Kate Rice: How We Serve Our Communities

Kate RiceThis is an interview with Kate Rice, a Chicago-based yoga teacher who offers trauma-informed community classes in two public library locations and recently started teaching yoga at Cook County Jail through Yoga for Recovery. Kate started working administratively in yoga service through Yoga Activist in Washington, DC, before becoming a yoga teacher. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Communication and, among a variety of other jobs, has taught English as a foreign language in Bosnia, Slovakia, and Hungary. You can read more about her work and find resources and articles on trauma-informed yoga at shareyourpractice.org.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

Practicing yoga in my low-cost Washington, DC, gym during grad school was transformational for me. I was dealing with a lot of stuff, and yoga just made me feel better. As a child I was very overweight, I had a difficult relationship with my family, I struggled with body and food issues for many years. It took me a long time to feel comfortable wearing yoga clothes and going to a yoga studio.

I started volunteering a few hours a week of admin help for Yoga Activist in exchange for free yoga at Yoga District. This essentially turned into a full-time gig for some time—Jasmine Chehrazi’s dedication to this organization and work has proven to be an incredible influence on my path.

Fast forward to 2014, I had moved back to Chicago, and somewhat spontaneously enrolled in yoga teacher training with Core Power Yoga. I now teach yoga full-time and love it. I believe yoga has a tremendous capacity to heal, whether it’s in one’s own home, in a gym, on the beach, or in a studio. But if I only teach in paid positions at gyms or studios, the yoga I offer is likely only reaching the small segment of people who can afford to pay a lot. Lots more people can benefit. There are so many problems in the world, most of which I am not otherwise equipped to address, so making yoga available at low cost or no cost is something I can actually do.

My motivation has shifted to helping connect yoga teachers to the resources already out there to get formal training in trauma-informed yoga.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

I avoid hands-on assists outside the main studio I teach in, for a number of reasons. But otherwise, I actually bring a lot of my trauma-informed perspective into my public classes. Molly Boeder Harris framed it most memorably for me in her training on yoga for survivors of sexual violence: trauma survivors are definitely present in public classes too!

Ideally any class is level-appropriate for the people in it, and most of my public studio classes are in fact more vigorous than my community classes. But wherever I teach, I offer options, as much as I can, without ranking the options [as easier/more advanced]. I invite students to observe their own experience of the postures, the pace of their own breath. I consistently ask if students would like to opt out of hands-on assists. I offer alignment cues—a lot! But ultimately I let my students decide what to do with their own bodies and their own practice.

There are strong views that teachers should do this work only as service, and equally strong views that teachers should not work for free because it undervalues the work. I think it is more complicated than coming to one “right” answer—and also that yoga service shouldn’t be practiced only by people with disposable income and with lots of spare time on their hands.

It can be disheartening, though, when in certain contexts I have to fight for the opportunity to offer a free yoga class that incorporates my professional skills and supplementary training in trauma-informed yoga. My tools are persistence, recognizing how rewarding it is to offer yoga in a setting where it wouldn’t otherwise be available, and picking my battles. I may have my heart set on a specific venue, but if management isn’t interested in yoga—even a free class—someone else will be, somewhere else.

Coffee helps, too, especially with the persistence part.

What advice would you give to teachers newer to the field of teaching trauma- informed yoga?

Get formal training in trauma-informed yoga because it matters. There are teachers with lots of experience in trauma-informed yoga, and they will bring up topics you haven’t even thought to consider. You’ll learn a lot by attending their trainings, and your enrollment fees will help financially support yoga service as a whole.

Also, as important as it is to learn and do your best, be kind to yourself, rather than judgmental. You will make mistakes, you will say and do things that later you look back on and wish you had done differently.  Trauma survivors have survived a lot; your yoga class will not break them.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

I hope that yoga teachers and the public will define “yoga service” more broadly, and incorporate trauma-informed yoga training in standard yoga teacher trainings.

For-profit public classes will continue to reach the segment of the population who can pay. In this group, there are bound to be trauma survivors, both people who identify as such but wouldn’t call themselves that publicly, and people who for most intents and purposes are trauma survivors, but haven’t thought to categorize themselves as such. For this reason, I hope that more yoga teacher trainings will incorporate information on trauma-informed practices, and direct teachers on how and why to get additional training.

