My friend Lisa and I met at a conference for a group called Off The Mat Into the World a few years ago. We were both in love with yoga and felt moved by the practice – teaching and taking – but we knew there was more to it than that. We both had a shared belief that through yoga, we could make a positive impact on the world. The Yoga practice gives an individual the strength and well-being to start thinking beyond themselves and to realize we are all connected, we are all one. To that end, it is natural to want to give back, to share the love, so to say.
This idea is called “seva” in the yoga world, which means service.
Lisa had been leading retreats for years and always incorporated some element of seva – building a children’s center in Haiti, for example is something she’s been working on since 2010 leading more than a dozen trips there. Once I started leading retreats, it was a no brainer to make sure wherever I went I connected to a local cause. No surprise to me, the seva element always ends up being a highlight for trip participants. It’s my favorite part!
In Baja, we found the awesome Prana Del Mar retreat center and inquired about a worthy project. We were connected to Nancy Serfas who helps out at Hogar del Nino and was enthusiastic about our intention to connect with the kids. From past experience, we knew it was best to have some sort of task or activity when visiting kids at an orphanage and to make sure gifts to the kids were handled in a professional way, not just thrown out in a frenzy. We had recently painted a mural at a school in South Africa and had a wonderful experience so we asked if there was a free wall to paint. Lo and behold, we were given a big beautiful space and rallied some local support and brought our group of 12 yogis from all over the USA to transform a plain wall into one infused with love and lots of bright colors! The kids jumped right in and helped guide the project. We all enjoyed our time, including lots of trampoline jumping, face painting and wall & people painting. We asked our group to support the cause if they felt inclined and were able by also making a contribution to the website where you can sponsor kids. It is truly amazing what Joel and Alicia do with volunteers to create a happy home for so many deserving kids. We were really thrilled to contribute and love the new welcome wall at Hogar del Nino. We hope to be back next year so hopefully there is some more free wall space for us!!
More info about Lisa and Gina is available on our websites:
I am on a lot of email lists and I’m constantly getting updates on news, abuses to take actions on, updates from friends and organizations, etc.
I have fallen into a habit of waking up and going through emails in bed.
This is gratifying on some levels; I can get a lot done on the iPhone in my comfy, cozy place, but I think I am stealing a magic time, using it for something mundane instead of inspired.
As I wake up, I am soft, I am warm, I am receptive. To immediately clog my brian with informations is very stimulating, I would say it is definitely habit forming to consume information. The more I get, the more I want.
Meditation is helping me to temper that instinct to wake up and consume information like a hungry bear waking from hibernation. Occasionally, I wake up WITHOUT looking at my phone and head over to my corner by the window to meditate for a few minutes. This always feels like I am getting reacquainted with myself. It’s lovely.
So, Oprah is doing it, Deepak is doing it, Goldie Hawn is doing it… all of your favorite yoga teachers are doing it, now is the time for you to start doing it too. Meditation is a tool for everyBODY. It’s really not as hard as I thought. I resisted for so long and now I’m hooked!!
Here is an interesting and informative video from my friend Ashley Turner on meditation.
Yoga changed my life for good. Its not like I was completely whacked before. I was actually quite lucky. I have loving parents who would have never sold me into sex slavery, I have running water, electricity and a toilet!
Many of the kids I met in Cambodia could not say the same. Not only is there an epidemic of child sex slavery in the region, less than half of the population has electricity, clean water or a toilet. Many, about 30%, live on less than $2 a day and less than 4% of the population have a bank account. 80% of the population uses firewood for cooking, that’s no good for the lungs of the people inside the shacks cooking or for trees that are harvested at an alarming rate for fuel.
I didn’t have much of an idea about these stats until I visited Cambodia in March of 2013 to paddleboard on the rivers with my friend Annie, founder of www.supasia.org, and to visit some of the kids I sponsor through Cambodian Children’s Fund. Now that I know, I want to do something.
Back to the yoga: In August of 2011, I hosted a community yoga event in my hometown of Aspen, Colorado called Yoga in Action Day. My partners were Muffy, Megan and Andy DiSabatino of the Shakti Foundation. Muffy and Andy are supporters and board members of CCF. I think they sponsor 6 kids and they all came to Aspen with CCF Founder Scott Neeson to share the CCF story. WOW!
I cried when Scott told the story of him moving to Phnom Penh after discovering so many children living in the dump. He said he couldn’t live his big wig Hollywood life knowing what he knew. He had to help. His conviction and passion were so evident and even more so after touring the dump “community” with him recently. He is kind of CRAZY for sure and 100,000% dedicated to improving lives.
Yoga in Action Day brought together 200 people in the Aspen area to practice together and to learn about CCF and make donations. We didn’t raise much money, but we did raise awareness and since then I have sponsored three kids at CCF and share those stories with my yoga community through the organization I founded called Aspen Yoga Society – Building Community Through Yoga.
