Third Root Community Health Center was the organization that broke boundaries with Queer & Trans Yoga and Yoga for Abundant Bodies. Things have changed significantly at this unusual organization. The Flatbush facility now offers more health treatments such as herbal education, acupuncture, and yoga nidra as well as yoga. In addition to formalizing their hours and putting together an administrative staff, Third Root also has an illuminated sign (so you can find it) and a computerized booking system so they can keep track of things.
As one of seven collective members of Third Root, Emily J. Kramer, yoga teacher and former amateur boxer, doesn’t have a boss. Instead, she and colleagues have invested in the success of Third Root, a worker-owned cooperative with a horizontal leadership structure. Kramer, 32, spoke with YogaCity’s Ann Votaw about accessible healthcare, which is so incredibly necessary when we are all floundering, and how it works with the absence of a CEO.
Ann Votaw: Can you provide a snapshot of a typical day at Third Root?
Emily J. Kramer: Every third Wednesday of the month, we have a meeting with the collective members. Sometimes weeks go by, and we don’t see each other. But to give you an idea, when you walk into Third Root, there’s someone there at the front desk from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. There’s usually a yoga class going on. We offer about 30 classes a week. There are shoes on the floor under the bench. Someone has just received a massage or an acupuncture treatment. We have a volunteer washing blankets, and a collective member may be dropping off something, like a lamp, for example.
AV:Since no one is in charge at Third Root, how do you function?
EJK: All of the people who work here share the responsibilities to run the business. We want to make sure the leadership is coming from the communities we represent, not from ‘on high.’ There’s a lot of trust, a lot of diversity, which is wonderful. We have all kinds of honest conversations because we all have shared interest in social justice and healing. It’s not easy at all, but we’re like a family.
AV:You became a collective two years ago. How has Third Root changed and grown?
EJK: In the last year, since we've become a non-profit, since we formed our non-profit arm, Third Root Education Exchange (TREE), we have become more procedural and more business savvy. We've hired an organization consultant and had major renovation on two of our treatment rooms. We are also developing a policies and procedures manual so that we can agree on issues like our cancellation policies. We're actually making more money than before. We're actually financially stable. It means that we have more security.
AV:Do you find yogis are uncomfortable with business matters?
EJK: Yes. I think it’s always been an issue and one of self-esteem. For instance, how do we hold the cancellation policies, so that we don’t feel resentful? How do you charge enough that you are proud? It’s uncomfortable to say, ‘You have to pay for the entire service,’ but it’s necessary. It helps to have it in writing. I think it helps set limits. That’s such a message for the yogis of New York, to take care of ourselves and not shy from asking what we deserve.
AV:What is the future of Third Root, as you see it?
EJK: We have so many ideas, like a viable use program for school-aged kids to learn about home remedies. We are in a large Caribbean neighborhood, so home remedies are actually not a new concept for them. We are also in a neighborhood where many of the schools have lost after-school programs. We would love to have a youth program one or two days a week and teach kids self-massage and acupressure. They could show off to their family and friends about how to stop a headache. Another thing is that we want to have formal instructor training programs beyond herbal remedies, like CPR. We want to have this place humming with people from all walks of life and all of our treatment rooms full all the time. We want a psychotherapist on staff. We have dreams of expanding into the upstairs space too.
AV: What does Third Root mean?
EJK: Three is a sacred number reflected in many spiritual and faith traditions. Three also represents the most sturdy structure. I think of the word “third” connecting to leftist and radical social movements: Third Wave Feminism, for example. To me, "third" represents recognition of folks who've historically been at the margins of dominant culture. We are rooted in spiritual significance, structural support, and empowerment of oppressed peoples.
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