Share Your Practice will feature interviews with teachers involved in yoga service. Find my own interview below! If you’d like to complete an online interview, fill in your answers here.
How did you get involved in yoga service? What do you do?
Currently, I maintain this website …and teach two free community classes in Chicago neighborhoods without much local yoga available.
I got involved in yoga service before I became a teacher – I worked for a non-profit in the field. I helped manage volunteer teachers, non-teacher volunteers, and set up new yoga programs on site at social service facilities. I also attended various trauma-sensitive yoga trainings. I participated classes as an “understudy” – there to assist the teacher with any issues that arose during class to allow them to continue teaching.
Once I enrolled in teacher training I started teaching yoga to my running group, which included some members who lived in a residential homeless shelter. Now I teach two weekly classes at non-profit organizations – they are free and located in neighborhoods that don’t have many other opportunities for yoga available. I don’t ask an abundance of questions and I don’t expect that my students are necessarily trauma survivors, but living in a neighborhood where violence is a concern, raising children there, and potentially facing financial concerns are definitely highly stressful issues to deal with.
I don’t know where my interest in this field came from. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, I was very large as a child and have had various issues related to food, and I feel yoga has helped me tremendously. I don’t feel drawn to work with people who have necessarily dealt with the same issues, but I know that yoga is expensive … plenty of people could benefit from yoga even though their circumstances aren’t drastic enough that they fall into a very specific category served by a non-profit.
What role has yoga played in your own life?
Yoga has helped me inhabit my own body more comfortably and happily. Vinyasa yoga especially has just helped me feel good. Yoga is now a routine part of my day – during some lower points in my life, particularly when I was just starting to practice, I remember looking forward to yoga so much. Having something I loved to do helped me get through otherwise difficult times.
Describe a challenging situation and a rewarding one in your yoga service work:
The most rewarding situations for me are when someone comes to yoga for the first time, enjoys it, and keeps coming back – we all have limited time, and it’s really an honor that people chose to spend their time in class with me! Of course, it’s not just me, it’s yoga too – but it’s still an honor.
Probably the most challenging situations have been more administrative ones. Many non-profits do amazing work and are also understaffed … I ask questions in advance to ensure that a class I set up will go okay (for lack of a better term) and sometimes it has happened that an organization wound up unable to follow through on its commitment to a class (promoting the class, having a dedicated staff member as a contact, informing me in advance of cancellations, etc.). I do my best to go with the flow and figure out new solutions as needed. Ultimately, though, students are best served (and my own limited time best spent) on a class that is well-set up and sustainable over time. It is sometimes hard to be forthcoming when something isn’t working out, but I try to speak up when the issue is important.
Are there any poses or practices you find especially helpful to teach?
Coordinating movement and breath is SO important. I teach pretty dynamic vinyasa sequences in studios, and my impression in many community classes I teach is that plenty of people are just not seeking that level of movement – or would find it more overwhelming than beneficial.
So we flow between two postures (warrior two to reverse warrior and back) or flow the arms within postures (in crescent lunge – inhale lift your arms, exhale press your palms to touch in front of your heart). I have met a few movements from Prana Flow and Tai Chi which serve this purpose too.
What practical advice or resources would you share with others who’d like to get involved in similar work?
Take a training in trauma-sensitive yoga. If there is a specific community you’d like to work with, consider volunteering with that community in a non-yoga capacity or learning more about relevant issues to that group. Connect with likeminded teachers or others who practice yoga.
Consider carefully what you can commit – and be open about it. It is hard to get subs, at least, subs who teach from a trauma-informed perspective. If a class is not offered on a regular basis, it’s hard to build up a regular base of students.
Consider which organization you work with. Don’t undervalue your own work and time – if an organization does not have the staff support or resources (appropriate space etc) to host a yoga class, search for one that does.
Be kind to yourself too. Do your best, and realize no one is perfect.