The Sexiness of Seva

I Am Africa Campaign

Yogis love to do good. We’re seeing it everywhere; service — selfless or not — is all the buzz. We’ve got Yoga Gives Back. Off the Mat Into the World. YogaAid. No doubt about it. This majority white, affluent, college-educated population is aware of its privilege and apparently wants to give back.

So what? There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I’m white and a self-confessed yoga do-gooder (whatever that means). But maybe that’s the question we need to be asking… what does it really mean to “do good”?

There’s an unspoken assumption among yogis that everyone in the world will benefit from yoga  and that our money can fix an economically broken continent. Seva increasingly seems synonymous with fundraising, divorced from the actual human beings it’s supposed to be serving. Many of us stay in our comfort zone and send money to the organizations we believe will do the job well. We let them take care of the dirty work. They’re the experts, right?

Sending money alone is not service.

Sure, people need food, shelter, and medical care. But divorced of human relationship, those items have little long lasting impact. We need something more to thrive. Human connection is vital to our survival. In college, I remember reading about orphan babies in Russia who, deprived of human touch, wasted away and died in their cribs. Sometimes, service is as simple as a gentle squeeze of the hand; others it’s teaching someone to meet their own needs for themselves.

And yet, we “serve” from arm’s length.

Ferran

Are we afraid to gaze at our own reflection in the eyes of the meth addict desperate to find a fix for his broken heart? Are we afraid that the hungry little girl might grab our hand and not let go — that her needs might consume us, that we’ll lose our ability to say no? Are we afraid to walk into a place as the only white person, afraid of seeing how the legacy of slavery and racial segregation shows up in our jails and juvenile centers?

Fear. What is it we fear?

As a yoga community, we’ve gotten quite adept at creating elaborate and successful fundraisers, big events with lots of wealthy white people “doing yoga for a good cause.” I’ll be the first to admit I enjoy the energy and camaraderie inspired at those large gatherings of community. And I place tremendous value in their role in supporting organizations that work with people in areas of the world we can’t easily reach.

But I’ve started to feel uneasy at these so called “seva” events. I was asked recently to help fundraise for two organizations I wholeheartedly believe in through YogaAid, and I just can’t bring myself to do it.  Perhaps it’s my own selfishness, but I want to see the person I’m serving. I want to touch their hand, tell them I care.

YogaAid Event at Wanderlust, via Patience Steltzer

As I inhaled into up dog at one of these events recently, I gazed out upon a sea of mostly white women smiling at the cameramen passing by. Unsettled, I realized I was surrounded by yoginis who looked like me, women who could afford to donate $50, $100, maybe even $1000 dollars to attend a yoga class. I was trapped inside an eerie yoga bubble.

Where were the homeless, the mentally ill, the single parent families?

Better yet, who were they? I couldn’t tell you. At that point, I’d never stepped foot in a homeless shelter or asked the single mother of six in Kenya what she truly needed help with. I wanted to connect with my community, but found myself surrounded by an amorphous group of yoga practitioners. Surely, this wasn’t it.

I know, I know, these events aren’t meant to be demographically representative of our communities. And hell, the single mom probably had better things to do with her time than 108 sun salutations early a Saturday morning. These “seva” events are fundraisers, opportunities for the “haves” to come together and give to the “have nots.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. Organizations do need our support to make the great work they do possible.

I wonder if we’re increasingly falling into a model of service that’s disconnected from human beings. It bothers me that when I went to a “karma yoga class” for a homeless shelter, I never actually get to stand in the presence of the people my dollars supposedly benefit. I want to see their faces, hear their stories, learn the lessons they had to teach me. Okay, Chelsea, so why don’t you? Well I am, and I think it’s about time we all start seeing individuals our society hides in the trenches.

hold them
Creative Commons License photo credit: Victor Bezrukov

I don’t fit in a model of service that requires I have inordinate amounts of time, money, and resources to do good.

I’ve said this before, but when I look back on my life — it was never the stuff that served me (and trust me, I’ve been served). It was presence. It was a gentle nod of acknowledgment. It was people simply being there, showing up.

