Find out how to become a Yoga in Action facilitator
In June, you can take a 3-session, online course offered by Off the Mat titled "Practical Tools for Talking with Other Whites about Racism" with Beth Berila. It will be a powerful and important class for those of us learning to be effective white allies in the work of dismantling racism. Beth has done incredible work in the field of social justice and we'd love for you to get to know more about her and what she's coming with in June!
OTM: How did you become a part of the Off the Mat community?
BB: I’ve known about OTM for quite some time—seeing advertisements of its trainings and hearing the “buzz” about their valuable work. I have taken a couple OTM online trainings with Hala Khouri, specifically around the trauma of injustice (which I will probably be referencing in my own course). I also have several colleagues in the world of yoga and social justice who are connected with OTM in a variety of ways, including being some of their faculty.
What I admire most about OTM is that it offers the tools for people to create positive change. Many of us want to make the world a better place, but may not know how. We may inadvertently reproduce common missteps if we do so without support. OTM trainings help provide participants with a social justice analysis and tried-and-true practices for creating change that are informed by that analysis. I am so thrilled to be a part of the team!
OTM: We often ask in our leadership trainings: what is something that breaks your heart? And, what unique gifts are you bringing into the world (& this course)?
BB: What breaks my heart? So many things. But one that keeps happening is when vibrant, strong, hopeful people have internalized or experienced injustices for so long that the wounds undermine their empowerment. This happens both individually and collectively. I see this happen in my Women’s Studies college courses. Strong, vibrant, talented feminists will be finding their voices and creating AMAZING community change, and still undermine themselves with toxic messages or become immobilized by the wounds of oppression. It is pervasive and heartbreaking. I, too, have suffered from that in some ways.
That observation is what initially motivated me to delve deeper into yoga and meditation. Those practices are what allowed me to hold my empowerment and my struggles in a more authentic, embodied, and compassionate way. They are also what sparked an exploration into how we can create more socially just ways of being with one another—how we can unlearn deeply oppressive beliefs and practices in order to create more honouring ones.
Doing so, particularly in the context of dismantling the aspects of whiteness that are so deeply harmful, requires sitting with discomfort. There are very common responses people have when white privilege or white supremacy are pointed out. These reactions are defense mechanisms designed to shore up racial injustice. So helping people learn to recognize them as such and sit with the discomfort instead of avoiding it is a critical step. In my online OTM course, we will learn some techniques for doing so. Because only then can we create alternatives that truly honor everyone’s humanity.
What unique gifts am I bringing? My insight into this work is grounded at the intersection of feminism, yoga, and embodied social change. It is informed by social justice activists and theorists. And it is tested in numerous classrooms and community sites.
OTM: What brought this course, Practical Tools for Talking with Other Whites about Racism, into being?
BB: I have been doing social justice and anti-racism work for over twenty years. Mostly, I do it in the Women’s Studies college classroom with students entering into the conversation with various degrees of interest/awareness and from various identities. That experience has honed my ability to meet people where they are in order to transform ways of thinking and being (in this case) about racial identity, whiteness, racism, and white supremacy. I have also worked closely with colleagues, both inside and outside academia, to do antiracist work.
This particular course builds on all that rich experience. I began thinking about it after the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency in November, because I saw (and felt) heightened despair, along with urgent calls to “do something.” Actually, two days after the election I flew to a large mindfulness conference and was struck by 1) people who were desperately hungry to talk about the current state of affairs, and 2) people who avoided the conversation, and 3) people who had no idea where to begin (this third category pervaded both of the previous groups).
Let’s be clear: nothing in “Trump’s America” is new—the oppression that some people are just becoming aware of has existed for centuries. Many people have been around doing the work of trying to survive and dismantle them for years. But there did seem to be a heightened urgency. I also sensed a strong undercurrent of not knowing where to start. Many well-intentioned people wanted to make the world a better place, but did not know where to begin.
I figured one way I could begin was to “gather my people,” so to speak, and help cultivate the tools for whites to talk with other whites about racism. I know many people who want to do so but get stymied when the conversations (inevitably) get hard. My years of teaching students in a variety of places around the conversation, combined with my own (fraught) path (filled with missteps and learning), will provide the foundation for this course.
