I’m writing you now in my last couple of days as Program Manager at Street Yoga Headquarters in Portland, OR. In just one short month, I’ll be making the trans-continental move to New York City, where I’ll pursue a Master of Social Work degree at Columbia University. It is my intention to incorporate my experience at Street Yoga and my training as an Integrated Movement Therapy® Practitioner into furthering my career as a Social Worker. After more than five years of serving at Street Yoga in a variety of roles, I’m turning the page on this significant chapter.
“At the end of our journey, we will come back to the beginning and know that place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot
I came across the Street Yoga website on a break from sifting through pages of potential internship placements for my final year of study as an undergraduate Social Work student. When I read the mission, I sensed a spark. I immediately called Mark Lilly, asked if I could help, and then was welcomed into the organization. As with so many things in life, I didn’t know then what I know now about how Street Yoga would help to shape the course of my life, and more broadly affect my way of being in the world.
As many of you know, we always conclude the Street Yoga training with the practice of holding two emotional experiences simultaneously. We call it Celebration and Mourning, and in the activity, we voice our feelings on those two ends of the spectrum; the space is open to share our excitement and nervousness, our reflection and forward-looking. During my transition, I have been leaning on this practice- it has offered me the gift of being fully present with everything that arises and dissolves.
My understanding of mindfulness has grown- I’ve learned that if we look at everything we do as a practice, then we’re setting ourselves up for success; rather than feeling like we should know or be good at everything already, which sets us up to feel insufficient. I’ve also learned that if we’re kinder to ourselves about our process, we give others permission to be kind to themselves as well. Who knew?!
Now, I’d like to share with you some of the other gifts and discoveries I have come upon during my time serving Street Yoga. These discoveries have come from my experiences as a volunteer teacher and also from the organizational office culture we have developed over time. It’s not my intention to provide you a laundry list of advice. I hope you find these reflections useful and encouraging guidance…
Practice kinship with others. I’ve worked with many young people: in and out of foster care, survivors of sexual abuse, youth in alternative school cheap canada settings, youth experiencing homelessness and transition. When I’ve entered these settings with the intention of compassion and partnership, the experiences have been most meaningful. In his book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Fr. Gregory Boyle states that “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals…Compassion is always, at its most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship.” I’ve learned not to rush to “get to the yoga-” the yoga is there all along in creating moments of connection.
Practice setting intentions- notice and release expectations. I found that as I grew more experienced and confident as a teacher, I was able to more deeply reflect before I started class. “Do I want to receive anything (emotional/verbal feedback, behavior…) from these young people? Am I worried about how I will be perceived by them? Am I worried that I won’t be ‘successful’?” A shift happened when I went from worrying if I was getting through to my students, if I was doing a “good enough job,” to a place of bringing my authentic self and trusting in what I was bringing to their day, simply by being there.
Bring joy. Highlighting the joyfulness of yoga has helped take me out of my own serious mind. Yoga, especially with young people, can be hilarious. It’s great to relish in that joy instead of trying to change it into productivity or conformity. And it begs the question, if our practice isn’t principally bringing us more joy and compassion, what is it bringing?
Honor all your teachers. Show up consistently. Be honest with yourself about your boundaries. Notice what comes up for you- Strengths, Challenges- and seek support. Pay attention to the times when it’s more useful to listen to the kind, encouraging voices in your head and choose not to listen as much to the unkind ones. Share your truth, your joy, and the permission for people to be themselves. Practice humility and awe- people are resilient.
That you are reading this means that we share a common hope: that more of our world can feel the peace and contentment that comes with inclusion. I honor you for all you are doing, big and small, to help in that mission. For the friends and teachers who’ve been a direct part of my journey at Street Yoga, and for all those I’m yet to meet, thank you.
I’ll leave you with a quote that I pulled from an old journal of mine:
“See a need. Seek to meet it. Start small. Think big. Tend lovingly and watch it grow.”
– Street Yoga Newsletter July 2007