Yoga Seva: Yoga Teachers Reach Out


Community service, or as we say in Yoga, seva, which means selfless service, is becoming more widespread among Yoga teachers and centers as they create foundations, raise funds, start projects and volunteer their time. Here are some of the many ways that local yogis are bringing Yoga to those who don’t have it available to them or finding other ways to serve selflessly.

IABYT brings Yoga to disadvantaged populations
For the past six years, the Chicago chapter of the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers (IABYT) has been volunteering its time to teach Yoga to disadvantaged populations. Past recipients include residents of a halfway house for women overcoming drug addiction, troubled teenage boys living in a group home, pregnant teens at a social center and attendees of a community health center in Harvey, Illinois. Currently the teachers are in the process of going through orientation that will enable them to teach at a prison in Indiana. Edna Coleman, one of the six members of the chapter, says Yoga classes are held weekly for three months at a location. Sometimes they are asked to stay longer, and the center finds money in their budget to pay one of the teachers, although often it is just enough to cover gas. For more information, call Edna Coleman, 312.225.7377.

Yoga for homeless people
Marian Williams teaches Yoga at Harvard Avenue Evangelical Free Church in Villa Park to people who are homeless. One Saturday each month homeless people of the western suburbs are invited to spend a day at the church for hot meals, movies, games, job-seeking on a computer, fellowship with church folks and Yoga. Marian says, “Some of the fellas are a little leery of trying it, but five new fellas tried it a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it.” She says it is a great new experience for her–and hopefully for them!

Harvard Avenue Evangelical Free Church, 206 W. St. Charles Rd., Villa Park. 630.834.2650, www. harvardavenue.org. (The Web site features a fascinating “Survival Guide to Homelessness.”)

Gifts for refugees from Niyama Yoga

For the third year in a row, Niyama Yoga in Wilmette has provided holiday gifts for refugees living in the Chicago area. Working in conjunction with Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries, www.irim.org, Niyama puts up a Giving Tree each December, decorated with tags listing the name and need of a refugee. Once again, the generosity of the Yoga community was overwhelming. Over 100 refugees from Burundi, Somalia, Liberia and Bhutan received much-needed boots, coats, cleaning supplies, socks and other basic necessities we all take for granted. Most of the refugees have fled their homelands, leaving behind what little faith they had in mankind. Wilmette yogis have helped them renew their faith, showing them someone cares!
Niyama Yoga, 742 12th St., Wilmette, 847.251.8176, www.niyamaYoga.com.

Yoga classes raise money for charities

Cindy Klimmeck’s weekly Yoga classes at Park Ridge Community Church have been donating class fees to charitable causes since the class began in November 2007. The participants select the causes to support, and Cindy estimates that more than $3,000 have been raised and distributed to organizations such as the Maine Township Food Pantry, the Anti-Cruelty Society, Women in Need Growing Stronger (WINGS), Misericordia and Chicago’s Night Ministry, which assists the homeless. Money raised during the last two months of 2008 was earmarked for the Park Ridge Cares Kibosho project, an effort to build a library for the children of a poverty-stricken area of Tanzania.
Park Ridge Community Church, 100 S. Courtland Ave., Park Ridge, 847.823.3164.

Fundraiser for Living Well Cancer Resource Center

Living Well Cancer Resource Center held its fourth annual fundraiser, Bridge Walk, a community-based event that brings together people with cancer, family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to raise money and awareness for Living Well Cancer Resource Center.  LWCRC provides programs and services for cancer patients, their caregivers and families as they journey through their cancer experience. All programs and services are free of charge to those affected by cancer. Services include weekly support groups, one-on-one family counseling, educational seminars and presentations, mind/body fitness programs, nutrition classes, stress/pain/ fatigue management through massage, art therapy and other workshops. Gabriel Halpern, director of Yoga Circle, has led several workshops at Living Well Cancer Center and has been active in fundraising.

Monthly seva projects of 3HO Illinois

On January 18, at Spirit Rising Yoga, yogis and community members, including families and children, participated in a “Valentines for Operation Love From Home,” a Valentine card-making project for U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over the world. The group crafted thank-you notes, valentines and creative, heartfelt messages to the troops.

The December 2008 3HO Seva Project was “Letters to Santa.” Several community members went downtown to the central post office, chose letters addressed to Santa written by children, and then sent a box of holiday gifts that had been requested in the letters to the children’s families. Although it was sad to read the letters, the participants found it personally gratifying to help out.
Spirit Rising Yoga, 3717 N. Ravenswood, #220W, Chicago, IL 60613, 773.975,9754, www.spiritrisingYoga.com.

