News & Stories

Individuals participating in yoga class

Practicing Better Health

How do NEOMED students help their community?

Sometimes it’s in quiet but lasting ways, like the yoga instruction that will return to Northeast Ohio’s Hartville Migrant Center this spring.

Two years ago, NEOMED student Haley Coleman was spending time at the Hartville Migrant Clinic as a   volunteer in NEOMED’s Hispanic Community Outreach Group (HCOG). Now a third-year College of Medicine student, Coleman already knew that obesity was a chronic health issue for this population of people—migrant farm workers who labored all day, tending or harvesting crops, but who didn’t get enough aerobic exercise or have the right diet to stay lean. Under the guidance of Amy Lee, M.D., professor of family and community medicine, and Teresa Wurst, M.D, clinical assistant professor of family and community medicine, Coleman and classmate Neha Chevali (now a fourth-year College of Medicine student) conducted a conducted a needs, beliefs, and behaviors assessment.

They discovered that the farm workers wanted exercise—and relief for their sore muscles after a hard day in the fields. The answer, thought Coleman and her colleagues, was yoga.

Coleman recruited Parizad Dejbord Sawan, Ph.D., whose class in conversational Spanish for future health care professionals she and Neha Chevali had taken at the University of Akron. Dr. Dejbord Sawan also happens to be a yoga instructor, and she invited a fellow professor and several of her Spanish students at UA to help her teach the classes in Spanish.

Word of Mouth Success

Word spread. Migrant workers not only came to try out the classes last summer; they returned. By the end of the summer, six or seven students were consistently participating in each class.

“They found that yoga relieved their sore muscles in their necks and shoulders. It gave them a little bit of exercise, and it was meditative,’’ says Coleman.

Because of the class’s success, Hartville Migrant Center will offer yoga class again this spring and summer, with Dr. Dejbord Sawan and her medical Spanish students teaching it in Spanish.  The Center’s medical director, NEOMED graduate Teresa Wurst, M.D., supports Coleman’s efforts to help the farm workers and has played a significant role in the efforts.

Coleman sees the class as not just a one-time fix but a way to help people make a lasting improvement to their health and wellness habits. Class members learn various stretches and poses that they can do at home. The seasonal workers also receive free yoga mats, a t-shirt, and leggings so that they can continue their practice safely when they travel to their next farming job in Texas, Florida, or wherever their work takes them when the Ohio weather turns cold again.

Coleman and Chavali have shared their work locally at the NEOMED Global Health, Ethics, and Humanities Conference and nationally at the Community Health Leadership Conference at University of Miami, where their presentation of their initiative received second place.