Foundation > Teaching for Equity Program > Teaching for Equity Participants

Teaching for Equity Participants

Sowmya Ayyar
“I follow Swami Sivananda's mantra, 'Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize.'”

Sowmya Ayyar is the Founder-Director of Prafull Oorja Charitable Foundation, a Bangalore-based non-governmental organization (NGO), which trains yoga therapists to implement sustainable programs with communities in vulnerable conditions. Prafull Oorja has impacted hundreds of yoga teachers, special educators, and thousands of beneficiaries. Sowmya is also a musician (vocals, violins, keyboards) and performs Carnatic and global music, bhajans, and mantra chanting to bring peace and joy to those she serves.

Beatrice Bachleda
“As a Deaf person, I was constantly frustrated with the lack of access to information that can help improve my wellbeing, my health, and generally my life as a whole; and this is something many of us experience on a daily basis as d/Deaf people. Becoming a yoga teacher meant I could help fill that gap for my community and support individual journeys to healing and wellbeing.”

Beatrice Bachleda is a Colorado-based Deaf yoga teacher, as well as an E-RYT 200 and RYT 500. She has taught a variety of students in different settings, including Deaf, DeafBlind, hearing, trauma-informed, corporate, and youth. Beatrice offers live and recorded classes in American Sign Language (ASL), provides workshops on mindfulness and yoga, and supports healing through yoga with trauma survivor organizations. She also offers workshops for ASL interpreters and students, and her latest project is a series of online courses for the community. When she's not teaching yoga, Beatrice takes her adventure cat out on hikes in the mountains and is studying to become an herbalist and Reiki healer.

Sandy Boutros
“Introducing yoga to the communities I work with is like an introduction to the Self. The hardships of life make us forget to get in touch with the body, breath, and mind. Yoga brings back self-awareness and self-love.”

Sandy Boutros is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Beirut, Lebanon, who started her yoga journey in 2012. After developing a keen interest in meditation, she left her advertising job and traveled to Bihar School of Yoga in India to take a four-month course in Advanced Yogic Studies. After the course, she completed her yoga teacher training and enrolled in Progressive Trainings on Raja Yoga with her guru Swami Niranjananda. In 2018, she established Koun, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that makes yoga accessible to economically marginalized communities and refugees in Lebanon to promote total wellbeing and mental health.

Namurembe Rita Brown
“As a yoga practitioner, I always tell my community members to be positive thinkers by saying ‘Yes’ to themselves as a creation, not a concept—to be ready to give up anything that's holding them back, to let go, and to step out of their comfort zones to start new beginnings.”

Namurembe Rita Brown was born in Uganda in 1992. In 1999, she traveled from Uganda to Kenya to look for refuge and became registered as a refugee under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2000. In 2006, Namurembe received a scholarship with Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) as an orphan child. She later passed her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and joined Kakuma Refugee Secondary School, where she sat for her Kenya Certificates of Secondary Education (KCSE). Namurembe volunteered in her community and school as a reproductive health motivator, and later, worked for the International Rescue Committee (IRC)—a non-governmental organization (NGO)—as a healthy choice facilitator. Currently, she is working for Windle International Kenya (WIK) as a community mobilizer.

Ivelise Castillo
“My mission is to create a space that will provide shared practices for healing, strengthening, and self-love. By empowering each other, we are able to build resilience, clarity, and can explore self-expression through healing in various forms.”

Ivelise Castillo is a trauma-informed yoga instructor, Reiki practitioner, educator, and poet who enjoys the practice of self-expression through multiple healing modalities. She offers donation-based virtual meditation, yoga, and workshops to support and uplift communities in need. Ivelise created and facilitated a Yoga Club for children with special needs in a Title I school from grades 2–5 and has started to lead meditation and yoga workshops for teachers during Wellness Professional Development days. Additionally, Ivelise teaches a fusion of arts and mindfulness to teens in a pregnancy prevention program for a nonprofit organization. She is honored to be able to offer a four-week series on mindfulness, meditation, and yoga to remote fourth and fifth graders to alleviate stress during the pandemic, as well as a "Peace is Power" four-week virtual series to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities.

