said. “She’s a very successful woman and knows what she’s talking about, but never makes you feel stupid for not knowing things.”

Other Miami students have also been taking classes at OCY. Alexandra Leurck is a senior majoring in theater and arts entrepreneurship who has been going to classes for two years and enrolled in the teacher training program last September. 

“I was originally considering another studio, but when I found out more about community yoga, I recognized and saw [that] they use more traditional aspects of yoga and ground the studio in the roots, which is how I want to go about how I do my teacher training and approach yoga,” Leurck said. “I’ve been loving it ever since.”

Leurck emphasized how unique it was to have such an innovative approach to yoga in Oxford.

“The name highlights belonging to a community and meditation mindfulness, which is often prioritized in more urban areas,” Leurck said. “To have it in a small town in a rural area is unique and special in its own way.”