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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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Bring yoga to those who can benefit most. Get trained to share yoga with underserved populations.

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

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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.

Andrea MacDonald: Bridging the Worlds of Yoga and Social Activism

In a new installment of our yoga service series on The Huffington Post Blog, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with teacher Andrea MacDonald about how the worlds of yoga service and social activism can overlap – and how studios can mindfully expand their definition of community.

“The deeper I go into my practice the more I open myself to my capacity to feel–to fully exist in my body as a sensing organism. When I stand in a forest that was clear-cut or think about factory farming I can feel in my body the disconnect between humanity and the earth, the disconnect between myself and the living beings around me. The practice then can become about reconnecting. I believe that’s why yoga is so powerful in healing trauma – because of its capacity to reconnect.”

– Yoga teacher and social activist Andrea MacDonald, founder of Community Yoga Vancouver

To hear Andrea’s thoughts on how yoga service can grow stronger by shifting the focus towards community building, read her full interview on The Huffington Post Blog.

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Be inspired by stories of service in Give Back Yoga’s new publication Yoga: How We Serve. This collection of 26 interviews from our Huffington Post Blog series highlights teachers who are sharing yoga and meditation with veterans, active duty service members and their families – and your purchase will help us to fund free Mindful Yoga Therapy toolkits for veterans, giving them a valuable resource to start a personal yoga practice.

 

Become a Sustaining Member: Join Our Monthly Donation Program

If you believe in what we’re doing, here’s one very powerful way to support our mission of sharing yoga and meditation with those in need: become a Sustaining Member of Give Back Yoga Foundation.

How does it work? Simple: just visit our Donate Today page and make a contribution using the “monthly donation” option. This will create a recurring payment profile through PayPal, which will automatically bill you for the same contribution amount once a month going forward. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law, and you’ll receive a letter at the end of each year acknowledging your total contribution.

What it is: a simple way to give back. For just $15 a month – the cost of one yoga class – you can share yoga resources with someone in need, making a direct difference in their lives. Through the collective power of many small contributions, we can grow a grassroots movement of social change and healing. We hope that you’ll be a part of it!

What it isn’t: a contract. Your recurring donation profile is managed through PayPal. If your situation changes, you can choose to suspend your monthly contribution or change the amount of your donation, so that you’re always giving back in a way that’s right for you. Just drop us a line at [email protected]

Are you passionate about a specific program? We invite you to route your donation directly to that work. You can help us to bring yoga to veterans, individuals with eating disorders, prisoners or at-risk youth.

Or make a general donation, and we’ll put your contribution to work where it’s needed most. To learn more about our program goals and how we use general and specific contributions, visit our Donate Today page.

Will you join Give Back Yoga Foundation as a Sustaining Member? Together, we can share the transformational benefits of yoga and mindfulness with the world…one person at a time.

Kelly Boys: Bringing Yoga & Mindfulness to Incarcerated Veterans

This is an interview with Kelly Boys, who’s been practicing yoga for most of her adult life, and is a certified hatha yoga instructor. In 2006, she learned of the practice of yoga nidra, and immediately recognized it as a powerful healing tool. That led her to Dr. Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist, who trains teachers in a special form of yoga nidra called Integrative Restoration (iRest). Kelly began training with him, became a certified iRest instructor, and eventually moved to California to help run the Integrative Restoration Institute and work with Richard to train teachers. Along the way,  she taught yoga nidra at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, as part of its Wounded Warriors program, in a residential PTSD and TBI program through the Cincinnati VA, with cancer survivors, those with substance abuse, and in the prisons, teaching both men and women. Currently, she partners with James Fox of the Prison Yoga Project to bring a combined yoga and yoga nidra program into San Quentin State Prison for incarcerated veterans.

Rob Schware, GBYF Executive Director: What is iRest Yoga Nidra, and what originally motivated you to bring it to veterans incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison? 

Kelly Boys: iRest is a meditative practice that is deeply relaxing and restorative, and it provides tools for working with trauma, stress, and chronic pain, among other things. It’s typically taught in savasana, the lying-down pose at the end of the yoga class. It is simultaneously simple and profound, addressing our basic human needs for connection, belonging, and safety; using it, we can gently check in with ourselves. It can be a way for those of us who resist what life brings us to turn and face the truth about ourselves in any given situation.