I am on this path too—I am not the “expert;” I have experiences and knowledge to draw on that I hope will prove useful, but this work is collective work. I envision the course as a collective learning process.
. . .
Beth Berila, Ph.D., 500-hr RYT is the Director of the Women's Studies Program and Professor in the Ethnic and Women's Studies Department at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She is also a 500-hr registered yoga teacher and an Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist who completed her 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training program at Devanadi School of Yoga and Wellness. She is the author of the book Integrating Mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy: Social Justice in Higher Education (Routledge). She served on the leadership team of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition for two years and is now a community partner. She works to make yoga accessible to every body by challenging the lack of diversity in the mainstream Western yoga culture. Her current projects merge yoga and meditation practices with feminism and mindful education to create a form of socially engaged embodied learning. www.bethberila.com
In 2016, Celestine Muhammad (A Peace of Yoga KC) along with her daughter Amanda Muhammad (A Peace of Yoga Dallas) hosted Kansas City's first-ever OTM Yoga in Action/YIA circle! Since Celestine's Leadership in Action with OTM in Minnesota, she had been intent on sharing the experience with her diverse community. She also thanks Kelli Austin and Nancy Bounds of Sunshine Yoga KC for having such confidence in her and for trusting in the YIA process.
Although the circle did not go as initially planned, once Amanda stepped up to the plate and the force of loving and curious community support could be felt, there was no turning back! What blossomed was a powerful and intense weekend with no time to spare.
For a community which is often marginalized, Stine and Amanda know first-hand the depths of keeping it together when everything else is falling apart. With on-going follow-up meetings, their YIA group unanimously voted to serve "Mothers In Charge," a group of moms who lost their children to violence in the streets of Kansas City. To help give back with love and support, the YIA circle decided to host an official Moms Day Off! The moms were brought 50 miles outside of the city to Paola, Kansas for a special retreat at The Motherland. After turning-off their cell phones and electronics, the day was spent in nature with guided walks to the pond, then it was back to the house for pampering with the ritual of foot-washing and facials. Lunch and candlelight dinner were served and pajamas were on before the sun even went down! The day was filled with love and soul.
Going forward, many in this YIA circle have committed to continue supporting Mothers in Charge and are now part of the newly formed "Volunteers in Charge." They offer support in monthly healing and support groups by simply holding space and showing up where needed during on-going street canvassing.
Check out this inspiring interview between OTM co-founder Seane Corn and OTM board & faculty member Teo Drake about compassion, mindfulness, social justice, and how these concepts will be explored and embraced during our upcoming Leadership Training Intensive Retreat in Santa Barbara, CA this Dec 8-11 at beautiful Pacifica Graduate Institute.
"My highest hope for this training is that it can be for folks who are seeing the world as it is right now during this painful time and don't know what to do and want some help to figure out what their piece is and how to do it in collaboration with others and how to do it in a way that doesn't feel paralyzing and soul-crushing. This training is also for folks who have been doing this work for a longtime but need to be in community with others to remember that they're not alone and particularly for folks who are experiencing crushing oppression themselves ." -Teo Drake
by Valerie R. Maloof
Imagine a place with no cellular service, no wifi (ok, really terrible wifi that’s not really worth using – so close) and where someone peering into their phone is a rare sight. Now add to that a bucolic setting that reminds you of the camp where you spent summers as a kid, but instead of tug-of-war games and bonfires, there are morning yoga and meditation sessions and evening concerts. That place is the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY- a place so silent that birds wake you up quite a bit before the sun shows up every morning.
At Omega, I spent five days with 30 or so women who I quickly recognized as my clan. All of us came together to participate in the Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) intensive, a five-day workshop led by yoga teacher/activist Seane Corn, yoga teacher and trauma/somatic therapist Hala Khouri, and artist/musician Suzanne Sterling, three friends and colleagues linked by their passion for social justice and healing. The week-long OTM workshop brings together yoga, meditation, and self-inquiry along with “practical tools for communication, organizing, and collaborating." The overarching goal is to help attendees combine the teachings of yoga with their passion for service and translate it into action for the benefit their communities.
