karma yoga and yoga community

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and before it ends I want to make you aware of statistics on domestic violence.  This is a post I wrote last year with things that may shock you.  Or not.

The yoga fundraiser on Saturday was a success in that a dozen people attended (mostly my students and others who know me) and once the cash is doubled by a private charitable trust, the shelter will receive a little over $1,000.  Included in that amount is a check for $300 sent by a woman who took a few classes with me a long time ago because she could not attend the fundraiser but she would “be there in spirit.”  Nice!

I met with the shelter director during the summer and we talked about starting a weekly yoga program, but at this point in time there is no money for it (I only teach one night a month.)  People always ask me, “why don’t they just apply for a grant so they can pay you?”  The shelter recently received a $20,000 grant from the Mary Kay Foundation and this is what the director told me about that:

“The $20,000 is general operating money that is really just filling a hole we had where we had lost funding over the last couple of years.  We are still running with a skeleton crew that are stretched way too thin.  On top of that, they have not gotten even a cost of living increase in over 3 years.  So that is my first priority as far as funding goes…then I can start thinking about new projects and expanding different projects.  The grant writer is still looking for money specific to a new and innovative way to help victims.”

“A new and innovative way to help victims” means my yoga program.  And so it goes.  And that’s why I do a fundraiser for the shelter.

For about a month before the fundraiser I busted my asana trying to get the word out — emails to local papers, emails to local yoga peeps, tweeting, Facebook, posting flyers in health food stores and coffeehouses, etc.  I understand now how people working for non-profits get burned out.  The owner of the dance studio where the fundraiser was held did a great job getting the word out, she put a flyer into everyone’s hand who came into the studio.  The Nia and dance community also helped spread the the word.  But one group was conspicuous by their absence, in fact, their silence was  deafening.  Need I say it?  The local community of yoga teachers.

I’m beginning to think that use of the phrase “yoga community” should be banned because it’s basically meaningless — at least where I live, but your mileage may vary.  The phrase is used (overused?) in the yoga blogosphere when people write about a group of teachers and/or students getting together for a cause.  My own “yoga community” (which will forever be placed in quotes) is relatively small and most teachers know of or personally know each other.  Hell, me and 7 other yoga teachers use the same massage therapist so every month I get the local yoga 411.

But it never fails to amaze me when a group of people that speaks so much about seva and karma yoga, and who think Seane Corn and Russell Simmons are so cool to occupy Wall Street, can be silent about something going on in their own locale, for a local cause.  To quote two yoga teacher friends (one who attended and one who helped spread the word every week, both who also consider themselves yoga outsiders), they were “amazed” and “horrified” that despite knowing about a yoga fundraiser for a local women’s issue, there was little interest shown by local teachers.  I did hear from two (out of the 20+ teachers who got my email blast) who told me they were sorry they could not attend.

Why is this so-called “yoga community” that is coveted so much so elusive?

Believe me, I get the fact that everyone has their own favorite cause that they donate to, my cause isn’t your cause, but that’s not the point at all.  I don’t care if someone donates $1.00 or $100, support is given in ways other than money.  Sometimes time and interest are more precious than dollar bills.  Don’t support someone expecting to get something in return.  I mean, really?  Read the Gita.  That does not even karmically compute.  Sometimes you do things to help, unasked.  Just ’cause it’s the right thing to do.

The kicker was when a local teacher who was a Facebook “friend” deleted my comment about the fundraiser and defriended me.  Wow.  Didn’t know promoting seva is such an evil thing to do.  She had posted on her FB page about an event at the local studio that was in the evening on the same day as the fundraiser.  I commented something to the effect, “don’t forget about the yoga fundraiser: karma yoga, go out to dinner, then go to the event.”  That was it.  Innocuous.  The thing is, I’ve known this teacher for about 7 years, I’ve been in her class, she’s been in mine, not friends (as I don’t use that term loosely), but acquaintances, knowing the same local yoga peeps.  Delete.  Defriend.  Uh, what?!?  The irony was that she had sent me a message a few weeks earlier about how important domestic violence issues are to her and she wanted to donate money.  Guess I’m not getting that dough now.

With one of the themes being superficiality, I always loved the way Burl Ives’ character in the movie Cat on a Hot Tin Roof spit out the word mendacity as something unacceptable.

When another blog reader posted this on my FB wall, I had to chuckle.  Good in theory, in practice, maybe not so much:  “hold a fundraising event for a local charity…the success of working and coming together to do something good close to home creates a perfect opportunity for students to connect with one another.”