I wanted to help people who have been wounded by war, by their families, and who have in turn wounded others to stop and face themselves, and to give them another way out instead of this punitive system which doesn’t tend to focus on restoration and healing. Having been on the receiving end of domestic violence, it is particularly poignant for me to bring the spirit of forgiveness and healing, along with the ‘sword of truth’ into that setting. This is the sword that cuts through all illusions that we hold about ourselves, and about the world around us. iRest provides such a neat way to get control of our lives by paradoxically letting go of control, and allowing this sword of truth to slice away everything that does not serve us.

What is the importance of mindfulness for developing impulse control? How does this help life inside a prison?

Mindfulness is a foundational element for impulse control; it allows anyone, anytime, to stop in any given moment and take stock of their own situation, to harness the power of attention and intention in order to see clearly. This moment gives a space for choice and response rather than reaction and violence. One of the vets in our program told us that this class has changed his life by providing him a way to deal with the chaos of life behind bars, leading to a feeling of confidence about going before the boards (which is when they decide if/when he will be released). Otherwise, he would have been reactive and victimized; now he feels calm, and has an inner resource to return to no matter what the board decides about his release. Another vet from the Korean War who is 77 years old said that this class has helped him deal with his lifelong racism toward Asian people, and that his tough, violent shell is getting cracked open.

I’m interested in knowing why we should be spending money on providing yoga and meditation to prisoners?

This is an investment that must be made; the transformative effect of yoga and meditation on the prison population is inspiring lasting change. We are beginning to see programs where we connect with the guys on the outside as well, and they are becoming change agents in their own communities. Most of these men will reoffend if we do not offer them another way.  Investing in these programs means to invest in the health and safety of our communities.The classes are waitlisted right now because there aren’t enough funds to run programs for everyone seeking to learn yoga and meditation in prison.

Let me be clear, though – this is selfish for me! I receive the most benefit from going into San Quentin. It is humbling and fulfilling beyond what I can say to sit with this group of men and get real, speak the truth, guide meditation, and hear the gems of wisdom coming from that circle of folks. Astounding, really. James and I often just shake our heads at how neat it is to teach there together. A complete blessing.

What is the greatest challenge for mindfulness classes becoming a regular feature in prisons?

As I said, the greatest challenge is funding. I currently donate my time to teach at San Quentin. The CEO at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, where I work training teachers in a science-based emotional intelligence and mindfulness course, has allowed me to rearrange my schedule so that I volunteer time every Thursday. If we had funding, we definitely have the teachers who want to teach, and we also have a way to train those teachers. That is the number-one need; otherwise, it won’t be sustainable.

What advice would you give to anyone who would like to volunteer teaching a weekly class to incarcerated veterans? 

Do it! Take a course preparing you to work in the prison environment as a way to make sure you are ready for the challenges of that particular venue. Jacques Verduin at Insight-Out and James Fox at Prison Yoga Project both offer trainings for teaching in prison. I would also say, to the extent that you are willing to welcome ALL of yourself, your hopes and joys along with your fear, hate, and the violence you do to yourself, is the extent to which you will be able to teach from a place of equanimity, heart, and truth. This path is a radical one; it asks everything of us. Yoga asks us to take a second look at the idea that we are separate, above, better than, different from, and to let in the thought that just perhaps, underneath all the surface differences, we share the same essence. This is quite inspiring when you really think about it.

What organizations do you admire?

I love what James is doing at the Prison Yoga Project. He tirelessly travels all over the world training teachers to teach yoga on the ‘inside.’ The Integrative Restoration Institute is doing amazing things bringing iRest out into many underserved populations. Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, where I work, is bringing this same work into Google, LinkedIn, Genentech, and many more places. Any organization that practices what it preaches, I admire.

For instance, where I work we meditate at the beginning of our meetings, we practice mindful eating, we do the hard job of telling the truth even when it is more convenient to gloss over it, for the sake of finding out what is really real, what wants to emerge in any given moment. There is a trust that happens when a whole organization of people do this. Whether it’s Google or behind prison walls, people are people with the same needs and desires. They are just dressed up differently! Instead of the new Google Glasses, I’d love to give the gift of x-ray vision to anyone that can’t fathom those two worlds being similar. It’s a trip to be able to have a foot in both worlds! I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Would you like to support the transformational work of the Prison Yoga Project? Make a direct donation to support their outreach work, or purchase a copy of James Fox’s book, Prison Yoga Project: A Path for Healing and Recovery, from our online store.

 

Become a Sustaining Member: Join Our Monthly Donation Program

If you believe in what we’re doing, here’s one very powerful way to support our mission of sharing yoga and meditation with those in need: become a Sustaining Member of Give Back Yoga Foundation.

