How to Serve Internationally Through Yoga
By: Rachele Eve Guastella, 2015 Yoga Alliance Foundation scholarship recipient
March 28, 2016
“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
A deep longing to do my soul’s work led me to Majuro, Marshall Islands, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean. By my second day on the island, I was overlooking the ocean from my yoga mat with a group of practitioners who met three times a week. When our yoga instructor’s teaching contract ended, I stepped in to take her place and my investigation in seva or “selfless service” began. If you’re considering international service through yoga or already serving internationally and considering sharing yoga with others, here are a few tips to inspire you and prevent burnout.
Commit to Daily Self-Care and Personal Practice
"Never give from the depths of your well, but from your overflow." – Rumi
Establishing roots in a new place, especially on foreign soil, translates into many unexpected emotions and experiences. Committing to a daily personal practice will help calm the storm of disorientation. Take refuge in your yoga practice and greet the mat honestly. Develop a morning routine for self-care—I find Ayurvedic practices really helpful and nurturing once you know your dosha, or constitution. Journal at least once day to clear the mind. Collect images, yoga sequences, clean and soothing recipes, poetry, quotes and personal notes for inspiration or comfort in times of stress or when you feel stuck. Find at least one other yogic ally to practice with and hold each other accountable to your shared practice. In dire times, try something new to gain perspective. Stay mindful and present with this process. Just as we modify our poses to fit our needs, we modify our routines to best serve us.
Go to Your Wounds
“If you want to find your life’s purpose, go to your wounds.” – Seane Corn
The practice connects us to our own inner knowing, to both our light and our shadow. They are not opposites, they are equally important parts of the whole. Honor your shadow. Go to your wounds, sit with them, practice through them and see what is there. I moved to Majuro to teach at a private school—a profession with an 80% failure rate for first-year teachers. In a way, my seva aligned with my work perfectly because a majority of my fellow practitioners were stressed-out teachers. Who better to serve than my own colleagues? As compassionate witnesses to our own experience, we empathize with our fellow witnesses and connect to the source of oneness and universal well-being.
Develop Your Sense of Place
“Do you love this world? Do you cherish your humble and silky life? Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?” – Mary Oliver
Walking meditation and mindful exploration of our surroundings connects us to the elements of which we are all made. I found respite sitting on the shore of the vast ocean, contemplating intense skies, swimming above the underwater coral gardens and growing an agro food-forest of native crops. Nature calls us to the present moment in order to behold the radiance in the waves, the clouds, the underwater life, the garden crops and even ourselves.
“We make the space and the universe fills it.” – Leslie Kaminoff
Yoga educator and founder of The Breathing Project, Leslie Kaminoff explains that “the rhythmic contraction of the diaphragm is the tangible manifestation of prana [or energy] expressing itself through a human form.” We make the space in our lungs and the universe fills them with breath. I spent several years practicing yoga with the intention of eventually becoming certified, and several more years with a desire to serve internationally before it all came together for me. When I finally took the leap and made space for seva, it manifested itself in a way I couldn’t have imagined; I found yogic community, classes and retreats, scholarship and support almost all at once. If you share in the same dream, make some space next time you are on the mat or sitting in meditation and connect with your inner knowing. Is it time to take the leap? When and if you do, trust the path. You are the path.
Get Started with Guided Practice
You don’t have to be certified to share yoga with others and there are safe ways to engage in the practice as a leader in your community. Inform every new practitioner that you are not certified before the class begins and receive verbal confirmation from them that they understand. Emphasize the importance of being mindful of their edge and use their breath as a guide. Tell them that you will lead the class, but not teach it. Refrain from making adjustments and act as visual guide. Use established sequences to refer to and practice them ahead of time on your own. Follow your bodily cues. Begin each class with a seated meditation and take a vote of the overall energy of practitioners. Ask them to face their palms up if they are feeling more invigorated or down if they are more relaxed. Offer modifications as much as possible.
As you begin your journey of seva, I hope these offerings serve you and your practice. Serving others, especially internationally, can be stressful and frightening but it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience for you and the people you serve.
Rachele Guastella is one of the winners of the Yoga Alliance Foundation’s 2015 scholarships. Rachele is a storyteller, musician, teacher and farmer. While investigating her own form of service, she lived abroad in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. There, she taught at the Majuro Cooperative High School and instructed several yoga classes during her free time. We thank Rachele for her contributions to the yoga community and for sharing her knowledge with us!