SBCC yoga instructor uplifts spirits of students returning to campus

A physical education student holds out his arm for City College physical instructor E. Bonnie Lewis to apply a wristband for campus entry on Tuesday, Nov. 23 at City College’s La Playa Stadium in Santa Barbara, Calif. Besides checking in students four days a week, Lewis primarily works as a fitness stretching instructor.

Melanie Janicke, Staff Writer

The California afternoon sun shines brightly through the canvas white tent as E. Bonnie Lewis gives students their COVID-19 check-in bracelets, greeting every single one of them with a bright smile and a soft “hello my love,” and “how are you today, sweetie?”

The yoga and pilates instructor has been part of the Santa Barbara City College staff for over 17 years. 

But Lewis’ life hasn’t always been the sunny days of teaching at City College. She faced the problems every instructor had when the pandemic impacted education. 

The Coronavirus changed the dynamics of almost all areas of everyday life. City College transformed to perform during COVID-19, changing its educational culture for both the students and teachers.

“I had to relearn how to teach. Some people know how to design a really wonderful online class,” Lewis said.

“That was actually really hard,” she said, explaining that what she loves most about teaching is the interaction with her students. That in-person interaction was the hardest thing taken away by the pandemic for over a year. Now, Lewis is more than grateful to be back on campus and teaching in person again.

“I experienced my students as wonderful teachers. The exchange that happens fills me with great joy,” the yoga instructor said.

Her students appreciate the positive relationship Lewis maintains with them.

“She’s the best,” said Jordyn Hopkins, a student that takes her class every year. “She’s really caring. If you have to miss class… she’s more concerned that you’re okay than that you weren’t in class.”

Although she’s teaching in the physical health department, mental health is at least as important to Lewis. Several times this semester the teacher took time aside in her class to inform students about the resources available on campus to help maintain mental health, such as The Well.

“She really cares for you as a person,” new student Leonie Schaefer said. “Bonnie always wants to make sure that you’re doing fine. In as well as out of class.”

But maintaining her student’s well-being isn’t her only mission. 

Lewis and her husband lead a local theatre company, the “DramaDogs,” and she said running the troupe through a pandemic was a challenge all unto itself.

“What’s really great about this relationship is we’ve always loved the arts, so we supported each other’s creativity,” Lewis said.

Lewis and her husband act as artistic directors “performing, directing, choreographing, facilitating workshops, and producing DramaDogs productions,” as their profiles state on their website

Although many projects in the arts and entertainment suffered from the pandemic, the DramaDogs were able to receive financial support from the State of California.

“We were very lucky!” the consummate theatre artist said. “I had to apply four different times before we got support from the state, but still, we got support.”

Working at the theater as well as teaching yoga at City College are both parts of her passion.

“My whole life has been about creativity and movement and expression,” said Lewis, whose first job was at age 19 introducing first graders to creative movement. She received her master’s degree in dance movement therapy at UCLA.

“She’s an inspiring person,” Schaefer said. “She has a very motivating and positive energy and you can feel that in her class.”

Although the pandemic brought many challenges to life, Lewis learned once again how important it can be to find time to relax, a message she also tries to emphasize and convey to all her students in her yoga classes.

“It’s not easy for me- I don’t think it’s easy for anybody and I see it in my students all the time — to finally give ourselves permission to slow down,” Lewis said.