How does it work? Simply visit our Membership page and choose a monthly amount you’d like to contribute, and a program you’d like to support. Through the checkout process, you’ll set up a recurring payment profile that automatically bills your card each month. You’ll receive a notification by email when each debit is made. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law, and you’ll also receive a thank-you package by mail. Check out our membership benefits. 

What it is: a simple way to give back.

For just $15 a month – the cost of one yoga class – you can share yoga resources with someone in need, making a direct difference in their lives. Through the collective power of many small contributions, we can grow a grassroots movement of social change and healing. We hope that you’ll be a part of it!

What it isn’t: a contract.

You’ll be able to manage your recurring donation profile through the Give Back Yoga website. If your situation changes, you can put your monthly contribution on hold or change the amount of your donation, so that you’re always giving back in a way that’s right for you. Need help? Drop us a line at [email protected]

Find out how you can give from the heart.

Are you passionate about bringing yoga to a specific population? We invite you to route your donation directly to that work. You can help us to bring yoga to veterans, first responders, individuals with eating disorders, prisoners or those recovering from addiction.

Or make a general donation, and we’ll put your contribution to work where it’s needed most. To learn more about our program goals and how we use general and specific contributions, visit our Program pages.

Will you join Give Back Yoga Foundation as a Sustaining Member? Together, we can share the transformational benefits of yoga and mindfulness with the world…one person at a time.

GBYF To Support Non-Profit Operation of Mindful Yoga Therapy For Veterans

The Give Back Yoga Foundation announced this week that it will assume the non-profit operation of Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans, a merger that will allow service leaders to more effectively reach tens of thousands of veterans with a complementary therapy that can offer relief from symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

“Give Back Yoga Foundation already has a non-profit infrastructure that’s both effective and efficient,” said GBYF Executive Director Rob Schware. “By freeing up key Mindful Yoga Therapy staff members, we can allow them to focus on what they do best — teaching and helping veterans.”

An estimated 1 in 5 veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. And the number of active-duty military and veteran suicides is on the rise, prompting the Huffington Post to caution that “the warning signs of an approaching wave of suicide are unmistakable.”

Clinical studies and firsthand feedback from veterans show that yoga and mindfulness practices can be an effective adjunct therapy to help vets recover from symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as insomnia, hyperarousal and feelings of fear or guilt.

Together, Mindful Yoga Therapy and the Give Back Yoga Foundation have already brought clinically tested, empirically informed Mindful Yoga Therapy “toolkits” to 44 VA facilities and 9,000 vets, free of charge. Designed with the input of veterans, these multi-media training guides help individuals to start a personal yoga practice.

By the close of 2015, the Give Back Yoga Foundation aims to bring these free toolkits to 30,000 vets and at least half of all VA facilities nationwide. The organization also aims to train 120 yoga teachers per year, including at least 25 veterans, to share Mindful Yoga Therapy with the veteran population. These training resources will continue to be offered under the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans brand, through the continued leadership of its experienced staff.

Download the press release: Give Back Yoga Foundation To Support Non-Profit Operation Of Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans

Helen Lynch: MediYoga As A Viable Alternative To Existing Medical Treatments & Programs

This is an interview with Helen Miller Lynch, a certified X-ray Technician/Nurse Practitioner specializing in cardiovascular intervention. She has broad experience in cardiovascular disease from the University Hospital in Örebro, Sweden, and the heart clinic Feiringklinikken, Norway. She became curious about MediYoga after some colleagues attended sessions during stress-related sick leave, and returned to work with a whole new vitality. She is now a certified MediYoga Therapist and MediYoga International teacher.

Rob Schware, GBYF Executive Director: I’m interested in the origin and growth of MediYoga in Scandinavia. What is it?

Helen Lynch: MediYoga was established and developed by Göran Boll at the Institute for Medical Yoga in Stockholm, Sweden. MediYoga has its origin in classic Kundalini yoga and started to take shape as early as 1998, when an initial partnership project was launched with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. This consisted of a study of what yoga could offer patients with chronic back pain. Many different studies have been undertaken since then involving MediYoga and its effects on various patient groups, and on medical disorders in general. These include studies performed at large companies, such as the Post Giro Stress project in 1999, and the Swedish Enforcement Authority Stress project in 2009.

Read more: MediYoga can save society millions of dollars each year.

Since 2004, MediYoga has been one of the most popular rehabilitation options for employees on long-term sick leave at AstraZeneca Corp. MediYoga is now recommended by healthcare professionals throughout Sweden and Norway as a simple and therapeutic form of yoga that anyone can do, whatever their physical or psychological limitations.