Ameerah Craigg
“I bring yoga to my community by using a trauma-informed approach and by creating accessible spaces for us to feel good in. This means that in my sessions, consent and comfort is the primary focus.”

Ameerah Craigg has been practicing yoga for nearly two decades and leading yoga sessions for four years, operating from a trauma-informed, womanist/feminist, and harm-reduction framework. She uses Kundalini yoga and body movement basics to support folks in centering wellness in their lives. Ameerah is also an experienced counselor, facilitator, and community organizer who is passionate about supporting marginalized communities in accessing authentic self-care by connecting earth and spirit to community. Currently, she teaches in-person in the Greater Toronto Area and around the world via virtual sessions.

Marsha Danzig
“I believe yoga is a reminder of our essential wholeness. Losing a limb or limbs can make a person feel separate from their bodies, their communities, and their life purpose. Yoga brings them back home.”

Marsha Danzig, RYT 500 and IYAT certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT), is the founder of Y4A: Yoga for Amputees—a program dedicated to helping amputees worldwide reclaim their wholeness through the healing art of yoga. Marsha is a below-knee amputee herself, who was given death rites at the age of five and survived. She has been practicing and innovating yoga since the 1980s and is passionate about guiding people to a renewed sense of hope and purpose after major loss. She is the author of Yoga for Amputees: The Essential Guide to Finding Wholeness After Limb Loss and From the Roots, a spiritual memoir about embodying the divine in every moment.

Jennifer Fischer
“I teach in Pottstown, Pennsylvania—a very diverse community both culturally and economically—to share tools that empower each person’s individuality while developing compassion within the collective.”

Jennifer Fischer is a previous runner that thought life was “Go, go, go!” until she found yoga. Yoga revealed Jennifer’s true calling and allowed her to explore her passion for life and create space for others to connect with their Self.

Jasmine Hines

Leonie van Iersel
“With a diploma, you can come a long way, but without yourself, you're nowhere. I believe that by knowing who we are and understanding our possibilities, we can become the best versions of ourselves and contribute to a better world while finding purpose in life.”

Leonie van Iersel is an Education Manager and yoga teacher from the Netherlands who moved to Peru in 2017 to fight for equity and contribute to a better world. She founded the nonprofit organization Con Pazion to empower underprivileged children in the slums of Lima through yoga and holistic education. Recently, she signed a revolutionary agreement with the government that provides rights to have and manage the first holistic public school of Peru, allowing 680 students to receive quality holistic education (including yoga and meditation) for free. Her mission is to give children the chance to connect to themselves, each other, and the earth, helping them to reach their full potential and break the cycle of poverty.

D. Jylani Ma'at

Krista Marzewski
“We are all at different places in our lives, physically, spiritually, mentally, and financially. I want everyBODY to have the opportunity to experience yoga.”

Krista Marzewski believes in making yoga accessible for everyBODY—if you are breathing, you’re doing yoga. She is passionate about sharing the gifts of the practice, especially after personally noticing the changes it prompted in herself. As a person affected by trauma and in recovery, yoga taught Krista to reconnect to herself physically, mentally, and spiritually. She is continuously furthering her education and growing her offerings through her business, Yoga with Krista, where she specializes in trauma-informed yoga. Krista’s classes offer slow introspective postures, connecting breath to movement in hopes that students leave class filled with a new awareness.

Paul Menard
“I am honored to provide a series of classes for the LGBTQIA+ community. This series allows us to open our bodies while exploring that we are all divine.”

Paul Menard began studying yoga in 2002 and has maintained a passionate practice ever since. Their elegance and grace shines through both postures and the execution of their teaching. Paul’s pursuit of a more spiritual practice led to Karuna Center for Yoga and Healing Arts, where they are now the Director of this thriving center, offering yoga teacher training, workshops, bodywork, meditation, study of yoga scripture, and more. In addition to yoga, Paul has a fervor for education. Paul completed a master’s degree in Adult Education and Training in early 2011 and is a skilled Shiatsu practitioner.

Dede Monette
“I have the honor to work as a Regional Wellness Provider for many of our First Nations communities, facilitating specialized yoga workshops ranging from Prenatal Yoga, Baby and Me Yoga, Kids Yoga, Elders Chair Yoga, and Beginners Yoga.”

