Asanas for Change

“Stay in this pose of stillness for a little while longer. Longer than you probably want to. You’ve overcome worse than stillness. You’ve overcome the pain of childbirth. Or, maybe you’ve overcome the death of a parent.” — Jan J.

Two weeks ago in my Monday afternoon yoga class, my great LifePower teacher, Jan J. spoke those words as we were in child’s pose. I began crying uncontrollably at the words “overcome the death of a parent.” I just let myself cry without thinking. In PUBLIC. That for me is a big, scary change. But it’s one I really like. The tears stung, but in a good, cleansing way. A way I hope I’ll start thinking about tears the next time they arrive.

Yoga class is helping me accept that tears happen when you may not expect them and be ok with it. Yoga is all about accepting and embracing change and creating personal transformation. It’s also about using your personal transformation to see the connections between all things and see a way forward with kind and engaged action. Thus, it’s not surprising to me that many yogis are interested in social justice.

One such yogi is Terri Cooper, yoga teacher, writer and founder of Yoga Gangsters. Cooper’s story epitomizes Revolutionary Way to Be Healthy, #3, Rage Against the Machine which encourages RevActivists to use their healthy frustration about the unhealthy status quo to spark creativity and determination.

Cooper was already working in Miami-area shelters teaching yoga when she heard news reports that many of Miami’s schools were failing and that the State of Florida’s education budget would be cut. At the same time, the State was building more prisons.

These policy disparities sparked her decision to create a non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk young people in the area cope with poverty, limited education resources, addiction, violence and more through the practice of yoga.

Yoga gangsters provides free classes in schools, hospitals, jails, youth centers and various other local non-profits. Their “Urban Guru Program” is a 200-hour yoga teacher certification program that students can enroll in so they, too, can return to their communities as empowered leaders and advocates.

Keep in touch with Yoga Gangsters on Facebook and Twitter.

Mark Lilly founded Street Yoga in 2002 by organizing a handful of yoga teachers to teach yoga at a day shelter and a school serving homeless youth. The group teaches Pacific Northwest youth and their caregivers to use and embrace yoga and mindfulness practices to overcome personal traumas, depression, anxiety and addiction to create joyful, inspired lives.

Go with Street Yoga’s flow on Facebook and Twitter.

Another group turning yoga stretches into broad grassroots reach is Off the Mat and Into the World, co-founded in 2007 by Sean Corne, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling,

One of the group’s current initiatives, the Global Seva Challenge, is raising money for individuals to go on a service project in India that will create an educational facility and shelter for victims of child sex trafficking.

Join the Off the Mat’s Facebook and Twitter communities.

Are you a yogi raging against the machine? Share your story below or send me a note about your organization or group at

Heidi Wachter is the Community Engagement Specialist for Experience Life