October 20, 2011

The Gift My Father Gave Me. ~ Chaz Russ

He stood 6’ 4’’ and his kindness towered as tall as he did. My mom would often say, “He was one of those guys that could light up a room with his megawatt smile as soon as he walked in. He’d not only give you the shirt off his back, he’d offer you his pants and shoes if he thought you could use them.”

My father, Charles “Buddy” Schreiber, was a successful businessman but he never forgot his roots, having grown up a poor kid in Brooklyn. Always looking out for the underdog, he founded The Charles Buddy Schreiber Civic Association which served as a “helping hand” for those in need. He was President of the Lion’s Club, a member of the Elected Board of Education, a city councilman, an active member in every civic association the city of Linden, NJ had to offer, and was next in line to be mayor. Philanthropy coursed through his veins. He was “Uncle Buddy” to everybody.

On Friday, July 13th 1984, on a typical muggy morning, my father’s heart grew too big. A heart attack took his life and left me fatherless at the age of four. Shocked by the news of his passing, the city of Linden shut down and gave my dad a Chief’s funeral as well as an Honor Guard ceremony. A flag flew at half-mast, his casket was placed on top of a fire truck and a parade was marched in his honor. All city politicians walked on foot. Even in death, he didn’t want people to suffer so they honored his willed request that only happy music be performed at his funeral; a four piece Jazz band played during the viewing processional as miles of people lined up to see him one last time. I grew up idolizing his epic generosity. As I got older, I looked for ways to continue his legacy, giving back because that’s what he would’ve done. It was the “right thing to do.” Each instance of charitable work made me feel closer to him, as if I could feel his pride and embrace him through my own actions.

It’s probably no coincidence that I began practicing yoga, as it allowed me to step out of my head and into my heart. I ached for a window into my true giving nature. At the age of 14, I found myself in a small and intimate yoga studio in Garwood, NJ. The instructor’s voice was gentle and so was the practice. With each class attended, I slowly connected to a quiet, yet powerful and generous voice inside me. Visions of my father appeared to me while in savasana. Through tears and sweat and breath, I discovered a path that deeply reconnected me to that part of him that lives on in me. My teacher, Nicole Mode, (who, like my father, had legs that started at her chest) taught me the value, significance and responsibility of seva, or selfless service. She believed it was miserly not to give back all the goodness that emerges as a result of our asana practice.

And so began a beautiful journey. For the past 18 years, I’ve returned to that quiet whisper each time I unroll my mat. Over five years ago I decided to open up Sisters Yoga, an all-female yoga studio and community in Fresno, CA. It was and still is a safe haven where women of all ages can tend to the garden of their self-esteem. In keeping with my calling to give, we held many philanthropic events that benefited The Marjaree Mason Center, a domestic violence shelter in downtown Fresno. I also created Sisters Yoga School where graduates of the program were required to accrue seva hours by volunteering their time at the shelter, including teaching yoga to the clients of The Marjaree Mason Center.

I’m convinced that there is a cycle of giving and receiving. The more we give, the more we receive. Deepak Chopra writes, “in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.”  We all want to love and be loved. Yoga Gives Back (YGB) is a global organization that supports that message.

When I first learned about YGB, it seemed only natural for me to join the team. YGB raises money and creates awareness to support our sisters in India. Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ revolutionary concept of microfinancing, YGB directly funds education, life skills training and small loans for struggling moms, girls and orphans. With just $25 a month, women in India can start their own business and girls and orphans can go to school.

Every woman deserves a shot to reach her God-given dharmic potential. I’m honored to be a part of the YGB team and serve as their ambassador, as they provide the opportunity for women in India to tend to the gardens of their heart’s entrepreneurial yearnings, and in doing so, support themselves, their families and villages in the long run. Some of the biggest leaps in evolution and healing are made with the smallest of steps.

YGB also hosts fundraising events at other yoga studios. As stated on their website, “Studio by studio, we share the reality of these women’s lives and invite the global yoga community to join our campaign to help alleviate poverty in India.” Every year, six billion dollars is spent on yoga in the U.S. alone. If even a fraction of this money was redirected to YGB, we could really make a difference and effect change.

For the 7 years I’ve been teaching and the 17 years I’ve been practicing, I am continually reminded of the beaming light we all share. Conversely, if someone thousands of miles away suffers, we all share in their suffering. On September 17, 2011, YGB hosted a “Thank You Mother India” global event to express gratitude for the gift of Yoga.  Dozens of events were held in 11 countries and over $27,000 was raised. People from all backgrounds joined together in the spirit of giving back. I taught a donation-based flow class to a group of almost sixty students at the lululemon in Calabasas. The room vibrated with groovy beats and the sea of colorful bodies spilled onto the concrete walkway.  In that one hour, we were all united towards a common goal.

All too often we fall into the trap of “I can’t make a difference. Why bother?” Whether it’s a result of being hurt, feeling overwhelmed by the severity of global crises or general apathy regarding the problems of the world, we often stop ourselves from participating in the cycle of giving and receiving. I’m reminded of Kent Keith’s Paradoxical Commandments where he calls on us to give back anyway:

The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
 Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. 
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
 Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. 
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. 
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
 Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. 
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. 
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
 Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
 Give the world the best you have anyway.

I know my father lived this poem. One gives not only because it feels good, but because it’s the right thing to do. But how?

My suggestion is to begin by giving to yourself. Allow yourself the luxury of a moment’s rest. Try meditating, attend a yoga class or go for a short walk around your block. Something so simple can be rejuvenating, providing new resources from which to draw as you give back to your relationships and responsibilities. You can also ask yourself, “What is my gift?” “What brings me joy?”

One of my father’s greatest gifts, the gift he gave me, was to spread joy through giving. I now see it as my responsibility to do the same.

Photo credits: Chaz Russ, yogagivesback.org, thechangeblog.com

Chaz Russ: (E-RYT-500, T-500) founder and former owner of Sisters Yoga (all-female yoga studio) Fresno, CA. A devoted yoga teacher of 7 years and practitioner for over 18 years, Chaz teaches joyful, vigorous yoga classes that are a fountain of fun! Through groovy, eclectic music, creative vinyasa and simple, yet powerful spirituality, Chaz’ classes provide a forum for release and an opportunity for soul transformation and growth in every student. Achieving highest honors, Chaz graduated from Rutgers College with a degree in Genetics. While pursuing her PhD in Genetics, Chaz felt a deeper calling. She credits her guru Mike Noury, (Gurmukh) of Yoga of India, for encouraging her to share the gifts of Yoga through yoga teaching. Voted “Best new to LA Yoga Instructor, 2010” (LA Family Magazine) and a lululemon ambassador (Calabasas) Chaz believes yoga should not be serious, as life is serious enough–this is why she loves keeping it light in class. Although she takes a lighter approach, she is serious when it comes to capitalizing on the healing benefits yoga affords. So much of this life and our yoga practice is about raising our consciousness, freeing ourselves from the cages of our egos and feeling our connectedness. Come celebrate yourself with Chaz and open your heart door to the beaming light that is within us all!

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