To neophytes, yoga can look “intimidating,” says Claudia Baeza, owner of Pineapple Yoga Studio. “There’s an idealization of it. But yoga is about the non-ideal, the imperfect.” Since she opened her Burns Court studio in 2016, Baeza has backed up that conviction by offering free classes to people struggling with physical and mental disabilities. She knows firsthand the healing power of yoga.
“My anxiety and depression sometimes led me to be hospitalized,” the soft-spoken Baeza, 53, explains. “Yoga helped me experience sustainable recovery. It changed my life—and it saved my life.”
She decided to share that experience with others. “I didn’t want to open the studio just to people who had everything good going on,” she says. “Of course, that’s also part of it, because the studio is for-profit. But my intention is to share yoga in a place where people can show up just as they are—no comparison, no judgment.”
Through the studio’s nonprofit arm, the Dharma Footprint Project, Baeza offers classes in partnership with the Sarasota Housing Authority, classes for people with Parkinson’s disease and for people with anxiety and depression, and classes that follow the nonprofit Yoga of 12 Step Recovery’s protocol for people struggling with addiction. She’s also worked with kids in juvenile detention and with people recovering from trauma. They’re all free; many of the participants have never been to yoga class before.
Her students testify to the results. “Every time I leave class, I am better,” one Unity Award nominator—who said she couldn’t afford to go to yoga on her own—wrote. “I’m learning tools to help me in the outside world, like breathing, positive thoughts and using my core to help me feel balanced, centered and brave. It’s also providing us with a network to cope in this stressful world. Years of therapy did not help me this much.”