Oakland – As the new year rolls along, our resolutions are tested. If you visit your local gym in January, you see every machine is taken. The air is filled with sounds of clanking metal weights, the swoosh of elliptical machines and exercise bikes. Zumba classes are overflowing.
It can be a challenge to keep up with the best intentions of getting into healthier shape. Lack of time and energy to workout, or lack of funds for memberships can interfere. Another obstacle for some people is finding spaces that are truly inclusive — places that are body-positive (having a broader sense of physical attractiveness) and welcoming to people of color, queer and trans individuals.
“Just being in the health and wellness field for over a decade, I see a huge lack of inclusive spaces,” said Rose Foronda, 32, Oakland resident and founder of Bayan Roots Massage and Fitness Studio. The studio, started last year, is in the heart of the Fruitvale district in East Oakland. “It’s rare to find fitness centers devoted to serving queer and trans individuals. We don’t see as many devoted to serving people of color, or who claim to be body positive — in fact, the health and wellness and fitness world is kind of the opposite.”
Bayan Roots offers massage therapy, small group strength training, personal training, yoga, foam rolling classes, and community workshops. Individuals can apply for the “Community Roots” program that offers reduced rates to low-income people.
Just by walking through the studio’s doors, you cannot help but feel the warmth and support from the trainers and other clients. Foronda is dedicated to making this space feel like a sanctuary, a place that seems like home and a family. The sense of togetherness is also implied in the studio’s name, which is a derivative of the Tagalog word “bayanihan,” which translates to “working together.”
Foronda became fascinated with the term while volunteering in the Philippines, following Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The volunteers helped tear down homes that had been damaged. Residents did not have the equipment to help, but some, wearing only flip-flops and using their bare hands, worked alongside the volunteers. Foronda learned the name for this action was bayanihan.
“So that really struck me as an important word because that’s like my philosophy on the healing arts — the spirit of working together. Healers don’t heal people, people work together with healers to heal themselves,” Foronda said.
Dani Behonick, 37, a community college professor, started going to Bayan Roots in the spring of 2016.
“I cannot overstate how integral Bayan Roots is to my well-being,” Behonick said. “I know that when I go there, I will see people who genuinely give a crap about me. Regardless of how my day has gone up to that point, during the hour I spend there I will be present and my brain will be calm and probably even happy.”
Behonick said the environment and goals of Bayan Roots attracted her to the space. “I knew I needed a spot where I felt comfortable and safe as a woman, as a queer person, as the type of person who is generally not depicted in gym ads and was picked last in gym class,” Behonick said.
Jamila Guerrero-Cantor, 42, a counselor and Los Angeles native who has called Oakland home for the past six months had similar feelings.
“It has been one of the best things about my recent move to the Bay Area. I’m very grateful to be a part of this community,” Guerrero-Cantor said. She stressed the importance of inclusion in healing and fitness places.
“Bayan Roots is very intimate with small classes, and the yoga classes have a very relaxed vibe,” she said. “There is a consciousness that welcomes all identities at this studio. We often begin our yoga class introducing ourselves and what gender pronoun we prefer, if any. I’ve never experienced that at a yoga studio before. It helps set an intention of inclusion and consciousness that helps deepen my yoga practice and philosophy.”
Bayan Roots is located at 2575 MacArthur Blvd in Oakland. For more information, visit www.bayanroots.com.