Donate Yoga is a nonprofit whose mission is to make health and wellness accessible to everybody (and every body). We are currently in the midst of a 3-month long, 15 hour/week, 200-hour total Yoga Teacher Training via Zoom.
This is a unique way to offer training, not only navigating how to organize an effective training virtually but also in that there are 12 evacuated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers [RPCVs] receiving this training as a donation. A month ago, the Peace Corps announced the unprecedented worldwide closure of all its countries and immediate evacuation of 7,300+ volunteers due to COVID-19. Out of our 19 participants, 8 were serving in Peru and 6 were serving in South Africa. They are joining us on a yoga teacher training journey, committed to our goals to spread the benefits of a yoga practice around the world, wherever their journeys lead.
Mark Gregory, founder of Donate Yoga, and a former Peace Corps Volunteer from Peru, spoke about the path to this unique experience:
1) Why/how you are offering free Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) to evacuated RPCVs
MG: The greatest decision of my life was to join the Peace Corps and I feel deeply connected to all my Sisters and Brothers who have also taken the call to serve humanity in the name of Peace. The opportunity to be of service to a group of Peace Corps Volunteers sends shivers through my body, which helps me to know that it is the right choice.
We are utilizing zoom to broadcast our live-stream classes and I have been very impressed with the deep connections we have been able to cultivate within two weeks of class together online. I think it speaks volumes to the power of yoga to help us to unite and connect with our inner selves, and therefore to connect with others as well.
2) Donate Yoga is a nonprofit. How did the idea to contact evacuated PCVs and offer them a free training arise?
MG: One of my RPCV friends informed me that ALL of the current Peace Corps Volunteers were being evacuated and sent home, and I felt a deep pain in my heart for these PCVs. Having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer myself, I could very easily feel empathy for how traumatic it would be to get sent home early from my site, and I knew that I wanted to support my fellow Volunteers as they transitioned home, and into quarantine. I had been planning an in person Yoga Teacher Training, on Maui, and had to cancel it in early March due to the growing global concerns around travel. Around this same time Yoga Alliance announced that Yoga Schools (like Donate Yoga) would be granted short-term approval to host their Yoga Teacher Trainings Online. Eureka!
3) How is Donate Yoga, as a small business, able to operate to offer a free 200-hour training?
MG: When life gets challenging, I try to find the opportunities to adapt and grow. As a new, and growing, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it would have been pretty hard for Donate Yoga to offer 12 full-scholarships for a YTT that was being hosted at a eco-retreat center with all of the food provided as well; as we often do in our trainings. However, the costs for an online training are MUCH lower, so it is much more feasible for us to provide a free YTT and share more yoga and spread more peace!
4) What do you think your model has demonstrated for other donation-based yoga companies?
MG: What came first, the chicken or the egg? This is a dilemma other nonprofits might face regarding offering classes first, or receiving donations first to fund projects. My mentor, Joan Heartfield, told me to just go for it and give my full heart and full attention to as many people in the community as I could, FREE, and that as I put this positive energy out, that the universe would eventually respond in kind, and that Donate Yoga would receive the financial support soon enough. This is what she did early on in her career and it has worked! I also see how much she genuinely cares about each and every one of her students, and I try to emulate her love during my offerings as well.
5) In order to make yoga more accessible to those who would benefit greatly from the practice, what do you think needs to happen in western yoga studios or gyms?
MG: This is a tough question as I have seen many yoga studios find it difficult to pay the bills, so I don’t think the change needs to come from Yoga studios or gyms. Memberships may seem too high to a lot of people, but I think the “change” needs to come from our society as a whole, and where we spend our money. $100 may seem like a lot for a yoga membership, but how much are our cell phone bills, clothing, gas, take-out food, bar tabs, snacks, etc.?
I do believe that there would be a benefit to yoga studios offering more free classes in their studios, and promoting their yoga teachers to go to community centers and teach one free class/week. If more studios went out into the community to bring yoga to the people, they would be pleasantly surprised with more students hearing about their studio via word of mouth.
Also, the current global situation is motivating many yoga studios to bring their classes online which could continue into the future once social distancing is no longer needed. This would offer another means for studios to bring in revenue and share the beauty of yoga.
6) Evacuated RPCVs may be facing mental and emotional trauma from their experience (see this article), and they are not unique to the multitude of lives worldwide affected by the pandemic. How can the practice of yoga help with processing a stressful, continued experience and the anxiety that may correlate?
MG: Yoga helps us to connect to and to free our emotions. During asana or meditation, people with trauma often find very powerful emotional releases come out that they were not expecting. This can be overwhelming at a public yoga class, but in the safety and privacy of our own homes, we can really dive deep into these feelings and promote the healing of these traumas, once and for all. Yoga supports the calming of the mind and the easing of anxiety through vigorous asana exercise, conscious breathing, and meditation. Yoga shows us how we have the tools within us to discover our true selves and live a more harmonious and peaceful life.
7) Yoga is often thought of as the asana, or physical practice of poses. However, the yoga path you follow has 8 limbs, the other 7 of which are equally as important. How do you see specific limbs of yoga helping evacuated RPCVs?
MG: I see all 8-limbs of Raja Yoga as being quintessential for our RPCVs to find relief from their experience of being sent home early. The first two limbs (Yama and Niyama) will help guide the yoga aspirant to be mindful of their thoughts and actions as they interact with themselves and others in this world. This will help them to be easier on themselves and others during this potent time in our world history. The 3rd limb (asana) will greatly aid the RPCV to move their body, release tension, and build strength, without needing to go to a gym. The 4th limb (pranayama) reminds us of the integral importance of breathing fully, deeply, and consciously. When we are able to control our breath, we are able to manage our emotions with more grace.
The final 4 limbs of Raja Yoga guide us to go within ourselves and to find out who we really are. During these final phases we: withdraw our senses, slow down and concentrate, enter into deep meditation, and then become absorbed in bliss.
All of the limbs are quintessential for therapy and guidance from yoga, and I do recommend following them in sequential order. Our society needs to slow down, and yoga will help all of us to listen to this warning from Mother Earth, and to adapt to the new challenges as they arise.
To learn more about how you can support RPCVs, through yoga, mentoring, or by virtue of connecting, visit National Peace Corps Association or reach out to us via email. Please also considering supporting our nonprofit through our PayPal Giving Fund.
Sending wishes of peace, love, interconnectedness, and unity to all.