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Lynne Boucher: Yoga Service within a College Community

Yoga at Nazareth College Center for Spirituality

I first met Lynne Boucher in 2014 at the Yoga Service Conference at Omega Institute. She had a flock of Nazareth College (Rochester, NY) students who were doing inspiring things both on campus and in the community. Lynne shepherds the award-winning “Yoga Revolution” on Nazareth’s campus, coordinating the service of eight yoga teachers and dozens of student leaders in offering extensive yoga programs to hundreds of faculty, staff, students, and alumni in the campus community. Along with a team of justice-minded yoga teachers, Lynne founded the Rochester Yoga Service Network (RYSN) whose mission is to share the practice of yoga with underserved populations in the Rochester community. In a spirit of cooperation and community engagement, RYSN provides a supportive network for local yoga service providers, including training, reflection, and resourcing. Lynne’s off-campus yoga service work is primarily with urban youth – particularly through two local organizations: Teen Empowerment and Young Women’s College Prep.

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?

Once I experienced my own transformation through yoga in 2011, it was natural to share it with the students in my care as an interfaith chaplain and director of the Center for Spirituality at Nazareth College. My motivation to learn and teach yoga was deeply rooted in my desire to care for the college community’s spiritual needs. While I initially focused on students, I’ve been increasingly motivated to help foster the “overflow” of yoga love from our campus family to those in need in our surrounding community.

Is there a standout moment from your work with Nazareth College students?

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had with yoga service took place at the last session of a summer program in which several Nazareth students assisted in a daily yoga class for 7th grade inner-city girls from Young Women’s College Prep. Our closing affirmation was followed by a gift for the girls: their own yoga mats, which made the girls shriek with delight. It was breathtaking to see our Nazareth students pass on the love they had themselves discovered. This scene continues to inspire me: sharing yoga love with a group of students on campus, so they in turn can share that love with others.

What did you know about the college population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

During my years in higher education, I’ve learned about the mental health struggles of many college students. Statistics from Nazareth match national trends: over 20 percent of incoming students arrive on campus already medicated for various mental health issues. While this college population was familiar to me by the time I started teaching yoga, many off-campus populations we serve were not. Yoga Service Conferences have helped our yoga service leaders become more aware and sensitive to issues of cultural difference, power, inclusion, and trauma. In addition, RYSN offered trainings for yoga teachers led by mental health professionals with expertise in trauma and healing.

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’m grateful that yoga programs at Nazareth are explicitly and unapologetically spiritual. We understand that yoga is a spiritual practice that helps individuals tune in to the sacred within themselves, their everyday lives, and the world at large. Yoga classes at Nazareth are coordinated through the Center for Spirituality, and include spiritual themes and meditations uncommon in more secular or gym-based yoga settings.

The teaching style of Nazareth yoga teachers is also characterized by a trauma-informed approach. We know from research and years of pastoral care that many yogis in our classes have suffered trauma in their bodies (sexual assault, cutting, eating disorders) and benefit from a high degree of sensitivity and care. We have learned that empowering students to make choices about their own bodies is a powerful way for yoga to be a healing force in their lives.

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

As yoga teachers, we recognize our critical role in giving students tools to foster healthy habits and choices. However, we’ve had to acknowledge that our students’ spiritual, emotional, and physical needs far exceed our capacity to serve them, and many students need additional support. To meet this challenge, we collaborate with other campus departments to provide complementary services, such as the Health and Counseling Center, Women’s Health Club, athletics department, and PT clinic, among others. We listen to students who develop creative programming ideas, such as an annual yoga retreat, and specialized yoga workshops.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach college students?

I would encourage campus communities to lay the groundwork for a positive understanding of the connection between spirituality and yoga. Also, teachers must become aware of their own attitudes to power, privilege, diversity, and inclusion when working with populations of diverse cultures, races, gender identities, sexual preferences, body sizes, etc.

Anyone working with college students should assume that a majority of them are dealing with extraordinary amounts of stress, anxiety, depression, and angst. On a positive note, national studies reveal that these emerging adults are eager to explore their spiritual life in non-traditional and unconventional ways. Yoga has attracted students from “all faiths and none,” who want to explore the connections between mind, body, and spirit.

