Those of us who have attended any kind of yoga class know that the health benefits of the practice are innumerable. While some of the postures may be difficult at first, it’s typical to leave a yoga class feeling peaceful, refreshed, and renewed. Yoga allows us to pause, meditate, stretch, think, breathe, and be.
Somewhere along the line, humanitarians realized that the aforementioned reasons provided a solid argument for why yoga should become available to suffering, struggling youth. They joined forces by introducing yoga to exploited, trafficked, and abandoned children. Many critics opposed the idea, wondering how something as (seemingly) meek as yoga could ever bring about healing in the lives of children who had been sold by their parents, forced into prostitution, and faced other incredibly difficult hardships. They argued that simple stretches and breathing exercises would never be enough to allow these broken children to truly open up and begin to heal. They were wrong.
Take yogi Hala Khouri for example. Khouri had always been passionate about yoga—she based her Master’s thesis at Columbia University on the practice, after all. She channeled her passion into purpose when she founded the yoga-based non-profit organization, Off the Mat, Into the World, alongside friends and fellow yogis, Seane Corn and Suzanne Sterling. According to the organization’s website, “OTM uses the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and to ignite grass roots social change. We see yogis everywhere taking their yoga off the mat into the world.” Khouri, Corn, and Sterling’s lives had all been changed by their yoga practice, and they knew fellow yogis who had experienced the same transformation. They knew that they could spread the gift of this renewal and peace if they banded together to bring it to those in need.
And band together they did. Since 2008, OTM has provided yogis with the opportunity to serve in five different countries, ranging from Uganda to Haiti, by bringing yoga to impoverished communities and suffering children. Collectively, the participants in the program have raised nearly $2 million for communities in need. They’ve witnessed incredible transformations as children have opened up, both literally and figuratively—their muscles are stretched and their hearts are softened. Yoga is a noninvasive way of encouraging individuals to express themselves, to meditate and reflect in a peaceful place. Many children who were forced to work in impoverished conditions or were sold into slavery by their parents have never known the true meaning of peace. They were always afraid, always on the run. Once they have been placed in rehabilitative care, despite their safety, they are still on edge. It takes willing, committed volunteers to help children and adults find the safety they need to communicate their fears, hopes, and dreams. Yoga creates that very environment.
Still not convinced of yoga’s therapeutic powers? Take a look a this video of Hala Khouri and her volunteers teaching a yoga clinic at a high school in Venice, CA, over the course of a few months. The video chronicles the changes that these girls, many of whom come from broken homes and troubled situations, encounter while in their yoga classes, physically and especially emotionally. Because of the safe space created through the practice, these teenage girls are able to express their fears, communicate their hopes, and verbalize their dreams.
Learn more about how you can get involved in bringing yoga to youth in need by visiting www.offthematintotheworld.org.
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