What if service was that simple?

Show up. Make eye contact with the homeless woman asking you for spare change as you walk down the street; say thank you to the janitor sweeping the halls. Touch — yes, really touch — the filthy dog who begs you to help him scratch his itch. See your children. Teach them to love.

I think it’s worth asking why seva is becoming synonymous with fundraising, and more importantly why we’re so reluctant to rub shoulders with our modern day lepers. And I ask not with judgment, but with tears. It breaks my heart to see children roaming our streets looking for love in all the wrong places. It doesn’t have to be that way. I know there’s love here.

Maybe it comes down to fear. We’re afraid that if we give one hour, we’ll have to give four. We’re afraid to feel guilty, powerless to help. We’re afraid of standing in the presence of  those who remind us of our own pain. I get that. But, if you ask me, that fear deprives us of the chance to be served ourselves. Service is about human connection.

Inspiration
Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m too critical. But this is my service — showing up as I am, a bright-eyed little visionary, questioning the ways of the world. My youngness gives me the perspective (and maybe gall) to ask the challenging, and yes, sometimes irreverent questions. So I invite you to serve me, teach me.

What stops you from walking into the trenches to connect with the people in your community? 

Why is it sexier to send money to children in Africa rather than help a local kid about to get picked up by pimps?

Posted by:

- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at YogaModern.com, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

32 Responses

  • MC Sweet says:

    your honesty continues to inspire me Chelsea.
    Beautifully written, in light…

  • Christine says:

    The gender, class and race divide is present everywhere in yoga. You want to make yoga accessible, to teach self awareness, joint and heart opening, muscle and resolve strengthening, blood pressure and mind calming, inquiry without judgement to entirely new populations? Lower the prices. Open donation based studios. Teach at churches, community centers, shelters, prisons, schools. Lose the exclusive language. Lose the commercial engine that says you need LuluLemon and Manduka to fit in. The per capita income in many states in the US is less than $12K per year. At $15 per class (not even LA prices), taking 3 classes a week, yoga would be 18% of gross, or 25% of net income. I don't think so! And there are a lot of white women who want it too, especially single older white women, who can afford only one class per week at best. And many end up taking a class from a poorly trained teacher in a gym cause it's bundled in to the monthly fee. Shine the happy light of yoga practice, the challenging and the sublime, everywhere. You may make it up in volume. Check out Yoga to the People in Berkeley- packed, all colors, creeds, economic classes. It's pay what you can. So is Rusty Wells studio, Urban Flow. I teach fighters/boxers, and old people, in addition to regular vinyasa flow, and the populations that haven't had it the most are the most rewarding to teach- it's not seva, it's a spiritual calling. It's that one single new insight about their bodies and minds set them on fire, whereas in many of the big urban studios, its "what pose or insight have you got for me that I haven't already done". And if you're really interested in this question from a broader perspective, must read /listen to Tim Wise on white privilege. Now, that will get your heart and awareness clarified. Whoa. More people doing real yoga, tailored to their body and circumstance, increases awareness and creates transformation from within.

    • Chelsea says:

      I strongly agree with most of the thoughts you expressed here, Christine, but I do want to point out that making yoga more accessible is often more complex than simply opening donation-based studios. As a former manager of a donation based studio, I have to say that it often "works" better in theory than in practice. The fact is that for a donation-based studio to stay afloat, at least in its first few years, it needs to be located in an area of town with a higher concentration of wealthy students. We went through so many teachers in our first year (including myself), because teachers simply could not make enough money to keep food on their plate. Now, the studio is doing wonderfully, but 90% of its students are middle to high income people who $8-$20 a class. Sure, in theory that allows lower income students to come in and take classes. But in my experience that's not who attends classes. Donation based studios have to target a wealthier group of students to stay afloat. I've attended many donation-based studios around the country, and in all of them I saw the typical white, lululemon-wearing yoga student. That's not to say I think they're a bad idea, but I do think the issue is more complex.

