Spring in our steps
While some of us in the southern hemisphere are settling into the cozy stillness of winter, others may be bursting with excitement about the return of the warm summer vibes... Regardless, transitioning from one season to another often calls for some self-reflection. Below is what self-reflection looks like at Sharanam Yoga Project… Happy reading!
Being of service or selling your service?
Seva [Wikipedia] - Sanskrit word for selfless service
“A service which is performed without any expectation of result or award for performing it. Such services can be performed to benefit other human beings or society.”
“Volunteering. Dedication to others.” (a more recent interpretation)
In the yoga community, we talk about seva often. I have been reflecting upon this idea a lot while spending the last couple of months doing volunteering work mostly.
With my yogic mind, I have watched myself develop a new connection to myself and to others. I have caught myself sharing my wholeness with another, with no other agenda. It has been like dropping pebbles into a lake, and letting the ripples take it from there. Maybe, I have finally come to understand what my former McKinsey boss truly meant when asking me to "release my agenda".
Speaking of McKinsey, truth is that the remnants of my business mindset could not help but evaluate my seva practice. Volunteering has been an incredible way to foster community rapport and to reach people that we wouldn't otherwise reach. Yet, in some cases, things got so loosey-goosey that it became difficult to actually do things and make an impact.
No one has unlimited time or resources to donate to a cause, regardless of how much good might be reaped as a result. But as we want our seva efforts to be sustainable and nourishing for everyone involved, I believe there should be a fair energy exchange between parties. Maybe we should be more strategic about which partner organizations to get involved with. Looking with greater honesty at what issues are not only important to us, but what’s important to them and their audience.
Maybe money matters. By giving away for free, we sometimes don’t serve anyone’s best interest and we devalue what we do. For most of us, our day to day decisions and actions are centered around money. We're either working to earn it, or we are spending it, investing it, giving it away, worrying about it, obsessing over it, ignoring it or trying to get more of it. If we use money to value our time, talents, wisdom, knowledge, services and skills - then it's also a form of energy exchange. As we onboard our third destination in this journey of service (Nairobi, Kenya!), let’s see if we crack the case of thoughtful, impactful, appreciated, and fun volunteering work.
It’s socially conscious business. Not just charity.
Now, as I look at my seva practice in light of my travels, I realize that criticizing voluntourism seems almost as popular as voluntourism itself. Is voluntourism a neocolonialist activity? Ironically, we just spent five months volunteering in Cape Town, South Africa (former Dutch colony) and recently landed in Nairobi, Kenya (former British colony) to continue our work.
What better qualifies travelers to work in a foreign country they visit? Ironically again (!), I battled for almost 5 years in the US to get the so-called critical skills work visa; de facto attempting to prove my exceptional and irreplaceable skills over citizens of the country… In the end, are we - i.e. nomadic privileged “free” labor - replacing paid local staff?
In a climate of reduced funding, many organisations are leveraging the potential for volunteers to help meet the gap between demand and capacity to deliver. But in the informal settlements of Cape Town and Nairobi, most people live on less than $1 a day; and one of the root challenges that causes such abject poverty is youth unemployment. These youth have so much talent and hope though. So, is it a good thing that volunteers play an increasing role in the delivery of services in those cities?
On Saturday June 1st, we pushed the doors of Africa Yoga Project to participate in their legendary community yoga class on this auspicious day. Indeed, on June 1st - also know as Madaraka day in Kenya (Madaraka is a Swahili word that means “freedom, independence”) - Kenyans are commemorating the day that they attained independent self-governance in 1963 after decades as a British colony.
The class was epic: talented Catherine Njeri led more than a 100 students through a strong Baptiste yoga class paired to a live DJ set of Afro beats. Mat-to-mat, we yoked, we danced, and experienced joy to its purest form. It felt like the African counterpart of legendary Rima Rabbath’s class!
This uplifting moment also brought some very interesting perspectives with regards to the questions raised above. In 2007, Paige Elenson and Baron Baptiste turn the challenges of poverty and unemployment into an opportunity by forming Africa Yoga Project - a nonprofit that aims not only to bring yoga into the slums of Kenya, but to train those living there to teach it.
As such, yoga expands from solely being a modality of mind-body wellbeing to being an avenue to education, empowerment and employment. Yoga becomes the potential for a future.
Life in Alexandra.
Fortunately, AYP is not the only organisation to understand that real transformation involves people previously marginalized taking positions of leadership. In early March, we flew to Johannesburg to facilitate a full-day workshop with a new generation of community-minded yoga teachers and members of Yoga4Alex. How do we respond to threat and danger? What is trauma? How yoga can help self-regulate? What are the key principles of a trauma-informed yoga class? These are just few of the many points we covered!
It was very humbling to spend the day with these 17 youngsters and residents of Alexandra township. All of them were mentored to qualify as Kundalini Yoga Teachers and are now working tirelessly to teach students in schools and community centers in Alex where there is a real thirst for yoga and its powerful healing abilities.
Life in the townships - the poorest urban areas in South Africa - is challenging. The community is squashed; residents live in shacks - some of which are made from cardboard boxes; proper sanitation services are often lacking; loud noise is the default ambiance; and unemployment is surging. This desperation has led townships to be one of the worst precincts for drug use, gangsterism, and crime.
Amid this chaos, youngsters have a slim path out of poverty, and the hardships of life are often too overwhelming for them to believe that a better life is possible. Their minds are understandably rooted in negativity, fear, and frustration.
Yoga cannot eliminate the numerous challenges that confront youngsters, but it can help them develop the mindfulness to cope with anxiety and the determination to overcome the obstacles that are thrown at them. Yoga can provide a place where they can attain the inner silence and focus they need to chart a path for themselves.
Best farewell ever.
Indoni Arts & Leadership Academy is a family. We wrapped up 4 months of yoga & mindfulness with the 22 students with some memorable moments:
⭐️We organized an unexpected yoga outing to our home studio in Cape Town - The Shala - and surprised them with a suspension yoga class led by our friend and talented teacher Kathleen Booyse. None of the youth had ever been in the swings before but before we knew it, they were upside down, holding handstands, and doing tricks that took us ages to learn!
Their enthusiasm, spirit, and smiles lit up the room and laughter was definitely the theme. Once more, it was heartwarming to feel the support of The Shala community in exposing the youth to new practices.
⭐️Warrior Addict - a London-based yoga apparel brand - teamed up with us and kindly donated a collection of 25 eco-warrior sweatpants (handmade in France 🙃) and 25 hoodies to distribute to the students. We are so happy to know that these high-quality clothes will keep them warm during rehearsal time.
⭐️They gifted us with a mind-blowing performance - “Dancing in Nature” - at Khayelitsha Wetlands Park. It became clear that dance is their way to tell their stories. Words fail to describe their vibrant energy on stage. Performing in their communities is such a beautiful way to inspire their neighbors to showcase their talents rather than staying idle, and to meet, create, enjoy, and dream together.
A love note to our growing community!
Aurélie, Julie, Rosa, Aurélie: we cherish you. We deeply appreciate your willingness to show up and create safe spaces for all to practice. These incredible women have been running - on a volunteer basis - the several programs we initiated in Marseille in Fall 2018.
Discover their journey in the new section of our website dedicated to our volunteers.
Please don’t hesitate to email us back. Take care of yourself, open your heart, and share your love!