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Partners in Service: Sharing Yoga With the World

As a nonprofit partner, Give Back Yoga is honored to help Gaiam carry out its corporate mission of making yoga accessible to everyone. This video shows how a service-driven partnership is helping tens of thousands of people get on the mat for the first time – from veterans and service members, to first responders and elementary students.

Find more mat grant stories on our blog, and by following our #MatMonday posts on social media.

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Ready to be a change maker? Talk with us about becoming a corporate sponsor of Give Back Yoga. 

Marc Titus: Festival Owners Making a Difference By Bringing Yoga to Veterans

This is an interview with Marc Titus, Founder & Director of the Sedona Yoga Festival in Arizona. I first met Marc when he approached the Give Back Yoga Foundation with an offer to host a training for hundreds of professional yoga teachers, to help them share yoga with our nation’s veterans. With the suicide rate among veterans at an all-time high, Marc and his wife, Festival Producer Heather Shereé Titus, believe that sharing yoga with these men and women is a gift for everyone.

– Rob Schware, Executive Director, Give Back Yoga Foundation

Rob: What originally motivated you to start a yoga festival?

Marc: I moved to Sedona in 2007 to become a yoga teacher, after 7 years of practice. Even after that, though, I had to go down a personally torturous road, involving finding a way to transcend and heal from a very materialistically-lived life; it was during this transformation that I became a certified yoga instructor. Finally, while I was living in Los Angeles in the winter of 2011/12, on an especially hard day, with literally the last dollar to my name in my pocket, the spirit of Sedona appeared to me, and said, “It’s time to return to Sedona…it’s time to bring consciousness to humanity; and thus Sedona Yoga Festival was born.” I didn’t know how I would get back, how I would pay for it, or how it would unfold, but I said YES! Within two weeks, I was sleeping in Sedona in a beautiful house under a full moon, with money in my pocket, all my ‘stuff’ with me, and a new and profound sense of purpose.

What motivated you to partner with a non-profit organization for this year’s yoga festival, and to focus on introducing therapeutic yoga for veterans?

I’d been reflecting on my relationship with my father, who was a Vietnam War veteran affected by PTSD. It was like a lightning bolt that came to me: we can use the energy of the yoga festival to bring awareness to an ever-growing problem in our country.  We can help returning veterans with mental health recovery and rehabilitation tools that are inexpensive, and can help relieve the symptoms of stress-related physical and non-physical injuries. This approach would also promote community collaboration. As you know, Rob, the situation is very real, with several thousands of veterans returning with PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. I feel one solution our community can offer is simple: yoga, right now, brings about and supports inner peace.

I’m interested to know, what do you see as outcomes?

My friend Chris Courtney, an Iraq War combat veteran and yoga teacher, once said to me, “heal our veterans, heal our communities.” We are all affected by the return of so many veterans with trauma, and part of the solution is where and how we direct our attention. Therefore, at the 2014 Sedona Yoga Festival we envision over 200 teachers receiving the Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans training. We hope to support them with Yoga For Veterans Toolkits, in collaboration with the Give Back Yoga Foundation. And we hope these teachers will return to their communities prepared to serve our veterans and their spouses. If every teacher we train aims to serve 50 veterans in his or her local community, together we would provide 10,000+ veterans with useful tools. These will help them overcome the debilitating and often severe symptoms PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and the other myriad experiences that are making life incredibly difficult for returning veterans, their families, and their communities. Those are possibly real outcomes. We simply cannot solve the problem in the same way it was created. We need to step out of the energy of old, into a model of Giving Back–Dharma, Service in Action.

How do you maintain a mindful corporation, and emphasize “compassionate action” in dealing with festival partners?

I think it’s hard to run a “conscious business” with all that is going on in the world today. The accoutrements of our modern world, while purporting to be “helpful,” have actually created a situation in which we are always doing something, always needing to do more, always striving.  There is a lot of pressure to keep moving, to grow, etc. As an antidote, I try to be present to what’s happening right now, to life itself flowing through me, to you, to all of us right now.  The more I embodied this, the easier things got, and the more mindful, awake, and aware I’ve become.  As a result of a consistent and dedicated asana practice that completely stilled my overactive “monkey mind,” I’ve come to see that it all unfolds without my effort, and that if I am “to be” compassionate in collaborations with business partners, then I must learn to be compassionate with myself first.