Low-cost yoga for the public at large matters, too. Teaching yoga in prisons, to documented domestic violence survivors, to people diagnosed with eating disorders—these are all incredibly important. I hope that teaching yoga in less dramatic but equally worthwhile settings like community centers or libraries will be recognized as valuable forms of yoga service too. It would be tremendous to reach people with yoga before they wind up in more extreme situations of experiencing an eating disorder, becoming incarcerated, or experiencing domestic violence. So even if yoga isn’t what prevents the situation totally, they have those tools at their disposal.

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Jennifer Fremion: Healing the Body, Mind, and Spirit

Jennifer Fremion OriginaljpgThis is an interview with Jennifer Fremion, who works as a chemotherapy infusion nurse as well as a certified yoga teacher in yoga for cancer, Hatha, Vinyasa, Kundalini, and Yoga Psychology. She and Fort Wayne Medical Oncology and Hematology have developed the first medically supported yoga for cancer program in the Fort Wayne, Indiana, area that offers free classes to all cancer patients and survivors.

Says Jennifer so powerfully: “Cancer doesn’t only take over the body. Trauma resides in the body and mind of a person with cancer. Therefore, yoga is an integral component of the treatment of cancer because it addresses not just the physical body, but also the emotional and mental bodies, as well as the spiritual health of the individual.”

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

Our patients are what motivate me. As a chemotherapy nurse I get to know them throughout the course of their treatment. They are the strongest people I know. I see their fear and sadness, and I also see their hope and joy for life. It helps to keep me present within the moments of my own life. Throughout my work as a nurse, I’ve seen how the practice of yoga fits so beautifully as a complementary part of medical treatment. Where medicine falls short, yoga offers support. It’s not a cure-all by any means, but it seems to be the missing piece of the big picture of cancer treatment.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

I’m most rewarded by being told by those who attend yoga for cancer classes how much they love the classes, and that they feel so good afterward. I recently had a student stay after class. She was new to the class and newly diagnosed with breast cancer. She began to cry as she introduced herself to the class and shared her fears of her diagnosis. The entire group supported her in sharing their own stories and extending an offering of hope. After class this student thanked me and said, “I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life, but now that I’ve got cancer it’s become even worse. This class helped me with that and immediately gave me relief.”

We share our stories, we laugh and we cry in these classes. They go far beyond physical exercise; yoga taps into something so much deeper than that. These teachings work to the deepest level of our human capacity, beyond the traditional treatment regimen and protocol. This is where deep healing occurs.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

They teach me by just being and showing up. These students represent the epitome of strength and courage. They show up in their own lives fully every day. Whether they are nauseated, fatigued, depressed or scared, they show up. They give insight into what it is to live with cancer and to go through treatment. Quite a few of the students in the yoga for cancer classes have stage 4 cancers, and know that there isn’t a “cure” for their disease. And yet they live each moment of their lives to the fullest, because their diagnosis gives them the understanding that there is an end to life. I learn that we don’t know how long we have in this life, and so to make the most of each moment.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with people recovering from cancer?

Yoga is an inclusive practice. Our yoga for cancer classes are free and open to all students who are going through cancer treatment or are beyond treatment. Societal factors such as economic status, religion, ethnicity, physical status and education don’t prevent students from experiencing the benefits of practicing yoga. We live, breathe and practice as a collective. We celebrate each other and our unique life’s journey and it is each student’s cancer journey that has brought us all together in the first place. Yoga addresses societal factors by bridging diversity and extending acceptance. Creating union, which is the definition of yoga; union within our own body and mind and in community with each other.

In working with cancer patients, what changes have you noticed in yourself, your thinking or feeling about cancer?

Cancer has become a part of all of our lives. It is something that will touch us all whether it is a friend, family member, or our own personal cancer journey. Working with people going through cancer treatment and cancer recovery, I’ve learned the importance of pausing in life to breathe, even if it is just for a short moment. This offers a sense of peace no matter what it is we are facing. Yoga gives us this very tool, one that teaches us that we can truly be well even in the midst of disease or chaos. My teacher Tari Prinster says it best, “Cancer steals your breath. Yoga gives it back.”

