Practicing Karma Yoga: Yoga Reaches Out

As we know, yoga began not as a “workout” but as a path of spiritual and personal development. Accordingly, service to others, seva, selfless service in the Sanskrit translation, was one of yoga’s original components. Karma yoga, another branch of yoga, is also based on this principle. In common Western speech, karma is the principle of receiving what you have put out there in the world (for good or ill).

What is Karma Yoga?

Karma yoga is really a whole lifestyle of service to others, however. This karma comes back to help us grow as individuals in community. As Patanjali described, “when you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all of your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world.”

The Yoga Reaches Out Organization 

Yoga Reaches Out (YRO) is an entity that operates under these teachings. The non-profit 501c3  organization began with founder and director Sarah Gardner in 2010. There was originally one New England chapter. There are now seven: Yoga Reaches Out New England (YRONE), Yoga Reaches Out Bay Area (YROBA), Yoga Reaches Out Albany (YRONY), Yoga Reaches Out Los Angeles (YROLA), Yoga Reaches Out Connecticut (YROCT), Yoga Reaches Out South Carolina (YROSC), and Yoga Reaches Out New York City (YRONYC).  

The organization runs annual fundraising “yogathons” in each chapter. Funds go towards children’s causes, such as pediatrics, as well as toward yoga-related international charitable organizations like Africa Yoga Project. With this fundraising, two other important things blossom—greater awareness of important causes and growth of yoga communities united in service.

Gardner came up with the concept of the organization in 2009. She wanted yoga practitioners to have an accessible way to practice their seva, to serve in joyful community. “Not everyone can run a marathon,” she explains. “We raise funds for valuable causes while empowering the yoga community to do what they love and give back at the same time.” Also empowering is the autonomy that the organization grants to separate regional chapters. Each has its own committee, which chooses causes that are meaningful to the local community.

For instance, the Connecticut committee elected to raise funds and awareness for Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to providing holistic trauma treatment to those affected by the Newtown school shooting tragedy. Their event was held on October 15th in Trumbull, CT. The San Francisco chapter has dedicated funding towards Children’s Hospital Oakland, Children’s Hospital San Francisco, and Citizens School.

In April 2016, YRONE held its sixth Yogathon at Gillette Stadium’s Field House. The chapter is thrilled, describes Gardner, to have raised over one million dollars for Boston Children’s Hospital through these six events. Funds have been delegated toward various units in the hospital, including the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Center), heart care center, and leukemia treatment center. YRO has also recently started a Wellness Center in the hospital. That ensures that the organization’s legacy extends beyond the funds and awareness raised at a one-time event.

What accounts for this success, this money raised and scale achieved? It’s a grassroots effort wherein supporters seek the further support of friends, family and colleagues. Participants pledge $25 of support to register, and commit to raise an additional $250. “Fundraising can be daunting for many people,” says Gardner. “They say ‘I don’t have the time,’ ‘I don’t know how,’ but they’re often surprised to see how those they know really step up!” she describes. Apart from the intangible good feeling of giving back, fundraising participants get the concrete reward of a full day of yoga practice, for $25, and a little time spent fundraising. Relative to typical yoga class pricing in 2016, that’s quite a value!

Yoga Reaches Out Event Structure

Every YRO event runs roughly the same. Separate chapters make small changes to their own events as necessary and desired. Registration begins at 9:00 am. There’s also a marketplace of conscious food and drink choices, yoga wear and supplies, et cetera. Five “Local Presenters,” well-known teachers local to the chapter, lead an all-levels class from 10:00 am until noon. “These teachers work together diligently before the event to plan a well-rounded and fun practice,” explains Gardner.

After a lunch break, “National Lead Presenters” take the helm. These are renowned teaching masters from around the country, and some from around the world. Bryan Kest, Baron Baptiste, Elena Brower, Seane Corn, Rolf Gates, Kathryn Budig, and Ana Forrest are among those who have served in this role. That rounds out four hours of all-levels, balanced practice. Gardner points out that it’s not required to practice the whole day. There’s a Closing Circle at 4:30, with some other special presenters, such as musicians and Acro Yogis.

How will this organization continue into the future? “We’d love to see a chapter in every major city in the country,” says Gardner. She humbly asserts that it’s this nation’s yoga communities that have led YRO to grow and its good work to flourish. To anyone seeking to give back through practice, or in any other capacity, she says, “Go where your heart takes you, don’t let the fear stop you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.” That’s living the practice. Organizations like Yoga Reaches Out clearly demonstrate that it’s so much more than a workout. 

Learn more about Yoga Reaches Out, register for an event, or donate here

Another Karma Yoga article from YogaUOnline – Karma Yoga Heroes: Yoga Impact

Kathryn Boland is a RCYT and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is originally from Rhode Island, attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in Dance (where she first encountered yoga), and Lesley University for an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy. She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans – all of which are demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!


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