      Also, as I pointed out in the article I do think we need to question why it is we think yoga is this panacea that needs to be made accessible (or forced upon) everyone in the world. Sure, the practice has enormous benefits, but when you're just trying to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly… maybe our service doesn't need to be yoga classes, but rather job skills, family support programs, etc.

      Great thoughts, and I really appreciate your sharing. The statistics you cite are incredibly interesting; that could be an article in and of itself!

      • Christine says:

        Sorry it took so long for me to see this. And thank you for sharing the perspectives from the owner side. I have another thing kicking around for me on the pink collar ghetto of yoga as fitness, too, which seems in contrast to this earlier opinion- there is income, and there is seva, I suppose. You had very clear insight into my thinking by the way…and that is I do think yoga, work on the self leads to awareness and thriving in all the other categories- roof over head and work success and getting off substances and relationships and all that. There are other paths too, of course, but yoag is, as Eddie Modestini calls it, a "self-reliant healing system"- it moves off the mat on its own, a natural unfolding. Light on Yoga was right! Who knew? Love the magazine, what you're doing.

        • dsunshine says:

          –Apple-Mail-15-750657349 Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Type: text/html; charset=us-ascii agree

  • justthisbreath says:

    I was asked to post from facebook…is there a button you can press and do that? Probably not, so I'm re-writing…I forget exactly what I said before…this is probably close, though. Well, first of all, you write very well, Chelsea. Very well…and you absolutely make some great points. However, those great points are viewed from a particular perspective. It's the same perspective that makes you want to be the yoga do-gooder. And I know cause I have it too. Thin, white (cause even though I'm 1/8 Native American, it barely shows so I don't want to claim injustice where I feel none), liberal, yoga-doing, Buddhist-practicing, chai-drinking, vegan, practically any stereotype you can think of, woman. Except that I'm way older than you and here's another part of that stereotype that I just recently recognized. We never do enough. Never. We could have done it better, harder, stronger, and more frequently. We beat ourselves up for not being good enough. I'm not saying I've transcended any of this. I haven't. I just recognize it now. I recognize it in my friends. I see homeless people in the street every day and think, "If I was just a better person, I would take them home." I'm a psych nurse working in a substance abuse facility with 4 sons still living at home. I volunteer for 2 different non-profits, teach yoga at another drug rehab, and have never taken a penny from the "for-profit" studio where I also teach yoga. I advocate constantly for donation classes. But you know what? It will never be enough. I'm not saying any of this to complain cause I totally love the things I do. Maybe I'm saying it just because I need to advocate for myself and my stereotypical sisters (who aren't always white, by the way) who feel responsible, not only for saving the world but for saving it in the most emotionally authentic and environmentally conscious manner possible. We don't need to save the whole world…saving our own little portion of it is good enough.

    • Chelsea says:

      Hmmm. Interesting thoughts, justthisbreath. What you say about "never enough" certainly resonates with me, although I'm not sure there's anything wrong with being in a place of "not enough."

      What if Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa had decided to stop striving for a more peaceful world because they decided "Well, it will never be enough"? Can we accept that yes– the tiny footprint we leave on the world won't be "enough" to eliminate suffering altogether — but continue with forward with our dharma anyway, unattached to the outcome?

      I think there's a fine distinction between striving to better the world and striving to save the world. Like I said in the article, I don't pose these questions from a place of self-flagellating judgment, I'm truly hopeful. Optimistic. Heartened by the subtle shifts I do see in our community. I know it will never be enough, but what is enough anyway? According to the yogic sages (and as Barbra Brady wrote about earlier this week), it's all a big divine play (Lila) anyway. :)

      • justthisbreath says:

        No, I really didn't mean it wouldn't “be enough” to save the world…I meant it would never “be enough” to allow me to think I'm doing enough, helpful enough, environmental enough, spiritual enough…I could easily think of 50 more adjectives. I absolutely feel that many women harm themselves and harm other women by amping up what's considered “good enough.” Here's an example for you. The owner of the “for-profit” studio where I work is nationally known (by yoga people) to be a super-spiritual guy – again, I'm not complaining, just saying – people fall all over this guy. He does not let anybody even run a donation class. About half of us don't take any salary (by choice) but you'd think that would at least be good for one weekly donation class, right? He has some quick line about the Gita saying you need to serve your community…not the community of others. Believe me, I know my community there…some nights my car is the only one that's not a Mercedes or Jaguar. He doesn't feel one bit bad about anything…his job is to provide yoga and he does it. He has never had any other kind of job because he's always had a trust fund. He's the one in our area though that people go to for spiritual advice. Now the complete other side of that involves the people you mentioned…there are others, too. That's what they did though. Gandhi's whole life revolved around his mission. He didn't work 40 hours somewhere AND work on freeing India non-violently AND do 2 nights in homeless shelter. His children say they barely knew him. Same with MLK's children. Mother Teresa didn't have any…haha. My point is that nobody can do it all but many of us are trying. It's not healthy! What I've done in the past few years is really limit myself to the nonprofits that I love with all my heart. They might not being curing cancer or AIDS but they're important to me. I have to say no to many, many good causes; when you spread yourself out too much you're just not that helpful to anyone.I guess the reaction I had to the initial article was this: Why critique other women's style of “giving back”? At least they're doing something. Believe me, there are plenty of people doing nothing. The strong reaction is because I've done the same thing with myself for years….it's gotta be better, more, stronger, happier, more “green”, you name it. And ultimately, it's all about feeling like “I'm okay…I'm enough.”Just this breath…

        • Chelsea says:

          Ah, I see what you're saying now. And I feel you. I think in many ways we're saying the same thing from different angles. Grabbing onto an elephant and going "it's a leg!" and "it's an arm!" at the same time. I think we're both communicating very similar sentiments.

          Regarding your question, "Why critique other women's style of "giving back?" however… I tried very hard to share from my personal experience rather than point the finger at someone else. My intention was certainly not to criticize others' path toward service… we all have different skills, interests, and dispositions that affect how we serve.

          And like I said in the article, I value the fundraising model of service tremendously, but I don't personally feel like it's one I fit into at this moment in my life. I don't have a lot of money to give. I'm not an event planner. I am a very hands on, in the trenches kind of person. I've grappled with feelings of inadequacy in the past because I don't have hundreds or thousands of dollars to give and felt pressured to squeeze into the only model of giving I saw before me at the time. Any questions I raised about those fundraising events were meant to be a reflection on my personal experience, not a critique of someone else.

          Just this breath, indeed. :)

          • justthisbreath says:

            Yeah, yeah…I get that and that's great! And certainly at different times of your life, your style of giving changes. I guess it was the part about “aren't we disconnected from the people, etc.” because some of those wealthy fundraiser people might have young children and can't go teach yoga in Haiti. I'm not all that into fundraising either but the reality is, some people have to be or a lot of stuff will not get done. And yeah, you're right that most people assume that's what it's all about….Just this breath…

  • I hear you, sister. I love your initiative taking yoga to the streets :) Two things:
    1) Africa is a continent, not a country. You know that, but so very many people seem to have forgotten. Africa encompasses so very many different stories, not just the story of disease, poverty and violence. Those are important stories, but let's be clear: not all of Africa needs saving. Let's get specific about who we're serving and where, and help educate people on the vast, rich diversity of this complex continent (a beautiful TED talk on just this subject: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_d
    2) There is an amazing yoga NGO in Rwanda called Project Air (http://project-air.org/) that is teaching yoga as a way of combating the aftermath of the genocide. While they would love your donations, they also love volunteers to come and assist in their programs. It may be impractical for people to travel to Rwanda, but there are also so many places to teach locally- existing programs in shelters and prisons, and plenty of places for trailblazing. If you hear the spiritual call, there is no lack of opportunities.

