Who deserves yoga more: a cancer survivor, a war veteran or someone grieving the loss of a loved one? If you asked Christa Avampato, founder of Compass Yoga, without hesitation she’d say all three, and continue with a list of people with diabetes, Parkinson’s, MS, back conditions, hip replacements, depression, dementia and then some.
Christa is an energetic warrior of wellness, and with her newly official nonprofit, Compass Yoga, she is on a mission to bring yoga as a therapy to any and all who wish to make it part of their wellness plan. And she’s already moving in the right direction.
“My primary interest in teaching yoga is to help students at every level discover their own confidence, strength, courage, and ability to self-heal,” says Christa via the Compass website. To make this a reality, she has begun teaching free open classes under the Compass name around the city, including locations at the New York Public Library, New York Methodist Hospital, Columbia Law School, Columbia University Medical Center and group and private sessions at rented space downtown, for a fee (negotiable based on financial limitations).
With a 200-hr yoga teacher training and a yoga therapist certification now under her belt, Christa, a diligent and persevering spirit, has called upon her MBA, extensive business experience and social savvy to build her network and her idea into a full-fledged non-profit organization in just a few years.
Though she currently works full-time at her day job, Christa is preparing to commit herself full-time to Compass Yoga in 2012. She also has a keen handle on finance so keep an eye out for her yet-to-be-published book on managing your financials with aplomb, aka without digging yourself into a hole of self-doubt and destruction. We can’t wait either (honestly).
Christa was first inspired to try yoga by a close friend, an Iyengar teacher. He also happened to incessantly, yet gently, encourage her to give yoga a try until she finally did. Her pal gave her free private sessions, even bought her first mat, and asked simply that she pay it forward some day. Now 11 years later, Christa still calls upon that time as the seed for what Compass has blossomed into today.
As someone who found yoga to be therapeutic in healing from her own past trauma, Christa points to the practice to have eased her insomnia, high stress and anxiety associated with PTSD episodes, as well as attributing her professional success largely to yoga, “because it reinforced my inner strength and greatly reduced my stress and anxiety levels,” she says.
Gathering a small army of Karmi Angels (volunteer yoga teachers) Christa is taking Compass to the heart of the pain – the healthcare system. The Karmi Angels program enlists yoga teachers interested in therapeutic work and matches them to specific volunteer opportunities teaching to various populations in various settings, sometimes libraries, sometimes hospitals. This is especially beneficial to new and budding yogis looking to gain valuable teaching experience and practice their karma yoga.
The Bent on Learning of the medical world, Compass aims to disperse the ‘angels’ to hospitals and healthcare centers citywide to those welcoming yoga as a supplement to western medicine. Of course, for the facilities still resistant, Christa hopes increased awareness, more positive results and continued research will help convince them. There’s reason to believe she’ll have some help. For one, therapeutic yoga benefactor, Donna Karan, recently launched the west coast location of the Urban Zen Foundation bringing yoga, reiki and other alternative therapies to UCLA Medical Center.
Without millions of dollars to fund a new wing at Beth Israel, Christa and Compass are starting with the next best thing: the doctors, nurses and healthcare providers who work directly with patients as well as administrators, board members and the higher-ups who have the power to request grant money for this holistic care.
Compass plans to do its own fundraising as well, to support further research, to grow the program beyond the scope of NYC and to eventually become self-funded, including providing compensation for the Karmi Angels. Specialized Compass trainings and workshops could be in the works for the future too, along with open classes for families and more formal work with children.
Christa sees the Compass mission as not only a vital aspect to holistic health for diagnosed diseases, but the dis-eases of our daily lives. She is passionate about helping everyone find meaning out of our experiences and/or trauma. “We have the ability to make meaning out of the good and the bad. It’s an empowering thing,” she says, adding that this holds a certain special significance when she’s teaching veterans and their families.
“Figuring out how to help them make meaning, knowing how hard it was for me to make meaning from a lot of different things in my childhood, makes me very empathic and compassionate towards that cause. Although I haven’t been to war the way that they have, I understand those basic emotions that are underlying it, that we have all had.” A new Youtube channel with videos specifically designed to help the veteran community is getting ready to launch in early 2012.
As Christa prepares to take Compass Yoga to the next level in 2012 she’s aware that the right partnerships and funding are key. Fortunately, she’s finding the melding of her skill sets in business, finance and yoga to make sense of her past experience, to build on her future, and to form what she calls a “really great job that is the dream of my life.”
“Trauma is not something that happens to a tiny group of people,” says Christa. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had some kind of trauma in their lives. And it’s OK. It’s part of our human existence. There are ways to heal and be whole.”
Article originally published at YogaCityNYC.
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