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Hannah Fazio: Empowering Women Who Have Experienced Trauma

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

I first sought the practice in college after I experienced trauma. Back then, I did not know what trauma was, or rather, I did not know that someone who had not gone to war could experience trauma. Yoga brought me back into my body; it allowed me to experience my body as a safe place again. Now I am inspired to share the practice with others, so that I can help people become more aware of their bodies and their behavioral patterns.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?

When I see others experience the transformational power of yoga and meditation, that is rewarding to me. Time and again, when I taught at the women’s shelter, the class would go into savasana (final resting pose), and afterwards an outpouring of information would flow from one of the students. The practice allows the person to slow down and be quiet. In doing so, people become more aware of their situations; they become more aware of what they have been going through, and how they feel about it. Then perhaps change can come. It is a powerful practice.

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

They have taught me that yoga exists in me. I do not need fancy props and fancy clothes to practice. Nor do I need to post pictures of myself in my underwear on instagram to be a yogini; I need to practice and show up only for myself, and be more in tune for my students. My students have also shown me that I do not need to teach at a fancy/prestigious yoga studio to be a yoga teacher; by sharing the practice with others, I am a teacher.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in the institution or population you work with? In what ways does it not?

Trauma-informed yoga addresses trauma in the body. Many individuals in the shelter system have been traumatized by unsafe living situations, and they are further traumatized by over-extended institutional systems. Yoga allows individuals to address their own trauma, to practice interoception (the sense of the physiological condition of the body), and examine emotions and belief systems that may perpetuate certain behavior patterns.

Yoga does not do this difficult work for anyone; it is up to the individual to become aware, and then act on information as it arises. Yoga also does not directly fix the systems of socio-economic oppression, but it does encourage people to wake up to their own power. Through yoga, we wake up one by one.

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

Through mindfulness, we learn to act in an intentional way. Social change comes when large groups of individuals begin to act intentionally.

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

I would carry lavender essential oil. It is nice to have a ritual where everyone receives something tangible. Lavender helps relieve anxiety; not having a solid place to be can be stressful.

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

I believe that governmental and philanthropic organizations will begin to honor yoga as a powerful preventive tool for a multitude of physical and mental health issues. In my opinion, it is not up to yoga teachers to serve more (most yoga teachers I know are generous with their time and talent). It is up to institutions to acknowledge yoga teachers and create programs in which yogis and yoginis can share their skills with others, and be appropriately compensated.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

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Join us in sharing the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn more about our nationwide initiative this November to give back yoga.

Sylvia Jabaley & Kristin Cooper: How We Serve Girls in India

In the latest interview for our yoga service series on The Huffington Post, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Sylvia Jabaley and Kristin Cooper about their work with Homes of Hope India. By bringing yoga to communities in India, the two women help to cultivate and maintain a “resilient spirit” among orphaned and abandoned girls.

“My assumptions about our goals were transformed by realization that when the girls become women, they will still encounter illness, poverty, and misogyny… Today, we are realizing the value of our work as the little girls we’ve known for years turn the corner to become empowered women in their own communities.” – Sylvia Jabaley, Program Coordinator for Homes of Hope India-US

To learn more about what continues to motivate Sylvia and Kristin’s work and their thoughts on the future of yoga service, read the full interview on The Huffington Post.

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Are you interested in making a difference in the lives of orphaned and abandoned girls? By donating to the LetsBuildanOrphanage.com campaign you can help to build an orphanage in Kokrajhar, India, providing girls with a safe home and a chance to better their futures.

Francie Winters: Empowering the Underserved

In the 1980s, Francie Winters began working with at-risk youth; her hope was to empower their lives. In the 90s, Francie’s work, “morphed into teaching mindfulness and yoga,” something she continues to do in Pahrump, Nevada, where she lives with her husband. In the latest interview for our yoga service series on the Huffington Post, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Francie about the importance of empowering the underserved, and what she has learned from working with such populations.

“I wait patiently in meditation for my students to arrive, and don’t make them feel bad if they come in late. I’d rather they came than not come… I always ask myself, ‘If this is the only time this person comes to a class, what is the one thing I can share that could help them in their life?’” – Francie Winters, Coordinator of Environmental Strategies at the Nye and Esmeralda Counties Coalition (NyECC)

To learn more about what continues to motivate Francie’s work and her thoughts on the future of service yoga, read her full interview on the Huffington Post.

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Can you join us in Giving Back from your mat? By donating the cost of one yoga class ($15) per month, you can give the gift of yoga to those who need it most – like veterans, first responders, prisoners, at-risk youth and more. Please join the Give Back Yoga family today by sharing a monthly donation!