IN 2007, a year after I graduated from my first 200-hour vinyasa teacher training, I moved to Hong Kong for work. Worried I’d lose momentum with my teaching, I started volunteering at a refugee center in Kowloon, in a notorious building called Chungking Mansions. The bottom floor of this deteriorating high-rise was bustling with food stalls, electronics shops, and bodega-like businesses. I’d make my way through the crowds to the elevator, sweat my way up a few floors, and then clear out a classroom full of desks, pushing them toward the walls to make room for the five or so women who usually stood hesitantly by the door until invited in. Most had come from Nepal and Sri Lanka and spoke very little, if any, English. They were in a holding pattern, spending uncertain days waiting to see if they and their children might have a future in a new home. We didn’t have mats, the floor was dirty, and I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t remember planning much. I had never heard of trauma-informed yoga.
More than 10 years later, I attended my first Yoga Service Conference by the Yoga Service Council (YSC) at the Omega Institute—to meet some of the people who have dedicated their careers and lives to using yoga as a tool for positive change in their communities. In a session called “Skill in Action: An Exploration of the Intersection of Yoga and Social Justice,” yoga teacher and author Michelle Johnson shared this quotation from aboriginal advocate Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Yes. I wish I had been thinking in those terms years earlier. My initial teacher training covered the yogic concept of seva, or “selfless service,” but it didn’t talk about what that meant beyond volunteering time. What I heard at the YSC conference and have discussed over the last few years with friends and colleagues has deepened and expanded my understanding of how seva can look in practice. I’m in awe of the number of organizations and the resources now available in this burgeoning field.
Yoga Journal is proud to feature the passionate efforts of tireless impact organizations in our annual Good Karma Awards (page 28). This year we asked experts in yoga service—from YSC; the Give Back Yoga Foundation; Yoga Alliance; and Lululemon’s social impact program, Here to Be—to evaluate entries. And thanks to a generous donation from Lululemon and Here to Be, all 10 finalists will be attending next year’s YSC conference. Plus, one organization, ACT Yoga, has been awarded a $10,000 grant to help expand or deepen its work. Marshawn Feltus, founder of ACT Yoga and a former inmate, is making huge strides in improving his community in Austin, one of the most violent neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side, by teaching yoga in jails, schools, community centers, and other institutions.
In this issue, we also explore yoga in the military and how asana and meditation are helping active duty service members become more resilient in the face of injury, pain, and trauma (page 60). Then, for those of you who serve (or are simply exhausted), we offer up a Restorative Yoga practice from Jillian Pransky (page 76) that can help you recharge.
For me, yoga service is about the future of yoga. The Yoga Journal stories you’ll find in this issue and moving forward paint a picture of the grassroots work happening around the globe to create a roadmap for how to be a catalyst for positive change. The destination? A future in which yoga plays a deep role in altering the fabric of human health and happiness in every community, workplace, and home—a world in which yoga is accessible and inclusive. We hope you are as inspired as we are!
ABOVE In the early morning hours in Chicago, Robert Sturman photographs our 2018 Good Karma Awards grant recipient, Marshawn Feltus.