    Keep spreading the love around, ya'll. xoxo

    • Chelsea says:

      Hi Kirsten. Thank you for your kind words. Studio to Streets has been an amazing gift for me personally. I'm certainly "being served." :)

      Point 1: Absolutely. I try not to overgeneralize when speaking about the Africa and the complexity of the countries and cultures it contains. You point out a very important oversight I wish I could have addressed in this article. When I used the word Africa in this piece, I was really trying to reflect back (in a slightly sardonic way) the way we tend to glamorize service projects done outside the US (especially those in Africa). In fact, I originally had way too many quotation marks (e.g. "economically broken continent") in this article and ended up editing out most of them. Perhaps I should have left them there; my message may have been a bit clearer that way. I certainly didn't mean to suggest that Africa IS an economically broken continent, but that's the way many people refer to it (or at least think about it).

      Point 2: I've been following the work of Project Air for over a year now and have always had applying to volunteer with them in my back pocket as a "backup plan" my Peace Corps plan doesn't go through. We'll see. I've been in the medical review for PC for over 6 months now, and the government just keeps cutting their programs and funding. At some point, I would very much like to spend some time overseas working with and writing about organizations like Project Air.

  • IfeTogun says:

    I'm gonna wonder something aloud that's been banging around my brain for years, and it's very closely related to this idea that it is up to us to save Africa (I realize your article was about much more than this, but this is the part that caught my attention, but what I have to say does general to the other parts of your article).

    Here's what I’ve been thinking. What if we didn't try to help? Would Africa simply vanish? Would the seas open up and swallow it whole leaving a big gaping hole where a continent once stood? But my big question is: is there some small level (or maybe large) of arrogance associated with what you've called seva? By this I mean is it just a desire to do the "right" thing? And from what I understand any action taken out of selfish desire, no matter how beautiful on the surface, is ultimately "wrong"? Or am I wrong on this?

    I think before we go bouncing around the globe attempting to save anyone, we need to first figure out our motives. Thoreau once said (and I'm seriously paraphrasing) if you see someone coming towards you with the intention of doing you good, run the other way. Another way to put it is the all too well known "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

    Now I'm not suggesting that we abandon the “poor” Africans to their fate. I am suggesting that we not jump in EVERY single time like an overprotective parent who never lets her child learn to do it on his own. And that's just what it seems like to me, a parent-child relationship (America knows best). I mean every teenage girl who who's ever done a downward dog suddenly feels "compassion" for Africa and need to run off to its rescue. But "remove the beam from your eye, before you remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

    Perhaps it's not the Africans you're trying to rescue; maybe (and by this I mean most likely) it is yourself. Somewhere in there is the idea that by helping others I am doing a good thing, and by doing a good thing I'll feel better about myself, and when I feel better about myself then I'll finally love myself. Not everyone of course, but I'd bet more than a few. Africa is not your personal salvation station. Africa is my mother, and you treat her like a festering sore.

    I think you’re right when you say that it’s easier to send money than it is to participate in actual helping relationships. But I would say that even going to Africa (or any other poor country) is another way of avoiding such relationships. Africa is a so far away and so divorced from everything familiar, that its very easy to idealize it and whatever relationships happened out there (“oh those beautiful people who still manage to smile despite their poverty. If only America could be this way.”) Actually, you could do the same thing by going to a poor neighborhood right here in the States. Same deal. Relative to your world, it might as well be Africa.

    Who among us doesn’t need a little help sometime? I say if you truly want to be of service, find someone who reminds you of you and then help THAT person. That’s the true mirror of your motives. Can you see yourself in another’s disaster and not run away?

    Clearly this one has been rankling me for some time. Sorry if the tone comes off a bit angry; it's not intended to be…but I'm not going to edit it because it does convey how I truly feel about this whole "selfless service" thing that so many yogis think they are performing. I’d rather you just say “Hey, look I’m here cause according to the yoga principles that I read about or was told about, I’m suppose to help people. That’s why I’m here. The whole “I feel such a welling up of compassion in my soul I need to express it”, even if true, brings your motives into question.

    As I said in a comment to another post, “sometimes treating people kindly [out of selfish motives] is just as bad as treating them with contempt.”