I am so grateful to be working alongside oncologists who understand the immense healing capacity of yoga and cancer. Through our program we are not just focusing on the illness itself. We are able to move beyond that and focus on the overall wellness of each patient and survivor. We can create the space and understanding that we can be well no matter what stage or progression of the disease we face. The practice of yoga teaches us this.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

My hope for the future of yoga for cancer is that the yoga and medical fields can increasingly work together to offer tools to our patients to live life better both during and beyond traditional treatment. I hope yoga will be used more and more as a therapeutically-oriented practice to offer great relief beyond the physical realm. Yoga can fully support our patients’ needs, body, mind, and spirit.

Cited Resources

(1) Yoga For Cancer: A Gude to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors, Healing Arts Press, 2014, p. 278.

(2) Yoga For Cancer, Tari Prinster p. 277.

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Damaris Maria Grossmann: From Battle Warrior To Peaceful Warrior

Damaris-Maria-Grossmann-Social-image

This is an interview with Damaris Maria Grossmann, a Registered Nurse, yoga therapist, and wellness educator. I met her at the 2016 World Affairs Conference at the University of Colorado, where she was invited to speak because she was “blessed to find yoga in 2006 when struggling with transitioning from the military of over 5 years in the US Navy during Global War on Terrorism.” She has vowed a life of nonviolence and to make the transition from battle warrior to peaceful warrior of the heart. She teaches veterans with the non-profit organization Team Red White and Blue, and has taught children in lower- income schools in Newark and Paterson, NJ, as well as at the Hackensack Cancer Center with the non-profit organization Kula for Karma. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate at Rutgers University, working on integrative health care for health professionals who want to lessen stress and burnout, and a Certified YogaNurse®.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

I injured my back when I was in the Navy. The injury was the result of a traumatic and emotional situation that was out of my control. I found myself alone, depressed, and living my life in pain, anger, and full of post-traumatic stress. I was introduced to yoga as movement therapy, and I was so surprised it helped. Yoga helped save my life. In my darkest moments, I learned to see the light. My motivation is to teach yoga and integrative health practices to help facilitate others’ healing, now that yoga has helped me. Yoga is whole-body medicine, and should be a part of all medicine.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

I feel rewarded when I see the way my students are able to relax and reset. I’m so thankful to see someone be successful who has struggled to relax. The mat is an opportunity for them to be in present time, and to let go in ways that help them find space to forgive themselves and others. The best part of teaching is watching the moment when a person learns the power of their breath as a way of healing and as a source of unconditional love.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

I’ve learned to be patient, and to listen to the answers within. My students also have helped me to understand the opportunity in the struggles we all face, and that we can find the best part of ourselves.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors facing the veterans you work with? In what ways does it not?

Most of the yoga classes offered in studios across the country may be inaccessible for veterans, either because the approach may be based on assumptions about the clientele that don’t apply to veterans, or simply because they are too expensive. I’m thankful to studios and non-profit organizations like Mindful Yoga Therapy and Kula for Karma that offer free classes for veterans.

What, in your mind, is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?

To me, the practice of mindfulness is not just about being aware of the present moment. We can use those moments to make a change in the world, because we become more mindful of the direction in which we would like our action to lead. Connecting with ourselves through mindfulness will bring both calm into our lives, and allows us to make positive change in the world.

What advice would you give to someone who is going to teach the veterans that you work with? What would be the most important thing for them to carry?

When you teach veterans, take time to pause and observe your judgments about what they may have done in their work. Try to accept them where they are, and believe they are our best teachers. I suggest being mindful of your words, and of the transition poses. Be open and genuine, expressing any emotion, or none at all. The breath and quietness of yoga and meditation may be scary moments for veterans. Always reiterate they are here on the mat, in their breath and safe. Take the time to be aware of options and modifications of poses. Always let a group know that any amount or any pose is a beautiful pose; it’s about the time for them to listen within.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

I believe yoga is a very important part of American healing! Most all of us suffer in some manner with pain or illness. My hope is that yoga will be available to all populations. Actually, one of my greatest passions is complete integrative health within hospitals, communities, and health clinics. Yoga is a way of facilitating healing for the mind-body and spirit. As a nurse veteran and yogi I have seen the impact it has had on my own health and well-being. I intend to promote yoga and wellness as a necessary part of healing in health care communities worldwide.

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Interested in helping veterans to find a calm body/mind? Learn more about Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans and join a teacher training near you.