Dede Monette, Director of the Tofino Yoga School, is a passionate and inspired E-RYT and RCYT who has been practicing, teaching, and sharing various styles of yoga since 1996. Dede has the blessing to work very closely with many First Nations communities as a Regional Wellness Provider, facilitating specialized yoga workshops ranging from Prenatal Yoga, Baby and Me Yoga, Kids Yoga, Elders Chair Yoga, and Beginners Yoga. She is the grateful mama of two beautiful children and the wife of a wonderful nature-loving man.

Susan Ocholla
“I believe that what we have done for ourselves alone dies with us, and what we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. My mantra is: ‘Starting with nothing means you have more space for things to grow.’”

Susan Ocholla is a certified Level 1 and 2 Power Yoga teacher and certified Kundalini, Ashtanga, and TIMBo (trauma sensitive yoga) instructor. To her, yoga is a place where intellect and emotion converge in the human self. She believes yoga and meditation are continuous and lifelong practices and that we must maintain mental, emotional, and physical flexibility as a sense of personal identity. Susan challenges her students to grow by meeting both their physical and spiritual edge with friendliness and teaches them to practice listening to their bodies and each breath. She is dedicated to the growth and development of her students both on and off their mats and to relaxation and happiness in her daily life.

Victor Onyango Odhiambo
“Moving the mind positively by moving the body effectively achieves a sufficient mental and physical state.”

Victor Onyango Odhiambo is a dance and movement teacher who was born and brought up in Kibera slums. After years as a breakdancer, he transitioned into functional movement and healing. This transition was provoked by pain and injuries from breakdancing and began with the exploration of YouTube videos. His journey to movement started after post-election violence in 2007, during which he lost his close friends to tribal conflicts, drugs, and other vices. As an escape, Victor used his passion of dance as a channel to heal. Today, Victor teaches yoga and functional movement and runs a nonprofit in his community. In his organization, he teaches kids how to use art for healing, to avoid vices, and to always stay positive.

Maria (Amma) Claudia Fandiño Orozco
“I dedicate my efforts to provide students with a yoga practice that promotes self-empowerment, love, and appreciation as key aspects to connect with their inner essence and infinite capacity to transform their own lives.”

Maria (Amma) Fandiño Orozco, MSc, holds an RYT 500 credential. She has been a devoted yoga practitioner for over 28 years and enthusiastic biologist for 27 years. Amma's passion is sharing yoga with communities with challenges and vulnerable conditions—be them physical, mental, or emotional. Her work includes teaching yoga to cancer patients to help contribute to their quality of life and ability to cope with the difficult circumstances of the disease. She is also dedicated to providing space that promotes empowerment, rehabilitation, and healing for those deprived of liberty and supports substance use recovery processes. Amma lives in Colombia with her husband and two kids and loves to spend her free time in contact with nature.

Eternity Philops
“I encourage BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) students and clients to explore union with Self, union with others, and union with Spirit on a deeper level that affirms their culture and identity."

A bodaciously Black and unapologetically queer conscious being, Eternity Philops works to educate and serve BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) communities in yoga wellness. Certified in both Hatha and Kemetic yoga, Eternity began teaching professionally in 2017, and has taught hundreds of students through community classes, university courses, private sessions, and wellness retreats. Addressing the limited options for Afrocentric forms of yoga, Eternity created Kamili Yoga™, a modern Pan-African system for Black holistic wellness. Kamili Yoga™ is Eternity’s answer to the need for more yoga systems that are culturally diverse, de-center Whiteness, and recognize the beautiful depths of Black and African being.

Dawn Rivers
"At the end of almost every class, I say, ‘May you be happy. May you be whole. May you be free.’ It took me decades to live this myself, but now that I know the joy and light of it, I want to share it with others."