    • Raini says:

      Interesting. I can certainly understand the intended message here, but the author using "we" to encompass society is a little insulting. Perhaps the affluent (and the author) are simply unaware of the mass of non-affluent people that ARE active and interactive in serving others? Be it as simple as adjunct (part-time hours with full-time work) teaching on a less than adequate salary and without retirement funds or medical insurance.

    • justthisbreath says:

      Nicely said! In fact, no good deed is truly selfless…we can all raise higher together or sink lower together. And there should be acknowledgement of that. When I help someone with an eating disorder, for instance, it helps in my own recovery from anorexia. When I listen compassionately to a grieving parent, it helps my own sorrow at losing a child. There's nothing wrong with it not being selfless; in fact, the active connections are truly inspiring!

    • I'm glad you bring up the "america knows best" attitude, as I have felt for a long time that "charities," especially involving Africa has become more damaging than helpful. What I'm talking about is the political undertones of imperialistic ambitions that continue to exist. I find that attitude of "help the poor black man" is both ignorant and racist. Although, I think the average do-gooder has the best of intentions I also feel they are unknowingly hindering the growth of so-called 3rd world nations and the individuals that live in them.

      While sending money, food and clothing offers a short term relief I think the long term economic effects are worth looking into. I think of the quote "give a man a fish and he is fed for a day, teach a man to fish and he his fed for a lifetime." That's where I think politics has played a part in how our charities function.

      If you treat someone as poor, defenseless, and incapable long enough it becomes an accepted fact. In the meantime Africa remains a third world country while the United States (and other 1st world countries) continue to play the part of a rich and generous benefactor.

      Ultimately I think it's an attitude that has existed for too long. Why empower a group of people when you could give them just enough to stay at bay? After all if someone else is at the bottom of the food chain we're still on top.

    • Chelsea says:

      Whew, what a comment, Ife. Thinking that it could easily be a whole article in and of itself!

      So, for the most part, I'm absolutely in agreement with what you've iterated here. In fact, I keep going back and re-reading my article trying to figure out what it is I said that made you think I was suggesting anything otherwise. It sounds like we're saying the same thing.

      For example, you ask "is there some small level (or maybe large) of arrogance associated with what you've called seva?" In my article, I say that part of the reason I felt uneasy about this so-called service was that "…I’d never stepped foot in a homeless shelter or asked the single mother of six in Kenya what she truly needed help with." Here, I was trying to point out the arrogance inherent in that model. I had to cut out a lot of my original article for length's sake, and I almost wish I could show you that one… I had an entire paragraph on how assumptive it is that we think we're the ones serving, that we're the privileged people, and that think we know what people need to begin with.

      I'm also confused at why you think I'm trying to "rescue Africans". Firstly, these thoughts motivated me to start an entire organization dedicated to connecting with people in my local community. Secondly, I state very clearly that I feel uncomfortable with the idea of sending money off to Africa when we have people ASKING for support right in our own backyards– not just people in homeless shelters or jails, but our own friends and relatives. I think our idea of "seva" or "service" is far too limited if we think it's only delivering meals on wheels or sending money. We serve our friends when we're there for them in a hard time. We serve our children when we take time to give them the attention and guidance they deserve.

      And, if we feel called to (not guilted into, mind you), then my goodness, why not follow the call? My experience has been that I feel "served" myself when I volunteer at a local women's shelter, prison, or wherever. Often, my motives for doing so have little to do with "helping" someone else… they're quite selfish actually. Spending time with the kids at the juvenile detention center makes me feel less lonely. As cliche as it sounds, when you "give" to others, you really do give to yourself.

      Perhaps I'm missing something, but it sounds like we're saying a lot of the same thing. Perhaps most so in your statement that we're probably of greatest service to those who remind us of ourselves. I have to say, the more I do this, the more EVERYONE seems to remind me of myself. Because really, when it comes down to it, we're human. Man, woman, gay, lesbian, Texas, African, or whatever… the differences really fall away when you're truly present with someone else.

