Open Up Pittsburgh gives wellness access to all

Open Up Pittsburgh is designed for everybody and every body. Its mission is to create an inclusive environment for all and teach mindfulness tools and movement practices, centering on people living with disabilities. Open up offers yoga for all ages, improv theater, and other communicative spaces to build community.

“The idea of making yoga, mindfulness, the arts…all of these really integral parts of humanity accessible for everybody is what we all knew to be true,” said Community Learning Director April Jackson.

During her tenure with Open Up, Jackson has found some overlap in struggles for equal access for herself, as a Black woman, and people with disabilities.

“There’s the intersectionality of so much within the Black community,” said Jackson. “There’s a high percentage of people within our community who have disabilities. We have a lot of health disparities, and we are often not invited to the table, especially in wellness spaces.”

A big part of increasing access is meeting people where they are. Open Up has worked with Pittsburgh City schools, Baldwin Whitehall School district, and private schools to bring yoga to youth.

“It’s been amazing. We have contracts with school districts, and I teach yoga classes to special needs students. I teach from kindergarten to high school, and it’s been such a wonderful opportunity to bring accessibility,” said Jackson. “I’ve always had a soft spot for kids with the belief that if we can teach the youth now how to manage their emotions and advocate for themselves, that is going to translate into healthier adults.”

In addition to yoga, Open Up has also found improv theater to be beneficial for overall health. Improv theater is a type of theater that is unscripted, unplanned, and unrehearsed, with performances being created spontaneously by performers in the moment. It is often comedic, but not necessarily. Successful improv theater relies heavily on developing skills of non-judgmental attention, which are synonymous with mindfulness practices. It boosts self-awareness, joy, and support while reducing conflict, anxiety, and stress.

“It’s another avenue to help people understand how they feel and how the body feels,” said Jackson.

She adds working with Open Up has expanded her own mindfulness and how she views the world.

“It’s been impactful to me because I wasn’t coming from a space of working in the disabled community, but I recognized the commonality we all have. I learned to really understand that accessibility for all is not something that we as a society focus on intentionally at all. For me, it’s taken that veil off my eyes. It’s been exciting to do this work and support the community. It’s work that’s not work.”

3711 Butler St.

Pittsburgh, PA 15201

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