Kerrie Trahan's Yoganic Flow brings yoga to Detroit's underserved communities


When Kerrie Trahan moved back to Detroit in 2011, she had hit "rock bottom" (her words).


Trahan had grown up on Detroit's northwest side, within a short bus ride of her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and schools. She attended the University of Detroit Mercy and planned on becoming a lawyer like her two aunts. After college, she worked as an intern at a law firm and began studying for the LSAT.


But after her father was hit by a bus and killed, she became overwhelmed by stress and grief. She went through a bad period, adopted unhealthy ways of dealing with stress, and was diagnosed pre-hypertensive.


Looking for a way to move forward, she decided to join a friend in South Korea, teaching English as a second language. And that's where she first found yoga.


Trahan had first tried yoga years before at the Downtown YMCA at the encouragement of her father, but it didn't inspire her at the time. The move to South Korea that she tried it again, and found that it helped her move through the grief and find a path forward.


"In Korea, I gave yoga another try, because it was just down the street from my place," says Trahan. "At first, I was so stiff and inflexible; all the Korean grandmas would ask if I had a bone or muscle condition."


She stuck with it and felt her body become more limber. She also felt something inside of her open up and release stress. But after two years, Trahan still felt the pressure to go to law school. She had saved up enough money for school and returned to the United States to attend a pre-law program at Cornell. Yoga once again dropped out of her life. And the stress returned.

Kerrie Trahan teachers yoga at Detroit's Palmer Park.


"I went back to unhealthy ways of coping with stress," says Trahan. "There was so much pressure, so much going on."


She'd spent two years in a post-graduate pre-law program in New York City, trying to get into law school, but the LSAT tripped her up. On top of that, she was dealing with the fallout from a lawsuit involving the accidental death of her father. Anxious, overwhelmed, and grieving, she returned to metro Detroit and moved in with her mom in Southfield where she began trying to put the pieces of her life back together in 2011.


So she spent six months just focusing on her practice and eventually decided to attend teacher training at LifeTime in Rochester Hills.


But the experience was not easy. Her friends could not relate to her discipline; going to bed early, not drinking, eating a yogic diet. And she found the yoga scene in metro Detroit to be very different from what she had experienced in Korea — it was more ego-driven, competitive, and focused on strenuous physical performance.

Kerrie Trahan teachers yoga at Detroit's Palmer Park.


"People would talk about peace and love in yoga but not practice that in real life," she says. "I may never have continued without that other, nonwestern perspective I had from Korea, where it's more about the subtle body and mind."


But she stuck with it, and things started to shift when she began subbing for a friend's class at LifeTime. People began coming up to her after class and telling her about the impact her teachings were having on their lives. She became inspired and motivated to do more.


One thing that bothered Trahan about the way yoga was delivered in metro Detroit centered on access. Classes were mainly accessible to wealthy people who could afford to pay $20-$25 per class. Also, classes emphasized physical rigor and able-bodied people. She began to think about health disparities, and how yoga could benefit those in the community where she came from — people of color, most of whom could not afford studio yoga classes, and many of whom suffered from health issues like the high blood pressure that dogged Trahan and her grandparents.

Kerrie Trahan teachers yoga at Detroit's Palmer Park.


It was then she began thinking about the idea for Yoganic Flow. She began working with a children's yoga nonprofit. In her spare time, she started finding ways to offer yoga in nontraditional locations, for free, in the community. She began teaching yoga classes with the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department at local rec centers and took over a class teaching yoga in Palmer Park.


During this time, Trahan traveled to Los Angeles to visit the studio of Brian Kest, brother of famous metro Detroit yogi Johnny Kest. She witnessed Kest's donation-based Santa Monica studio in action and came away inspired by the energy, sense of community, and possibility for applying a similar model to serve the Detroit community.


"I came back to Detroit so renewed," says Trahan."I wasn't sure how I would make money. But Detroit is violent, and we still have a lot of issues like crime. My house has been burglarized; friends and family members have lost people to gun violence. We need some way to deal with the grief and depression that comes from those types of incidences which are pervasive in our community."


Trahan left her nonprofit job to do a 300-hour training class in India, something that she says she felt she needed to do to grow in her practice and as a teacher. When she returned, she began focusing on building up Yoganic Flow as her full-time endeavor.

Kerrie Trahan teachers yoga at Detroit's Palmer Park.


There was no business model at the beginning. It seemed cumbersome to do a nonprofit at the time. So she began operating as an L3C, and began experimenting, doing everything from classes in parks to offering hip-hop yoga classes in a juice store in Pontiac.


She began building relationships and soon created partnerships with Eastern Market Corporation, Sidewalk Detroit, schools, churches, and afterschool programs. She started a collaboration with VanDyke schools to teach elementary and middle school students about meditation and mindfulness. She's also partnered with the Detroit Pistons to teach yoga in communities where the team has invested in refurbished neighborhood basketball courts.


"These partnerships grew in places where they would not have had the opportunity to (while working full time for a nonprofit) because I was focused on building those relationships," she says.


The business model for Yoganic Flow evolved organically; she slowly built a team of dedicated teachers who could offer a wide range of classes designed to serve not only able-bodied practitioners, but those with disabilities, children, and the elderly. Many were former co-workers or class attendees.


"The team is my everything," says Trahan. "Yoganic Flow would not exist without the team."

Kerrie Trahan


The business model has settled on partnering with health-minded local nonprofits to offer yoga classes in a range of settings. The nonprofits pay Yoganic Flow, and classes are free to participants. The only exceptions are the Detroit recreation center classes, where students must register with and pay the city's rec department.

Trahan sees a great need for more accessible yoga in her community, and she'd like more people to know about how yoga makes an impact in the lives fo everyone, from kids dealing with family stress and poverty to older adults building up enough strength to carry groceries.


"A lot of people don't do it because we live in a capitalist society, and you need the money and want money," she says. "I get it, but in having that be your only focus as a yogi, you leave out a lot of people who could benefit."

Photos by Nick Hagen.

The series is supported by the New Economy Initiative, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that's working to create an inclusive, innovative regional culture.

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Read more articles by Nina Ignaczak.

Nina Ignaczak is a metro Detroit-based writer and the editor of Metromode. Follow her on Twitter @ninaignaczak.