Seva for Millennials

Seva is a Sanskrit term that means “service.” We are in a political time when we need full-on and present engagement in service. We need to be and stay woke. As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, we need to practice self-care in ways that serve others. For the purpose of this post, I want to focus on the latter part of that mission statement: serve others. What are some efficient ways to serve others, mobilize fellow 20-somethings, and contribute in effective ways while still holding down the one, two, or three jobs that most millennials have (plus, you know, grad school, yoga, and other hobbies)?

Call your representatives!

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My roommate got me hooked on 5calls.org, which makes it extremely easy and user-friendly to make targeted phone calls and to log your engagement. This website runs the gamut of sociopolitical issues from legislation regarding climate change to education to immigration.

Volunteer for one organization.

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In an effort not to spread yourself too thin to the point where you quit everything, choose just one organization that is involved in a cause you’re passionate about. Maybe that’s Planned Parenthood or the ACLU or a local tutoring program. Find out where they need volunteers the most, take out your planner or log onto GoogleCal, and schedule it in. Time is change-making currency, baby! (Pun intended.)

Donate when you can’t protest!

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Recently, I made a rule for myself: for every mass protest I don’t show up for, I will donate to an organization that does the kind of work that protest is fighting for. Two weeks ago, I was unable to show up to airports to protest the ban. As I shared my guilt with my friend on the subway back from yoga, I took out my phone and donated to the ACLU. It took me less than two minutes. I am not saying that donating is the same as protesting! I am also not saying that we shouldn’t do both if we can! But, there are so many ways to be involved and engaged, and to make a contribution. Time and money are both forms of currency. I am going to try to use one when I cannot use the other.

Practice positive reinforcement: write thank-you notes.

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This is my third year of teaching elementary school. In elementary school (and many of the classes I take in graduate school as well), we talk a lot about the idea of positive reinforcement. The psychology blog Very Well defines this age-old field-tested concept,

In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.

Thank the people who are doing good work. Thank them genuinely – because you really appreciate what they’re doing – but also thank them because you want to encourage them to continue doing the good work that they’re doing. Finally (as if you need more reasons to intentionally say “thank you”), it shifts everyone’s mind to the positive, which is so important…especially if you’re making a lot of phone calls or going to a lot of protests to get legislation changed. My roommate is writing thank-you letters to her representatives that stick out to her as speaking out against the administration in productive ways. I wrote an email to my principal thanking her for broadcasting immigration stories on the announcements. The possibilities are varied, and bottom line: taking this action is refueling!

Which one of these are you going to do today? Let’s get to work!

Yoga + Social Justice: The Preliminary Inner Work

YogaSocialJustice-HomePage4.jpgAs part of the Yoga + Social Justice training that I am thrilled to be able to participate in at Laughing Lotus San Francisco, I was required to fill out a detailed and thought-provoking questionairre. As part of Radical Self-Care for Radical Action (#RSC4RA), I am documenting every element of this training for this blog! I am writing this now from San Francisco, two hours away from joining the training myself. I missed the first day and, unfortunately, Jasmine’s class this morning because of train troubles and needing to be in NYC an extra day, but such is life. In the spirit of this training and RSC4RA, I am setting an intention for the day: gentleness + calm.

Anyways, I want to share with you some of my answers to the deep questions asked of me by the organizers of this training. Here goes…

What is social justice to you?

Social justice is a collective understanding that all members of society deserve to and should be treated with dignity and respect. It is the belief that all people deserve everything needed for physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Yet social justice does not stop at that understanding. Rather, that understanding translates to direct action that bridges gaps so that individuals become closer to obtaining all that they need to be Whole and have their existence in the world affirmed.

What is your understanding of privilege?

To this day when I think of privilege I still think of the Peggy McIntosh article on “invisible backpacks” that we all carry. I probably read it for the first time when I was in middle school and realized that my own backpack contained within it the fact that I’ve never been in a situation where my basic needs were not filled. With that privilege comes a complete lack of understanding for what that is like for others. I remember when I filled my first emergency food box as part of my AmeriCorps work and was told that I filled it with the bare minimum. My supervisor told me that when people are in crisis – when they lack in their basic needs – we need to approach our service work from a place of abundance. That was when I realized as well that my own privilege informs my biases. In this new year, my primary intention involves learning when to listen versus when to speak up, and in doing so, to call myself and others out – in the most gentle and implicit ways – on our privilege.

