We come to yoga for many different reasons. To reconnect with our bodies, overcome stiffness and – let’s be honest – get a body like some of those lithe yogis we see on Instagram. But once yoga has arrived in our lives, those reasons can change.
Among other things, yoga teaches us to disconnect with the stresses and strains of everyday life and to reconnect with what’s important in life. That can be time spent with loved ones, being grateful for physical health and so on. But it also encourages us to find a way to give back to the world.
An element of being a part of the global yogic ‘family’ is that it gives you a global conscience. Without sounding all smug and holier than thou, it’s hard to do yoga, which brings you in touch with your body and ignore the wrongs and suffering going on in the world.
In fact, one of the lesser-known niyamas (number seven of twelve) is Dānam, a Sanskrit word that means charity. Charity can get a bad rap, but without it, the world as we know it wouldn’t function.
How can we be charitable through yoga?
In the Bible (which we don’t often cite on this blog!), 1 Corinthians 13:13, it says
And now abideth faith hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
So the Bible is telling us that charity (or love) is literally the best virtue there is. But what really is it? Charity is service without expectation of reward, it is the giving of one’s time freely, and sharing your wealth with compassion.
And there are plenty of ways that we can use yoga to be more charitable.
Giving yoga to those who need it most
A way of giving charity through service is to teach yoga for free to those who really need it.
For those of us that practice yoga a lot, the benefits are self-evident. And that’s when it can start to become a bit of an evangelical mission to give the gift of yoga to as many people as possible. There are plenty of pre-existing charities that run yoga lessons for those in prison, the homeless and yoga for mental health. But what about yoga in schools for teenagers suffering from anxiety? Or chair yoga for the elderly and infirm in your local nursing home? Yoga has boundless benefits for those with physical and mental problems and there is literally no barrier to doing yoga. So let’s get out into the world and make a difference!
Using yoga as a way to raise money
One of the most straightforward ways is through using yoga as a means to raise money. A couple of years ago I took part in a sponsored yogathon when a large group of us gathered in a local park and performed 108 sun salutations, raising money for Greenpeace. Standing in a huge circle with my yoga friends and colleagues, stretching up toward the actual sun (incredibly for the UK, it was actually beaming down on us) and pressing my hands and feet down towards the earth, it felt like a completely YOGIC thing to do.
It doesn’t have to be 108 sun salutations though (my arms were SORE for the next week), you can do anything! What about a sponsored handstand challenge? Or a group of you could get together to do a headstand in a public place as a way of drawing attention not only to your cause but to how epic yoga is too. Or a sponsored ‘standing pose challenge’ where you run through every single standing pose a few times. Or just hold a ‘charity’ lesson, where students come and donate as much as they can for a chosen cause. The possibilities are endless.
Volunteer on a yoga holiday
To be fair, this is not the most selfless way to combine yoga and charity, but it’s a very canny way! If you simply don’t have the funds to go on a yoga holiday, but you know that you would benefit so much from time away from your life to just be somewhere lovely, doing yoga, chatting to lovely yogic people, and generally overdosing on all the loveliness, there’s a way that you can go, for just the cost of your travel.
In return for putting in some shifts (around five-six hours a day) helping out with food prep, cleaning and other chores, you can go on some yoga retreats for free. This can be a great way to get some undiluted yoga without emptying your bank account. Some companies that offer this are barefootyoga.me and Eco retreats, which offers free accommodation in a beautiful rural forest in Wales in return for helping out in the forest and teaching the odd class.
We don’t have to give too much away for free
A small counter to being charitable, which is important, is to remember that yoga teachers do already give a lot already. We give our skills, energy, time, care and thought to each and every one of our students. So if you don’t have time to do a sponsored yogathon, or teach a free class to the deserving, don’t beat yourself up. You’re already giving a lot.