Damaris Maria Grossmann: From Battle Warrior To Peaceful Warrior


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.


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



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.

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



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.

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.

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.


Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with underserved populations. Learn more about our nationwide initiatives.

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.


Join us in the season of giving to share the gift of yoga. Learn about ways to help those who can benefit most with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.

Ann Marie Johnston: One Yogi’s Attempt to Make Yoga Accessible to All

in-blog-anne-marie-johnston-photo-courtesy-of-donatella-parisiniThis is an interview with Ann Marie Johnston. When I first arranged to talk with Ann Marie, I didn’t realize she lived in Melbourne, Australia, so we needed to adjust to the 18-hour time difference. Ann Marie is the founder of YogaMate, a global digital platform (website and app) connecting yoga professionals to their students and communities by providing them with tools and resources.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do service work?

When I reflect on how privileged my life is, I feel immense responsibility to give back in a meaningful way. You see, I grew up in a family where ‘giving back’ was simply considered a way of life. My school, Presbyterian College, had the motto, ‘While you live, you serve,’ which further instilled the expectation that we are meant to give back of our time and money.

Over the years, dabbling in varying roles, I never found a way through my professional career to make the difference I hoped to. When yoga entered my life, I knew I had finally found something I believed in that could make a real difference to others. Wanting to align my work and purpose, I began the mental and energetic shift away from a career as a marketing consultant, and towards a career sharing yoga.

Once I finished my yoga teacher training, I wanted to give time teaching as part of my contribution to society, yet I found it a real struggle to find local yogic charities to work with.

So with YogaMate, it was not only imperative that I give profits back to yogic charities, but it was a natural decision to create a free directory for yogic charities to better connect with teachers wanting to give their time.

How has yoga impacted your life?

For nearly 20 years, I lived with Persistent Depressive Disorder. My everyday life was permeated with a general low-grade depression, melancholy, and futile sense of “what’s the point of it all?” Despite taking medication for many years, I still felt a general sense of hopelessness about life.

In late 2008, I took a course that introduced the concept of being in the present moment. It was the first time in my life that I had been encouraged to stop the incessant chatter of the mind, and ‘just be.’ With this newfound tool under my belt, and an introduction to breath work, I launched into a study of yoga. Self-directed, I read books, began practicing asana, and introduced meditation into my life.

Over the years, a shift took place and my melancholy dissolved. One day it occurred to me that I no longer felt hopeless, and yet I was still mindlessly taking pills. I stopped cold turkey and never looked back. (NB: I do not advocate this approach—going off medication should be discussed and managed with your doctor.) I began to reflect on other ways in which my health and well-being had improved. My chronic headaches were gone, my allergies nearly non-existent, nor did I still experience symptoms of IBS. My relationships improved; I was less competitive, more compassionate and less judgmental.

logo_with_yogamate-1Why yoga?

Because of my experience, I wanted to better understand this question better, so I enrolled in a 500-hour teacher training. Though I had no intention of teaching when I began the course, mid-way through I realized: ‘how can I not share this with others?’

Before my teaching career could really take off, I sustained a significant (non-yoga related) back injury that ruled out my physical practice. My focus returned to breath work and I committed to a consistent meditation practice. In fact, it was during a meditation in May of 2014 that I conceived the idea of creating a digital platform to help spread awareness around the depth, breadth, and healing application of yoga.

Once the initial seed had been sown, I threw myself into creating YogaMate, a platform that enhances credibility for the therapeutic benefits of yoga, and helps ensure yogic tools are accessible to everyone. I honestly didn’t realize the mountain of a project I was about to launch into!

With a deep sense of purpose and commitment, and amazing support of the broader yogic community, I have since poured two years and significant savings into developing a platform that helps share the healing power of yoga with everyone.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

Much of my ‘teaching’ (sharing) is done through YogaMakesLifeBetter – a blog/vlog I started when I was recovering from back surgery. Having readers and viewers share their challenges and successes both strengthens by commitment and inspires my own practice, and encourages me to be fully open and present.

In my local classes, it’s particularly rewarding when I see people connect to their breath, come into the present moment and find their inherent peace. Even if it’s only initially temporary and fleeting, I’m rewarded knowing that I’m sharing tips and tools that are always freely accessible. It’s like handing someone the blueprint to a happier life.

What have your students taught you?