What advice would you give other festival owners?

Maintain your connection to, and listen only to your inner voice, to your visions and dreams. Through your practice cultivate an intimacy with yourself that allows you to trust this voice, and follow it wherever it takes you: walk your own path. Be an advocate for Dharma, Service in Action.

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

I see yoga “doing” what it has always done, assisting humanity in letting go of all the trappings that prevent the inevitable; consciousness expanding infinitely. I believe yoga will continue to evolve, back to its own roots, right here in the west, as the masses of Western yogis realize what traditional yoga is all about. I believe we will see an expansion of “giving back” in the very near future, as we realize that we are all the same. In that individuated sameness, will come over 7 billion solutions to the one “problem” of separation. When that happens, the world will be a totally different place.

Editor: Alice Trembour

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Dharma. Service in Action. SYF Gives Back: Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans. This 2-day pre-conference training at the Sedona Yoga Festival provides yoga teachers with certification in techniques and practices that are clinically proven to offer relief to veterans returning home affected by post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and other trauma and emotional stress. Join us February 6-10, 2014 in beautiful Sedona, Arizona.

 

Rob Schware: Helping Veterans To Heal The Invisible Wounds of War Is Worth The Effort

This holiday period I am reading David Finkel’s new book, Thank You For Your Service, published by Sarah Crichton Books.  It’s a compelling read. On every page we are reminded of the reality of American wars since Vietnam, of the persistent toll that traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety have on veterans and their families. At times, the stories will break your heart, and they piss me off enough to want to channel my energy to help.

Here is a sample:

“Most of all, they (veterans in a rehabilitation program) had heard explosion after explosion and seen dozens of Humvees disappear into breathtaking clouds of fire and debris, and by the end most of them had been inside such a cloud themselves, blindingly feeling around in those initial moments to determine if they were alive, or dead, or intact, or in pieces, as their ears rang and their hearts galloped and their souls darkened and their eyes occasionally filled with tears. So they knew. They knew. And yet day after day they would go out anyway, which eventually came to be what the war was about. Not winning. Not losing. Nothing so grand. Just trying until it was time to go home and discovering that life after the war turned on trying again.”

For many veterans, as hard as they try, the wars keeps trying too, as images of heads half gone, close-ups of torsos ripped open, and blood spreading become repressed.  “So many soldiers with psychological injuries,” writes Finkel, “envy soldiers with physical injuries because those soldiers can see evidence that something is really wrong with them.”

As a growing evidence base of yoga studies demonstrates, such stress, depression, and anxiety is ultimately processed through the physical body. For those who want to try to take a break from their stress and anxiety, we at the Give Back Yoga Foundation have a toolkit that can help connect the mind and body, which has been especially designed and tested for veterans. It includes breathing practices (pranayama), meditation, physical postures and movements (asana), and a specific form of guided rest (Yoga Nidra). It’s called Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans.

We’ve received wonderful testimonials of the benefits of the toolkit from veterans. Paul, a Vietnam War Veteran who is becoming a yoga teacher, told us: “Mindful Yoga Therapy has been incredibly helpful to me in coping with my post-traumatic stress. Yoga is like a gyro that brings me back into equilibrium when dealing with the effects of my disorder. The more I practice, the more my symptoms are mitigated.”

It may not be the only thing veterans AND their spouses need in the healing processes, but with other tools, we have seen real change happening.

We are reaping the results of sending this toolkit to nearly 10,000 veterans and 43 VA hospital facilities and hearing back on the unbelieveable benefits veterans experience—freedom from traumatic stress!

If you’re a veteran or service member, I encourage you to request a free copy of this toolkit. My hope is that these resources will help you to find the same relief and peace that other vets have experienced when they discover these practices.

