Siphoning some of the $5 billion industry yoga industry toward good.
I attended a workshop Friday entitled Becoming a leader: yogis for interpersonal and global change at the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont. The workshop was led by Offthe Mat Into World (OTM) leaders; Seane Corn, Suzanne Sterling and Kerry Kelly. Seane began the class by inviting us to gather near the main stage. The leaders explained that the mission of Off the Mat is to aid yogis in applying the strength, flexibility and perseverance that they learn on the yoga mat into the world of social service and social action. “This is a $5 billion industry,” Seane explained “There are 20 million people in the U.S. that are practicing yoga. It is a community that is educated, that pay their taxes and that vote. I’ve always dreamed what would happen if we could align ourselves to focus on one issue over another and really rally our resources”.
Inviting social ailments onto the yoga mat
After the introduction, we returned to our mats and Seane instructed us to lay on our backs with our eyes closed in Supta Baddha Konasana. She guided us into an open state and invited us to consider the social ailment that touches us most deeply. Tears flowed from my eyes as I recalled street kids, who cracked my heart open 11 years ago working at a summer camp. I hadn’t thought about that experience for some time.
After Seane led some vinyasa flow interspersed with words connecting our asanas to social activism, Suzanne took over with another guided meditation accompanied by drum beat. She brought us through the darkest aspects of the human experience, including poverty and natural disaster, to our deepest inspirations and hope. She invited us to reflect on three things -something that challenges us, something that make us hopeful, and a value that we deeply stand for – and then get together in groups of four to share our responses.
I didn’t sign up for this
As I opened my eyes to three middle-aged women, I was transported back to Byron Katie’s School of the Work, which I attended in Los Angeles two years ago. Katie, a woman who at first seemed to me like a sappy self-help counselor for soccer moms, proved to guide the most powerful and badass experience I have had to date, of overcoming limiting thoughts and facing reality. In the OTM workshop, I was reminded of the powerful experience I had balling my eyes out in LA with sensitive and expressive workshop partners that were mostly my mother’s age and gender.
As we began to share at the OTM workshop, one woman initiated, lamenting: “My biggest challenge was staying in the room. I’ve been assisting all morning. All I wanted was a good vinyasa flow.” “I don’t like being preached at,” a second woman chimed in, “I don’t like all this talk of world hunger. I like to make my offering to the world from a place of abundance, not deficit.” The third woman didn’t feel like sharing.
I was entertained by the fact that my partners didn’t conform to my expectations. I wondered if they had read the class description, which promised a workshop “meant to identify our obstructions, define purpose and begin the process of seeing ourselves as leaders within our own world; a role necessary in our ever-evolving and growing culture of change.” I wondered whether they had heard of Seane from her successful yoga videos, but were unfamiliar with her activism work with Off the Matt.
When I interviewed Seane before the festival, she expressed feeling a responsibility to use her role as a yoga celebrity to promote service. Stay tuned for reports of how, over the course of the weekend, I encountered yogis who received OTM’s call the action as enthusiastically as I did. Indeed, Wanderlust’s partnership with OTM seemed like a primary method through which the festival channeled some of its energy towards having a broader positive impact that extends beyond the festival.
(picture from Wanderlust blog)