My students help reinforce that I have the choice of how I meet my own challenges and that the only thing any of us can control is our thoughts. I’m constantly reminded that no one’s life is perfect and that every one of us has what can seem like insurmountable challenges. Seeing how some people move through life graciously, despite their challenges reminds me to stay grounded and be mindful of my own thought patterns. By choosing my thoughts, and where I place my energy, I am proactive about how I approach and engage with life, rather than passively allowing it to happen to me.

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

Being mindful – particularly of your own thoughts – is the game changer. When we work on auto-pilot, it’s nearly impossible to think about the greater context.

When we are mindful – when we are aware – we see the inequalities, the injustices of life , and we can no longer just sit on the sidelines and pretend it’s not happening. Being mindful—awake—creates the impetus for action.

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

Though yoga is certainly not a quick-fix, I believe it truly has the power to transform lives and change the world in both subtle and significant micro and macro ways. I further know that if you can breathe, you can practice yoga—though not every teacher is right for every student. So with this sincere belief, my hopes are to help make yoga accessible to everyone, by connecting the community to the right teachers.

Beyond YogaMate, I personally aspire to help get yogic tools recognized as a crucial addition to national school curricula of the world.

I wonder how my own life would have been different had I been introduced to these freely accessible yogic tools when I was in my early teens, when my depression started. I consider everything I was taught in school, some of it immensely beneficial (some not!) and I can’t help but think that the current system lets us down. To reach 30 years of age without ever being encouraged to stop the monkey mind is a tragedy.


Help make yoga more accessible to those who can benefit most. Learn about ways to get involved with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.

Cody Founder Paul Javid: Building a Yoga Community Online


This is an interview with Paul Javid, former Microsoft product manager and co-founder of the fitness app Cody. Here Javid speaks on mindfulness, connection and the role of digital platforms to build yoga and fitness communities online.

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

Human capacity is limitless, and as long as we have the tools and resources we need, anything is possible. My desire to help people accomplish their dreams and give them the tools to do so impelled me to leave my job at Microsoft and start Cody with my co-founder, Pejman Pour-Moezzi. Four years later, what motivates me most is the desire to grow with the incredibly talented people I work with every day – the employees, coaches, and community that make up the CodyFam.

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

With a practice of mindfulness we open up to love our neighbors, our communities, and even people we haven’t met before. When we take the time to connect with our innate desire to love, social change isn’t a task – it’s one of life’s greatest joys. When we love someone, we naturally start to give and support them. This is why love is, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful tools for social change.

Perhaps what’s often forgotten in the journey of love is the love of self. We must learn to love who we are, and find strength therein before we can give ourselves to someone else. We must first believe that anything is possible before we can teach someone else to believe the same. These deep-rooted feelings often require renegotiation with our own psyche, and this internal conversation can only be had with a practice of mindfulness.

Today yoga is a practice, a community and even an industry. How is yoga evolving in contemporary culture? What’s happening to the demographics, and to the teachings? How has your own practice evolved?

Ten years ago, Yoga wasn’t perceived by the mainstream as a rigorous physical practice, rather a slower, almost restorative form of fitness. Today, through the growth of social media, the world’s best practitioners are showcasing the incredible strength and control they have built through the practice of Yoga. Yoga has branched out from traditional methods and sequencing to a practice of whole health: integrating strength, flexibility, body awareness and mindfulness into a single practice.

While Yoga has grown to appeal to a wider audience, the intention of the practice has remained intact – transformation of consciousness, identity, and relationship with community. Yoga is my moving meditation – one where I grow stronger physically as I grow stronger mentally and spiritually.

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

I believe that brands are the organizing catalyst for Yoga. Whether a person practices online or in person, there is one or more brands behind every instructor that have helped bring students to their classes and even define their message. To believe that Yoga brands could operate without a strong partnership with Yoga teachers is naïve, and to believe that brands would have a successful business without also insuring the success of their instructors is short-sighted.

Cody partners with the best instructors in the world, and has created over 200 hours of Yoga-based training. But our mission goes beyond creating great videos – we are changing the way Yoga is practiced online.

One of the biggest differences between an in-studio class and an online class is online formats traditionally lack community. But, when students train with Cody, they connect with other people and watch stories be told. Dialogue unfolds through likes and comments. Even better, they can interact in real-time with other students from around the world by taking one of our Online Studio classes. Our Online Studio community is so powerful that many students wake up in the middle of the night just to participate.

Are we doing a good job of keeping the practice’s spiritual authenticity intact during this unprecedented period of growth and evolution?