Terri Cooper: Connection is the Cure

Terri-Cooper-Featured

TERRI COOPER IMAGE COURTESY OF DEREK KEARNEY PHOTOGRAPHY

This is an interview with Terri Cooper, who told me that in 2003, “yoga saved my life. It had such a profound impact on me. I knew immediately that I needed to share this healing practice, so I jumped into teacher training. I felt called to bring this healing practice to those would wouldn’t normally have access to it, so just three months later I started my first outreach class, and have been doing it ever since.  What started out as just a personal passion soon became Yoga Gangsters a 501c(3) not-for-profit organization, and after 13 years and 15,000 kids served we matured into Connection Coalition (that’s CoCo for short), with trainings in 25 states.  We address the symptoms of trauma and poverty through yoga, meditation, and mindfulness and train our teachers to create connection with youth in schools, jails, shelters, rehabs, and more.” 

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? 

I’ve always been motivated by the lack of access to necessary resources for communities in crisis.  We know that trauma can be healed, and we know how. Yet, there is still an enormous gap between those who need these tools and those who can easily access them. And, for me—that’s just not ok. Unfortunately, racism and classism continue to perpetuate the cycle of trauma through mass incarceration, under-resourced schools, and lack of opportunities, just to name a few.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

The connection is the most rewarding. It’s what we’re all about. Through yoga, people get to cultivate a connection between their movement and the breath. That enables them to connect to themselves in a loving and healing way.  And we all know that when we are in a challenging experience, our crazy human minds start to rip ourselves apart with “not enough-ness.”  The stretching and breathing begin to release tension, and people naturally develop mindfulness around their thoughts, and how these thoughts affect them. In this space we make the connection that ultimately, we’re all very similar and want the same things—to be happy and feel safe.  Yet our access and privilege can be wildly different, causing a major gap between those who have resources and those who don’t.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

They’ve taught me not to judge so quickly. I always ask their name and a bonus question during our sessions. One of the questions I ask is what would be your superpower? At a juvenile detention center, one student responded with shooting bullets from his finger. In that moment I could’ve judged him, but my work has taught me not to react quickly, instead to stay in an inquiry. So, I asked the child why and he responded that he wanted to stop his mom’s boyfriend from raping his little sister.  See how this illustrates that there is a relationship between trauma and violence. This is why our motto is “No blame, No shame, No judgment.”

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with at-risk youth in juvenile detention centers?    

Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are proven to regulate the nervous system, and thus lead to practitioners being less reactive and more responsive. These are necessary tools when you’re caught up in a system that is flawed, biased, and sometimes even corrupt. There is an inequality that exists in this system that has created a school-to-prison pipeline, thus continuing the cycle of trauma and poverty.

Often we hear claims of yoga as a means to positively change the world. What in your mind is the relationship between a yoga practice and greater social change?

Greater social change is only possible when people with privilege and power begin to take steps to create this change.  Today, the yoga community is still overwhelmingly white and privileged.  We at CoCo encourage this community to think about how their access and privilege has allowed them to move through life, and how not having those privileges would be devastating – access to quality education, healthy food, safe environments, and the list goes on.

Through yoga, more and more leaders and decision makers are cultivating empathy. They see the systemic separation and inequality that is persistent in this country.  Our CoCo trainings facilitate a conversation around race, privilege, and power, and we weave this delicate conversation into our yoga experiences.  I look forward to the day that this dialogue and awareness will eventually lead to policy change.

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

My hope is that there will no longer be a separation of yoga and service yoga. I would love to see yoga, meditation, and mindfulness as part of the normal school curriculum that all students have access to.  I also dream that one day our policy makers will have a mindfulness practice and that self-regulation will be as habitual as brushing our teeth in the morning.

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Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn about ways to get involved with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.

Cat Lauer: How We Serve Those In Recovery

Cat-Lauer

CAT LAUER IMAGE COURTESY OF JOSLYN GRIFFIN OF GATHER IN KIN

I recently met Cat Lauer at the Hanuman Yoga Festival in Boulder, CO. She volunteer teaches free yoga classes to support recovery from addiction, trauma, and mental illness, and she is paid to teach studio classes at Old Town Yoga Studio in the historic downtown of Fort Collins, CO. Her “Yoga For Recovery” classes are designed to complement on-going therapy with physicians and mental-health therapists. Visit: catleaslauer.com/yoga-for-recovery

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work?

