Monday, June 30, 2014

Pose for a Purpose

A few years back, I saw a poster for a yoga festival in the park in Campbell. It featured several of my favorite teachers, and some I didn't yet know. I couldn't make the festival, but I remember thinking what a great idea! There are outdoor yoga festivals in San Francisco all the time, but this was the first one I remember seeing in my area.

Several years passed, but the seed of the yoga festival continued to germinate.

I had been volunteering for Cancer CAREpoint for years when we began discussing ways to raise funds and expand our programs. We originally connected because of the yoga for cancer survivorship classes that I teach. Cancer CAREpoint offers free services to people in the Silicon Valley area who are  dealing with cancer, no matter what their heal insurance status is, where they are being treated or what type of cancer they have been diagnosed with. Since I welcome the same population into my classes, it felt like the perfect fit - and it has been!

After working with them for some time, I realized that I wanted to do more. Suddenly, the idea of the yoga festival blossomed! I thought, if I could get some of my friends to donate some classes, we could raise a few thousand dollars for this nonprofit.

"Kindness Tree" logo,
When I Was Cold community
Six months later, and the idea has flourished! We currently have over 20 teachers who have agreed to donate their time to this cause, and an additional staff of 10 volunteers who have done everything to help me - from borrowing paddle boards to connecting me with sound crew, and all of the thousands of little details in between! I am so very fortunate to have these people to work with, because I have never planned anything this large before, and I'm so invested in making it a success.

What would a success mean?

I have several goals for this event:
1. People fall in love with practicing yoga outdoors.
2. People fall in love with the concept of practicing yoga as a service to others.
3. People learn about Cancer CAREpoint and uses their programs when a cancer diagnosis changes their lives.
4. We raise lots of money so that Cancer CAREpoint can continue their great work, and more:

  • $15,000 raised will cover the expenses of the event, plus support the current programs
  • $25,000 raised will support current programs, but for more people - we can offer a larger space for educational meetings
  • $50,000 raised will expand programs and help us go to where people need us, instead of asking them to come to us

As I posted recently, I anticipate the next question is, What Can I Do? There are so many ways that you can get involved in this, but I'll only mention the top few. You are always welcome to tell me about other ways that might help.

To get involved:

  • Buy a ticket; there are half-day and full-day tickets available, and there are Early Bird prices in effect right now. Once those limited tickets are sold out, the prices go up. Buy your tickets HERE.
  • Spread the word; let all your friends and family know about the event. Vasona Lake Park is a wonderful venue, and we'll have classes on the lawn, the trails and the lake (on the stand-up paddle boards) to choose from. In addition, there will be live music, fitness demos, vendors and food trucks!
  • Donate an item to our auction; we'll be holding a silent auction to help raise funds, so let us know if you have a service or item that might raise money. Contact Heidi to coordinate.
  • Become a vendor; are you a local business looking to increase your customers and does your business fit the yoga student demographic? Contact Michelle asap to find out about becoming a vendor.
  • Sponsor us; we are looking for all kinds of sponsors in all types of ways, and can offer several levels of promotional benefits. Contact Whitney or Lorien for more information.
  • Volunteer; we need an army the day of the event to help with parking, registration, ushering classes, etc. Let Janine know if you're interested.

Why "for a purpose"?
Traditional yoga practices include the idea that all the postures, breathing and meditation are really tools to make us better able to serve others in the world. As I've written before, it doesn't matter if you can wrap your legs behind your head if you can't be kind to others around you. The more you practice, the clearer that becomes. We purify in order to see the truth, and the truth is,

"In the end, only kindness matters." (Jewel)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Questions

Teaching yoga to people with chronic pain or people dealing with a cancer diagnosis affords me a unique opportunity to witness our universal desire to reduce suffering. The most common question asked by all populations is:

"What can I do?"

I decided to take some time to share the different circumstances that give rise to this question. You may find yourself among these, or not. Keep it in mind the next time you encounter someone suffering.

I am just out of surgery to have my cancer removed and I am so scared. I don't want to hurt myself, but I want to get back into my body and feel normal again. What can I do?

I'm in pain. Everything seems to make it worse, but sitting still makes me crazy. What can I do?

In some form or another, I get asked these questions nearly every week. Our bodies were made to move, but what if moving hurts, and what if that sensation is tied to fear? I don't pretend to know what these people are going through. So, more often than not, I say nothing right way. Instead, I breathe. I pause to connect with all my senses and then notice what I feel. I then ask them to do the same. Sometimes, that's all that is needed. They already know what to do and how to do it, and I am only a reminder.

My brain will tell me that hopelessness has an effect on immune system, and that there is always some movement or breathing practice that we can do. The act of doing something - anything - to participate in our own well-being goes a long way towards balancing the situation. I only let my brain tell me this once my heart has checked in, though, because this person may not want to hear it.

My loved one is in a really dark place. His cancer has returned and the outlook isn't good. What can I do?

Knowing when to step in and when to hold space for someone we love is a challenge that everyone in any relationship faces. When caregivers come to me, I usually address the caregiver's issues, because that is who is in front of me. Occasionally, they will ask me about their loved one. Most of the time, I advise them to do as I do: pause, breathe and notice what your heart says. Another way to look at this is to discern the difference between empathy and sympathy. Here is a great 2 minute animation that illustrates Brene Brown's lecture on understanding the difference:

What if my doctors missed something? What if it comes back? What can I do?

My pain is so mild today that I want to tackle everything that I'm not normally up for, but I'm afraid that I'll trigger a pain flare. What can I do?

After checking in with my breath, and asking that person to check in with their breath, I then reflect on what is true in this moment. When I'm working with my own pain, it's the same process: breathe, notice, discern. There are so many stories floating around in our minds and our bodies, and not all of them are true. What's important is to keep checking in, keep noticing what's true in this moment, and then this one. The only thing we can do is live every day with awareness.

Next month, my daughter and I will be taking a service trip to Malawi. ("Voluntourism" has come under fire lately, because there have been many situations that leave the area no better or worse off after the group has left; here is an article about "voluntourism".) The group that is going includes several yoga teachers and students. At our last meeting, one of our leaders asked us to reflect on the Yamas and Niyamas - behaviors listed in the Yoga Sutras, and use them as guidelines as we enter someone else's world. One of the reasons I'm so interested in being involved in this trip is that the leaders took a very service-minded approach in organizing it. At our first meeting, they spoke about how we won't know exactly what we'll be doing to help the village until closer to our departure date, because we want them to tell us what they need, rather than us assuming we know. It struck me that this is the same approach that I use in my work. I don't know what the Malawi people we meet may need. I have some thoughts, for sure, but I'm going with an open heart and the practice of pausing and breathing to see what are the answers to the question what can I do?