And if you’d like to tell a vet “thank you for your service,” please consider making a donation to our Yoga for Veterans program. A contribution of $50 will help us to bring yoga toolkits to 10 veterans. You can also make a lasting impact by joining our monthly donation program – with a contribution of just $15 to Yoga for Veterans, you’ll help us to bring healing yoga practices to three veterans every month.

It’s one the best ways I can think of to say thanks – and I’m grateful to each and every one of you who is contributing to this movement of hope and healing.

Rob Schware, PhD
Executive Director
Give Back Yoga Foundation

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Do you want to bring the healing practices of yoga and meditation to veterans? Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans is an empirically informed, clinically tested program comprised of five practices – pranayama, asana, yoga nidra, meditation and gratitude – that give veterans a “toolbox” that can carry them into a life of strength and resilience. Find a Mindful Yoga Therapy training near you, or join Give Back Yoga at the Sedona Yoga Festival in February for a two-day Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans pre-conference training.

 

Give Back With Sedona Yoga Festival & Denver Chant Fest

Coming together for yoga, music and love…while helping to change the world. What could be better?

Community seva projects sponsored through yoga festivals are becoming a key way to fuel our work. Yogis who support these initiatives are bringing the healing power of yoga to those in need – like prisoners, at-risk teens, veterans and those with eating disorders.

Help us to Give Back Yoga at two vibrant festivals this winter, and enjoy a special discount for being a member of our service community. Here’s how:

 

Sedona Yoga Festival: February 6-10, 2014

Sedona Yoga FestivalHeld in a town renowned for its healing energy, this “consciousness evolution conference”both educates and inspires. Featuring over 250 workshops, 108 presenters and 16 musical artists, you’ll hear from authors, speakers and energy healers from around the world; experience meditation, dance and kirtan; and learn from master teachers who will help you bring your practice and service to a new level.

Community Seva: Help Sedona Yoga Festival raise $50,000 to fund Yoga for Veterans Toolkits by making a donation to SYF Gives Back, or by signing up to host a team or individual fundraiser on Crowdrise.

FESTIVAL TICKET OFFER: Save 20% on a SYF2014 All-Access Pass by entering code “GBYF20” at checkout.

Pre-Conference Teacher Training: Join GBYF at the Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans two-day intensive training to learn clinically proven techniques for working with students who have experienced trauma. You’ll hear from expert teachers like Give Back Yoga co-founder Beryl Bender Birch, Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans founder Suzanne Manafort, Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox, Give Back Yoga board member Ann Richardson Stevens and more.

TEACHER TRAINING TICKET OFFER: Through December 31st, your service can go twice as far. Donate $500 to our crowd fund campaign to bring yoga toolkits to veterans, and we’ll say “thank you” with a SYF Gives Back 2014 Access Pass that includes complimentary access to the Sedona Yoga Festival. (Offer limited to five donors. Miss the deal? Click here to purchase a SYF Gives Back 2014 Access Pass.)

 

Denver Chant Fest: February 14-16, 2014

Denver Chant Fest 2014The second annual Denver Chant Fest gathers the nation’s top Bhakti (spiritual song) musicians and beloved yoga instructors for a weekend of soul-stirring music, top-notch yoga instruction and offerings from wellness vendors from across the country. The 2014 line-up includes Give Back Yoga’s own Shanti Medina, performing Universal Kirtan with Scott Medina; Jai Uttal; Donna Delory; Rusty Wells; Jason Crandell; Dave Stringer; MC Yogi; C.C. White; Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band; Govindas and Radha; Pete Guinosso; Deepak and the Breath of Life Tribe; Tricia Heimbach; Tina Porter; Patrick Harrington; Dawnelle Arthur; Mike and Robin Konard; Arjun Verma; and many more.

Community Seva: Denver Chant Fest is collecting donations for Give Back Yoga, the festival’s designated non-profit partner. To make a donation, visit Denver Chant Fest.

FESTIVAL TICKET OFFER: Save 10% on a three-day weekend pass by entering code “GBYF” at checkout. Offer available for the first 100 GBYF community members. Stay tuned for a special ticket giveaway for GBYF supporters by joining our mailing list.