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

Scientific research shows that stress in various forms is the underlying cause of most of what we call illness, and that powerful tools are needed to re-establish and maintain balance in our lives. MediYoga is a practical tool that has shown measurable effects on back and sleeping problems, high blood pressure, ventricular fibrillation, various emotional problems, and other medical disorders.

There’s nothing better to hear after a class than, for instance, that someone with high blood pressure who’s been on medication for years is able to cut down on their prescription medication intake, or to eventually completely stop. That’s motivation for me. Just to see their faces after a yoga class, quiet and peaceful with eyes that radiate, it goes straight to my heart.

Is there a standout moment from your work with MediYoga, or with heart patients?

A personal memorable moment was when I received my Gold MediYoga teacher/therapist pin, and realized all the hard work and hours and hours of time had elevated me into a dedicated group of individuals striving to help others.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in hospitals, and with patients?

Invite the Board of Directors at the hospital for an experience in MediYoga. They have to experience the effects of yoga themselves to be able to better understand them.

Be humble: you are meeting people with various medical conditions who mostly have never tried yoga before. Demystify the experience, and make the participants feel safe and relaxed. Build up a trust between you and your clients–let them know you are there for them.You also always have a solid foundation to build on with all the scientific research that is done on MediYoga.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

A great challenge has been introducing yoga into the medical community that is so accustomed to scientific means and results. When I started to implement my ideas here at the Feiringklinikken heart clinic for open heart surgery, cardiovascular intervention, and heart rehabilitation, there were many questions: what is MediYoga, how does it work?

I developed a research presentation on specific heart patients and heart diseases that involved MediYoga and presented it to the Board of Directors of Feiringklinniken. The President of the clinic is a very open-minded leader; he saw and believed in my passion for MediYoga and the way it works. We developed a six-month trial project for MediYoga in the Rehabilitation Department.

Patient and staff feedback and reviews indicated the trial was a great success. Now for the second year, Feiringklinikken includes MediYoga as a rehabilitation option twice a week for heart patients. Feiringklinikken was the first hospital in Norway to offer MediYoga to its patients; many other major medical institutions have begun to offer programs similar to our clinic’s.

We talked about your plans to introduce MediYoga to the US. What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

My hope is that MediYoga will become a standard part of medical treatment offered throughout society.  I hope educating MediYoga instructors in California in February 2014 will be the start to integrating MediYoga in the U.S., as it was in Sweden and Norway.  MediYoga is now a treatment and rehabilitation option offered in over 120 hospitals and primary care units in Scandinavia.

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?

What makes us unique and differentiates us from all other forms of yoga is that everyone who works with MediYoga–instructors and yoga therapists–has health profession qualifications and understands the effects of yoga from a medical perspective. From our health education we are able to understand possible side effects, the emotional impact of a diagnosis, and how to offer safe yoga practices. Most patients have never participated in a yoga class before, so this is something completely new to them.

For example, here at the heart clinic I have 20 participants in each class between the ages of 20 and 80. They all have some kind of cardiovascular disease, so my approach is to use MediYoga programs with breathing exercises, postures, and meditation that targets heart diseases. No matter what group you are targeting, you have to approach them with the right set of tools that you know works on just that specific disorder.

How has this work changed your definition of service? Your definition of yoga? Your practice?

Instead of it being an individual practice on the yoga mat at home, I now have the possibility to share with others. When applying my service in the MediYoga programs I am not affecting only a single person, but everyone around them and connected to them when they leave the room.

What other organizations do you admire?

There are too many to list! Nothing but good comes from supporting them. I’m particularly impressed with the vision of the following organizations:

~Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus’s inspiration for the Grameen Foundation, which helps the world’s poorest people reach their full potential, connecting their determination and skills with the resources they need.

~The Give Back Yoga Foundation, for its commitment to helping to bring yoga to diverse segments of society that have limited or no access to yoga in their communities.

~The Inner City Garden projects, bringing a healthy alternative of self-sustaining local neighborhood/community garden areas.

Editor: Alice Trembour

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Dharma. Service in Action. SYF Gives Back: Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans. Join us at this two-day pre-conference teacher training hosted by the Sedona Yoga Festival in partnership with the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, and learn techniques and practices that are clinically proven to offer relief to veterans affected by PTSD, TBI, and other trauma and emotional stress. February 6-10, 2014 in beautiful Sedona, Arizona.