During the summer of 2002, I was a seva student at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. There I was exposed to yogic practices and meditation. Years later I sought help for an eating disorder; I pledged that whatever modality best served my recovery, I would work to provide the same opportunity to others. That turned out to be yoga. I began to expand on my home practice with individual sessions with a yoga therapist, then studio classes and workshops, and on to a teacher training program.

Yoga for Recovery is offered to those in recovery from addiction, trauma, and mental illness. While my recovery was from an eating disorder, the class teaches skills that address issues relevant to many recovery paths. I’ve witnessed commonalities among people in recovery, clients I met while working as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, and in my current work at a mental health and substance abuse facility.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

The most rewarding aspect of this work is to see the change in body language during practice. So far, the lesson I learn week after week in class is that all the gifts I’ve experienced while practicing yoga in recovery are also received by others. Yoga may not be the core of everybody’s recovery, but they still benefit from a simple yoga practice. Then they in turn go on to create safer, healthier communities for people who may not otherwise be able to afford a trauma-informed, inclusive studio class.

When I entered my initial yoga teacher training, I was unsure as to whether the program was to deepen my practice and further my recovery, or the first step towards teaching others in recovery. At my first practicum, I felt so very sure that I would continue on to teach others in recovery – but I had a plan consisting of years of training and fundraising to make it happen. Over time my students have taught me that grand plans might not be as important or effective as these: a clear idea of the population I wanted to serve (those in recovery seeking a yoga and/or meditation practice, who may not be able to afford a regular studio class), and how helpful free access to yoga practice is. In essence we are all practicing breathing, and movement, and moments of peace on our mats that will lead to greater compassion towards ourselves and others. In short – recovery!

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with people recovering from mental illness/trauma/addiction?

There are a number of brave souls in the world advocating for the end of the social stigmas associated with mental illness, trauma, and addiction. By holding a safe place for any and all to sign in and say, yes – me, I am in recovery, I hope to support acceptance and counteract the isolation and shame surrounding these issues. Recovery is time-consuming and emotionally draining, yet few of us in recovery chat freely about such things, so we bear this burden alone .

Each class I teach is designed to be trauma-informed, includes breath-work and meditation to confront the anxiety, depression, and overwhelm that may be a part of recovery, as well as responses to society’s judgments of people in recovery. These techniques encourage us to listen to our own wise mind, practice acceptance, and move through discomfort and change to forgiveness.

Finally, there is the great healing force of connection; in class together we can celebrate practicing in community.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

My hope is that more yoga teachers will discover that they have gifts to give to others who need free access to the healing power of yoga, so I hope yoga practitioners see their own potential to give back in small ways. All it takes is noticing a need and finding one small part of one’s self that fits that need. And acting on it before one starts to question one’s ability! We all have an ability to serve, and incorporating service into our practice and our work is … exciting! Hopeful! Empowering! Fun! … And important for our communities.

As I’ve said, recovery is time-intensive and expensive. I am so grateful for donations from individuals, the Give Back Yoga Foundation, and Gaiam. My hope is that in the future more organizations—non-profit and for-profit—will continue to donate beautiful mats and props, music, and a clean, safe space easily accessed by bike, foot, public transportation or car.

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Are you interested in adding mindfulness techniques to your teaching toolkit? Explore the ways our yoga therapy and yoga service trainings can prepare you to support people in recovery.

Trina Wyatt: Striving Towards A Healthier Planet

Trina Wyatt---Conscious-Good

This is an interview with Trina Wyatt, founder of an online media streaming service called Conscious Good. When I first met Trina I told her that I felt overwhelmed by the billions of things I could watch or listen to on the Internet, much of it cluttered by advertisements I wasn’t interested in. Now that I’ve been introduced to Conscious Good, I have easy access to videos and podcasts that entertain, inspire, and inform my life.

Rob: I’m interested in the background of your yoga service career. Could you share this with us?

I’m a “Slow Growth” yogi: in my early 20s, over a period of years, well-meaning friends “dragged” me to their yoga classes. I found it pure torture and swore I would never go back. Later I noticed how healthy and happy yogis were, and I thought, “I probably hate yoga because my body so badly needs it.” That realization prompted me to give it another chance and, luckily, I found a wonderful teacher at my health club. Within a few months I was hooked and attending three classes a week. I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for over 20 years now.

