A yoga teacher. A movement practitioner. A nonprofit founder. A researcher, writer, nature-lover and an inspiration to many. Michele McGinnis has a purpose and it is to bring a community together in a meaningful way — with a mind, body and soul connection.
In December 2013, McGinnis founded Yoga Collective of Yakima (YOCO), a nonprofit. YOCO provides free community yoga and other mind, body and spirit practices. “All of the classes at the Yoga Collective of Yakima are taught at the beginner level and are free of charge. We have a deep bench of experienced teachers. My mission in starting YOCO three years ago was to remove barriers that keep people from participating in yoga classes — financial concerns and feeling like you do not have the right body, attire or ability,” says McGinnis.
Free yoga is “an act of radical love,” she adds. “The cost of yoga is prohibitive for many Yakima residents, who are struggling to make ends meet, putting kids through college or living on retirement income, for example.” YOCO offers free, gentle yoga classes on a regular basis. “Students pay with mind, body and spirit,” McGinnis says. “They are the community in community yoga.”
The yoga studio is conveniently located at 2614 W Nob Hill Blvd. Mats, blocks, straps, blankets and chairs are available during class, at no charge. Students are encouraged to wear something comfortable. What started as a three-month project has blossomed, recently celebrating its three-year anniversary. Since its founding, there have been ups and downs. The nonprofit relies 100 percent on funding from class sponsorships to rent and operate studio space. “Since I moved here we lost two studios in the community and gained two studios,” says McGinnis.
A proud accomplishment for YOCO, McGinnis recalls, was in 2014, when the nonprofit partnered with Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital to bring Spanish-language yoga classes to Yakima. When YOCO lost its downtown space in 2015 the nonprofit was homeless for a couple of months. “Memorial had to find another space to uphold its grant commitment. We ended our partnership, but not our friendship,” she says. Now with the new studio space, she is “delighted to have YOCO partnering again with Virginia Mason Memorial’s Healthy for Life program.” She believes, “having them share space with us again enriches our offerings and enables both efforts to reach more people.”
In 2016, YOCO offered 400 free classes taught by over 20 volunteer teachers. “Since our inception in 2013, we have provided over 1,000 free classes with over 11,000 visits,” says McGinnis. “The whole endeavor has been meaningful. I am entangled.” Today, with ongoing community support, YOCO has designated studio space at Rainier Square.
“Once introduced to yoga’s benefits, many students go on to support our local small business yoga studios,” McGinnis says.
How it began
She was drawn to yoga at a time in her life where she found peace and relief while suffering from a health issue and from daily life stresses. Yoga was a healing source for her in helping her get well and allowing her to find solitude from within. “Yoga brings a quiet to your mind and allows you to focus on the present,” she says. “To cultivate and bring that into the world changes your health and your outlook.”
McGinnis holds an E-RYT 200 certification in yoga, with well over 1,000 teaching hours. She studied with internationally recognized biomechanist Katy Bowman, becoming certified in restorative exercise. She is also a healthy foot practitioner. She studies movement research, and pulls pieces of other modalities into group yoga classes. She believes that yoga can empower you to feel confident in your physical abilities. “I want people to be strong. I want them to realize their bodies are strong. They are robust. They are resilient.”
Originally raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, McGinnis has taken her yoga practice with her wherever she goes. She has journeyed to San Francisco, California, where she met her wife, Kim, and back to her hometown before coming to Yakima. Five years ago, Kim was offered, and accepted, a position as Nurse Practitioner at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. They packed up their belongings and hit the road.
Upon settling into new surroundings, at first glance Yakima was seemingly different from the metropolitan areas in which McGinnis has lived. She continued to teach yoga and through this, she built connections with her students and within the local community. Being a curious researcher, and in her daily interactions, she found that there were many residents who were not able to experience the benefits of yoga. This was a harsh reality, one that was greeted with determination and a collective approach, and YOCO was born.
Rooted in community
Outside of the yoga studio, McGinnis works in a clinic as a movement practitioner. She stays active walking, climbing and hiking. When stationary, she can easily get caught up in reading research articles for hours, while sipping on organic rose tea.
When it comes to feeling rooted in a place that was once the unknown, McGinnis says, “We love Yakima. It was not our intention to love it. It was not our intention to stay here. It’s sticky. It’s just a sticky place. We bought a house two years ago in May. We found this to be a very welcoming and progressive place to live.”
In living her purpose and of the collective spirit of the community, she can happily say there is a deeply-rooted yoga community here: “Yakima is a yoga town.”