Personality: Natasha Freeman

Personality: Natasha Freeman

5/10/2019, 6 a.m.
Natasha Freeman, president of Project Yoga Richmond’s board of directors, encourages the community to embrace yoga because the practice allows ...
Natasha Freeman

Natasha Freeman, president of Project Yoga Richmond’s board of directors, encourages the community to embrace yoga because the practice allows people “to be fully embodied while grounding and mending our body and spirit.”

PYR was started nine years ago by yogis Arlene Bjork, Jonathan Miles, Dana Walters, Michelle Martello, Pam Cline and Wendy Warren, with a goal to make yoga accessible and affordable to practitioners of all abilities through the spirit of giving.

“They knew there was a need for yoga,” Ms. Freeman says. “Since yoga has been westernized, it has not been available to everyone because of the high price tag attached to it. It is similar to the fact that fitness is not just for the rich, although it is sometimes not accessible to everyone.”

As a nonprofit, PYR is funded through its programming partnerships with local yoga practitioners committed to providing free or “pay-what-you-can” classes and outdoor series classes. The goal is to share the physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual benefits of yoga, Ms. Freeman says.

One of the partnership programs is “Saturday Salutations,” an outdoor yoga series that started last Saturday and runs through early fall on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Belvedere Deck, 200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. The Saturday session is family-friendly and open to all levels of yoga practitioners. Participants are required to arrive by 8:45 a.m. to check in prior to class.

Ms. Freeman says PYR also delivers programming to underserved communities — autistic children and adults, senior citizens, low-income residents and incarcerated youths, where there can be a lot of misunderstanding and rage, hatred and anger, sadness and hurt, especially in the jail system.

“Yoga is a practice with the power to change lives,” she says. “Our practices really do have power and can cause massive shifts in our lives. This produces a more tolerant, pleasant, loving and compassionate Richmond.”

Ms. Freeman, who was elected president of the board earlier this year, will serve two years at the help of PYR. In March, the board approved a strategic plan, giving the organization a concrete vision for the future, she notes.

“I am excited to oversee and move the needle with that action plan,” Ms. Freeman says. “Now we are taking actionable steps to parse out what we can do over the next four years.”

The biggest goal, she says, is to expand PYR’s studio and move into the city, where the majority of the community they serve is located. The present location is not accessible by GRTC, she says.

“That pending move creates more accessibility all the way around, including handicap accessibility,” she notes. “The disabled are a big part of our community, as well as special needs children and adults.”

Ms. Freeman knows yoga brings resilience and awareness through personal experience. She says she had no exposure or understanding of yoga before taking lessons 10 years ago.

“In 2009, I had a nervous breakdown when I was living in Washington,” Ms. Freeman explains. “I moved back to Richmond and was living with my mother after owning a small financial advising firm for 13 years.”

She was having debilitating anxiety attacks. Through a friend, Ms. Freeman found her first yoga teacher, Ellie Burke, who was 8 months pregnant with twins. Ms. Burke, she recalls, did a standing split in the first class.

“I thought, ‘If she can do this, I can do it. Then I am good,’ ” Ms. Freeman recalls.

“Yoga saved my life — 100 percent. Yoga taught me to understand that I can control my breath because it is all about that body-breathe connection. Yoga became a safe place for me.”

PYR wants to help people find their safe place through its programming, creating a curriculum around the programming offered in the community and producing more trauma- informed teachers as well as health care providers.

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self. Truly it is a journey all your own,” Ms. Freeman says. “This means to journey of reconnecting to our truth. That truth is not necessarily what we are living. It gets a little muddy by what we think we should be or what society thinks we should be. When you can reconnect to true self, we are able to hear that voice that connects us to the voice within and be guided by it.”

Meet yoga proponent and this week’s Personality, Natasha Freeman:

Top volunteer position: President of the board of directors, Project Yoga Richmond.

Occupation: Founder and owner of Lucid Living, a holistic healing and wellness space.

Date and place of birth: June 17 in Richmond.

Current residence: Downtown Richmond.

Education: Bachelor’s in business management, with a minor in Spanish, from Virginia Tech.

When Project Yoga Richmond was founded: 2010.

Project Yoga Richmond’s mission: We believe that yoga has the power to heal and strengthen individuals and, in turn, transform whole communities. Project Yoga Richmond is a nonprofit that makes yoga accessible and affordable to all, through a pay-what-you-can studio and community partnership programs across Greater Richmond.

Features of PYR programs: Our goal is to share the physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual benefits of yoga to promote community wellness and help communities and participants develop mind-body awareness and self-regulation, cultivate self-acceptance and build resilience.

Some organizations Project Yoga partners with: Brook Road Academy at St. Joseph’s Villa; Crisis Stabilization Unit at Richmond Behavioral Health Authority; Safe Harbor; Chesterfield County Jail; NextUp RVA; Chesterfield County Public Schools at Falling Creek Middle School; Senior Center East at Peter Paul Development Center.

Age of oldest participant: Older than 80 years old.

Age of youngest participant: There are 4 and 5 year olds who attend Saturday Salutations, our outdoor yoga series held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Yoga is: Deeply healing, and truly has the power to transform the mind, body and spirit.

Benefits of yoga in Richmond: We are better united than divided. I’ve witnessed yoga in RVA bring together different neighborhoods and communities.

Project’s No. 1 challenge: I imagine PYR’s No. 1 challenge is similar to most nonprofits. We are always striving to learn ways to connect to the individuals and businesses that have a passion to help us move our mission and vision forward through donating their time, talents and financial treasures.

How I plan to meet it: With a strong strategic plan now in place, a well-rounded board of directors and a fund development plan in the works, we are energized to really focus on building stronger relationships within our existing community of volunteers, ambassadors, donors and partnerships, as well as foster new relationships.

Why practice yoga: To ground and center yourself. To practice true embodiment. To connect with community. To reconnect with self.

How I became interested in yoga: Ten years ago, I lost it! I had a nervous breakdown and the healing power of yoga single-handedly saved me from a life of debilitating anxiety attacks.

What is the most fun about yoga: What’s most fun about yoga for me is also what’s the most challenging. Every day, you show up differently on the mat. So every day, there’s a new opportunity to lean into the you that is presently showing up.

Favorite yoga pose: Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose). I believe that it has the ability to calm most of what ails us.

What kind of equipment is needed: In my teaching style and for my own personal practice, I love to use lots of props — mat, blankets, bolsters, wedges, straps, blocks and sandbags. The beautiful part about yoga is that it can be practiced with the absence of all the props.

A quote that I am inspired by: “Listen to silence. It has much to say.” — Rumi

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Rest! And play Bingo!

Quality I admire in another person: The ability to move in their own truth.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: That I could do and be anything that I desired.

At the top of my “to-do” list is: Engaging in my self-care practices.

Person who influenced me the most: My mother, a real, live Superwoman who has always supported me, no matter how extravagant the idea or endeavor.

Book that influenced me the most: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It taught me how to create authentic connections with people, both in business and in life.

What I’m reading now: Well, I’m reading it again, “Sacred Woman: A Guide to Healing the Feminine Body, Mind and Spirit” by Queen Afua. It details steps to take to reconnect to the Feminine Divine.

My next goal: In life, I flow. In business, Lucid Living is launching a CBD herbal tea! On PYR’s board, it’s to move through presenting and adopting our budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.