Vilma Zaleskaite: Serving the Larger Woman Through Yoga

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Yoga for the Larger Woman founder Vilma Zaleskaite for The Huffington Post Blog to learn how yoga is transforming the way that plus-sized women are living in their bodies.

“I aim to guide students into developing a greater awareness of the body. I teach how to listen to the body, how to be present in the body as it moves and as it is still…as my teacher Angela Farmer once put it, with yoga we aim “to dive further inside our amazing bodies and clear out some remaining dusty corners, as well as befriend the small and fearful parts of ourselves still lurking in our shadows.” This internal focus makes my classes suitable for students who are quite diverse in age, ability, or shape.” 

– Vilma Zaleskaite, founder of the Yoga for the Larger Woman program

Click here to learn more about Vilma’s groundbreaking projects with Yoga for the Larger Woman, including the yearlong “Living in My Body” (LiMB) study and a 2013 calendar featuring stunning images of Vilma’s students at practice by award-winning photographer Joni Kabana.

Photo: Janet, September 2013 – “After 50 years of dragging this body around, yoga has enabled me to live in it.”

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Help Give Back Yoga Foundation to meet our goal of sharing yoga toolkits with 10,000 veterans in 2013. Through December 31st, when you donate $30 to our crowd funding campaign, you’ll receive download links for two guided meditation practices as a gift of thanks.

 

Gina Garcia: Yoga for Everyone, Everywhere. Yoga Across America

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Yoga Across America founder Gina Garcia for The Huffington Post Blog to learn how her non-profit is bringing yoga to high school students and vets.

“With the suicide rate among veterans at an all-time high, sharing yoga with these men and women is a gift for everyone. This is not about anyone’s view on war, it’s about humanity. Connecting through this practice allows me to share from the heart. When I hear a service member tell me “I found my freedom,” or “Yoga saved my life,” I experience the power of this practice in its purest most beautiful form. It’s a journey of support, healing and love, and our veterans deserve it.”

– Yoga Across America founder Gina Garcia

Click here to read more of Gina’s thoughts on why yoga teachers need special training and support to work with wounded warriors, and how serving others changes your life and your yoga practice.

Image courtesy of Carmen Salazar Photography.

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Help Give Back Yoga Foundation to share the gift of yoga with 10,000 veterans in 2013.  Through December 31st, when you donate $10 or more to our crowd funding campaign to bring free yoga toolkits to veterans, you can receive a gift of thanks in return. Or support our work with veterans by purchasing a copy of the toolkit for yourself.

Eileen Lorraine: Serving Sin City’s Homeless Youth Through Yoga

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Eileen Lorraine for The Huffington Post Blog to learn what the face of homelessness really looks like, and how she is sharing yoga with young adults at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center in Las Vegas.

“It’s really just hanging out with them and then saying, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to do this thing called yoga and you know what? This meditation and breathing thing I’m going to show you, it actually helps us when we’re feeling angry or frustrated…when we feel like that, instead of reacting and hitting that person, or turning to alcohol, drugs, or sex, maybe we can just pause a moment, and maybe we can take long, slow breaths, and think about what can we do to feel better in this situation that won’t have bad consequences for us later.”

– yoga teacher Eileen Lorraine, on her work with homeless youth in Las Vegas

Click here to read how Eileen got started in yoga outreach, and her tips for teachers who are interested in working with at-risk teens.

Photo courtesy of Angelina Galindo Photography.

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Do you want to bring the transformational power of yoga and meditation to underserved populations? Check out Give Back Yoga’s new crowd funding campaign to learn how you can participate in a very special trauma-sensitive teacher training at the 2014 Sedona Yoga Festival, while helping to fund our work of sharing yoga toolkits with veterans.

Suzanne Manafort: Bringing Mindful Yoga Therapy to Veterans

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Give Back Yoga Board Member Suzanne Manafort for The Huffington Post Blog about the roots of the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans program, and the amazing transformation that vets are experiencing through the practice of yoga and mindfulness.