The Gayatri Project at Chi-Town Shakti

Every Thursday night at Chi-Town Shakti is “community night,” a pay-what-you-can (if anything) Yoga class, followed a meditation class. The center had opened last September and, as co-director Bhakti White says, the Yoga space looked like “it needed some great mantra to fill up the space with shakti.” Last holiday season one of the members of the spiritual group, Andrew, who was on a college winter break, initiated the gift of painting the Gayatri mantra along the wall in a space 35 feet long by 12 feet tall.
Chi-Town Shakti, 1343 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60660, www.chi-townshakti.com, info[at]chitownshakti.com, 773.262.9256.

Paying it forward at Kundalini Yoga in the Loop

“Sunia Sidh Peer Sur Naath“ (By hearing God’s Name the mortal becomes a perfect person, religious guide, spiritual hero and a great yogi.)–Japji, Pauri 8. This meditative prayer, chanted by Kundalini yogis worldwide during the early morning hours, was the inspiration behind the creation of a special scholarship fund, the Devi Scholarship, available to applicants to Chicago’s Kundalini Yoga in the Loop (KYL) 220-hour teacher training course. One of the first graduates felt moved to begin a scholarship fund with his personal funds so that whoever wanted to take the teacher training could do so regardless of financial ability. He named the fund after his mother, Devi Kaur, who urged him to take his first Kundalini Yoga class. It was his way of expressing gratitude for all that he had received from the course.

Once the formation of the scholarship fund was announced, it wasn’t long before his fellow teachers-in-training contributed their own money to “pay it forward,” as one of them said. Directors Shakta Kaur and Hari Dev Singh contributed as well, matching dollar-for-dollar all of the funds that the students contributed. The next year three students received partial scholarships, and the year after, the number doubled to six.
KYL is now in its fourth year of Kundalini Yoga teacher training. Out of the 19 men and women enrolled in this year’s course, eight of them have received partial awards from the Devi Scholarship Fund.

Kundalini Yoga in the Loop (KYL), 410 S. Michigan, Suites 501 and 514, 312.922.4699, www.shaktakaur.com.


Yoga-inspired foundations

Don and Marsha Wenig of YogaKids™ have created Bridge of Diamonds Foundation, whose mission is to make Yoga available for schoolchildren around the country. The foundation supports other causes as well; last year Bridge of Diamonds, through a facilitator in Myanmar, was able to send medicine, blankets, clothing and food to children who were devastated by the catastrophic hurricane that hit there. With money raised through donations on the YogaKids Web site, Bridge of Diamonds is now in the process of building seven homes for children who are meanwhile living in foster homes.

Bridge of Diamonds is also partnering with another not-for-profit, Madhav Ghimire Foundation, a California-based organization that has been raising money for scholarships for girls in Nepal whose families are too poor to send them to school. To bring Yoga to the children, Bridge of Diamonds provides YogaKids training for Madhav Ghimire volunteers who go to Nepal to work with the kids, as well as books, games and DVDs for schools that have DVD players. In December, Don and Marsha Wenig traveled to Nepal to meet some of the children. For more information, visit YogaKids.com and GhimireFoundation.org.

Global Hope, a group founded by Yoga students of Yoga Among Friends in Downers Grove, continues in its commitment to improving the lives of the underserved throughout the world. They raise funds through individual donations, corporate sponsorships and a variety of fundraising events. Global Hope has provided assistance to schools in Vietnam and Jamaica and has sent teams to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding after Katrina. Visit GlobalHopeNow.org and YogaAmongFriends.com.

Art of Living, headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, supports many projects worldwide. Some of the Art of Living service programs are funded by their foundation called The International Association for Human Values. One of the programs is Project Welcome Home Troops, which is focused on training veterans in a unique set of practices that can aid the healing of trauma and PTSD. The Warrior Breath Workshop, in particular, provides a physical approach to release the trauma stored in the body. Family members are also encouraged to participate as well as veterans from all eras. For more information, visit www.pwht.org.

Volunteer to be a relaxation coach

Susan Ginsberg of Mind and Body Yoga has developed a stress-reduction program for hospital patients called Stop and Breathe™, which teaches basic breathing techniques, guided relaxations and visualizations to patients to help them through the stress of being in the hospital. Currently, Susan has implemented this program at NorthShore University HealthSystem at Highland Park Hospital and the Kellogg Cancer Care Center. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both staff and patients. And Susan has found it to be such a rewarding experience that she is now training Yoga teachers and others to be volunteer relaxation coaches. Contact Susan at 847.444.9642, mindandbodyYoga @aol.com or through her Web site, www.stopandbreathe.org.

Yogi forming network to teach underserved populations

Joanna Faso is starting an organization, Sacred Space, with the goal of bringing Yoga to people who live in shelters and transitional housing centers. She would like to meet others who would like to be a part of the planning process, teach Yoga or donate Yoga mats and supplies. If you have any experience working in this field and have taught in a shelter or transitional housing center in the past, please share your expertise. Contact Joanna Faso at 808.634.0725 or joannafaso@hotmail.com, or call Danielle Babine, 859.312.9377, ddbabi0@hotmail.com.

Article by Sharon Steffensen
Source Yoga Chicago magazine March-April 2009

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