I heard that at one point, yoga was offered at CCF, but not any more. I can only imagine that critical needs of feeding, housing and educating the endless numbers of needy kids got in the way. It’s not cheap to hire yoga teachers, transport kids and find chaperones for regular classes, but it is a gift that can change lives.
HOPE and HELP
Meet Yan Vannac, Cambodia’s first Khmer yoga teacher (YEAH!!!) Yan is the director of Krama Yoga, a Cambodian NGO that provides yoga to hundreds of kids and trains teachers, some of whom are rehabilitating from a life of sex slavery. This place gives me hope. I met with Yan at a groovy little café in Phnom Penh and told him I wanted to support his programs (started by the amazing and wonderful -I’ve never met her, but she has to be- Isabelle Skaburskis.) Now, I have to figure out just how I am going to help.
Yan and I talked about yoga as a tool for healing and transformation and what a benefit it would be to the kids at CCF, most of whom have been severely traumatized. YES, we want to do it, but we need to raise funds. I will be offering regular donation-based yoga classes in Aspen to raise some funds, but that alone won’t be enough. It costs $100 per class plus transportation for up to 25 kids. Anything is better than nothing so if we can get at least one class a week for starters and grow from there, that would be great! There are over 1,500 kids at CCF these days and thousands more that need help. A journey begins with just one step.
Please contact me if you can help raise funds to bring yoga to Cambodian Children’s Fund and support Krama Yoga while you’re at it!!
What are the chances that the Tuk Tuk driver you hire for a sunrise mission to Angkor Wat is a 25-year-old Tai Chi master & aspiring yogi???
I had an incredible opportunity to help lead a Virgin Unite Connection Trip to South Africa recently. I was struck by the raw beauty of the place, the surreal nature of being five feet from an enormous elephant or a lion & cubs.
Working with young entrepreneurs, we felt such passion & excitement to achieve, to succeed, to crawl out of the dark shadow of Apartheid.
There are thousands of orphans throughout Africa & a great need for so much, but again, there is hope as people start to believe in themselves & their human potential.
THANK YOU TO THE AMAZING JOANN MCPIKE FOR THE INCREDIBLE PHOTOS
Here are some more of the kids I met at Cambodian Children’s Fund.
Many have been abandoned & live in the most squalid conditions.
But they love, & they smile & they are SO eager to learn!!
If you don’t have money to sponsor a kid, go volunteer if you have a month or two. If Cambodia is too far away, there are plenary of kids in the RoaringFork Valley who need mentorship & love. The Buddy Program is a great place to start.
You get more than you give!!
In 2011 & 2012 we hosted Yoga in Action Day. Since then I’ve sponsored three kids from The Cambodian Children’s Fund. It is truly a world class organization making a huge difference.
This little girl, Srey Nich, was working in the dump with her siblings. She was abandoned by her mother & father.
She & her ‘family’ are looking for a home.
They live on less than $2 a day.
This is yoga.
How do you act when faced with such devastation. To see fear & neglect… But, also
Dear Yogis, anyone out there interested & available to create a French conversation club?? I won’t last long if I’m just talking to my computer. Spanish too! Contact us if you’re interested. We can move on to simple Sanskrit after we master these languages!
As you may know, Aspen Yoga Society is hosting a 365 Day Meditation Challenge. Some have asked, “How do I join?” It’s easy, all you have to do is carve a FEW MINUTES out of your day (don’t make this harder than it needs to be;-) and sit quietly, clear the mind and observe silence.
I have been doing this for 37 days now and I can really feel the difference. I feel more grounded, less reactive and frankly, more positive. I may be “cheating” because I don’t sit on a fancy cushion, light incense and candles and chant or anything (usually), but, because I am making the rules (and you can too) what I am doing for me seems to be working, for me. I am becoming a compulsive meditator. If I find myself in a difficult conversation, I step back, mentally and physically, and meditate on peace and joy to try to limit the negative reaction I may be having. Deep breaths and feeling the bottom of me feet help me relax immediately. It is a great tool. USE IT. It is so simple, really! I have meditated while hiking/walking, listening to the creek, birds, lots of times observing the view from my house, the mountains, the sky, the light… I meditate while skiing, finding silence in “the zone” even on a groomer;-)
The most important thing is to Just do it!! As the fabulous Aspen Iyengar Yoga Teacher Trishka Lemos said in class yesterday, “From (Yoga) sutra 1.5 ‘…no yogic act, no matter how small, is ever wasted and contributes to Self-realization.’ GO MEDITATE!!” How great is that and so so true. Thanks Trishka!
Here are a few more bone fide tips on “How to Meditate”
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