Yoga is about so much more than nailing the perfect handstand or finding the latest trends. It’s about recognizing ourselves in each other: Seeing the universe in each person we meet. These teachers, nonprofits, and organizations are taking that principle one step further by giving back to their communities through their businesses, practices, and projects—demonstrating the ultimate yogic principle: union.
The teachers and organizations below are giving back to their communities by teaching yoga to underserved populations, helping put yoga in schools, making environmentally responsible decisions for the Earth, and bringing the healing practices of mindfulness to those who have experienced trauma. Through their work, they’re teaching us about seva, selfless service, and they are shining examples of how we can all use our practices to make the world a more beautiful place.
LoveYourBrain Foundation, Kevin Pearce
The LoveYourBrain Foundation is a nonprofit co-founded by former professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) just before the Olympics. The LoveYourBrain Yoga Program supports people who have experienced any level of TBI (as well as their caregivers) by providing gentle yoga and meditation classes tailored to their needs. LoveYourBrain programs are designed to build community, foster resilience, and help people understand the importance of loving your brain.
Prison Yoga Project
The Prison Yoga Project is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2002, that brings yoga and mindfulness into American prisons. Through rehabilitative yoga and mindfulness practices, prisoners learn how to connect with their minds, hearts, and bodies. They also learn skills to foster positive, healthy interactions both in prison and upon release. Mindfulness can encourage decisions that are best for their futures and help prevent them from returning to the system.
The Sonima Foundation—co-founded by Sonia Jones, a wellness advocate—works in public schools to train local educators in the Sonima Health and Wellness Curriculum, which they then assess, measure, and document. Sonima uses this information to influence the national conversation around the impact of health and wellness on children. The nonprofit's main goal is to develop policies that make health and wellness an essential component of the education system. In 2014 Jones launched Sonima.com, an editorial website with a similar mission of providing trusted information about wellness, yoga, and mindfulness practices.
CTZNWELL, Kerri Kelly
As the founder of CTZNWELL, Kerri Kelly wants to move the yoga community to come together and practice the beliefs we aspire to, mainly interconnectedness and compassion. CTZNWELL's mission is to spread the knowledge that the so-called "Wellbeing Gap" can be closed. The nonprofit works to do so by partnering with campaigns led by those most directly affected by these issues and participating in causes and activism they believe will have an impact at a systemic and global level.
Veterans Yoga Project, Dan Libby
Founded by Dan Libby, the Veterans Yoga Project works with veterans, active-duty personnel, student veteran organizations, and other nonprofits to support recovery and promote resilience among veterans, their families, and their communities. The nonprofit utilizes a practice called Mindful Resilience—breathing, meditation, mindful movement, guided rest, and gratitude—to promote health and wellbeing within veteran communities.
Bent On Learning
Bent On Learning is a nonprofit organization based in New York City that brings yoga to kids in school—not after school—but right in the classroom. Since 2001, trained yoga instructors have taught over 18,000 kids in the New York public school system during the school day. They currently hold 136 classes per week.
YogaHOPE, Sue Jones
YogaHOPE, founded by Sue Jones in 2006, developed the Trauma Informed Mind Body Program (TIMBo) specifically for oppressed, disenfranchised, and underserved women across the globe. TIMBo addresses the effects of stress and trauma on the body and mind. YogaHOPE aims to heal, empower, and serve women, and train them to be leaders and teachers within their communities.
Barefoot Yoga, Kelly LeFebvre
After a revelation about the sacredness of her yoga mat, founder Kelly LeFebvre was inspired to create a mat and a business dedicated to the beauty and sanctity of India itself. Inspired by the beauty of the patterns and colors of India, her products are beautiful and her business is green: The Eco Yoga Products are non-toxic, sustainable, and organic. Established in 1996, Barefoot Yoga also aims to reduce solid waste, use recycled products, and improve energy efficiency in their office.
Off the Mat, Into the World
Since 2007, Off the Mat, Into the World—founded by Seane Corn, Suzanne Sterling, and Hala Khouri, M.A.—has been dedicated to bridge the gap between yoga and activism. This nonprofit uses yoga, meditation, and self-inquiry to inspire yogis and leaders around the world to create conscious and sustainable change in their communities through leadership trainings, courses, service projects, and more.