Over the the past month I’ve had a good think about this whole “yoga community” idea/ideal that is perpetrated in the we’re-all-one-big-happy-kula, kumbaya.  It is something that some yoga person somewhere is always telling us to strive for, i.e., the collective yoga thang.  Buddhists refer to it as sangha.  The Universe must be sending me messages because just when I needed to hear it, I received another email from a relatively new reader in Canada.  The writer told me that while her yoga journey is not as seasoned as my own, she does know that “the ‘yoga community’ is the one you create, in your heart and in your space.  I only allow those that resonate my values into my space.”  Very wise.  And true.

I will also take the words of my Sister Kali Grrl, Svasti, to heart:  “work at defusing your road rage, and/or all those little things that niggle you in life. The stuff that makes you snarky, snippy or snappy at yourself/others on your bad days. Because my lovelies, THAT is all inflammation. And too much inflammation will make you sick.”   Because Svasti and others who resonate my values ARE my yoga community, my sangha, and it’s not necessarily where I live.  It was serendipitous to also read that “real communities live because of a passion that is shared by those who belong to it. And when it’s strong enough, that community can exist anywhere.”

I’m universal, and I forgot, for a short time, when I was at my lowest yet again, my passion all wrung out, that I am indeed swimming in grace.

In the end, does any of it really matter, that is, is it really important to me who gives a damn?  Maybe, maybe not, but a wise friend told me a long time ago, “stay passionate and keep holding that mirror up because somebody’s got to do it.”

But if you see Seane Corn, tell her to put her money where her mouth is and send a yoga sister some healthy bucks from her organization to start a weekly yoga program at the shelter.

Kumbaya, y’all.

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8 thoughts on “karma yoga and yoga community

  1. it sounds like you have more of a community than we do here. studios steal students from each other. i know very few people doing karma yoga. most are pretty much on their own. an island. i could benefit from some karma yoga. seeing that my rwanda plan did not work out. i just gave all of the money to nola-zeitoun foundation-for the victims of katrina. this is a good post. thx

  2. Hey there, thanks for the quote! None of us are perfect, and I totally understand your frustration. Hopefully when you make it big as a rock star yogi, you can draw more attention to the domestic violence cause. It’s certainly one that’s close to my own heart.

    When I was assaulted, I tried to find a support group and there wasn’t really anything around. I don’t know why! But I had nowhere to turn, and I suspect that contributed to my delayed PTSD diagnosis, and don’t even get me started on how if I’d been diagnosed earlier, things might’ve been different for me!

    It’s a huge issue, as are many other things. But as one of my yoga teachers compassionately pointed out, most people just don’t care. They’re too wrapped up in their own suffering to see how helping others is actually helping themselves.

    I also remember a conversation held during my YTT where we were discussing ethics. The principal of the school was telling us stories of unethical yoga teachers and things they’d done. Another student was shocked because she expected better from a yoga teacher. But sorry, people are people first and even yoga teachers have to work to shift their crap. So no, yoga teachers aren’t holier than thou or perfect and most of us (yoga teachers or not) still have a long way to go before we’re free to just give to another person.

    It’s always amused and touched me that people in less developed countries have a better understanding of sharing – why you should do it, and then just actually doing it. Even if you don’t feel like you have “enough” for yourself. I’ve seen it many times – poor people giving to other poor people, or even people better off than they are.

    Westerners don’t seem to understand that abundance begets abuandance. We have our walls and fences and what’s “ours” and sharing seems to be harder for some reason. Maybe because we just weren’t brought up that way. So like I’ve said to you before, generosity is learned in the west. It sure ain’t a given reality for most.

  3. “Why is this so-called “yoga community” that is coveted so much so elusive?” I’m not sure if there is a yoga community where I am or if it’s just that I can’t afford to belong right now, lol. I must admit I’ve attended very few fundrising yoga events, and not because I don’t want to, but because usually it isn’t donation based, but a set fee (and I’m not talking about $15), and it’s a fee that’s too high for me right now where I am just starting to get back on my feet (I hope) after being laid off a year ago.

    There seems to be two kinds of issues, those that are glamourous (like breast cancer and you can sell pretty pink stuff) and then non-glamourous (can’t sell any useless products)–and I’m guessing domestic violence falls in the latter camp:(. I bet if your next fundriser is for breast cancer and you promise sexy pink yoga tanks to participates, you’ll have a bigger turn out!

    Still, congradulations on what you have accomplished so far.

    • There seems to be two kinds of issues, those that are glamourous (like breast cancer and you can sell pretty pink stuff) and then non-glamourous (can’t sell any useless products)–and I’m guessing domestic violence falls in the latter camp:(. I bet if your next fundriser is for breast cancer and you promise sexy pink yoga tanks to participates, you’ll have a bigger turn out! —

      a wise assessment, Grace, thank you! makes lots of sense!

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