How One Woman Transformed An Empty Lot Into A Peaceful Refuge In A Hectic City

"I want to give them an awakening."

What was once an abandoned lot is now a thriving yoga garden on the West Side of Chicago thanks to a woman named Indigo Monae. The 31-year-old Chicago contractor and yoga instructor — who grew up in public housing in a violent neighborhood of Chicago — wanted to give back to the city's urban communities. 

"This is my karma project, my yogi gift. It's my way of sharing something I know will help the community," she told The Chicago Tribune.  

Along with friends Morr Solomon and Frediliza David, Monae transformed the lot, which had been empty and unattended for10 years, into a Yoga Gardens in 2012. The city was excited for the trio to take the reigns. "The city said, 'Please. If you can do something with it, please,'" Monae said.

The garden recently opened its doors for the sixth season, and people from all ages are welcome to take yoga classes there, or simply use it as safe haven. 

"You have to become a part of the community for people to trust you," Monae said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune."These kids have people come in and out of their lives all the time. You have to earn their trust before you can develop a bond."

Antone'shia Palmer, 18, who began attending the yoga classes when she was 13 years old, says the garden is a peaceful refuge in a hectic city. 

"You come in here, and it's like a whole different universe," she told the Chicago Tribune. "I learned self-control. Tricks for how to calm myself. To count to 10. I guess I would call them self-re-evaluations."

Monae said she studied yoga after family troubles kept increasing, and in 2016, she won a scholarship to further her studies at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India.

"In India, I sat with all of it," she said. "What it took for my mom to move us. How I can give back. Wondering why the violence doesn't stop. In Chicago, yoga and gardening are both very big. I haven't invented the wheel. But it helps you to be equanimous, to look at our fears and desires as just that — fears and desires — and to not give in to them."

The West Side is known for its high crime rate and violence. Monae said she is seeking to be a change in the community. To help fund Yoga Gardens, and bridge a gap between the north and west sides of Chicago, Monae holds yoga classes at Montrose Beach and asks for $10 donations, which she invests in Yoga Gardens. 

"I am them," she told the Chicago Tribune. "I want them to see themselves in me. Some of them have never left their neighborhood. Some of them want to travel to India now. That's what I want to give to them — an awakening."

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