While we might observe that Yoga is getting more attention due to the physical or at times even acrobatic nature of the practice – the impressive handstands and arm balances – this is only showcasing the mastery that an individual has over their practice. I don’t believe this is overshadowing the spiritual authenticity of the practice, rather it might just appeal more, initially, to our physical nature.

I believe we are keeping the spiritual authenticity of the practice intact because I believe that the Yoga instructors who are growing in popularity, locally, nationally and internationally are doing so, not only because they are physically talented, but because they also have deeper meaning and teachings that they wish to share. At a glance, particularly on social media, it might look like all that is being showcased is a strong pose or a flexible position, often revered in higher levels of the Yoga discipline, but as we read further, we will often find a powerful story of personal growth, an inspirational message, or even gleanings into one instructors perspective on the path to enlightenment and equanimity.

What is your role and your brand’s role in making the practice accessible to more people to facilitate greater social change?

We don’t try to influence what someone should practice, with whom they should practice, or what style of Yoga to which they should dedicate themselves. Rather, we are the loudspeaker for the practice of Yoga in general. We showcase that Yoga has something to offer everyone; whether you want to build strength physically or mentally, practice self care, or reconnect with your spiritual nature. Whether you have a big or a small body, you are young or elderly, you are an athlete, or you are overweight, we believe Yoga has something for you.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in terms of the demographics of your consumers? In what ways does it not?

spring to fit challenge

Jessamyn Stanley of Everybody Yoga

Our trainings are designed to help users tackle a variety of societal issues. For instance, the “EveryBody Yoga” plan by Jessamyn Stanley, a teacher who is familiar with the challenges of practicing in a larger body, is designed to help those with body image to gain confidence and embrace who they are. The “Making Shapes” course by Dana Falsetti, who found happiness through yoga after years of binge eating, encourages students to embrace their full potential without feeling limited by their physical body. And Ana Forrest’s “Freedom from Struggle” class invites students to recognize and break free from emotional and mental roadblocks, building self-esteem and strength.

Working with teachers who represent a variety of different traditions, backgrounds, genders and body types is a way we can truly encourage “yoga for everyone.” Cody is dedicated to solving the challenge of making online trainings an even more intimate, live experience between students and their teacher.

I Am Worthy with Dana Falsetti:

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

I hope that Yoga isn’t just another fitness form that has to compete for attention with other forms of fitness. Rather it’s seen as one of the only forms of fitness that has a traditional lineage with a powerful message. I hope that in 10 years Yoga is seen as a tool that can empower people and build their strength mentally and physically. My biggest hope is that in the next 10 years we start to embrace the necessity to move every day and see Yoga as one of the best ways to implement a daily routine, regardless of age or gender.


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.

Doing the Work After Trump’s Election: Beryl Bender Birch Issues a Call to Yogis

When times are difficult, fearful, uncertain, and encouraging divisiveness – like after the elections – we are at a perfect place to work our way out of darkness. Here, Give Back Yoga co-founder Beryl Bender Birch, who also directs The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute, talks about our real work in awakening.

Rob Schware, Executive Director

On the Election by Beryl Bender BirchMany of you have been tweeting and texting, thanking me for my blog and Facebook posts yesterday. I appreciate the feedback. But some of you have also been asking what I meant by “doing the work.” Two years ago, in June, I was scheduled to teach a weeklong yoga retreat at Omega Institute entitled “Spiritual Practice & Social Activism.” After considerable promotion and social media campaigns, only two people signed up, and the workshop was cancelled due to low registration. That was the first time in 33 years of being on faculty at Omega that I had had less than 35 or 40 people sign up for my programs. What happened?

I came to the hasty conclusion that most yogis could give a rat’s ass about social activism. But that didn’t compute. Everyone who graduates from my teacher training programs for the past 30 years is required to develop some (any) kind of a give back program in their community. It has been a hugely successful endeavor. Ten years ago I co-founded the Give Back Yoga Foundation, and the foundation has been growing exponentially every year. Yoga people do care about the underserved and the under-resourced. But somewhere there was a “disconnect.”