Yoga 4 Homeless, Andrew Beinbrink
This nonprofit, founded by Andrew Beinbrink in 2015, provides yoga mats and classes by trained yoga instructors to the underserved homeless population, which is estimated at over 100 million globally. Issues of homelessness can include trauma such as tremendous stress, substance abuse, mental illness, sleep deprivation, and depression, among many others. Yoga can help provide tools for relief and management for some of these difficulties.
The Urban Yogis program was created in response to the increasing gun violence in a neighborhood in Queens, New York City. Erica Ford, Deepak Chopra, and Eddie Stern founded this program to help the youth in the area find tools to create transformation in their own lives and in the lives of others through community activism, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. The Urban Yogis work throughout the New York City public school system, in detention centers, at the Brooklyn Yoga Club, and at St. Philip's church. Their mission is to inspire at-risk youth to choose pathways towards positivity and peace.
This nonprofit has been sharing yoga in American Sign Language (ASL) since 2007. They also act as an education and resource center for the greater deaf yoga community by providing a network of deaf and ASL-fluent yoga teachers as well as online yoga webinars, ensuring that all students are able to access yoga teachings and classes in ASL.
YogaMobility, based in England and Wales, provides specialized yoga practices for people with all forms of physical and mental abilities. The charity's focus is to offer a “powerful and dynamic approach that focuses on and encourages ability rather than disability.” With teachers who have over 40 years of experience, current participants range from those with mild arthritis to those who can only move a finger. Every ability is welcome and certain to benefit from a YogaMobility class.
Transformation Yoga Project, Mike Huggins
Based in the greater Philadelphia area, the Transformation Yoga Project uses evidence-based yoga and mindfulness classes and tools to help people harmed by trauma from addiction, incarceration, or war. They are specially trained in trauma-sensitive yoga and work to empower people in addiction treatment centers, prisons, and VA hospitals, as well as within community programs hosted at local yoga studios. The Transformation Yoga Project was founded by Mike Huggins and is focused creating communities that are safe, supportive, and healthy.
Yoga Gives Back
Founded in 2007, Yoga Gives Back is a nonprofit organization focused on rallying the global yoga community to raise awareness and funds to alleviate poverty in the birthplace of yoga. By working with local NGOs, Yoga Gives Back hopes to redirect a fraction of the 27 billion dollars generated by the worldwide yoga phenomenon back into the communities that birthed the practice that we love so much.
Africa Yoga Project
Founded in 2007, Africa Yoga Project is dedicated to bringing all that yoga has to offer to the communities of East Africa, while offering opportunities for the global yoga community to participate and contribute. Through training teachers and building the wellness industry in the region, people in previously underserved communities are able to earn an income and become community leaders. Over 200 teachers have been trained in Kenya since 2007. Africa Yoga Project currently provides over 300 free classes per week to more than 6,000 community members.
Emergency Yoga, Donna Williams and Nicola Fell
Emergency Yoga was founded and is run by two yogis and humanitarians living and working in the field. Founders Donna Williams and Nicola Fell brought together their filmmaking experience and love of teaching yoga to their friends and colleagues to create short yoga videos. Emergency Yoga's videos are designed to help those living in rough situations, such as on the ground in humanitarian situations, to de-stress, relax, and stay strong.
Give Back Yoga Foundation
The Give Back Yoga Foundation was founded by Beryl Bender Birch and Rob Schware to bring yoga and mindfulness to underserved communities. All of their programs are evidence-based and they uphold all traditions of yoga. Give Back supports four main programs: Eat Breathe Thrive, a positive body image program; Mindful Yoga Therapy, a yoga and meditation program for veterans; the Prison Yoga Project, which teaches incarcerated men and women problem resolution; and the Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, which supports addiction recovery and relapse prevention through yoga.
Mind Body Solutions, Matthew Sanford
After a tragic accident, founder Matthew Sanford founded Mind Body Solutions in order to help people transform trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body. Based in the Twin Cities, Mind Body Solutions works with people living with disabilities, their caregivers, and healthcare professionals to offer yoga classes, workshops, and innovative mind-body techniques that are healing and empowering.
Garrison Institute's Contemplative-Based Resilience (CBR) Project
The Garrison Institute's CBR Project was founded based on the belief that action in the world is more compassionate and more effective when paired with contemplation and wisdom. The project explores the place where the practices of contemplation and engaged action intersect, and how they can be best applied in the world through conscious and sustainable action for positive social change.
For more information about how do-gooders use yoga for self-care, check out this deep-dive about yoga and humanitarian workers by our friends at Wanderlust: Helping So Much It Hurts.
Photo by Abbey Ley