  • yogacommunitymontreal says:

    this is a great post, chelsea, and i love the tough questions you've asked here.

    service is my primary yoga practice, and it rarely takes the form of yoga-thon fundraisers (which, as you point out, aren't bad in and of themselves; but they can be disassociated from the people and causes they're supporting). my years of practicing yoga have given me the inner strength and clarity to get involved in my community in concrete ways, most notably by serving on the board of directors of an amazing Montreal-based grassroots organization that provides health services for youth (including STD testing, clean needle programs and counselling for trans youth).

    i love this organization because it reflects my values of health, creative expression and progressive politics. because the work they do is unlike anything else in the city. because they practice collaborative working styles and active listening.

    board work is challenging, enriching and rewarding. it allows me to give back and ensure that my resources stay close to home, in my community. i've become more aware and engaged with what's happening around me, in my own neighbourhood. it also allows me to take what i've learned in my yoga practice (respect, connection, compassion) and apply it in concrete and real ways. it's powerful and empowering.

  • roseanne says:

    hi! roseanne here! i just posted a comment as "yogacommunitymontreal," but i'd rather it come under my own name and link to my blog. could you please *not* accept that comment and then paste the response in here? (does that make sense? it should be possible in wordpress comments moderation!). thanks!!

  • Wow, honey…ouch! bed of nails… But I'm just hearing this as the phoenix energy to your platform of Studio to Streets. That part is the awesomeness that comes out of it all.

    • Chelsea says:

      Oh, Jen! I hope you didn't feel this article was a criticism of you or your seva challenge! It certainly wasn't my intention to criticize anyone or suggest someone's path of service was somehow wrong or not enough. As I said, "I place tremendous value in the role [of fundraising events] in supporting organizations that work with people in areas of the world we can’t easily reach."

      Plus, I think Off The Mat's global seva challenge goes way beyond what I was pointing too here, which is a lack of connection or awareness to the individuals we're apparently serving. My understanding is that seva challengers take an inordinate amount of time educating themselves about the populations they're serving, and (if successful) do in fact connect in person with the individuals and organizations they raise money for.

      Really, the questions I was asking were directed toward myself, as a donor and participant at those events. Was I involved in service in a way that fit with my own personal dharma? Was I letting someone else do the serving for me? Of course, it's wonderful for us to all support one another in whatever paths we follow… be it fundraising, volunteer in person, etc. As I said, I love the sense of community raised at those events. And I'm so inspired by you and Anne for all you two achieved this year.

      • Lol… you know I had to spend the whole morning processing what triggered me about your article. I know you throw some tough cookies, but that was a prickly one to me. So I had to examine the doubt and limitations of my own seva work, bringing me back again to my intentions. So thanks for that scrub clean. ;)

        That's another important point: to individually and globally check and re-check of our seva work to make sure it stays authentic and sustainable.

        • Chelsea says:

          Oh, Jen! It makes me cringe to hear that what I expressed in this article felt "prickly" (good word for it) to you. I read it through and through several times before posting to make sure it was clear that my intention was NOT to suggest that one path of service was better than another… especially because I so admire you and many other dear friends who have chosen to integrate fundraising into their service (which like I said, I don't think is a bad thing at all as long as the connection to human beings is there too!).

          I too am in a place processing and re-evaluating my own motivations to serve, and sharing it on such an open forum can be a bit dangerous I suppose… since I don't have it all worked out yet. But perhaps that's a good thing, and why its so important we speak from personal experience rather than a "this is how it should be" frame of mind. Like you said, these conversations provoke us all to check and re-check what we're doing in our lives, and the comments left here always do that for me. I think being willing to plunge headfirst into the deep questions, while as you say staying grounded in our own intentions, can make us all more empowered and effective in whatever service we share.

          Pranams,
          Chelsea

  • Lawrence says:

    Chelsea, you are beautiful and talented, i admire you.
    Recently I have discovered a proven systematic set of techniques that will allow us to enjoy the richest whole body benefits of yoga… from the top of our head to the bottom of our toes.