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What Is Yoga Service And How Can It Positively Shape Our Future?

in YD News


As yoga expands, it’s also getting smaller. Smaller in the sense that members of the yoga community are increasingly focusing their attention on the microcosms and smaller pockets that exist amongst practitioners that have been otherwise overlooked, and in many cases, underserved. This is partly why the Yoga Service Council came to be in the first place. Now in the fourth year of their annual Yoga Service Conference coming up this weekend, it’s apparent that there’s a growing group of yogis interested in making not just yoga, but yoga service part of their’s life’s purpose.

But what is yoga service? And how far does it go beyond teaching yoga?

Two of the Yoga Service Council’s founding members, Jennifer Cohen Harper of Little Flower Yoga and Traci Childress of the Children’s Community School of Philadelphia and the Mindful Reflection Project, describe and help define what yoga service means as well as detail the personal work that’s required to be of utmost benefit to the population you’re working with.

In an interview with Give Back Yoga’s Executive Director, Rob Schware, who is also the Yoga Service Council President, Harper and Childress define yoga service as such:

Yoga Service: the intentional sharing of yoga practices within a context of conscious relationship, supported by regular reflection and self-inquiry.

To further elaborate on the concepts of “conscious relationship,” “reflection,” and “self-inquiry” and why they’re vital to the effectiveness of yoga service, here are a few snippets from the interview.

What do you mean by “conscious relationship”?

Sharing yoga always takes place within the context of a relationship, and being in conscious relationship involves acknowledging the many nuances of human experience.

To be conscious of these nuances, we need to educate ourselves about social justice issues like privilege, race, language, violence, gender, poverty, and sexual orientation, as well as listen openly and with curiosity to each other’s perspectives.

To exist in conscious relationship is to compassionately hold the truths about one another and the world in our interactions. It is an active attempt to see each person fully, honor each person’s strengths, and acknowledge anything that is impeding the capacity to connect.

Why do you see reflection and self-inquiry as an essential part of yoga service?

…As practitioners who share yoga with others, we create space for others to learn. We naturally offer the practices (and create our programs) through our own lens — from the perspective of our history, privilege, bias, and wisdom. We offer yoga mixed with all the other things we know and have experienced in our lives.

A commitment to reflection and self-inquiry allows yoga service providers to engage skillfully, honestly, and authentically with students, regardless of whether teacher and students come from similar life circumstances. It helps us look closely at what we know and don’t know about ourselves, those we serve and teach, and the communities we engage with. It is training to better understand our own perspective and the perspectives of our students.

As author and activist, Carol Horton, put it in her latest post on the Yoga Service Council blog, there’s something powerful brewing between yoga, mindfulness and social justice that just can’t fall in line with everything else; it’s about bringing change and progress, even if we’re not sure what that looks like yet.

It’s not, in other words, simply about integrating yoga, mindfulness, and social justice as three fully formed, pre-established things. Rather, it’s about a process of bringing those streams of thought and practice together in ways that synergize something new.

Horton will serve as the moderator for a panel discussion at this weekend’s Yoga Service Conference entitled “Yoga and Social Justice” with panelists Marshawn Feltus, Leslie Booker, Chandlee Kuhn, and Argos Gonzalez.

The 4th annual Yoga Service Conference runs May 14th-17th, 2015 at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. This year’s theme is: Support and Professional Development for Social Activists, Yoga Teachers and Social Service Providers with a focus on issues of social justice, inclusion, safety and community building. View the full conference schedule here.

If you’ve been interested in this kind of work…this is the place to be. If you can’t make it this year, you can also become a member of the Yoga Service Council to join the growing community and receive regular updates on what’s happening.

image via Yoga Service Council facebook






7 comments… add one
  • Wondering

    It sounds worthwhile etc. But plenty of opportunities already exist to help underserved communities, and often what they need is not a group of people conferencing in yoga speak about it but rather people to show up and help out without the fanfare. yoga folk sure like to join, organize and create groups/movements/attention. Why not find a local organization volunteer your time and quietly help out, save the money put into ads, conferences, speakers etc. ” yoga community” makes no sense to me, community does.

  • PS in NY

    @Wondering: I have to agree with you. I don’t doubt the good will and good intentions of the people attending the conference. Somehow though, the more meetings there are and the more talk there is, the less work actually gets done. I already teach underserved populations, on a volunteer basis, off the yoga studio “grid”. In two cases it was just me approaching the organization directly and offering my services, and in the third it involved joining up with a group of like-minded people. And I didn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to attend a conference!

    • Wondering

      Right on PS !!! And me, I’m a medical interpreter at an all volunteer clinic. Yoga is all encompassing beyond teaching, practicing and studying etc. Plus you meet a wonderful variety of people, a true community and that keeps it real n thins out the veils.

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