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

The evolution of yoga at Nazareth has broadened my sense of service. I now see service to our students as a stepping-stone to service in the wider community; I understand yoga as a lifestyle, a way of being in the world. And I believe yoga is affecting our campus culture as hundreds of yogis learn, both individually and collectively, to forge a more peaceful, centered, and healthy way to live.

My own practice has ultimately become necessary to my ministry at Nazareth, an antidote to the burnout plaguing myself and my dedicated and exhausted colleagues. My yoga practice has also led me to greater connectedness with other people, through acro yoga and group yoga, as well as deeper connectedness with nature through outdoor yoga and paddleboard yoga. With every passing year, I realize my ability to serve others is dependent upon my commitment to centering and nourishing myself through meditation and yoga.

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

My commitment to social justice makes me deeply concerned about the accessibility and affordability of yoga. My hopes for yoga service lead me to speak out actively against a popular approach to yoga that is high-priced, image-focused, and profit-driven. I see yoga service as fostering an alternative to this consumeristic culture, by emphasizing cooperation over competition, inclusivity over privilege, spirituality over consumption, and social transformation over privatized gains.

During a time when people feel increasingly disconnected from themselves, their bodies, their spirits, each other, and the earth itself, the yoga service movement can be a spiritual revolution! At the national level, the Yoga Service Conference will continue to foster awareness, and regional networks will begin to form in the coming decade. I hope that college campuses – always hotbeds for spiritual growth and community engagement – will join Nazareth in guiding the next generation of yogis to foster a lifelong commitment to their own spiritual development, and that of others.

Image: Courtesy of James Schnepf Photography


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.

Aidee Chavez Frescas Douglas: Community Yoga for Positive Change

Aidee Chaves Fescas Douglas

This is an interview with Aidee Chavez Frescas Douglas, whom I met at the fourth annual Yoga Service Conference at Omega Institute. Aidee, now the Public Affairs & Development Coordinator for Community Connections of Jacksonville – a nonprofit dedicated to healing homelessness, and fighting poverty – previously served as a marketing director for the nonprofit Yoga 4 Change. She teaches yoga at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pre-Trial Detention Facility in Jacksonville, FL.

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?

My own story of change is my number-one motivator. I had several hard years suffering from depression, eating disorders, migraines, insomnia, anxiety, and it really got to a point in my life that I didn’t want to be alive. Therapy never worked for me. I never took medication, because frankly I was always afraid to take it. Sometimes I wish I had, and maybe I would not have had so many gray years in my past. But instead, I found that yoga could put me in a place of well-being and peace. I’ve changed, and because of yoga I live a relatively stress-free life.

Is there a standout moment from your work with Yoga 4 Change or specific population?

The first time I taught at the jail was very hard for me. I actually finished the class feeling frustrated and mad – at the government, at society, mad about the lack of kindness I felt, and how nobody was doing anything to fix what seemed to me to be obvious problems. I was crying so hard from all the pain I saw in the eyes of the women I taught that I had to stop on the side of the road on my way back home. But then I started reading some of the note cards that the students always write after the class as part of our yoga class structure. And the ladies had written things like “Please come back, this class gives me hope.” “Thank you so much, you made me feel like a person again.” “I pray for you, I prayed every night to God to send me hope, and you are here.” So I stopped crying right there in the car, and decided to commit to this with my entire heart.

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

I’m really not one to have assumptions. I guess that part comes from being a yoga teacher. I go in with an open heart. It does not matter who I teach. I see the person as who they are for that one hour.

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?

Yoga 4 Change has a strict code of conduct; for example, we don’t adjust any of our students when we teach at the jail, or to veterans. And for the veterans I always do the same thing. Mostly being new to yoga, they like that certainty. We also stay away from using Sanskrit. (I was actually the worst in my yoga training in Sanskrit pronunciation. It was ridiculous. My teacher in India told me to stay away from Sanskrit.) To me this was another sign that I am meant to teach for Yoga 4 Change. But we can teach whatever style of yoga we think is right for the students. I’m Ashtanga trained, but my style changes from class to class depending on what is needed by those students on that day. And sometimes that might be sitting for a full hour and breathing.

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

The greatest challenge has been raising funds to support our outreach work in the community. I’ve learned a lot about fundraising; how to increase our capacity to raise money in innovative ways in the interest of expanding our organization, and to satisfy the growing demand for our classes. But we can always do more.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the population you work with?

