As someone who had experienced the benefits of yoga practice firsthand, Rob Schware wanted to give back. Upon retiring from his role as a Lead Information Technology manager at the World Bank, Schware realized his professional talents could be paired with his passion for yoga, and the seed of an idea was planted.
“I wanted to share the gift of yoga and help yoga teachers, who had given so much to me, develop sustainable yoga outreach projects,” he said.
Schware co-founded and currently serves as Executive Director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, which supports yoga instructors in community outreach projects that extend far beyond their studio walls.
“Our yoga practice teaches us that ‘who we truly are’ is not something apart and separate from the rest of the world,” Schware said, “but something that is a part of a wide web of interconnectedness.”
More specifically, Give Back aims to bring yoga to those who “might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the transformational benefits of this powerful practice” by supporting and funding certified yoga instructors who can bring the therapeutic benefits of yoga practices to these communities.
In this way, Give Back promotes the concept of yoga service, which Jennifer Cohen Harper and Traci Childress define as “the intentional sharing of yoga practices within a context of conscious relationship, supported by regular reflection and self-inquiry.” In their interview with Schware, they note that yoga service is often misunderstood and should be defined by the instruction itself, not just the population it serves:
The yoga service community often discusses its work in terms of addressing specific populations (veterans, women in prison, at-risk youth, etc.). However, all people experience vulnerability and trauma at different points in life. The circumstances of being human are such that we all, at times, are in need of the compassionate service of others. There are also social forces at play that impact individuals and communities differently, and therefore, issues of power, privilege and justice must remain at the forefront of any critical discussion of service.
Who Give Back Serves
Give Back offers instructional training, funding and instructional materials to a variety of at-risk, high need communities. Their major program initiatives include Eat Breathe Thrive for those who suffer from disordered eating and/or negative body image, Mindful Yoga Therapy for veterans, Niroga Institute for at-risk youth, the Prison Yoga project for incarcerated men and women, and Yoga for First Responders, offering mindfulness and wellness training for public servants.
Give Back is the beneficiary of support from organizations like Nike’s CARE program, Gaiam and the Omega Institute. In turn, Give Back has provided grant support to an impressive host of local yoga service initiatives nationwide that bring yoga, mindfulness and wellness to populations as varied as young mothers, those with HIV/AIDS, wounded warriors, and hospice service staff and volunteers.
Currently, Give Back is involved in a collaborative project to bring yoga service in the West Bank and Gaza. Yoga’s presence in Palestine, though historically minimal, is ever-growing, particularly with women, and in light of national instability that affects the daily lives of citizens. In this two-phase initiative, Give Back and other major yoga organizations hope to train instructors who will then bring yoga into the surrounding communities.
In 2016, these organizations plan to host Palestine’s first international yoga conference, bringing together instructors from around the world for instructional workshops and service learning opportunities.
Additionally, a pilot program within a Dutch prison system will move forward with incorporating yoga into the rehabilitation offered to re-offenders. This program will be led by Prison Yoga Project instructors, and the program itself will be the subject of a study conducted by Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR).
Grassroots Social Change
Ultimately, Give Back hopes to utilize traditional elements of yoga– asana, breathing and meditation — to provide and maintain wellness for those who would not typically have access to such methods. Give Back believes that yoga affords an opportunity to “go beyond separateness, alienation, and diversity and fully recognize the fundamental unity of the universe and the underlying connectedness among all beings, communities, nations and religions,” shifting one’s focus from the self to the community, bettering the nuanced system of relationships found therein.
For more information, visit givebackyoga.org.
Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff
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