How do you navigate privilege and/or social justice as a yoga instructor?

I want my yoga teaching and practice to mirror my overall philosophy on yoga: that it is a bridge and a way of life. Yoga is a technique for getting to higher practices…like doing the work and actually serving people and causes. So, for me, I navigate social justice as a yoga teacher by not teaching yoga full time. I don’t yet know if that is the right decision for me, but what it does mean is that I get to infuse my day-job as a third grade teacher with as much yoga (both the asana and a yogic attitude) as I can. This comes with practice. Through practicing at Laughing Lotus NYC I am able to refuel so that I can give to others. I have had times when I’ve had very little to give because I wasn’t refueling. This is a tension I find in my activist and teaching life in general: taking the time to fuel up so that I can respond rather than react to all the various chaotic life that comes up when immersed in service.

What is the relationship between yoga and social justice and privilege?

During this new era, I believe that we need to keep activism and social justice efforts continuous and sustainable; we cannot afford burnout. While burnout and activism have had close relationships to one another, so have healing practices and social change methodologies. We need to learn how to systematically refuel during these trying times. Yoga is a thoughtful, spiritual, emotional, and physical way of refueling so we can approach Social Justice Work from a place of intentionality and responsiveness.

What are three Yogic teachings or practices that bridge Yoga and Social Justice?

  • Tapas – steady discipline (this means writing down actions – representatives to call! – in my planner, and carefully planning out the lessons I’ll teach).
  • Aparigraha – non-possessiveness – as a way not to hoard conversations around social justice. As mentioned previously, my intention for the new year is to gauge when I need to listen versus when I need to speak up. Also, determine when I need to speak up and do so thoughtfully. And then, I intend to act from that space. I think it is imperative to act with intention. To act unintentionally is to act carelessly, and we can’t afford carelessness. I also want to acknowledge my own privilege and my own unique experiences. I want to use them to be a better listener anda better activist…which are really one in the same.
  • Setting an Intention – As a yoga teacher and a practitioner, the asana practice offers me a specific time and ritual around intention-setting and asking myself (in the post-election words of writer Elizabeth Gilbert), “Who do I want to be in this situation?”

written from stanza coffee in san francisco’s mission district, a convenient 1/2 block away from laughing lotus sf

 

#24SevenYoga Challenge with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition

0612_01B_760_428auto_int.jpgI am thrilled to announce that I am participating in the #24SevenYoga challenge with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Head over to Instagram (@GrowingUpOnOM) to see what I’m posting. Here’s what I’ve posted so far…

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But I am getting ahead of myself. First, I need to tell you what this challenge is and why I am doing it. I have been a long-time fan of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. A longer post is forthcoming on the subject, but the work of YBIC is very near and dear to my heart. I started practicing yoga because I needed a way of moving my body that didn’t result in self-hatred. I never, beyond my wildest dreams, expected to celebrate my body. And that is just at the surface-level; yoga allows me to celebrate so much more than my body through my body. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition takes that sense of celebration, accessibility, and so much more into account in its vision:

Our coalition is committed to developing, promoting and supporting yoga that is accessible, body-positive and reflects the full range of human diversity. We advocate yoga as an essential tool in personal transformation, from the inside out, including a critical social justice component. We inform, educate and work with organizations that are ready to shift the current media paradigm to one that is more inclusive, equitable and just, and challenge industry leaders and media creators to expand their vision of what a yogi looks like.

The #24SevenYoga challenge, in partnership with Yoga International, is an attempt to showcase how yoga and mindfulness has the power to influence our daily lives both on and beyond the mat. Capturing the moments of the practice being infused into all that I do has been a mindful experience in and of itself, and I highly recommend it for those seeking some added deep breaths this week.

