Fully Aligned: New yoga studio promotes diversity, mindfulness, self-discovery

When Denisha Parker started training to be a yoga instructor in 2019, she noticed she was often the only person of color in the room.

“You have all-Black spaces or all-white spaces,” she observes. “And I’m like, yeah, how can we learn? How can we grow? How can we hear each other’s story if we’re still separated? And I didn’t want that.”

Parker quickly made it her mission to create a welcoming space where a diverse group of people could gather and promote mindfulness, physical wellness, and self-exploration.

In June, Parker opened Yoga Nisha, her first brick-and-mortar yoga studio. Tucked into the back of Eastgate Shopping Center in Mayfield Heights, Yoga Nisha is more than just an exercise studio, it’s a diverse, multicultural wellness community. In fact, “Nisha” stands for Nourishing, Intention, Self-Awareness, Healing, and Acceptance.

Yoga Nisha studioYoga Nisha studio“What I’ve created over these three years are relationships amongst people, because I’ve created this safe community where I am a lot of people’s only Black friend, and I know that, but my story isn’t the only story.”

Yoga Nisha offers a variety of yoga classes, from the basics and fast-spaced vinyasa, to slow burn and meditation, Parker also plans to offer Yoga Therapy—a growing health modality that uses the movements of yoga to promote physical, mental, and emotional healing, as well as massage and traditional talk therapy.

Parker has created a bright, airy space with high ceilings, fresh white walls, and crisp green accents. There’s a main yoga studio for classes, a cubby space for belongings, and a smaller meditation room in which students can spend time before or after classes. Students can sign up for classes online or through the Mindbody app.

Parker says the biggest challenge she’s had since opening is that no one wants to leave. Her students tend to linger after class, talking and catching up around the water cooler—furthering Parker’s community ideal.

“We grow from conversations, we grow from interactions, we grow from coming to a space as a collective, by being authentic to who we are and not feeling like we have to shun ourselves or put ourselves in a box because the person next to us is judging us,” she says. “And that’s how all of this was born.”

While running Yoga Nisha, Parker is also a wife and a mother of five children, Albert, 24, twins Alonna and Alonn, 21, Jason, 11, and Jayse, 9, and she works full-time as an intervention specialist in education in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst City Schools.

“I always say my life has been fully aligned,” she says. “And when you really listen to what the universe is saying to you, your life can do amazing things.”

A long journey

Parker’s life has been an amazing sequence of action and hard work. Even though she grew up poor in Cleveland's St. Clair Superior neighborhood, Parker's mother instilled in her and her sisters the importance of self-love and self-worth—making Parker want something more for her own children.

“I knew how I grew up, and I just didn’t want them to have that same struggle,” she says. “I wanted to expose them to different experiences that I didn’t have. So, I worked really hard, most of the time working multiple jobs to do so, but I did it.”

Yoga Nisha family and friendsYoga Nisha family and friendsYears ago, as a young single mother of three, Parker worked full-time at Progressive Insurance while attending Cleveland State University for social work. College led to an internship at Rap Art in Cleveland Heights, which helped Parker realize she wanted to teach kids with learning disabilities. That realization, in turn, led to a return to Cleveland State for a master’s degree in special education.

Parker’s foray into teaching fitness started when she went to a free introductory Barre3 class at a Barre3 yoga studio in Legacy Village. Within a month, Parker had decided to become an instructor.

In addition to her full-time special education intervention job, she taught classes at the Lyndhurst studio for seven years. Because Parker’s yoga instruction certification only allowed her to teach Barre3, she started to take her training a bit further because it would give her more independence.

During her training, Parker began to see a new dimension to yoga—a mind-body connection through breathing, posture, and self-awareness.

The enlightenment led her in a new direction, and Parker began teaching yoga. In August 2021 she was awarded a $4,500 grant from Awakening Yoga Spaces, an organization that aims to diversify the yoga space by making yoga teacher training more accessible to Black, indigenous, and people of color.

Parker used the grant to become a Certified Yoga Therapist and continues gathering like-minded people who now exercise and socialize in her wellness center. She says it’s been a long journey. While Parker is enjoying her success, she’s also preparing for the future.

“I’m just looking forward to growing a community and it’s been bigger than I could have ever imagined,” she says. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. This space is just the beginning.”

Yoga Nisha is located at Eastgate Shopping Center, 1341 SOM Center Road, Mayfield Heights, (440) 565-7108.

About the Author: Katie McMenamin

Katie McMenamin has written across a range of platforms, from broadcast news and published novels to promotional brochures and back cover blurbs.