My early practice was mostly Ashtanga and Hatha, but while pregnant with my first child, I pulled a back muscle. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and a friend suggested I attend Gurmukh’s prenatal Kundalini yoga class. Its benefits were huge for my daughter’s birth; however, it didn’t occur to me to continue with the practice.

Then, about four years ago, I was struggling to do yoga or meditate regularly at all. Between two kids in private schools and other financial pressures, I took a job only for the salary, and I was miserable. My office at the time just happened to be near a Kundalini yoga studio called Golden Bridge. Though I hadn’t been attending class, the studio had a little café that I frequented for lunch.

One day I noticed a five-day yoga and cleanse program and I signed up. Eventually I found a way, with my husband and children cheering me on, to take the full Kundalini teacher training. Part of the training required meditating for 11 minutes a day 40 days in a row. This was how I discovered the power of a daily practice to overcome unhealthy habits. Two months into the yoga teacher training program, I told my husband that I was going to leave my miserable job. I recall saying that I wasn’t going to be unhappy in a job ever again and that we may have to sell the house and move. Always the adventurer, he said, “Great! Where shall we go?” This is what prompted our move to Boulder, Colorado, and my eventually launching Conscious Good.

What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

One of the motivators in launching Conscious Good has been to use media and technology to help and support people in being the change they would like to see in the world. I’ve always loved going to the movies. While I was in high school my father sat me down one day and asked, “What do you think you’d like to do when you grow up?” I had just spent the summer working at a retail shop owned by two women, so I said, “I’d like to run my own business one day.” He encouraged me, and urged me to study accounting, because it’s important to know the numbers when running your own business. So I combined the two and pursued a career in finance in the motion picture industry.

In 2003, after wrapping up the first Tribeca Film Festival and completing my MBA, I thought it was time to try something new. The only thing I could think of that I loved as much as film was yoga. Since then, I’ve tried many times to move my career toward combining the two—from collaborating to create content to advising organizations that are involved in conscious media. You could say that Conscious Good has been brewing for over 13 years.

What, in your mind, is the relationship between a yoga practice and greater social change?

In my experience, adopting a daily practice—be it yoga, meditation, gratitude, or prayer—and supporting that practice throughout the day with thoughts, experiences, and media that support it, helps you be the change you want to see in the world. A daily practice has the power to replace unhealthy habits or addictions with healthy habits, and by putting kindness above personal gratification, we create a ripple effect through society, thus impacting greater social change.

Conscious Good is helping people to “be the change” also through our programming. This summer, we held our first Humanitarian Film Festival. We put a call out for short films that exemplified compassion and empathy for those less fortunate. The results were extraordinary and, I believe, have real impact. As written in Psychology Today, “watching TV shows and video clips with pro-social themes (like people helping others, problem solving, cooperating and being generous) can lead to more cooperation, more positive attitudes, less aggression, and more altruism”.*

What do you think the role of brands plays in the shaping of the future of yoga? Can brands play a role in maintaining the integrity of the practice, and how are you contributing?

People vote daily with their dollars, and technology is forcing more transparency in brands. More and more people are interested in where goods come from, how they’re made and their sustainability, and how the people making them are treated. Any brand in the yoga and mindfulness space will need transparency, integrity, and authenticity to thrive. I think true yoga and authenticity are synonymous. I am contributing to maintaining the integrity by continuing to walk the talk – practicing daily, encouraging my team to do the same, bringing mindfulness to staff meetings, and giving back to conscious causes. At least to start, our plan is to donate 10% of our net profits to non-profit organizations.

Does yoga help your consumers address problems that afflict so many in society, such as body image, etc.?

Yes. My belief is that practicing yoga with spiritual authenticity creates a union with the divine; and, as we are all divine, yoga deepens the connection with ourselves. Through practice we can develop a self-love that will help us embrace our body’s imperfections and heal ourselves. At Conscious Good, we intend to offer yoga practices for every age, every body type, and every level. We need more!

