Wayne Nato, guest blogger
The Yoga Service Conference, held this past June at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, brought together leading teachers and organizations who are using yoga and mindfulness practices to help people in underserved communities change their lives. The conference is a unique and intimate opportunity to forge relationships, build skills, and get inspired. This year’s conference brought together more than 30 organizations and 200-plus participants, with speakers including Beryl Bender Birch, Sharon Salzberg, Bessel van der Kolk, and Nikki Myers. I attended in my capacity as Program Coordinator for the Teaching for Diversity program at Kripalu.
The conference is the brainchild of the Yoga Service Council (YSC), headed up by Rob Schware. Kripalu partnered with Rob and the YSC in publishing the Yoga Service Resource Guide, a listing of trainings and organizations serving a wide range of communities across the country. Rob and Beryl, representing Give Back Yoga, were recently awarded the International Association of Yoga Therapists Karma Award, which is presented in acknowledgement of “extraordinary selfless service in reducing suffering and elevating consciousness through yoga.”
Topics addressed during the conference ran the gamut from cultivating compassion and self-compassion (presented by Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University) to presentations from those working on the ground, including a session called Working with High-Risk Youth, led by brothers Ali and Atman Smith and their friend Andres Gonzalez. The three founded the Holistic Life Foundation and have developed a unique blend of yoga and meditation, which they’ve been bringing to at-risk communities in their native Baltimore for more than a decade.
Other highlights included a talk by Sharon Salzberg on loving-kindness meditation; a lecture by Bessel van der Kolk on yoga, neurobiology, and trauma; and a presentation by Sue Jones, the founder of YogaHOPE, on her work in Haiti after the earthquake there, offering yoga teacher training to Haitian first responders, who would then bring the practice to female trauma survivors.
The closing session of the conference included a panel discussion on diversity and cultural awareness that revolved around the issues of culture, prejudice, and insensitivity that exist in society—and are perpetuated in the yoga world. We need to examine how we train yoga teachers to be more fully prepared to teach to a wider audience, and look at how yoga teacher trainings can be more inclusive.
The conference reinforced my passion to bring yoga to underserved populations, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do this through my work at Kripalu. Hearing stories of the amazing work being done by so many, often with few resources, I felt both humbled and galvanized.
Find out more about Kripalu’s outreach initiatives.