By Allegra Tiver
What does your yoga practice look like? Maybe you have your own mat, and even sporty clothes to wear. Maybe you picked up a class-package at a cozy studio, where you cross paths with friends. Or maybe you practice in the comfort of your home, light some candles for ambiance and put on a DVD.
Now imagine, if you take all that away, what does your yoga practice REALLY look like? You breathe. You feel. You listen. You might even discover something. And it really doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or where you do yoga. All that matters is being there … showing up … meeting yourself in the moment.
That’s where Street Yoga comes in. For more than a decade now, the non-profit organization, based in Portland, Oregon, has been introducing yoga to people who may not normally have access to the practice – or even know its many benefits, from physical well-being to depression and anxiety.
Street Yoga has been successful in its mission to bring a glimpse of mindfulness to anyone, anywhere – from shelters to schools, and from ghettos to group homes – as an offering and hope for the most vulnerable folks. The group started out teaching the essence of the practice in the Northwest, where it continues to deepen its work, and also reaches people across the world.
“Our job is to give people the opportunity to experience yoga, no matter what their circumstance,” said Mark Lilly, founder of Street Yoga. “Yoga is just the context to make positive change happen.”
Street Yoga Teacher Trainings take place each month, in different cities, to meet the growing demand of people who recognize yoga’s transformative power. A cross-section of careers are represented among participants in the 14-hour intensive – from social workers and therapists, to yoga teachers and community volunteers. It’s a fit for anyone who has some background in yoga and/or meditation and envisions adapting their knowledge into serving others.
Humble, fun and at times downright hilarious, Lilly remains committed to the cause and still personally teaches the trainings … one of which I had a chance to catch recently in Philadelphia, hosted by Philly Power Yoga on Walnut Street.
Studio owner Steve Gold took Lilly’s training himself several years ago in California and since started Project 4 Peace, which teaches youth yoga principles that boost confidence and self-worth. With the challenges urban environments face, Philadelphia included, Gold said he believes “the answers are spiritual ones.”
Nearly 20 people, from as far away as Maine and Washington D.C., attended the three-day immersion. The service-minded group came with plenty of yoga-related projects – either already in the works or in the planning stages – and were eager to soak up some techniques to better help their respective populations. It was truly awe-inspiring to see the desire and dedication in the faces, from people as young as 19 years old … all of us ready to make a positive impact.
In his down-to-earth way, Lilly weaved a grounded perspective through the weekend. He acknowledged our compassion and intentions, conveyed the weight of this type of service work through a mix of training manual modules, personal experiential insight, and role-play opportunities, and gave us the tools to serve in a way that honors self and others.
“You’re not there to fix anyone, you’re there to help them have the greatest possible life given where they are,” Lilly said. “You’re there to drive them to equanimity.”
Everyone was engaged, felt challenged, and left changed. Trainees gained a greater awareness of what vulnerable populations experience as well as resources that will be useful as we propose programs to organizations and agencies in our communities – with an emphasis on moving from the trauma to resiliency.
Suffering occurs in life … we all know this … and we can’t compare our’s with our neighbor’s. Oftentimes, we return to serve through the venues where we have personally experienced the positive. As someone who teaches, studies and does yoga, I know the practice and philosophy has helped me feel grounded in the most crazy, chaotic, hectic and unsteady of times. For those reasons, I want to share.
Sometimes, we see a story on the news that pulls at our heart strings and we think about how we can help. Sometimes, it’s a close friend who needs a hand, or our community, and we are compelled into action. Sometimes, all it takes is an invitation to breath, movement and listening that can really spark awareness … from there, transformation happens.
Street Yoga offers a curriculum that trains people to safely introduce the ancient practice of yoga to modern-day people facing real-life struggles. If the idea of lifting people up through yoga service lights you up, please check out!
Allegra Tiver is a freelance writer based out of Swedesboro, NJ. Also an RYT200, Allegra has been teaching Vinyasa yoga for more than two years and practicing yoga for more than a decade. Visit Allegra’s blog at allegrativer.wordpress.com.