I believe that to do this work, to be able to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first. If teachers are not giving themselves the space that they deserve to process life experiences with their own meditation and yoga practice, their teaching is not going to be sustainable.

I often see teachers stressed out and running from one place to another, overwhelming themselves with life situations. Being a yoga teacher is hard work. That is why it is a must to give yourself small bites of space in between classes. I sometimes sit in my car and ground myself for 10 minutes. I know the importance of being present and vulnerable for another human being, and for myself, and there is no cost for that. We need to be where we are. We need to cultivate mindfulness right here, right now, in this perfect moment, and from this moment take incremental steps in the direction we are heading. We need to enjoy our lives!

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

My dream is that one day yoga is taught in every single school, correctional facility, and rehabilitation facility, not only to veterans but to those who are in active duty. The same wish is true for first responders. Can you imagine if everybody in America had equal access to yoga? I hope for a kinder America, and for me the only way for that to happen is through the practices of yoga. I believe this with all of my being.

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

Service has brought a different kind of success to my life. I see a lot of successes in my classes, a lot of “aha” moments happen right there on the mat. My students’ negative life perception changes to a positive one right in front of my eyes. The server becomes the served. This is a magnificent moment, and when it happens, when we work together to serve one another, we are all changed. I am the one who is grateful for the opportunity to witness this over and over again – brave people using the tools of their yoga practice to move forward in their lives to access positive change.


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.

The State of Yoga Service: Looking Forward Through 2015

Author Rob Schware is the Executive Director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation and President of the Yoga Service Council. Each year, he issues a report on the state of yoga service — the work of bringing yoga to those who might otherwise never experience its transformational benefits. Read on for a look at what’s in store for 2015 and beyond, and a download link for this annual report.

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A Vision for the Future: Voices From Our Yoga Service Community

In my Huffington Post blog series “Yoga: How We Serve,” a number of yoga teachers on the front lines of outreach to underserved and unserved populations have offered valuable answers to the question, “What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of ”service yoga“ in America?”

Here are some of the insights that are helping to shape the ongoing growth of yoga service:

“My hope is that yoga will be more readily received by unique communities such as Native Americans, and more recognized by health care organizations as a complementary healing modality to modern medicine.” — Christy Burnette, founder and Executive Director of Conscious Community Yoga Association, Inc.

“I would like to see more science, more data, and more randomized controlled studies. In my opinion we owe it to our clients/students and to our future funders (taxpayers and private citizens) to prove what works, and to recognize what doesn’t. We need to enter into the empirical domain, as difficult and as challenging as that is for yoga teachers like me!” — David Emerson, co-author of Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body

“The wounds of our veterans permeate all realms: physical, psychological, and spiritual…their needs are immediate. Our imperative is to assist these brave men and women with re-integration into the very culture they have fought hard to protect.  Training for war is intensive.  Training to return to their home lives is crucial.” — Ena Burrud, certified yoga therapist working with veterans in Colorado and Wyoming

“It is my hope that we will see a far greater awareness and participation by the yoga community in service programs. This might include a required ‘trauma and service’ module in the 200-hour training requirements and a consciousness of a service obligation by every studio and teacher.  The establishment of the Yoga Service Council and the yearly Yoga Service Conference is a great way to expand yoga service nationally and spread the word on opportunities and systems for yoga service.” — Bob Altman, Co-Founder of Centering Youth in Atlanta

“I see yoga being a staple in police and fire academies. I then see recruits expecting to see it on the schedule. Once they are on the job, it would be wonderful to continue to have classes offered to them on a weekly basis, or as seminars and continuing education opportunities. This could also happen at local gyms or studios. I’d like to see yoga as an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to training and caring for our ‘domestic soldiers.'” —  Olivia Kvitne, program director of Yoga for First Responders and Assistant Editor of LA Yoga Magazine

Others expressed hope that yogis will share this gift with special populations all around the world, and provide specialized yoga classes for people who find themselves at a homeless shelter, for people recovering from addiction, and for autistic children.

How Yoga Service Organizations Are Turning Vision Into Reality

How are we doing as a community to respond to these hopes? What new partnerships and entities, profit and non-profit, are stepping up to respond to the challenges?