Dawn Rivers began her yoga journey in 1999 when she bought a Rodney Yee VHS yoga videotape. After that, she began practicing yoga in her basement as a means to invite fitness and stress relief into her life. A couple of years later, she discovered a yoga studio that ultimately became her home for almost 10 years. There she found love, acceptance, and community. In 2013, she became an RYT 200 through Cleveland Yoga, and, in 2019, Dawn completed her 300-hour yoga teacher training with Faith Hunter at Embrace Yoga, in Washington D.C. Her studio, Daybreak Yoga, opened in October 2018. In addition to offering daily classes at Daybreak Yoga, Dawn hosts yoga teacher training, mindfulness and yoga workshops, collaborative projects, and a coaching academy.

Elisha Fernandes Simpson
“I am passionate about creating inviting and supportive spaces through trauma-conscious yoga, mindfulness and art expressions to build self-awareness, and resilience and self-respect for trauma survivors.”

Elisha Fernandes Simpson is a licensed social worker and E-RYT, RCYT, and YACEP, who has been teaching yoga since 2006. She is also the Executive Director and Founder of Crossover Yoga Project (CYP), where she developed the gender-specific curriculum entitled “I Believe in Me.” She has led self-care and mindfulness training to social workers of Westchester County Department of Social Services (NY), trauma-conscious training throughout New York state and Massachusetts, and is currently teaching trauma-conscious yoga in the women’s, men’s, and acute medical units of Westchester County Department of Correction (NY). As a social worker, Elisha has worked in hospital settings, youth detention facilities, homeless shelters, and with teen girls who have experienced sexual trafficking. She is also a Mindful-Based Stress Reduction instructor who is trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT).

Gary Steeves

Gary Steeves teaches free yoga classes in some of the most underserved, inner-city neighborhoods of Buffalo, New York (NY). Regular weekly classes are held year-round for residents of the homeless men’s shelter Buffalo City Mission and women’s and children’s shelter Cornerstone Manor. This program is part of the City Mission’s Dream Transitional Housing Program that provides each individual with a pathway to a stable life through education and skill training resources. The classes are primarily Yin Yoga, pranayama, meditation, and opportunities for prayer. In addition, Gary provides free classes seasonally for an Eastside youth football program and several programs that offer youth music skills nurturing and development. Participants mostly come for the physical benefits and take away increased emotional, psychological, and spiritual grounding.

Casey Valencia
“I create a welcoming space and invite the MercyMed community into a joyful experience living in their bodies. I teach in English and Spanish with chairs, bolsters, blocks, walls—whatever it takes to facilitate exploration of intention in forms, movement, and stillness.”

As a female ordained minister, Casey Valencia understands that the body has a deep, spiritual wisdom that far exceeds size, aesthetics, or athletic ability. After leading group fitness for a decade, she found that yoga offers sacred space with God through body and breath. She imparts calm for chronic stress, and her specialty is welcoming those who are differently-abled, facing mental health conditions, or experiencing marginalization in the yoga circle. Her joyful and positive teaching style lends to an uplifting experience, whether flowing vigorously or meditating in stillness.

Carmen Oquendo Villar
“I have been working with the Latinx and Latin American LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community for more than 20 years, and teaching yoga and mindfulness to LGBT and Gender Queer Older Adults in Puerto Rico since 2018.”

Wangui (Kui) Wanyoike
“Teach and share what you know.”

In 2015, Wangui (Kui) Wanyoike, completed her 200-hour teacher training in Rishikesh, India, under the capable guidance of Sadhviabha Saraswati, and immediately began teaching upon her return to Nairobi. Today, she teaches traditional Hatha yoga suitable for both beginner and intermediary practitioners. Wangui emphasizes awareness of breath and wants to share what she knows with her students to help them discover their own unique path within their yoga practice.

Adam Wetterhan
“We have way too many people behind bars in America and the conditions aren't conducive to healing or thriving. I apply a high-engagement and individualized approach to modifying practices to meet each individual where they are and believe we should always be training people to teach. So, ‘train-the-trainer’ is an important part of my work.”

Adam Wetterhan teaches and trains at Yoga on High Teacher Training Institute and is an E-RYT 500. He has been facilitating yoga, breathwork, and meditation at Marion Correctional Institution, Pickaway Correctional Institution, and Mansfield Correctional Institution since 2012. Adam has developed various beginner-friendly and inclusive approaches to teaching these mindful arts in carceral settings in a way that encourages folks to practice a little bit every day.

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