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In BOP Faces, we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition, yoga professional Yira tells us all about yogi breaths, starting her business on home turf, and why it’s ok for yoga teachers to have a social life.

Is she weird?

What do taekwondo and yoga have in common? The answer is Yira Carrasco-Kemlin (47), also known as the local yoga teacher in Punta Cana Village. With her company Ananda Yoga, she serves a large clientele of Dominicans and visitors of the Dominican Republic.  

It is not like yoga is a new experience in this day and age, but when Yira came back to her home country to live in Punta Cana Village in 2013, it seemed to take her back to the Middle Ages.

“At that time there was no yoga studio in the area. It was very funny how people looked at me, asking themselves: ‘Is she weird? But she looks like one of us?’ They didn’t know where to place me. For a lot of people, I am the yoga instructor, and that’s the box they put me in. When they see me enjoying dancing somewhere – I really love dancing – they say, ‘Isn’t that the yoga teacher?’ Or, when I am having a social drink, they feel that it doesn’t fit with that image. I probably should not be eating meat, or drinking alcohol!”, a laughing Yira says.

Open space for wellbeing

Back straightened, legs in a crossed position and her toned arms resting alongside her body, Yira sits on a grey padded stool in her Ananda Yoga Studio. There are purple and grey tapes hanging from the ceiling, that are used for aerial yoga.

The studio is closed for the holidays, but Yira’s phone says otherwise. It keeps buzzing and ringing: clients who do not want to give up their yoga practice during all the seasonal festivities. “I really need to take this call. In this period, we are very busy with private classes”, Yira explains while picking up her phone.

The studio is a place where she and three other teachers give yoga, pilates, stretch, and strength. It can also be used by other teachers. “I open the doors as an open space for people who want to share alternative ways of wellbeing. For example, Reiki or meditation. I also give Ayurvedic consultations.”

First woman in martial arts

“I am known as the yoga teacher or instructor, but what people don’t know, is that I started with taekwondo”, Yira explains. On December 2nd, 2017, she was even inducted into the Dominican Martial Arts Hall of Fame as the first woman in Taekwondo. Teary-eyed, she says: “It still gets me emotional. My parents always wanted me to study very hard. I did taekwondo on a professional level, but my studies were my priority. I specialized in computer engineering and got 2 MBAs as a result. Luckily, my parents were very supportive of my career switch to yoga six years ago.”

Yira felt guilty, reminding her father he had spent a lot of money on her education. But her dad told her: “All you have done is because of your studies. They helped you organize your business.” Yira adds: “My parents are the reason that I started giving a senior yoga class in my studio. My parents participate in this class twice a week, but they definitely don’t like the word ‘senior’! I am grateful that I can help them exercise and benefit from yoga to be healthier at an older age.”

Community in Punta Cana Village

Yira Carrasco-Kemlin was born and raised in Santo Domingo but found the deeper meaning of yoga outside the country. “I practiced yoga in Santo Domingo with friends. It was more of a social thing. But when I moved Casablanca for my husband’s job, I connected to yoga on a deeper level. I needed something to find myself, and help me connect to the culture that was so different from mine.”

It was while living in Abidjan, in Ivory Coast on the African continent, when two yoga teachers convinced Yira to start teaching yoga. After living abroad, she moved back to the Dominican Republic with her husband and two daughters and landed in Punta Cana Village.

“It’s about exchanging energy, and a sense of community that’s so nice. My daughter can ride a bike to school and everyone always greets each other. I strongly believe in investing in the community, and that is why I participate in almost all the activities. Either as myself or as my business Ananda Yoga. With other yoga schools in the area, I organize International Yoga Day. And I am one of the founding members of the Farmers Market that takes place every other Saturday in Punta Cana Village. It’s a small market, but like everything, it takes time to grow – and of course, a lot of yogi breaths.”

Yira’s favorite place in Punta Cana is a secret. “As an island girl, I love the beach. Especially beaches with no people! I actually want places for myself,” Yira laughs loudly. “I will say it is somewhere in Cabeza de Toro… walk along the beach there, and find the spot that pleases you!”

You can find Ananda Yoga Studio at Galerias Punta Cana, 1ra Etapa, Punta Cana Village