A recap and reflection of my time with Yogis in Service, a non-profit organization in Buffalo, NY that provides free yoga to underserved communities.
There’s something to movement that’s….healing. Not only for the body, but for the mind. It nourishes our souls, clears our heads, and makes us feel alive.
This is especially true of yoga.
I myself have practiced since the time I was in middle school and through the years my relationship with yoga has grown and changed. However, it wasn’t until my experience working with Yogis in Service these past few months that I truly grasped how powerful yoga can be. For the yogis, for the instructors, for the community as a whole.
You’re probably unfamiliar with YIS if you’re not from Buffalo, so let me tell you a little about this amazing charity and what they are doing on a weekly basis to heal the community around them.
YIS is a non-profit in Buffalo started by Catherine Cook-Cottone, a local yoga instructor with a passion for helping others and making a difference through yoga, and a group of other like minded yoga instructors from the area. The mission of Yogis in Service is to deliver access to yoga and mindfulness as tools for self-betterment through community-based classes in schools, hospitals, universities, community centers, and treatment centers. They believe in empowering, inspiring, and developing the community to prosper and change for the good of all.
Here’s a short video with some more details…
When I was told of the service-learning requirement for my digital photography class this semester at school, my mind immediately went to YIS as the place where I wanted to spend my time.
So, why YIS? Well, as you know, I have a passion for helping others live healthier lives. This includes mind, body, and spiritual wellness. Pretty much everything that yoga helps achieve, right? I think so. And I am even more convinced now that I have seen the transformations first hand.
I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I drove to the small church where the classes are held. Would I be welcome? Would I be interrupting? Would the yoga be like what I am used to?
All I can say is I immediately felt at ease upon walking into the backroom where the yoga takes place. The room was fill of deep breathing, calmness, and focus. Everyone was in tune with their own practice and not worried about the external worries in their day-to-day lives. In fact, this was pointed out to me directly from one of the yogis. Miss Diane, a participant who has been with YIS from the beginning, talked to me after one of the classes about how much yoga is helping her mind and body.
She remarked to me that “the poverty and violence” are gone when she is “moving and breathing” through the poses. She’s been able to reduce her stress and have some much-needed ‘me time’ that she doesn’t often get with a houseful of kids. Miss Diane was also excited about all she learned about nutrition from the healthy snacks and community discussions that take place after classes. (You know I love that aspect!)
She’s not only learning how to treat her body physically well, but also learning how to nourish it for optimal performance. A funny memory I have with her occurred after one of the classes when bananas were provided as the snack, Ms. Diane stocked up and proclaimed “I’m saving these to make some banana and Miracle Whip sandwiches later!”. A combination I surely had never considered.
It’s true the yoga itself is making a difference in the participants flexibility, mobility, and strength. However it’s the community and relationships that I see developed between the instructors and the students that are really making a difference. It’s conversations like the one I had above, the laughs I hear during the community meetings, the smiles exchanged when a new pose is nailed, and the inspirational words that are spoken throughout the classes that really resonate with me.
When you are in the Yogis in Service room practicing with others you are their equals. No one is focused on competing with others or thinking about what socio-economic class the person next to them comes from. On the contrary, everyone is focused on their own intention for the class, the way their body is moving, and their breath. I see more focus and determination in these yogis than I see in classes I’ve paid to go to. Unlike a commercial yoga class, Yogis In Service classes are all about of a tuning into your own practice while simultaneously being part of a bigger, more powerful group experience.
I love that all ages, genders, and fitness levels are invited to attend the classes. I’ve seen everyone from 60-year-old women who do chair yoga to young kids of grade school age. Everyone is there, everyone is excited to participate, and everyone is thankful for being given this amazing opportunity from YIS.
Overall, everyone there always talks about how much the community is changing. Whether that is directly correlated to YIS or not is hard to tell, but Diane (and the other participants) see a lot of good, positive change happening around them. That gives me hope for the future of Buffalo as a whole and proves to me that yoga is so much more than a form of fitness.
What did I take away from this experience, you may ask? Well for one thing, I became more connected with my camera and all the beauty that it can capture. Since investing my first real DSLR camera earlier this year, I’ve really only used it for food photography. This project with YIS however has shown me that there is so much more potential behind my lens. I always thought yoga poses for beautiful…almost as if a greater power is creating art with the human form. The thing is, during a yoga class you don’t really have the opportunity to look around and admire the other participants form. You’re focused on you and your practice. But given the vantage point I was allowed during class I was able to see art come to life right before my eyes. Sure, not every pose and posture was perfect. Sure, people fell out of holds or had to try again. But THAT is what makes yoga (and art!) authentic and real.
I, not only, was able to capture beautifully formed human figures, but I also captured the joy, the focus, the determination, the exasperation, the triumph, the defeat, and the FUN that took place in each and every class. Those elements are the true art.
In addition to my growth as a photographer, I also was able to learn more about a cause that I am already so passionate about. Healthy living should not be restricted to certain demographics just because of differing socio-economic status’. On the contrary, the people who are in most need of healthy living information and advisement are those in the underprivileged classes. Taking care of ones self, mind, body, and soul, is crucial to be healthy and happy. And THAT is the greatest wealth one can have.
So why am I sharing this with all of you? I WANT TO SPREAD THE WORD! Everyone needs hear about YIS and all the good they are doing here in Buffalo (and in the world as a whole!). I wanted to make you aware of such a great cause in case you feel a connection to them like I have. There are so many ways you can help them further their mission and I want my experience to be an inspiration for YOU to get involved. Here’s a few ways you can help
If you’re local to WNY…
-participate in the free, weekly community yoga classes
-attend the monthly meetings
-bring a healthy snack to share at one of their events
-donate a gently used or new yoga mat, strap, or block
-volunteer your time to assist with operational tasks
If you’re not local…
–give a monetary donation (currently they are trying to raise money to build a yoga studio on the East side of Buffalo to service that part of the community!)
This was a life-changing project to be involved with and I can’t wait to continue my work with Yogis in Service into the future.
Are you involved with any charities that promote healthy living for the mind and body?
What do you think of Yogis in Service?
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