“I watch the men and women as they begin in my 12-week program look as if someone has dimmed their inner light. After a few weeks, their interests in the practices begin to increase, and slowly it looks as if they brighten up. It truly is a visible change. So many men and women taking our program combined with psychotherapy are getting well and leading productive lives. It has been my honor to be a part of this.”

– Suzanne Manafort, founder of the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Program

Click here to read more of Suzanne’s tips for yoga teachers who want to work with veterans – and how she serves as one link in the chain of “spiritual revolutionaries” that teacher Beryl Bender Birch is sending out into the world to make a difference.

Want to learn more? Visit Give Back Yoga’s Youtube channel to hear from four veterans who are working with Suzanne to bring yoga and mindfulness to their peers, in the Veterans on Mindful Yoga Therapy Hangout. Or visit our store to check out the “new and improved” Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans practice guide, now available in an updated third printing. We aim to bring this valuable multi-media resource to 30,000 vets, service members and their families by 2015 – you can support this work with a recurring or one-time donation towards “Yoga for Veterans.”

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Do you want to bring the transformational power of yoga and meditation to underserved populations? Join Suzanne Manafort, Beryl Bender Birch, James Fox and other leading experts in Sedona, AZ in February for a two-day Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans teacher training. Learn clinically-proven techniques to help students recover from trauma and emotional stress at this intensive pre-conference training, hosted by the Sedona Yoga Festival in association with Southwest Institute of Healing Arts.

YogaHOPE: Evidence on the Power of Mind-Body Healing

Evidence continues to grow for the power of mind-body practices to help trauma survivors heal from the effects of traumatic stress. The latest promising news comes from a research brief on the effectiveness of the Trauma Informed Mind Body (TIMBo) program, developed by YogaHOPE founder Sue Jones.

The TIMBo program offers women mind-body tools to help them recover from the physical and mental effects of chronic trauma, addiction or abuse. Through an 8-week curriculum that includes group discussion, asana practice and meditation, the TIMBo program helps women:

~Master simple coping strategies that they can use anywhere, anytime.
~Gain awareness of their bodies, so they can defuse the endless feedback loop of emotional traumatic memory.
~Gain awareness of their inner experience, so they can begin to reconstruct their belief in themselves.

After assessing the impacts of the TIMBo program, mental health professionals found that women who had completed the course showed a significant decrease in symptoms of depression, anxiety and trauma. Even more powerfully, they had begun to change their inner dialogue and talk to themselves in a more self-compassionate way.

“I have re-found my faith in myself, and my confidence,” wrote one woman, about the impact of the TIMBo program.

Kudos to YogaHOPE for reinforcing the mounting evidence that mindfulness can aid in trauma recovery – and for changing the world by empowering women and stopping the cycle of violence in families and communities.

Learn how Sue Jones used yoga to overcome debilitating depression, and how she’s passing it on to other women:

Lilly Bechtel: How Yoga Supports Veterans in the Return Home

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with author Lilly Bechtel for The Huffington Post Blog to learn how yoga is saving the lives of veterans, and how she’s striving to open up dialogue between military and yoga communities.

“Hugo Patrocinio is a Marine who had served in three deployments and had just been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. On the day of his first yoga class he was suicidal, suffered from insomnia, flashbacks, sleep paralysis, and he was on eight different medications. Hugo had never done yoga before. He sat down reluctantly on his mat. He noticed his breath. Forty-five minutes later when class was over, the teacher woke him up. ‘And that’s when I realized that I felt rested for the first time in years,’ Hugo told us….”I believe that yoga saved my life.'”

– author and yoga teacher Lilly Bechtel, recounting the story that inspired her work with veterans

To read Lilly’s full Huffington Post interview, including the story of how she discovered yoga and how she’s seeing the practice change the lives of veterans, click here.

And don’t miss Lilly’s Elephant Journal series At Attention, At Peace, featuring conversations with veterans, teachers and military officials on how yoga can help returning soldiers to heal from post-traumatic stress.

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Help Give Back Yoga put free yoga and mindfulness guides in the hands of 10,000 veterans this year by making a one-time or recurring donation in the amount of your choice. Gifts of any size are welcome – every dollar counts!