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

My hope is that in 10 years more than 50% of the population is practicing some form of yoga and/or meditation. I hope that every person in the U.S. adopts a form of service to others – whether through yoga or other means, and realizes that being of service is a key component to health and happiness and to bringing about the greatest social change.

*Psychology Today January 19, 2013.

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Join us in making yoga more accessible to all. Learn about ways to get involved with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.

Mary Sims: Yoga Supports Self Advocacy

This is an interview with Mary Sims, who started taking a community yoga class in 2005 motivated by a major life transition. The class showed her that she is open to discovering new things about herself; she found she was extremely flexible, which allowed her to quickly gain confidence in most yoga poses. After each class, she experienced a great sense of peace, contentment, and well-being, and the classes supported her through a tumultuous and painful period in her life.

She is currently an adult advocate for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities at AdvocacyDenver, and founder of the Yoga 4All Abilities Program to support people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

Both of my passions for yoga and for working with people with I/DD motivate me to offer this program. I want to give back to a community of individuals for whom I care so deeply. This community, for a multitude of reasons, lacks accessibility to mainstream yoga studios. Yoga 4All Abilities will hopefully propel my participants to go to a community class, to have the confidence to step into a community studio. I also hope that with this program the yoga community will become more inclusive.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

During a recent class, one of my new students came in asking “what is yoga?” and “how do I do yoga?” As we were in “table top” position, twisting with our right arm to the sky, I instructed the class to touch a star. The student who asked those questions said “I got one. I got a star. I’m doing it. I’m doing yoga!” This student’s comment continuously resonates with me. He was, in fact, doing yoga, and he was confident about doing it. As my heart soared, I realized that my class had built his self-confidence and contributed to his overall success in life.

What are some of the things that your students have taught you?

I’ve definitely learned to not take myself too seriously. This group of individuals values the present moment. So now I don’t so much focus on my instruction expertise during classes, because my students are teaching me to be able to laugh at myself.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities?

Health and well-being are important for everyone regardless of their social or economic status. Sadly, for the most part, the I/DD population does not have access to yoga. There are many causes for this, including lack of transportation, education, financial stability, and confidence. They often lack the confidence to advocate for themselves, and they are mostly dependent on guidance from their care providers for making good choices in lifestyle and healthy practices. Yoga 4All Abilities helps my students become more aware of the mind-body connection while building self-advocacy skills to make their own health and well-being choices.

Often we hear claims of yoga as a means to positively changing the world. What in your mind is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?

When you come to the mat, relax your thoughts, and become aware of the mind-body connection, you enter a state of mindfulness. This state of mindfulness allows you to pause within the struggles of daily life, and gain a wider perspective. This new perspective can strengthen our sense of compassion for others and for ourselves. I believe that if an individual becomes more compassionate, this can affect many others because it has a ripple effect.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in American in the next 10 years?

My vision is for yoga to be accessible and inclusive of all populations, regardless of age, gender, shape, or ability. I believe yoga accessibility has the possibility of creating a culture of compassion. If we can create a culture of compassion within all communities, our society can be more mindful of the fact that even with all our differences we are all the same.

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Kyla Pearce: Traumatic Brain Injury Healing Through Yoga

kyla-pearce-b-1-featuredThis is an interview with Kyla Pearce, who has been teaching yoga for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) since May 2014 as part of the LoveYourBrain Foundation’s Yoga Program.

“This program grew out of the need my now husband, Adam Pearce, saw for supporting his brother, Kevin Pearce, and others affected by TBI in their healing process. I vividly remember being at the end of my 200-hour teacher training in Dharamsala, India, and receiving an excited call from Adam—he described how Kevin was increasingly drawn to yoga and meditation, and that he was finding a sense of peace, accomplishment, and vitality that were unavailable elsewhere. He said, “Let’s bring this feeling to everyone with a TBI! Can we? Should we?” Ever since that phone call, we have been working to do just that.”

Some of the common consequences of TBI (e.g., poor balance, memory, concentration, and information processing) are being addressed by a TBI-focused gentle yoga and meditation curriculum based on the key factors that promote resilience. LoveYourBrain programs are now in Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Colorado in an effort to take them nationwide.

Rob: What are the scope and costs of TBI that you are trying to address through your yoga program?