To Enter:

  1. Follow @carlystong, @ybicoalition, and @yoga_international
  2. Share your photos on Instagram using the hashtag #24sevenyoga

Additional hashtag suggestions (but not necessary):

#whatyogalookslike #whatayogilookslike #ybicoalition #yogabodyimage #ybic #everybodyisayogabody #smashingstereotypes #accessibleyoga #everybodyisayogabody

  1. Tag three friends.

Daily ways to practice #24sevenyoga (Share your photos of what these look like for you!):

Monday: Love yourself—maybe that means taking a yoga class, but maybe it means having a spa day, sleeping in, or saying “no” to people or commitments that sap your energy.

Tuesday: Spend time in nature—improve your mental wellness, boost your immunity and creativity, and get your daily dose of Vitamin D and fresh air.

Wednesday: Find balance—find peace amid chaos. Show us your progress pics or a picture of you falling out of a yoga posture, share a photo of you being productive in a messy space, etc.

Thursday: Meditate—move your awareness inward in any form, from stargazing to starting a journal to sitting in stillness.

Friday: Give back—practice the art of blessed action (seva): selfless service done for the good of others.

Saturday: Connect—spend time with friends/family, write a letter, meet someone new, etc

Sunday: Nourish yourself—share your favorite recipe and a photo of the end result!

Portland(ia): The City of Functional Nonprofits

In preparation for my move to Portland, I bought a trench coat. Yes, it rains a lot here, but the reason why I bought a trench coat had a lot more to do with the fact that I love feeling put-together. I adore people who are put-together: who wear button-down dresses and efficiently check items off lists.

I just love put-together people.

What do I love more than put-together people?

Put-together nonprofits.

Like a book, you should be able to judge an organization by its cover. I understand that this might seem superficial, but please follow my train of thought here. An organization starts from the inside, out. It begins with an idea. If that idea is powerful enough and has enough people to back it (a sign of its power), the inside will start to be reflected on the outside: on the stationery, the website, the graphic design, and how well the volunteers are taken care of.

I have had my fair share of exposure to dysfunctional nonprofits: organizations with potent missions and shake follow-through. Portland, however, has provided a different experience accompanied by the illusion that there are no problems because of an abundance of organizations and like-minded people dedicated to fixing them. Here are three Portland nonprofits, accompanied by their mission statements, that dedicate themselves to reflecting their beautiful missions in their communications with the public.

Living Yoga

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Living Yoga is a non-profit outreach program teaching yoga as a tool for personal change in prisons, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, transitional facilities, and to populations who would otherwise not have access to it.

We believe that yoga creates and supports positive change from the inside out for all individuals. We recognize there are vast numbers of people who do not have access to this practice and its benefits including stress management, self-awareness, impulse control, mindfulness, and distress tolerance. We believe the health of any community is dependent on the health of all of its members. Living Yoga implements its compassionate mission by providing yoga support services with volunteer teachers.

Growing Gardens

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Growing Gardens gets at the root of hunger in Portland, Oregon. We organize hundreds of volunteers to build organic, raised bed vegetable gardens in backyards, front yards, side yards and even on balconies. We support low income households for three years with seeds, plants, classes, mentors and more. Our Youth Grow after school garden clubs grow the next generation of veggie eaters and growers! Through Learn & Grow workshops and work parties, we teach gardeners all about growing, preparing and preserving healthful food while respecting the health of the environment.

We plant seeds for good food and healthy people by making sure low income people have the resources they need to grow organic vegetables at home. Through this work, community members meet over the backyard garden, through volunteering, by attending classes, and through sharing extra produce.

Metropolitan Family Service

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A world where children never go hungry, young people are always educated, families are financially stable, older adults remain connected and all humans are healthy, happy and cared for.

Perhaps you know someone in our community facing cultural and economic inequity. We help thousands of people who struggle because of inadequate education, health issues, social isolation, unemployment, and poverty. These challenges increase vulnerability and compromise well-being. Worst of all, hope fades. For many, life is just plain hard.

