This Is What Seva Looks Like
Sure, you could teach yoga to communities in need. But this year’s Good Karma Award winners exemplify the many other ways to practice seva, or selfless service. Here are their inspiring stories, plus advice to help you find your own path to giving back.
You don’t need endless funds or free time to give back in meaningful ways. Get inspired to do good today by this year’s Good Karma Award winners.
JILL BRENNER CAN POINT to a specific moment in her first yoga-teacher training that changed the trajectory of what the ancient practice would mean to her forever. “The teacher said, ‘Treat others like they are inside of you—those who are less fortunate, even the most evil,’” recalls the public relations exec turned yoga teacher. “These dual concepts, that we are all connected and should practice compassion for others, really resonated with me and has inspired me to be of service through yoga ever since.” Aha moments like Brenner’s are common for yoga practitioners, prompting us to wake up to a shared responsibility for making the world a better place, says Rob Schware, PhD, executive director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation. “All yoga practices are about paying attention,” says Schware. “As we work to improve ourselves, the veils of avidya— a basic ignorance of who we are, and of the underlying reality that everything in the universe is connected—begin to fall away. And as we get closer to understanding how connected we are to our fellow yoga students, families, and communities, we ask ourselves, ‘How can I be most useful?’”
Of course, a host of things precludes many of us from taking the next step and actually answering this question, much less acting on it. Busy lives may leave little time for volunteering; tight budgets can make donating money a challenge. And while so many of us with teacher trainings under our belts would like to use our training to bring yoga to underserved communities, it doesn’t mean we actually can (for the reasons above and more).
Schware says it’s important to think about yoga service in broader terms. “You don’t have to launch a brand-new nonprofit to give the gift of yoga to a community in need,” he says. “Just as yoga shows us how to be here now, giving back can be about
doing something now.” In a sense, your charitable endeavors are your yoga practice: helping feed the hungry, solving water scarcity issues, tutoring or mentoring students, grocery shopping for the elderly or homebound—it all counts as seva. The best part? Service can be both customized and immediate. “If you’re a writer, help an organization with its marketing or social media efforts; if you have a background in law, accounting, or web development, offer your skills to organizations that are already doing amazing work. Anyone with talent and knowledge can help expand yoga service,” says Schware.
For Brenner, giving back means teaching yoga to young adults with autism and working pro bono to help Ashrams for Autism, a nonprofit she truly believes in, with their press outreach, messaging, and marketing. Her story, on page 43, exemplifies the philosophy of giving back now, in whichever ways you can. In fact, she and the other Good Karma Award winners embody the same spirit. While the bigcompany winners you’ll read about here could have simply written big checks, each went further, devoting both resources and time to help service-focused organizations expand their influence and broaden their impacts. In the pages that follow you’ll also learn about the individuals who launched these organizations, forging positive change and creating opportunities for the rest of us to do more good. And then there are the behind-the-scenes heroes—people like Brenner who are sharing their talents to help enhance lives through yoga. Get ready to feel inspired—and spurred into action.