Each year in the US, over 2.5 million people experience a TBI. TBI accounts for 30% of all injury-related deaths, and leads to $76.5 billion in medical costs (CDC, 2016). Tragically, the incidence is growing—the World Health Organization predicts TBI will become the third leading cause of death and disability in the world by 2020 (Popescu, 2015). TBI can lead to a cascade of physical, cognitive, and psychosocial challenges, including impaired coordination, attention, and memory, and heightened anxiety and depression. These challenges predispose people to unemployment, relationship strain, and social isolation that undermine quality of life (CDC, 2015). Despite the variety of poor outcomes, best practices for rehabilitation that effectively support people to meaningfully participate in their community are limited (CDC, 2015).

What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?

Initially, my motivation stemmed from the transformation I saw in Kevin from his own practice. After a yoga class, Kev would share that, for the first time in a while, his mind felt calm and he was able to take a break from the race of trying to keep up. I also noticed that he thrived from the agency he felt from engaging with what he deemed was a fitting challenge (be it focusing the mind in meditation or holding a strength-building asana), instead of measuring his progress based on some external benchmark. When he practiced yoga, he no longer felt defined by his injury.

My motivation is reignited each time I witness similar transformations among students in my classes: such as feeling sensations in areas once numb, being able to sleep through the night, connecting with other TBI survivors for the first time since their injury. I am also continuously moved by the energy and enthusiasm of the yoga teachers who participate in our workshops to be able to bring our program to their own communities.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

To counteract the disempowering and isolating nature of TBI, we include three components in our curriculum: asana, meditation, and group discussion. I love the story-sharing and cross-learning in the group discussion, which is where I see relationships being built that will last far longer than our time together on the mat. It is a privilege to be a part of the creation of community. Ultimately, for me, holding space in a way that enables people to find agency, feel accepted and understood, and experience the possibility—instead of the limitations—of their body and mind, is meaningful.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the human potential for resilience. TBI often leads to a lifelong process of adjustments, unlike when you break a bone where you can expect function to eventually return to its original level. TBI requires immense resilience, which my students reflect in myriad ways both in and out of the studio—from showing up to class with a positive attitude despite weakness or light sensitivity that makes movement challenging, to being willing to trust a new teacher when everything else in life feels uncertain, to letting go of resentment about their relationship failing because their partner didn’t understand why they act differently, to finding acceptance for what is, when faced with tumultuous change. I have learned that struggle is our greatest teacher and that strength comes not from how little we feel, but instead from how much we feel.

As a yoga teacher, my students have taught me the true spirit of namaste—that our true selves are all the same, they transcend any injury or trauma, and deserve to be appreciated and acknowledged with compassion. I have learned that all of us, in one way or another, want to feel safe, satisfied, and connected (as coined by Rick Hanson), which is what we are trying to foster in our program.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with people recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury?

One of the major issues for the TBI community is the gap in ongoing care following inpatient and rehabilitation services. Great care exists upfront, and then people fall through the cracks when they return home. Because TBI is often an invisible injury, many people are also unaware that someone has TBI, and thus are not as accommodating as they might be. Yoga teachers can therefore offer important community-based rehabilitation, in particular because they support holistic—physical, emotional, social, and spiritual—healing. At its core, yoga is a practice of deep listening to—and honoring of—our inner experience without resisting or grasping. I believe this leads to authentic and compassionate self-expression and to regaining a sense of purpose, which are critical to any healing process.

What, in your mind, is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?

In my view, social change originates from a personal experience that reveals something unjust that you can’t sit with. For me, this experience was Kevin’s TBI and, since then, the thousands of stories of others affected by TBI who struggle to regain a sense of wellbeing and wholeness. Mindfulness enables us to become attuned to the reality of our own and others’ challenges, and to act from a place of love and openness. Without mindfulness, it is easier to ignore the facts and maintain the status quo.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in America in the next 10 years?

My hope is that yoga service organizations will pursue more rigorous research to evaluate the impact of their programs. If the yoga community can develop evidence-based practices, the medical establishment will be able to acknowledge yoga as a viable healing modality, and increasingly integrate it into the healthcare system. This way, people affected by TBI will experience a more seamless continuum of care, in which they can access ongoing support and actively participate in their community. In the meantime, I hope more yoga studios take on leadership roles in community service, and commit to partnering with LoveYourBrain and other yoga service organizations to make yoga more broadly accessible.

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