Anyone who says they were shocked or stunned by Trump’s victory just wasn’t paying attention. And although I am pretty attached to causes like global warming, animal rights, over population, protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and the sanctity of Roe vs. Wade, and would not like to see us, as a nation, lose ground on those issues, I wasn’t shocked or stunned. But I did realize that I had been living, like many, in a bubble, dictated by things like the group-think of the New York Times and the comfortable elitism of the white upper middle class yoga community. We have been focused on the more obvious underserved and under-resourced pockets of our communities, when many of the people who put Trump into the presidency, have been right there, in the middle of our country, hurting and not being heard. In our focus on equal opportunity for immigrants and refugees and gays and Latinos and women’s rights and addiction issues and on and on, we have overlooked the coal miners and oil field workers, the factory workers, the fishermen, the steel workers and the farmers. But Trump didn’t overlook them.

These are many of the same people – both white and black – who voted Obama into office – twice! They aren’t racist – most of them are good-hearted, hard working Americans with good, old fashioned American values. They didn’t vote for Trump because they are racist or misogynistic or hate Mexicans or Muslims. They voted for Trump because he promised to ease their pain. They voted for Trump because he promised they would have jobs, that “every dream they had for their family would come true if they voted for [him]“ – they would be listened to, they would have a home, and be able to pay their mortgage and their car payments, and their kids could go to college and they would have a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. If you were out of work, wouldn’t you be tempted by such promises?

They didn’t care that he made inappropriate remarks about women, or Mexicans, or Muslims. Personally, I don’t think Trump hates Mexicans. I think his remark was in reaction to out of control immigration. And I don’t think he hates Muslims – same thing, verbal reaction to the dangers of terrorism. Was it speaking without thinking? Yes. Is that a good thing for a presidential candidate or the president him or herself? Uh, no. That is why I didn’t vote for him. Trump needs yoga.

All the votes aren’t counted yet, but it looks like Hillary won the popular vote. This is the 2nd time in the past two decades that the candidate who won the popular vote, was defeated by our antiquated Electoral College system of selecting a president. Al Gore, as you may remember, lost the election to George Bush in 2000, after winning the popular vote. So this might have you angry and frustrated or crying and depressed. Take time to mourn, if that is what you need, but then pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and go to “work”, for example, to get the Electoral College system of selecting a president in this country replaced with something that more adequately reflects the tenor of the times.

If you are a Democrat and depressed that Hillary lost, take to the streets, make your voice heard, work to retake the Democratic Party from the establishment elite. And listen to not only the immigrants and the Latinos, and the women and the urban residents of the city’s ghettos, but also to the call of the non-college educated blue-collar men living in the middle of the country, who are out of work and wondering when they will be regarded as more than the residents of the “fly over states.”

By doing the work I don’t mean busting your ass in your yoga class, or getting up every morning at 5 to meditate. Yes, your regular yoga practices are an essential part of “the work” since asana and meditation both support health, strength, courage, clarity, and spiritual growth. But “doing the work” goes beyond your own care of your personal “self.” It is care for the Big Self. “Doing the work,” means finding your dharma and then kicking it into high gear. Your dharma is your life’s work, your calling and unique contribution to the world that no one else can do in the way you do it. Your job may or may not be your dharma. Your job may be something you do only for money. But your work, your commitment to planetary consciousness and evolution, is your deepest passion for life and connection. It is the love of your life, beyond your family, your backyard and your own comfortable place in the world.

I spent a good deal of time this summer and fall, collecting signatures for Citizens for Farm Animal Protection to get Proposition 3 on the ballot in Massachusetts. Once we did that, we had to go out and educate voters about a proposition that would improve life for farm animals by making the use of confinement crates for chickens, calves, and pigs illegal in the state and even illegal to sell any eggs or meat from animals that had been confined. It was challenging. We had to show potential supporters how they would benefit, not just the animals. Prop 3 passed and I was so happy and celebratory at it’s passage that I didn’t really worry so much about whether a Democrat or a Republican had been elected. But suppose it hadn’t passed – would I have been crying? Probably not. Disappointed? Absolutely. And after a day or two of recovery and being down in the dumps and discouraged, I’d get ready to go back, join the team, and reorganize for the cause I believed in.

Serving the greater good, serving the planet, isn’t something you do as a hobby, or simply to graduate with a certificate in yoga teaching. It is a passion that grows out of yoga practice and dominates your life. It is what you live for. It occupies your every waking moment. Whether it is water or wolves, recycling or reducing greenhouse gases, whether advocating for gay marriage or immigration reform or less dependence on fossil fuels like oil and coal, or collecting signatures for more humane treatment for farm animals, your dharma fuels your reason for getting out of bed in the mornings. And sometimes, if you are lucky, it is supported by the people in power, and sometimes not. But you don’t ever stop “doing the work.”

Beryl Bender Birch


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