In research:

The Prison Yoga Project, which started at San Quentin State Prison through the work of James Fox, is a shining example of a well-studied program by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), which showed this is a cost-effective means to help with addiction recovery and impulse control. The NCCD study found that a little mindfulness training through yoga can redirect attention, increase emotional self-control and anger management. Over 800 yoga teachers are now teaching yoga and meditation in over 75 prisons around the world.

In February, the Yoga Service Council and the Omega Institute will issue the first in a series of research reports on “Transforming Education Through Yoga.” This series was produced with research, input, and onsite collaboration from 23 leaders in the field of yoga and education.

In October, the Yoga Service Council and the Omega Institute will also host leaders in trauma-sensitive yoga for veterans to produce a second report in the series, “Yoga for Veterans.” Key researchers, including Sat Bhir Khalsa and Bessel van Der Kolk, have committed to participating. The objective of this Service Week for Veterans is to co-create common goals for our community, share insight, and produce resources that will serve veterans, VA hospital facilities, and yoga service providers, producing a peer- reviewed report of best practices.

In introducing yoga to first responders: 

In February, the first-ever Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and Resiliency Training to Benefit First Responders and Emergency Personnel will occur at the Sedona Yoga Festival – the first offering of a new Give Back Yoga program called Yoga for First Responders. Our police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and their families face behavioral health issues similar to those of combat soldiers, such as depression, PTS, anxiety, addictions, and suicides. The Sedona Yoga Festival/Give Back Yoga training aims to share skills and tools to help bring therapeutic yoga to at least 4,000 first responders nationwide.

In reaching diverse populations:

In May, social workers and yoga teachers will come together for a weekend at Omega Institute for the 4th Annual Yoga Service Conference to discuss how the yoga service movement can expand its work to support broader commitments to social justice. This includes addressing the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which channels thousands of low-income youth (particularly men of color) directly from failing schools into the criminal justice system. We will have compelling and direct conversations between social justice and contemplative practice in organizations — join me there!

In bringing yoga to Native Americans:

This year, Give Back Yoga is partnering with Conscious Community Yoga and the Sedona Yoga Festival to provide a DVD yoga resource for Native Americans, led by a Native American yoga teacher. The class will be structured for those new to yoga, and with potential health challenges kept in mind. Of primary concern are complications from diabetes, obesity, detox for drug and alcohol addictions.

In partnership with the corporate sector: 

 To reach our veterans with mindfulness practices, Gaiam and Give Back Yoga will commit to serve 100,000 veterans through mobile meditation apps.

Yoga Journal Live, Give Back Yoga and Warriors For Healing will host a special event on Sunday June 28, 2015 on the Windsor Lawn of the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, CA. This distinctive and compelling event, called Warriors For Healing, is designed to bring greater awareness of the therapeutic benefits of yoga for veterans facing PTS, and will offer veterans who are seeking healing a pathway toward new meaning and empowerment in life.

YogaGlo will support the Eat Breathe Thrive™ Facilitator Training course, providing facilitators with the knowledge, skills, and mentorship necessary to lead a yoga-based program for people struggling with disordered eating and negative body image. Nearly 80% of adult women feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and three out of four report struggling with disordered eating. The rates of body dissatisfaction among men have increased from 15% to 43% over the past three decades, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

New Growth for Yoga Service in 2015

As we partner with our program directors, our Advisory Board Members and influential yoga teachers to bring this powerful practice to the world, one person at a time, we are fostering new growth in several areas.

Bringing yoga to the West Bank: 

This year, Give Back Yoga is partnering with the Farashe Yoga Center in Ramallah, 7 Centers Yoga Arts and American yoga pioneer Rama Vernon on a new global initiative to expand and harness the power of yoga in the West Bank and Gaza, supporting Palestinians’ exploration and use of yoga in everyday life.

In May, lead teachers from these organizations will travel with Rama Vernon to the West Bank and work in partnership with Farashe Yoga Center to train up to twenty teachers. Following the training, these new teachers will introduce yoga to area residents through work in urban refugee camps, schools, hospitals, and other venues.

