After the recent DC Global Mala, the local arm of Anahata International – Anahata Grace – asked me to write about my experience at the Off The Mat Into The World leadership intensive at the Omega Institute last June. Check out the guest blog below.
Learn more about Anahata at anahatainternational.org. Thanks to Caitlin and Alexis for the invitation to share how yoga transforms me, so I might be of service in this world.
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YOGA IN ACTION: OFF THE MAT INTO THE WORLD
“Trauma is a fact of life. So is resilience.” – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-Creator
In 1993, I was emotionally, physically and spiritually bottoming out – again. In my 28 years of life, I’d experienced enough unaddressed trauma to leave me without possibility for healing or growth. I’d “lost my way,” my life was a mess and I felt empty inside.
A friend suggested yoga, and I’ve been “on the mat” ever since.
At first, my practice was selfish. Yoga’s initial “ahhh” brought immense relief and I started to feel better. Then came the intense transformation from being guided by teachers who embraced and passed on yoga’s comprehensive design for living. Self-examination and change are not always gentle processes. Surrendering, I fell back into the arms of supportive yogis and others devoted to healing. Years down the line, teachers started to suggest carrying the benefits of yoga into the world. Having gained so much from this precious practice, I knew I wanted to give back however possible. The seeds of Seva (selfless service) were planted.
Today, I try to take yoga off the mat and into my everyday world, every day of my life.
Coming from a background of trauma, I must practice yoga and other community-based activities that encourage self-inquiry and spiritual living. This is my responsibility to the world around me. Because without these regular activities, I would be heading right back to that 1993 bottom. I would be stuck in old stories, limits and pain. So, I practice. And I aim to offer my healthiest self to those around me. At times, the facts of my past can be tough to admit. Who wants to expose her/his dark side? Through admitting these realities, however, have I found infinite tools for addressing them. Sharing truthfully, identifying my patterns, gaining counsel, and passing on these solutions all bring a profound shift from darkness to light.
This is the kind of honesty, self-inquiry, community and action that Off The Mat Into The World (OTM) encourages, facilitates and supports. In addition to their global fund-raising and youth empowerment initiatives, OTM co-creators Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling lead a 5-day workshop “Intensive” – a yoga-based transformational process that yields a sustainable, reinforced and proactive life purpose.
During OTM’s Intensive last June, I met 40 amazing yogis, teachers and “activists” (i.e. cause-inspired, nonprofit and social workers) devoted to looking at themselves in order to serve others.
To begin our week together, we practiced deep self-inquiry through Chakra Vinyasa sequences, Yoga Nidra, Somatic Therapy exercises, group sharing and more. We learned how to hold space for, listen to and support each other. We discovered that after unearthing what breaks our heart, exploring trauma triggers, exposing false beliefs and identifying chronic pain, we could strengthen and align our healthy selves with a true Seva purpose vs. being triggered by others’ traumas.
Mid-week, we moved from self- to other-focus with discussion and practice of collaboration, consensus process, non-violent communication and power models (i.e. inclusion, shared power and empowerment vs. having power over or being under power). In our assumptions exercise we honestly exposed limited perceptions of each other; and in our “Circle of Truth,” we humbly learned how to expand our understanding of all.
To wrap up the workshop, OTM staff Kerri Kelly and Claire Williams introduced the Yoga In Action initiatives, focusing on activating our newly fortified purpose and mission statements within our local yoga communities. I felt lucky to live in the amazingly proactive city of DC, where “yoga activism” is energized and thriving.
For me personally, three moments from the Intensive stand out:
- An emotional breakthrough during Seane’s Chakra Asana practice liberated me from years of paralyzing resentment, and enabled me to forgive and move on in a major area of my life.
- In Suzanne’s “What Breaks Your Heart” sharing circle, I discovered my inner resources (Pranayama and eye contact) for speaking my truth (“What breaks my heart is the pain of the child who knows no other way than pain.”) from a place of clarity and conviction instead of imbalanced emotion.
- And the moment Hala said, “Imagine going through challenges without suffering,” I exhaled profoundly, knowing that I never had to “bottom out” again – nor did I have to “burn out” from my Seva efforts.
Most importantly, I created a list of 13 goals toward widening my yoga-in-action circle in DC and beyond. The list included a range of intentions, such as “Be a yogi,” “Keep up with self-care and connection,” “Continue consistently developing your blog,” and “Plug in with those already doing this work in DC, i.e. Anahata Grace.” As of today, I have completed or am active in 10 out of 13 of those intentions.
I have not done this alone. OTM continues to invest in my development as a yoga teacher, community organizer and Seva devotee through periodic conference calls with my Intensive teammates and other OTM community leaders. They have empowered me as a OTM ambassador, and I have started to incubate their Yoga In Action initiatives here in DC.
I look forward to seeing everyone at this weekend’s Global Mala in DC, and talking more about how DC yogis, teachers and activists can tap into Off The Mat Into The World’s resources for sustainable Seva work in our city. Look for me at the Past Tense Studio booth!
Yoga teacher, musician and writer Holly Meyers blogs about living yoga in everyday life, promotes yoga events and shares yoga tips-n-tools at UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com. As an Off The Mat Into The World ambassador, she is currently leading the Yoga In Action DC Facebook campaign.