Teaching Yoga to America's Factory Workers

The deal was 15 minutes every morning at seven am. Anyone could participate. Yep, we’d all be clocked in and paid. Somehow, I talked the boss into letting me teach Yoga every morning.

Where? A 120-year old assembly-line-style manufacturer relocated from New York City to Conway, South Carolina. Of the forty employees, how many do you think show up to do a bit of (paid) stretching and deep breathing before starting their shift? Today, two people. The average is three. The most thus far is five.

What did I expect? All forty? No, but I hope for that. Still, one a day is worth it.

We start the morning with an intention and some stretching. Sometimes we sit for a few minutes of pranayama. We do what we can in 15 minutes. We focus on what we need. Lower back work, neck, hands, and legs. My students tell me that their work is way easier with the Yoga. Their bodies don’t ache as much. The end of the day is a bit easier than before. One student has started sharing the practice with his kids. What is better than that?

It’s a challenging environment. If it’s too cold outside, we practice in the factory. The only space available is ringed by diesel fuel cans. The fumes are strong. Other employees point and laugh. The manager finds a reason to drive a forklift into the middle of practice or to talk about a work order. Nothing that couldn’t wait a few minutes till we’re done. In an effort to help the guys focus, I bring a African djembe drum to pound out a beat and drown out the sounds of power drills, forklifts, yelling, and other white noise. Still, we practice. The three regulars put in real effort and I can see that they get it. None of them had ever practiced before. We’ve even met outside work to practice.

Those short 15 minutes carry me throughout the day. They are among the most fulfilling 15 minutes ever. Yeah, I need to teach Yoga to get through the Factory day. It’s a factory. It ain’t pretty. It’s dirty. Monotonous. The pay is very poor. There aren’t any benefits. The vibe is often depressed. Run down and burned out. Humans simply aren’t meant for factories. At least not ones that look and feel like this one. But there is Light everywhere. After all, the boss said we could do yoga. He agreed to let me paint a few murals in the employee break room. One lady told me she wants to donate 20 bucks to me, because she says God Blesses things like teaching yoga. She doesn’t even want to practice, but she wants to support me.

I overheard one student say that, because of yoga, he looks forward to work now. Thank you, God.