“Love off the mat? You are so loving. Move with love. Breathe with love. Jogo com amor. But at home, it’s all the same bullshit.”
I began my journey with Off the Mat Into the World in January. I traveled to San Francisco with my beloved friend, Gigi Yogini, to enjoy the Yoga Journal Conference there, and more specifically try some West Coast teachers I had never experienced. I got what I came for – I was blown away.
I walked out of Seane Corn’s class wanting more, and ready to do anything she suggested. She touched my soul with an openness in speaking about God, our shadows, our light and our connection to each other. So I signed up for the Global Seva Challenge 2011 – Haiti, committing to raising $20,000 for Haiti this year – for love, for community and for change. In past years, I have not been as involved in giving back as I would like, and here was my opportunity.
Off the Mat Into the World, a member of The Engage Network, is an organization that combines yoga and activism. Founded in 2007 by Seane Corn, Hala Kouri and Suzanne Sterling, Off the Mat’s mission is to use the power of yoga to create conscious activism and sustainable change in our communities and in the world.
The Global Seva Challenge in 2011 is for Haiti, a country devastated by a violent political past and the earthquake of 2010. The challenge encourages us to step out of our comfort zone, become leaders in our communities and create conversation around service to each other. Through this process we discover our strengths, are challenged by our shadows as well as by others’, and grow as a result. When I make my $20,000 goal, I will join the team traveling to Haiti to be part of the rebuilding and witness the change in person.
To date, it’s been a game changer. I’m closer with the yoga community in my area. I’ve forged new relationships. I’ve stepped up as a leader and empowered people. Together with a beautiful team of people, I’ve gathered friends for yoga, food, capoeira, talking, drinking, eating and meditating. Each event, no matter how big or how small, shows me some new part of myself that I am surprised and thrilled with. A new part of me is revealed that is pure love, that I have no problem putting into action at the event. But just as on my mat, I enjoy the bliss then face resistance. Love is not all I am.
I get depressed, angry, foolish; needy and wildly independent at the same time. When I found yoga, I was clinically depressed. Yoga got me out of my house, onto my mat, into a therapist’s office and out of a destructive situation. I’ve stayed with the mat and my practice which has transformed my life and created a space for me to be both light and dark. Yoga is that union for me – enjoying the moments of lightness, bliss and happiness, but allowing space for my darkness both on the mat and off. I now continue my practice, follow my teachers around the world and teach others the path of connecting with themselves.
Photo: Loving each other after Beach Yoga & Loving Kindness Meditation
I encourage students: “Once you’ve connected, go ahead, step off the mat and give it a try outside the test tube. Connect, move with love, serve others, make change and know that it is all a practice.” I am paraphrasing the great Mark Whittel when I say, yoga is not the manipulation of the body or mind for the attainment of a future possibility but rather participation in life in this moment, whether it be light or dark.
While creating an event for the Haiti Challenge together, my sweetheart and I had a talk about what Off the Mat stands for. Although from very different places – he had a simple childhood in a one-room house in central Brazil, while I had a Yankee upbringing of symphonies with dinner parties and every sport and art my little heart could desire – we were on the same page when it came to service.
Together we committed to move with love. We committed to work together in all our efforts with an understanding that we were doing this for Haiti, for people who have so much less than us. Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere before the devastating earthquake in 2009, and now four out of five people there live in poverty. Off the Mat is working on some amazing projects there that will not only help to rebuild, but will create sustainable change through jobs, education, art and empowerment.
Through several events and months, I began to hear my love mumbling “Love off the mat, ha!”. It wasn’t until he passionately said “Love off the mat? Move with love, breathe with love, jogo com amor. But at home, it’s all the same bullshit,” that it hit me. I need to get out of the world and onto my mat. I am not perfect and my partner sees all the shadows.
Through putting myself out there and challenging myself to give more, unite people and create change, I’ve depleted my store of self-nourishment.
So I am stepping back, not from the cause, but away from the details and back to connecting to the initial purpose: yoga…union. Through yoga, we can connect to our core truth, remove our destructive habits and create change in ourselves. By committing to that change at any cost, we can begin to move off our mats integrated and into our relationships in a connected, loving way. I know that I will fail regularly but am determined to appreciate each step, no matter which direction.
Accept yourself as you are
Love yourself as you are;
Just be what you are
Just be what you are.
Photo: Paschimottanasana by Fluid Frame Photography
I will continue on this path of connecting with my core. Knowing that at my center I am pure love, I wake up every day and pray to God. I pray with gratitude for breath and hope that more love will manifest in all beings’ hearts and my own, so that we may move together in love. Then I get up, trip over some mess I created the day before, swear, look for my glasses, take the pup out for a crap, and continue on the journey of light and dark.
As for Off the Mat, Into the World, I am grateful for each moment I spend with my Love, my family and my community creating events, bridging gaps and raising money for a people that is looking for the same thing we all desire – a chance to be free from suffering.
If you are interested in donating to the challenge, visit this Off the Mat link and choose “Haiti” and “Corti Cooper” from the drop downs.
Corti Cooper is a yogini and a designer, a traveler of the world, and a determined seeker of learning. Through art and yoga, Corti explores the planes of reality, deconstructs the rhetoric of cultures and looks for the essence of happiness. Here are a few of her adventures, out of context, out of bounds, for humans. When home, Corti runs a small design studio, and teaches vinyasa flow yoga in the well-manicured and always mannerly, Connecticut USA. Her personal practice consists of breath work and a daily walking meditation with her sweet pup, Amarella.