Though I had wanted to attend the OTM intensive for at least three years and had read about it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had done several trainings with Seane before and had benefitted immensely from her ability to create a connection between yoga and where pain and trauma are held in the body. (I often credit Seane with jumpstarting a myriad of positive changes in my life seven years ago by putting me in pigeon pose and leaving me there to think for what felt like 150 breaths). I knew and respected Hala’s therapeutic work from OTM’s online trainings, but I did not know Suzanne at all. I figured the intensive would include yoga, deep thinking, and networking. Turns out I got that and much, much more.
Seane, Hala, and Suzanne have formed a powerful coalition (built on the feminist model of lateral management) that doesn’t just embrace differences – it celebrates them. Their friendship is as evident as their commitment to the work they have been doing together for over a decade (and long before separately). Under their tutelage, the women in attendance at the intensive started to slowly open our hearts to one another. I discovered the three OTM leaders truly know their craft: if Seane, lovingly nicknamed “the grim reaper of yoga”, doesn’t get to your heart through movement, Hala’s rational and gentle prodding does, and if both of those fail, Suzanne’s drum and voice finds the visceral pain that everyone inescapably holds inside them. It is practically impossible to leave the group on Friday without having delved very deeply into what hurts you, moves you, challenges you, needs to be changed in you, and ultimately having come closer to knowing what you are moved to change in the world.
I can’t recall the last time I was surrounded by more impressive women gathered in one place. Most attendees were yoga teachers who also worked in various fields of service including social work, art therapy, and non-profit leadership. As we got to know each other during the week, women shared their pain, joy, and what drove them to be a force for good in their communities. We practiced yoga, worked hard, sang and danced, created art, wrote, laughed, and—yes—cried together. It was impossible not to be moved as women generously shared stories of trauma, pain, loss, and longing with the group.
By far, the most moving part of the experience was the support these women afforded each other. It is a thing of beauty to find yourself in a place where you know you are not being judged by your looks, accent, interests, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or any other of the myriad of things which we are routinely judged for as we grow up and inhabit the world. It was a wonderful and easy rhythm to move to.
After the workshop ended and I came home to my own bed and family, the re-entry into “the real world” was swift. There was the lawn to mow, six laundry loads to get to, and an empty fridge requiring a trip to the grocery store. There was my husband, back from the race track after his first Spec Miata event of the year. There were the girls and their 11-year old intensity focused on friends and soccer. On our first night together, one of the girls kept us up all night coughing, and the next day – a school and work day – we were all moving slowly while ticking off the to-do lists, making lunches, doing homework, and getting to soccer practice. And just like I had fallen into the rhythm of Omega, I easily fell back into the rhythm of my life.
Coming back home to my space, my husband, and our children was not difficult at all – I love my disorganized, messy, loud life very much. But returning from a week where so many people kept an open heart and mind and treated my intentions with love and patience, it was quite difficult to step back into the more challenging interpersonal realities in my life: the reality that I don’t see my girls every day, so I’d have to wait to hug them and ask them how their week at camp had gone; the reality that I’d have to wait to give them the tiny bead bracelets I had placed on our altar for my OTM clan to bless as we moved through one last practice together; the reality that not everyone sees other humans as people who are doing their best but instead see them as adversaries and enemies because they don’t practice the same religion or hold the same beliefs when it comes to raising children.
Returning from OTM, I wished the “real world” was more like the world we inhabited at Omega for one week. But I was also reminded that I can stay on the path to becoming a kinder person and improving my world by looking inward instead of reacting to the parts of my life which don’t go exactly as I want. And just as I had started to struggle with this, one of the women I now call my OTM sisters posted a meme which offered me a much-needed, sweet reminder. Her post may have only been a little meme, but it had the sound of Suzanne’s powerful drum and the singing voices of my OTM sisters behind it. I smiled and remembered that my clan is out there, and together we can indeed make this a kinder, more compassionate world.
Valerie Roedenbeck Maloof attended OTM's 2016 Yoga, Purpose & Action Leadership Intensive at the Omega Institute. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband and twin daughters. Read more of Valerie's writing by following her blog at porschemama.com.
Today we're highlighting another awesome participant of our 2015 Global SEVA Challenge: Kenya...