 Yoga is largely unknown among Palestinians. But over the past two years, more Palestinians — women in particular — have embraced the discipline as a way of coping with their daily stresses of the prolonged conflict, including commuting through military checkpoints, unstable employment, restrictions on movement and access, and political unrest.

This initiative to foster yoga as a practice of peace in the West Bank will continue to grow in 2016, as Give Back Yoga and our partners host the first international yoga conference in the West Bank. Led by world-renowned yoga teachers, Palestine-based yoga teachers and practitioners will have access to hands-on workshops that will enable them to develop effective yoga programming for their students. Following the conference, there will be a one-week service opportunity for newly trained teachers to apply these principles in their lives and in the community.

Bringing yoga into more prisons:

Based on continuing growth trends, we anticipate a growing demand from prison wardens who want more trained yoga teachers working in more prisons; and want specific programs for incarcerated veterans, for the staff and officers, and increased support for restorative justice programs.

Influencing climate change:

This year, leading yoga teachers, environmental and sustainable development experts, and atmospheric scientists will be discussing “Yoga, Personal Transformation and Global Sustainability.” What does yoga have to do with global sustainability? What are we all doing to reduce your individual carbon footprint? We need to raise our consciousness of how the yoga movement can meet the climate crisis, and work to help solve what is far and away the greatest challenge of our time. There’s more and more interest in this educational process, beginning with the recent article, “Yoga, Personal Transformation, and Global Sustainability.”

Join the Yoga Service Movement

There’s a lot of work ahead of us. But eventually, we’re confident that we’ll see tens of thousands of yoga teachers and yoga therapists leaving their studios and sharing down-to-earth yoga tools with un-served and underserved communities.

As an organization, one of Give Back Yoga’s key purposes is to serve as a gateway for yoga service. If you’d like to be a part of this movement for grassroots social change and healing, we invite you to visit us on the web, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our monthly newsletters.

Here’s to a bold, transformative, and prosperous New Year to you all!

Images courtesy of Robert Sturman, Prison Yoga Project, Yoga For First Responders, Farashe Yoga Center and Niroga Institute.

 

Download the annual report The State of Yoga Service: Looking Forward Through 2015.

 

Judi Bar: Fostering Health By Bringing Yoga to Hospitals

In an interview for our yoga service series on The Huffington Post Blog, GBYF Executive Director Rob Schware talks with yoga therapist Judi Bar about her work with Cleveland Clinic.

“If a patient is willing [to work with a yoga therapist], there are significant benefits. By teaching them to be mindful of the present moment, they are empowered to handle their stress/pain. Their hospital experience will be better, they will learn to relieve stress and pain, and in turn will have a better experience for their own well-being.”

– Judi Bar, Yoga Program Manager at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute

Read Judi’s personal story of how yoga prevented her from being confined to a wheelchair, and her thoughts on why clinical studies are so important to the future of yoga in health care service delivery: http://huff.to/1dH0R2z

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Inspire your yoga service: join us at the 3rd annual Yoga Service Conference at Omega Institute, May 16th through 18th. This weekend of learning, networking and community is open to anyone who has the desire to create strong, engaged and resilient communities. We hope to see you there!

Rob Schware: The State of Yoga Service

As Executive Director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation and President of the Yoga Service Council, Rob Schware is proud to be part of a growing movement of yoga service providers who are helping to address societal problems such as school dropout rates, substance abuse, PTSD and high rates of re-imprisonment through therapeutic yoga outreach. Today, yoga service providers are reaching an estimated  200,000 individuals each year – including abused women, veterans, at-risk youth, cancer patients, prisoners and the homeless.

In “The State of Yoga Service,” Rob weighs in on:

  • the science behind yoga’s ability to change neurobiology
  • why the true experience of yoga inspires service
  • the progress of yoga service to date
  • how yoga outreach can benefit society
  • two important conversations that will take place in 2014
  • the impact of donations to Give Back Yoga
  • how to be inspired by stories of service, and how to contribute your own talents

 

If you believe in the power of yoga to plant the seeds of grassroots social change and healing, you won’t want to miss this special report on the state of yoga service in 2014.

 

Download “The State of Yoga Service.”

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Join us in giving back from your mat! By donating the equivalent cost of one yoga class – just $15 per month – you can bring yoga to a veteran, prisoner, at-risk teen or another person in need. Your contribution could transform a life.