By Cecilla Chan, GSN Managing Editor

Rooted Community Yoga Project is taking the ancient practice that connects the body, breath and mind out of the studio and into local businesses, schools, parks, a museum and even a prison.

The Gilbert-based group began in January 2017 with the mission of providing affordable and accessible yoga for all by going out into the community.

“We wanted people to enjoy the healing benefits of yoga,” said Jessy Smith, who co-founded the group with her sister, Jillian Seamans. “It’s not only great for muscles and bones, but it helps us to de-stress.

“It’s getting us closer to our truth, what really makes us happy and brings us joy, and it’s also a great way to get in touch with our bodies. So many of us are disconnected with our bodies,” she added.

The group teaches all levels of yoga and more than half a dozen forms such as hatha, ashtanga, yin and kundalini.

The business of six women operates without a boss.

“We’re all on the same level,” Smith said. “We all support one another and listen to one another. Everyone has their own role for sure. Everyone kind of leads their own events and are responsible for their own stuff.”

Maintaining a regular yoga practice provides a realm of physical and mental health benefits, according to the American Osteopathic Association.

Benefits include managed stress, increased muscle strength and tone, improved respiration, energy and vitality and weight reduction, the association said.

Smith knows firsthand the healing effects of the ancient mind-and-body discipline.

Although she has been practicing yoga for 15 years, Smith said she really focused on the discipline when she was diagnosed six years ago with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system. The diagnosis came two weeks before her daughter was scheduled for heart surgery.

“My nervous system was shot,” said Smith, a mother of four children ages 5-14. “I was a mess. Through the healing power of yoga and meditation, I learned to calm my nervous system.”

Combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, she has not seen her disease progress in six years and is not taking any medication, Smith said.

The group regularly teaches in Gilbert locations such as Lorna Jane clothing store at San Tan Village, the uprooted kitchen restaurant and Thrive Coworking for Women and at the Duce and the Heard Museum, both in Phoenix.

The group heavily relies on social media platforms to communicate with students and share its yoga events, according to Seamans.

Most classes are $5. Special kids Art and Yoga classes offered twice a month and museum yoga classes each costs $10. The cost of yoga at Heard includes the price of museum admission. The group also holds workshops and women retreats for a cost.

Smith said the group four months ago volunteered to do a yoga/meditation program at Perryville Prison, a state institution in Goodyear for women. Inmates within six weeks of release are eligible to participate in the program held in a prison yard.

“We get them prepared to be out and back on the streets again,” Smith said. “We get them the skills to control their emotions a little more. There is a waiting list. They love it and want us to come every week. Hopefully in time we will be able to go in there weekly.”

Smith said the group is looking at offering yoga to male inmates taught by men.

“There’s been some talk about us going to Lower Buckeye Jail,” she said. “We are getting more instructors on board who want to go into the prisons with us.”

The group also offers free yoga to low-income and homeless veterans at the annual Maricopa County StandDown event hosted by Arizona Veterans StandDown Alliance and the Arizona Housing Coalition.

At the last event, the group sent veterans off with yoga mats and blocks paid for by the instructors out of their own pockets, according to Smith.

The group also trains elementary-school teachers on how to teach mindfulness yoga to students, Smith said.

And, Rooted Community Yoga Project gives back by holding regular charity events for local nonprofits.

“We have found in our hearts service has been such a beautiful way to bring happiness in our lives, and we have been affected in our own lives and had certain charities reach out and helped our families and we wanted to give back,” Smith said. “It’s not only about the money we raise but the awareness of different charities, promoting their events.”

So far, the group has raised approximately $2,000 for local charities in addition to food, clothing and household goods donation drives, according to Seamans.

Local charities the group has helped included House of Refuge, Colleen’s Dream Foundation, Friends for Life, Mindfulness First, Raising Special Kids, Ryan House, Hope Through Hollis, and Ophelia’s Place.

If You Go

What: Rooted Community Yoga Project is holding a Gentle Holy Yoga Class for all levels to raise funds for a woman who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Donation ideas include money (cash, PayPal, CashApp, Venmo) and  gift cards for Visa, Target, Walmart, Costco and gasoline.

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 28

Where: Lorna Jane San Tan Village, 2218 E. Williams Field Road, Gilbert

Info: facebook.com/RCYProject

If You Go

What: Rooted Community Yoga Project is holding a Gentle Holy Yoga Class for all levels to raise funds for a woman who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Donation ideas include money (cash, PayPal, CashApp, Venmo) and  gift cards for Visa, Target, Walmart, Costco and gasoline.

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 28

Where: Lorna Jane San Tan Village, 2218 E. Williams Field Road, Gilbert

Info: facebook.com/RCYProject