... meet Donny Starkins of Scottsdale, Arizona! Having raised over $8,500 for this year's Challenge (which included proceeds from his popular Sunday Yoga Service Project), we caught up with Donny to ask about his inspiration:
"After attending OTM’s 5-day leadership training last summer in Minneapolis, the vision for Sunday Yoga Service was born. Those 5 days with Seane, Hala and Suzanne were life-changing for me. Seane’s words “How dare we not?” was a question that went straight to my heart. For me, it was “how dare I not share my story.” Those closest to me knew my story of addiction and that I live a sober life. But, many of my students and this large yoga platform we have here in Arizona did not. Therefore, that question lit a fire inside of me to share my story and connect it with OTM’s Seva Project. This has turned into a monthly community event we have at a beautiful resort in Scottsdale. In addition, I’ve been given the opportunity to travel and bring Sunday Yoga Service into other communities in California and Dallas. The opportunity to share my story, carry the message of OTM and the woman of Kenya has been one of the biggest gifts of my life. What used to bury me in guilt and shame (my past addiction) has become my biggest asset. This awakening was only possible because of the deep inner work we did at the leadership training. In order to be of service and transform the world, the process had to start within. This is what I learned. And, this is the message I now choose to carry. Thank you OTM for giving me a clear path!"
Thank YOU, Donny, for stepping into your truth and your voice. We couldn't be prouder!
Our 4-day Leadership Training Retreat is right around the corner - in a week and a half! We love this intensive because the retreat format gives us the chance to immerse into the concepts and practice of social justice and community-building while deeply exploring injustices and the conditions that cause them. We have an awesome group signed-up this year and we can't wait to embark on this collaborative, eye-opening, heart-opening journey together!
Joining us again this year is the wonderful Jacoby Ballard, a long-time yoga and Buddhism teacher, herbalist, health educator, social activist, and co-founder of Third Root Community Health Center in Brooklyn, NY. He has taught yoga in queer and trans communities, to survivors of sexual violence, to people recovering from addiction, to homeless folks, and to everyone else. We asked him to share his thoughts about this training, why it's important, and why he loves being a part of it.
(We have only 3 spots left for this retreat and registration will CLOSE on Wednesday, 11/25. If you feel drawn or have been procrastinating, don't put it off any longer! Snag your spot before it's gone, and join Jacoby and the rest of our incredible faculty for this transformative training. REGISTER HERE)
WHO IS THIS TRAINING FOR?
Jacoby: This training is for all of us who want to make a better world, a more loving, honest world, increase access to education and healthcare, decrease incarceration, increase well being for all. We all need a tune up and retreat held by the threads of social justice and embodiment, kindness, and integrity. This training is for those doing social justice work-to slow down and catch up with your heart and body; this is for yogis who don't know how to help, but look around themselves at the world and know that they must. This training is to gain more skills, be held by facilitators and teachers who are decades-deep into this work, and to be present in mind, body, and spirit in the process.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DO A TRAINING LIKE THIS IF SOMEONE WANTS TO DO COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?
Jacoby: It is important to understand all the underlaying dynamics of how we got into this mess over centuries, who the players were, who it benefitted, who you might represent to those you are trying to serve, what the gaps are in your knowledge of the issues at hand, and what resources are already available and brilliance that we can all already lean into that has built every social movement and resistance struggle. This is the ground that we step into as people trying to make a difference, trying to heal, trying to show up, and we are bound to make cavernous mistakes if we don't educate ourselves-not once, but again and again and again, constantly learning the deeper and deeper layers of history.
WHY DOES OTM OFFER YOGA AND SOCIAL JUSTICE TRAINING TOGETHER? WHAT’S THE BENEFIT?
Jacoby: We need to do the inner work to understand our own history, positionality, triggers, and vision; and we need to do the outer work to create the world we want to live in, a world that every being wants to live in. Liberation is both individual and collective-it can never be one or the other. A huge benefit of this training in particular is finding your people, people to network with, to rely on, to count on, to learn from-a piece of the Beloved Community that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of.
WHY ARE YOU PART OF THIS TRAINING?
Jacoby: I am part of this training because this is what I do, build bridges between mindfulness and social justice, between anger and action, between grief and creativity. I believe that the changemakers need to be healthy if we are in it for the long haul, and that yoga is a deeply revolutionary teaching. If we all who practice asana truly lived the teachings of yoga, the world would be transformed and our bodies would be nourished.
