Yoga + Social Change: What Are You Standing For?
Cover Photo by Steve Rosenfield Photography
By Rachel Nichols
Practicing yoga with Seane Corn always feels like magic to me. The way she weaves prayer into her classes and lovingly, yet firmly, challenges you to use your privilege to make a difference in the world is so inspiring. She reminds us that each and every one of us can make a difference—even if we just start with ourselves by examining what's going on in our own inner landscape.
Now imagine adding to this scene Nahko on the piano with his beautiful voice and lyrics about personal, spiritual, and social healing as the soundtrack to class. Then add Julia Butterfly Hill - a poet and social activist best known for moving into an ancient Redwood tree for 738 days between 1997 and 1999 to prevent loggers from cutting it down - reciting her emotional poetry about social change. This is exactly what happened two Sundays ago in San Francisco, and I was so moved, my heart could have burst. The afternoon was interactive art.
This inspiring trio of social activists came together to co-create a very special fundraiser for Off the Mat, Into The World (OTM), a nonprofit co-founded by Seane that trains leaders in social change. The event, Yoga, Music & Poetry, took place at Yoga Tree in the Castro, one of my favorite yoga studios to practice in with all it’s natural light and good vibes that flood the space. That studio felt like the perfect container for what was one of my favorite yoga workshop experiences to-date.
As my dear friend Heather, who was sitting next to me, said afterward, "I already knew going into this that it was going to be, hands down, one of the best yoga experiences I've ever had." And it really was. The opening and closing OMs while Nahko was on the piano working his magic sent goosebumps up and down my spine and brought me to tears. My body will never forget what it felt like to soak in the powerful, uplifting vibes we all co-created together.
What Do You Stand FOR?
I’ve taken a few workshops with Seane, and I love the way she begins her classes. She invites everyone to leave their mats and to cozy up to the front of the room with her while she leads with her own vulnerability, owning her own shadows, her humanity, and challenging us to do the same. In this particular workshop she said something that stuck with me. She said that sometimes people think they have to be against something when they are advocating for social change. She encouraged us rather to be for something. For example, how would it feel to be for equality rather than against separation. I absolutely love the positive reframe of being for something.
If you ever have a chance to move and breathe with Seane and soak in her wisdom, I highly recommend jumping at the opportunity. I encourage you to let her words disarm you and allow the practices she offers to open your heart. I encourage you to also think about what you are FOR, not what you are against. See how that reframe feels in your own body - the shift from the negative to the affirmative. For me, the reframe feels empowering and positive, and like I can make a difference.
ABOUT Off The Mat, Into the World’s Scholarship Program:
Beyond the beautiful vibes of the afternoon, it felt really good to know that 100% of proceeds from the fundraiser benefitted OTM’s scholarships program, which offers both full and partial scholarships to their leadership intensives.
“We are the entry point for many who are interested in joining the conversation about how to take the tools of mindfulness practices and apply them toward effective and sustainable change,” said Anita Akhavan, Managing Director at Off the Mat. “OTM grants hundreds of scholarships each year, and events like this and your contributions allow us to keep cultivating a diversity in voices and life experience in our trainings and making them accessible to all people, regardless of their ability to pay.”
OTM has inspired thousands of leaders worldwide through their leadership intensives. Graduates of the programs do work ranging from offering yoga to survivors of domestic violence, people in recovery, vulnerable youth and incarcerated people to organizing and educating people around issues of social justice, food justice, and international humanitarian work. OTM leaders embody the idea of taking yoga “off the mat.”
OTM hosts several in-person leadership intensives each year in various parts of the U.S. and it their goal to make the training as accessible to as many people as possible. For all trainings (both in-person and online) they have created a system they call “Justice Pricing” with three tiers of pricing: Community Rate, Sustainer Rate, and Supporter Rate.
OTM stands for leveraging our privilege to support others. If participants can afford to, they are asked to consider paying it forward by paying any amount above the Community Rate. This allows OTM to continue scaling the prices of their intensives so that everyone is included. We are committed to cultivating a diversity of voices and life experiences in our trainings and making them accessible to people of all income levels.