The #NewsYogi: How one journalist started a conversation about mental health

Leslie Rangel, an anchor and journalist at Fox 7 in Austin, TX, started The News Yogi to serve as a space for journalists to do yoga, opening a dialogue about mental health.

By Kyra O’Connor, for Journalism in a Free Society course at Elon University (2020)

Leslie Rangel turns on her laptop, firing up Zoom and fixing the camera angle to make sure her yoga mat is in the shot. She then burns incense, clearing the air just before the students in her Wednesday yoga class come online. 

Leslie has already been up for hours by the time she starts class. She starts her day at 2 a.m., fitting in a workout before dressing and driving to work. The morning show at Fox 7 Austin starts at 4:30 a.m. and lasts for five and a half hours. When she’s not at the anchor desk, she’s working on her Friday morning newscast, Good Day Together, where she spotlights stories from the minority community in Austin, Texas.

Leslie has been in journalism since she was a crime reporter at her high school, and working as a professional at KXAN News, KFOR and KFDM. But she started storytelling much earlier. A toy microphone lived in Leslie’s hand, and she asked her mom, Alejandra Rios, questions all day long.

In a few minutes, five or six journalists from all over the world will log on to their computers. Some are taking her class to wind down at the end of a stressful day; others taking it in between broadcasts; and some still taking it on their off day, prepping for another day of news. Each class, she gives journalists an opportunity to unplug and leave their stories at the door. This time is for them, and as her mantra says, yoga will help these journalists bend so they don’t break.

Leslie Rangel is The News Yogi. Through YouTube, virtual Zoom classes and her social media accounts, she provides journalists with a space to practice yoga and teaches them how to use the skills they learn in yoga in their lives as people and journalists. 

Courtesy of The News Yogi YouTube page.

Leslie’s passion for wellness started in college. While studying broadcast journalism at the University of Texas Austin, Leslie started to feel like she didn’t belong in journalism. 

“I felt at times like journalism was something I was good at, but I was really like, ‘is that where my passion is?’” Leslie said.

Leslie took her first yoga class in college while pulling all-nighters for finals. Even though she ended up passed out — waking up to find she split her chin open — she was hooked. In college, she taught fitness classes like Zumba or boot camp-style classes as a way to earn extra money, but fitness and teaching quickly became parts of her life. 

“I loved this idea of being able to help guide people to just have more self-confidence and to just all around feel better,” she said.

Despite her passion for fitness, Leslie remained a journalism major, continuing to teach classes on the side and graduating in 2012. Even in her first job as a reporter she kept teaching yoga as a side hustle, but also as part of something deeper: her desire to help people.

“My ‘why’ has always been to help people,” Leslie said. “With journalism I guess that’s where I began to find my ‘why’ — my ‘why’ is that I could help people tell their stories, and I think that’s what has continuously fed my soul is this idea of why am I a journalist.”

Helping people remained a constant in her life. As a child, her mom Alejandra said Leslie wanted to be a doctor because she wanted to “heal everyone in the world.” Leslie always cared for everyone, Alejandra said, and that has never changed. 

Making a name for herself

When the pandemic hit in March, Alex Rangel remembers getting a call from her older sister, Leslie. 

“Back in March is when she kind of sat down with me and she’s like, ‘Hey, remember this crazy idea I had? Well, I have an even crazier idea,” Alex said.

When Leslie first reached out to Alex, she was in high school. Leslie told her about an idea for a platform to show her wellness practice and exercise as a journalist, but Alex said the idea fell to the backburner until March. The two are not close in age, but over the years have grown closer as sisters. When Leslie told Alex her new idea in March, Alex knew: “this is it.” 

Leslie became The News Yogi, branding her content with a logo Alex designed. Her platform now includes a virtual studio, two online Zoom classes a week, a newsletter and much more. Alex said she thinks Leslie’s niche idea — connecting journalists to yoga and ultimately a conversation about mental health — will help her connect with an audience that is underappreciated. 

For Cassandra Jaramillo, Leslie’s focus on yoga specifically for journalists is what caught her eye. Jaramillo met Leslie as a college freshman when Leslie was presenting at a journalism conference. The pair bonded over their similar upbringings as children of immigrants, and Leslie quickly became a mentor to Jaramillo. Taking one of Leslie’s classes of quarantine felt like therapy to Jaramillo.

“I began to notice that there were a lot of things that she was writing about that I kind of diminished as like ‘oh you know I’m just I’m having an off week,’ or something, or my head is a little foggy, but she made me recognize that these were responses to exhaustion to anxiety and stress,” Jaramillo said.

A lack of a conversation surrounding mental health within journalism is something that motivates Leslie in her work as The News Yogi. Tammy McCoy, a former journalist who now works as a clinical psychologist providing counseling to first responders, sees the lack of a conversation too. Like Leslie, McCoy saw the toll news took on her friends and herself. That’s why she started her work to educate journalists about mental health and the importance of taking care of themselves.

“Hearing about or bearing witness to other people’s trauma can be traumatic or stressful, and creates problems for the journalist,” McCoy said. “If you’re not taking good care of yourself, and all you’re doing is working, you’re really not doing a good job of tending to your own wellbeing. You’re making yourself vulnerable to all the after effects, and that’s not healthy.”

Leslie’s husband, Agustin Garfias, was hesitant when Leslie brought her idea to him. Garfias said starting a business during a pandemic seemed like a risk to him. Garfias thought the worst that could happen would be minimal — they would be out a little bit of money and Leslie would go back to teaching in-person classes following the pandemic.

Then I saw what it was doing for her personally,” Garfias said. “I saw the reaction from people. I haven’t been in a class myself, but I was seeing the response and the effort that she was putting into it, and I was impressed.”

As class ends, Leslie invites everyone to pause. It’s the final shavasana — resting pose — and she tells her students that they are welcome to stay there for as long as they’d like. But if they are ready to continue on with their day, they can sit up, and join her as she closes out the class. 

“The light in me honors the light in each and every one of you on the other side of the screen,” Leslie says, bowing her head. “Namaste.”