Our final training in 2015 is right around the corner! We're coming to Ojai, CA, Dec 3-6 for our Leadership Training Intensive on Social Justice & Community-Building. We revamped this 4-day retreat-style intensive, making it more of an introductory training on social justice issues & effective activism. Read on to learn why Hala and Tessa (who will again be joining us this year) are jazzed about this training, what you can expect, and who we've designed it for...
OTM: Tessa, as both a co-designer and co-leader of this training, who do you think this training is geared towards? Who would benefit most?
Tessa: This training is for all those who wish to make a difference in the world and who are seeking tools, knowledge, community, and personal growth that can aid in doing so effectively. Raising consciousness about social justice is crucial in order to understand where/how we each might play into the injustices that exist in the world and where/how we each can intervene, prevent, and transform these injustices. This training is especially for those interested in taking their personal practice of yoga or community service to another level in order to enact social change and critical community engagement.
OTM: So, does someone need to be a seasoned activist or social change leader to attend this training? Or could this training be an introduction for someone who is maybe just starting off in social justice and is interested in expanding his or her knowledge and understanding? - a way to gain tools and greater confidence in the concept and practice of social justice.
Hala: Yes! I think that often people shy away from talking about issues of inequality, racism, sexism, etc. because it can be scary. We worry that we’re going to offend someone or say the wrong thing. Some people have the privilege to stay away from this conversation because they don’t feel that their lives are directly impacted by inequality. Others don’t have that same opportunity. And it’s true: conversations about social justice can get very heated, and even ugly. But what's so exciting about a training like this one, that brings yoga and mindfulness into the experience, is that we are cultivating embodied tools to be able to have the difficult conversation in a grounded and non-reactive way.
OTM: So how does this relate to yoga? Are social justice and yoga mutually-beneficial? Why does OTM offer a training that includes both at the same time?
Tessa: Both social justice and yoga operate on the premise that we are caught in a false perception of duality when in fact we are all interconnected. Yet, while we are spiritually one, we are not all the same. The ideal of "oneness" can sometimes obscure the reality that real inequality and oppression occur at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and religion that implicate each of us in the perpetuation of dualities that exist in our world today. Learning how to reflect candidly about ourselves and the world, transform personally amidst discomfort, push ourselves to our edge and find our breath there, negotiate not-knowing and difference with compassion, patience and grace-- these are the lessons we must confront both in our yoga practice and social justice education.
When we confront our lessons with humility, mindfulness and honesty, we learn to see duality of self and other as something we must dissolve while recognizing the realities of pain and injustice that have resulted from the divisions imposed in society. We can take personal responsibility for dissolving these tensions in our own mind-bodies-spirits as well as the communities we are a part of. We can recognize our social responsibility to Martin Luther King's charge that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and use the tools of mindfulness and yoga to making tangible and lasting peace within and with community.
OTM: Love that quote! That illustrates a fantastic reason for someone who is interested in community engagement to attend this training, right?
Tessa: Definitely. Anyone interested in advocating for or directly making small or big changes in the world around them must think through the critical approaches to community engagement that ensure that individual participation is carried out ethically, respectfully, with integrity and with purpose. Understanding the structural, political, economic, environmental, social, cultural and personal causes that have led to the inequity and injustice that exist in our world today will not only broaden our scope of knowledge and personal awareness but will allow us to more effectively tackle big issues through tangible strategies in the communities near and far from us.
OTM: Beautifully put. We feel so fortunate to have you, Jacoby Ballard, and Leslie Booker as co-facilitators again at this year's training along with Hala, Seane, and Suzanne. Now that's one powerful collective of leaders!
Hala: One of the things that all of our co-facilitators bring to this training is beautiful role-modeling in being authentic and real with what they feel, while being both compassionate and curious about others’ experiences. Last year’s training was so powerful, in a huge part due to our amazing faculty, which included Tessa, Jacoby, and Leslie. Each of them modeled such wisdom and grace in their own way.
I’m excited to have our students spend time with them and see how it’s possible to engage in these touchy dialogues in a grounded, honest, and self-responsible way.
Interested in attending this Leadership Training in Ojai?
Get more info and register HERE!