Roenesha Anderson, 30, grew up inside a vortex of family turbulence. At one point, both of her parents were incarcerated, she says, and she was eventually adopted by an aunt.
"My (biological) mother had six kids and my dad had eight," she said. "When it fell apart, we scattered around Chattanooga.
" I lived in a chaotic environment. We normalized struggle, overworking and disease. I grew up in a culture that says that is the way it's supposed to be. But I always had a special intuition, thinking 'this is not right.'"
Today, Anderson is a Chattanooga yoga educator who has dedicated her professional life to sharing the benefits of yoga practice with young women of the inner city. Her non-profit organization called Girls Stance is aimed at middle- and high-school girls growing up in urban environments who stand to gain physically and spiritually from learning about yoga.
"It was birthed in my own experience of growing up in an intense environment," she says. "Finding yoga helped me maintain ease and become more productive."
Anderson says she was introduced to yoga several years ago while she was still working at Cigna, and yoga became her respite from the stresses of the job. In 2011, she began practicing yoga at Toes Yoga on Brainerd Road.
"I had carpel tunnel (syndrome) and chronic anxiety," Anderson recalls. "After I went to my first (yoga) class, I left feeling a bliss I had never experienced before. I had so much clarity when I left class. I felt lighter."
Immediately, she began to think that yoga would be a beneficial stress reliever for young people in high-stress neighborhoods, she says.
After a time, Anderson says she was encouraged to train to become a yoga instructor, and she got a scholarship that helped make her yoga education possible. She trained for about eight months, gaining confidence along the way.
"In yoga school I began to learn about myself," she says. "It changed my life. It changed my emotional intelligence. It changed my life financially."
A full-time yoga educator now for four years, Anderson has private clients and leads group practices, many involving young women. Her business is called Roe Lashay Yoga, and she specializes in mindfulness training as well as teaching yoga postures.
Meanwhile, her Girls Stance program is aimed at steering middle-school girls toward lower-stress lifestyles. To jump-start the process, Anderson takes the girls on camping outings and takes away their cell phones. There's nothing relaxing about anxiety-inducing social media, she argues.
"We give them nature therapy," she explains of the camps. "We take away their cell phones and put them in tents."
Ultimately, Anderson says she hopes to groom high school girls to become Girls Stance "ambassadors," spreading the benefits of yoga throughout the school population by becoming instructors themselves.
* Age: 30
* Hometown: Chattanooga
* Job: Yoga educator
* Business name: Roe Lashay Yoga
"Girls are more prone to environmental stress," Anderson explains. "Yoga changes your posture and how grounded you are. Kids can lead their peers and communities to more peace and kindness."
Anderson first began her educational outreach at East Lake Academy two years ago. She says she is in talks to push her program to area such as the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Brainerd High School and Red Bank High School. Several local yoga studios have offered to provide space for the program, she says.
Anderson says her own personality transformation help her spread the word about the benefits of yoga. As a young woman, she was withdrawn and anxious, she says. Now she is always smiling and feels grounded.
People noticed. And they are eager to share her bliss, she says.