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.

1st Yogathon for Victims of Domestic Violence

My long-time readers know that I have taught yoga and meditation at a domestic violence shelter as a volunteer since 2004.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month so I have always tried to do a yoga fundraiser for the shelter.  Many of you also know that I no longer teach at yoga studios so I have not been able to do this fundraiser for a while due to lack of a space.  This year the director of the dance studio where I do Nia has generously offered her studio so I am back on track.

Getting local newspapers to take any interest in this has been close to impossible.  In fact, getting ANY local people to take any interest in this is close to impossible.

So I am going global and I’m asking for money.  Big money….because I want to start a consistent trauma sensitive yoga program at the shelter.  If yoga bloggers can ask their readers for money to fund their teacher trainings or travels to yoga fests, I can also ask for some do-re-me.  The money does not even have to go to me, it can go directly to the shelter to be specifically dedicated for a yoga program.

I am looking for socially-minded corporate sponsors, whether in Illinois or anywhere in the world, to help fund my proposed Trauma Sensitive Mind-Body Program.  I study yoga therapy in India; I’m certified in Trauma Sensitive Yoga….I got the goods, people!  All my yoga tools are for the women at the shelter.

My TSMB program will provide structured yoga sessions for domestic violence survivors to give them tools to address their habituated patterns and symptoms that lead to relapse into the cycle of trauma.  I will offer a research-based yoga curriculum based on the ways in which mind-body practices facilitate traumatic stress recovery.

The shelter depends on grants and donations and the money goes toward keeping the doors open for the women.  After 7 years of teaching only once a month, I finally sat down last month with the director to talk about starting a dedicated weekly or twice weekly yoga program.  She said they would look for grants for money to fund my teaching but it will be a long process.  I said that I was patient because after all, I’ve already been teaching there for 7 years.

I am not a non-profit organization (although I am looking into re-organizing as a “low profit” corporation, a new business entity) so I can not apply for grants on my own.  Once I tried Kickstarter to help raise money, but they refused my project because it had nothing to do with the arts, it was not “creative” enough.  Even the local yoga magazine has refused stories in spite of two of my students contacting the editor over the years.  I’m calling you out, Yoga Chicago.

I admit it — I get a bit down when I see others get featured for their karma yoga projects.  Not jealous because they are doing valuable work…just depressed because I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time and maybe if I got some news flash, some local money would flow into the shelter to start a program.  Or maybe just some help or advice.  Whatever.  I just keep plugging away.

As naive as this sounds, I am looking for a benefactor for this program.  A sugar daddy.  Or mommy.  An anonymous benefactor or maybe a rich person can leave us some money in their will.  Another Oprah.  Hey, Oprah!  You had Rodney Yee on your show years ago and talked about how wonderful yoga is…so help a sister out, will  ya?

Blech.  I’m just tired of banging my head against the wall.  It’s very tiring when you’re the only one doing this without any emotional support.

I know a lot people from all over the world read this blog.  If you can help us out, contact me.

But in the meantime, if you are in the Fox Valley area of far west suburban Chicago, consider attending the First Yogathon for Victims of Domestic Violence.  Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

Help some sisters out.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I am a survivor.

That is why my seva is at my local domestic violence shelter for almost 10 years now. It is my favorite class to teach because my students are also my teachers. Someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, or both.

Consider these facts —

Domestic Violence:

Half of all married women in the United States are physically abused at some time in their marriage.

One in 10 teenagers will be involved in a violent dating relationship before graduating from high school.

A woman is beaten every 10 seconds.

Domestic violence is the most under-reported crime in the US.

Domestic violence cuts across all socioeconomic backgrounds, regardless of race, religion, or level of education.

Battering often occurs during pregnancy.

10 women a day die at the hands of their husbands or partners.

Every five years the number of women in the US who die at the hands of their partners is equal to the number of males who died in the Viet Nam War.

Abused women comprise 20% of all women presenting injuries at hospital emergency rooms.

Sexual Assault:

Every 5 minutes a woman is raped.

One-third of all rapes occur in a woman’s home.

Rape itself is a violent act, but 85% of all rapes are accompanied by more violence or the threat of violence.

Only 7% of sexually assaulted women report rape. This makes the actual number of rapes in the US as high as 2 million a year.

One in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually assaulted or abused before age 18.

In a Cornell University questionnaire, 92% of the respondents listed sexual harassment as a serious problem. 70% had personally experienced some form of harassment.

American women are 8 times more likely to be raped than European women and 26 times more likely than Japanese women.

One third of the sexual assault program clients at the shelter where I teach are children between the ages of 3-13; 50% of these clients are boys between the ages of 3-10.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Instead of wearing a purple ribbon, find a DV shelter in your community and do you seva. Walk your yoga talk for these women and you will be repaid 10 times over. Last night one of the women brought her little boy and he got on my mat and started teaching with me. Priceless.

Karma yoga = yoga love.

Karma yoga = peace.

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

paz yoga

“Paz” is Spanish for “peace”. “Peace yoga” sounds like a beautiful concept to me, and in my humble opinion, what yoga is really all about. Yoga is about peace, healing, transformation. I won’t get into the differences between “health club yoga” and “traditional yoga”, because I can assure you that one group of students I have could not care less. They don’t come to class wearing $90 yoga pants, or have leather yoga mat bags, or wear chakra balancing anklets. In fact, they don’t even own yoga mats and could not tell you where to buy them. But they are my favorite yoga students because they totally understand what yoga is really all about and they all got it on the first night of class.

My karma yoga at a domestic violence shelter. I teach once a month to the Hispanic women’s support group. Some women understand English, others do not, so I have a translator for my direction. This in itself is interesting and amusing. We have lots of laughs when we go from la mesa to la gata then to pose of a nina to el perro.

These women are not shelter residents, but they come once a week for instruction or support regarding legal, financial, or job issues. They see me only once a month. But if you saw these women meditate, you would think I was leading a vipassana retreat. I do not have any other students who are more concentrated and focused in their goal for inner peace. When I teach my other classes and notice how some students lie in savasana with their eyes wide open staring at the ceiling, or tapping their fingers, or looking at their watches, I think about las yoginis mexicanas and their peaceful faces. It overwhelms me.

These women have been emotionally and physically abused. Some have left their men, some have not. All have children they are trying to protect. But when they come to see the “yoga lady”, they know that the 90 minutes is for them, and no one else. Maybe it’s the only hour and a half they’ve had for themselves all month. No one asks me about fancy poses or about getting a yoga butt. They ask me how to breath. They ask me about the Divine. I always tell them to go inside and find that true Self, the Self that they were born with that no one can ever take from them. The Self that no one can hit or call stupid or call a whore. One young women told me that she saw herself bathed in a white light, standing outside herself, watching herself meditate, and how happy and calm that made her feel. I told her how beautiful that was, that some people who meditate for years never see things like that, and she started to cry. Afterward the group leader told me that this woman has a little girl who keeps asking mommy why she goes back to daddy after daddy hurts her. I have not seen this woman since that night. I hope she is still bathed in the white light.

They ask me if yoga can help them with their aches and pains and whether yoga can diminish their big bellies left over from having children. They love doing Fire Series, but they love going inward to find that true Self even more. I tell them that my teachers in India will show me many ways to help them. I’ve explained to them how KYM teaches a theraputic yoga style, and that when I return I will show them everything. They’ve told me, please come back from India, we want the yoga lady here, because after class we feel happy. Now it’s time for me to cry.

Yes, I will come back to show them what I’ve learned, because I have been where they are now. Paz yoga, healing, and transformation, por mis yoginis mexicanas.