Cass Hanson has been practicing yoga since she was 15 and began teaching it three years ago. She's now a regular instructor at the Studio, where she leads classes aimed at multiple ability levels.
But it is the class she has designed specifically for service industry workers, called Balanced Tray, that is her passion.
"I initially started doing it because I couldn't find a class at the right time" says Hanson, herself a waitress at Sushi Muramoto. "I'm also very interested in the lifestyle shift that yoga offers. It can change your whole life, from drugs and alcohol to mental stability. Plus, it can be such a helpful way to combat the physical issues that come up as a result of serving or bartending."
Five to 10 people regularly attend her hour-long sessions, which are offered Monday afternoons at 2 p.m. on the third floor of 112 State St., and on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the Center for Conscious Living, 849 E. Washington Ave. The cost is $10 per session.
"Many people start my class, find yoga comfortable, and then move on to different kinds of classes," she adds. "I love that. Others have been coming on and off since I started the program two years ago."
Drop-ins are welcome and encouraged. As Hanson notes: "The industry is inconsistent by nature; just showing up and paying for a single session is very common."
Hanson believes her refusal to judge people's fitness levels, lifestyle choices or spirituality is a big part of Balanced Tray's popularity: "I will see students in class and then later smoking, or even join them for a drink. There isn't the stigma that is so often associated with yoga."
During Balanced Tray classes, Hanson leads participants through appropriate stretches for leaning over to pour water at tables and dealing with asymmetrical use of the body during work, as well as stretches that provide relief for repetitive wrist movements. Many of the students arrive after busy, alcohol-filled work weekends, and Hanson leads multiple upside-down movements for draining toxins.
"There are so many service industry workers," says Hanson. "And they are so often overlooked."
Classes specifically focus on knees and wrists, engagement with the lower body and speed. "Service folks should practice a more fast-paced form of yoga because they are always 'on,'" she says. "We are really good at multitasking several steps ahead, and any professional bartender or server is most likely a chronic multitasker by nature."
Shower facilities are being added to the Studio soon, and Hanson hopes to offer more classes beginning at 2:30 p.m. during the week. This would allow service industry workers to participate before their usual 4 p.m. start.
"I've had people come before a 12-hour shift," Hanson says. "It feels good to move and stretch and open up before interacting with customers. And it makes for better restaurants and bars because yoga makes happy waitresses and bartenders."