To tackle these tough issues, we meet people where they are and listen to what they need. Combining the wisdom and experience of our elders with the energy and potential of our youth, we build community wherever we work. And as champions of innovation, we develop lasting solutions that bridge gaps, create equity and demonstrate respect and value for every person.

Now tell me: what are your favorite nonprofits in your abode? What are the organizations that reflect the changes they make?

Lotus Shakti Summit Teacher’s Intensive: Empower! Ignite! Transform!

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Laughing Lotus, the studio that I have found myself an inhabitant at (the first thing most people say upon entering its colorful doors is “Welcome Home!”) is an expert at celebrations. For the past few years, they started a new tradition (as the studio is known to do practically on the daily): the Summit. The Lotus Shakti Summit is equal parts celebration and cultivation. It is a time where Lotus Flow teachers from New York and all over the world subway/bike/fly into 19th between 5th and 6th in the Flatiron of New York City to move, dance, sing, eat, reminisce, and catch up.

This was my first time at a Shakti Summit because it is the first year that I can say I am a Lotus Flow teacher, having completed 200 hours of advanced certification with them this year, with another 50-100 hours to go to this summer (!!!). I was unsure that I would even be able to attend the Summit (they sold out early), but I awoke on Friday morning to an email from Dana Trixie Flynn, the co-founder, referred to as DTF, saying, “Come on downtown!”

One hour later, late and soaked in the torrential downpour of rain going on outside Lotus’s windows, I tip-toed my way into Dana Flynn’s soaking-with-sweat Shakti class. Dana’s morning class was entitled “Shakti Worship: Harness your creative power,” but what we were really let into with that class was Dana’s immense creative power as we flowed in ways so magical that after the class, when I sat down with my notebook trying desperately to remember the sequence, I surrendered to the fact that her artistic sequencing shoved me so much into the present moment that remembering it as a past was a lost cause.

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All photos from the Laughing Lotus website.

Dana followed that class with one of the aspects of the Summit that I was looking most forward to: a Business of Yoga Satsang. Laughing Lotus is an incredible business. My mom is a director at one of the world’s most well-known community centers so I did grow up knowing that the terms “community center” and “profitable business” were not mutually exclusive. Being the yoga geek that I am, I devoured the article on Laughing Lotus that Forbes published a few months back (Never thought you’d see the words “lotus” and “Forbes” in the same sentence? Well, neither did I). But on Friday, I wanted Dana’s perspective. I got that and what I learned is that Laughing Lotus is a business with heart. It reified a very important piece of my own personal philosophy, woven together via many yoga philosophies: nothing is inherently “bad” or “good,” moral or amoral, yogic or un-yogic. That is, after all, what Tantra and Shakti are all about: that fluidity that comes from seeing things as more than binaries, as spaces of in between, as bridges, as Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa would put it. Laughing Lotus is a business with heart because it is all about expanding based on cOMmunity desires and growth. Through this satsang, we also celebrated service-oriented programs that members of the Lotus Flow cOMmunity are starting and participating in. One teacher is creating an organization that encourages students to do community service in exchange for yoga (BRILLIANT!). A few other students volunteer for the NYC organization YogaFoster, bringing yoga to public schools, and another alum started a fantastic yoga-service-meetup-type website called YogaGives. (Stay tuned for a roundup of a bunch of yoga service organizations!)

An unexpected gem of the Summit was the opportunity to chill out and be students with my new fellow teachers at Harlem Yoga Studio. I am so grateful to feel my professional and yoga sangha grow as I grow…but I guess that’s just how it all works. Anyways, we all broke for lunch and then returned for Jasmine! Oh, Jasmine! The San Francisco balance to New York City’s bustle! Our Sangha with her was on the Yoga Sutras, but in the most real, non-esoteric way. She talked not only to us, but with us. She essentially told us that it is our duty (our dharma!) as teachers to engage our students in a contemplative dialogue. She told us that “when it’s just the Kool-Aid, it’s fair neither to us [the teachers] nor the student.” I left her talk early to do my own dharma of sorts, to go teach in Harlem. My theme for the 6pm Harlem Shakes (come catch me – I’m teaching it for the next 3 weeks!)? MOVE LIKE YOURSELF.