So many wonderful yogis have been born on the mats in the beautiful Linehan Chapel on the campus of Nazareth College. Students at Naz have the amazing opportunity to participate in yoga classes on campus six times per week. The yoga programs at Nazareth have earned national recognition in the world of higher education. But the best part about the Naz Yoga Community (or Naz Yoga Kula as they say) is that many of them have been so inspired by the gift of yoga that they have decided to share that gift with underserved populations in the local community.
Inspired by the ‘yoga revolution’ on campus, several students decided to start a group called ‘Yoga Empowerment Partnership’ (lovingly dubbed YEP) to unite their passion for yoga and community service throughout the Rochester area. The student leaders, who work collaboratively with Nazareth College staff, faculty, and yoga teachers, have had the opportunity to attend the national Yoga Service Conference, learn from local yoga service leaders, and collaborate with local service organizations. Most recently, YEP members had the opportunity to be trained as yoga teacher assistants, giving them the tools they need to better serve their community.
YEP leaders come from a variety of majors, backgrounds, and interests, and each has a unique story about how yoga changed their lives – but they all agree that yoga is a powerful force in their lives which they would like to share with those in need in our community, both near and far.
Student leader Alyssa Henry describes yoga as the “means for my own discovery of the powerful light inside me.” She says yoga service is the way she and others can share that light with those who need it. Vika Turner, a freshman social work major in the group, frequently attended the yoga classes on campus, and when she spoke with her academic advisor, Leanne Charlesworth (who also happens to be a YEP advisor) she found a way to combine her love of yoga and her major. “I really want to incorporate yoga into my career one day, so learning about yoga service now is really important to me. On campus I’d really love to bring yoga to clubs/groups of people who haven’t had the opportunity to experience yoga,” she said.
Dylan Loucks, like many others at Nazareth, has always had a passion for community service, and now through YEP, he gets to combine his passions and bring yoga into the service work he does. He also loves the opportunities that YEP has provided him to meet new people who share his passion to spread yoga service.
The leaders of YEP meet regularly to find ways to spread their yoga service with area programs and schools. Two YEP leaders, Alyssa Henry and Rebecca Silliman, volunteer at the yoga club for Young Women’s College Prep every Friday with a certified yoga teacher. Alyssa Henry describes her experience with the middle and high school young women as transformative:
“When the class starts…no longer are the girls just students and no longer is the cluttered room part of the inner-city school. They are all transformed into yogis and the room transforms into a spiritual, accepting space. Effortlessly, they match their bodies to our poses and adjust with our cues. There are not enough words to describe the quiet determination these girls exhibit.
Yoga is their one time of the week to escape standardized testing, escape stressful peer interactions, and most importantly escape into themselves. I am grateful to be present during their moments of stillness, because it roots me into moments of my own. I am able to remind myself that yoga is not crazy contorted poses nor lululemon leggings; it is those simple moments of being with oneself.”
Rebecca Silliman, another YEP leader and volunteer with Young Women’s College Prep, says that she hopes that the consistency in showing up for them in yoga classes has made a difference in their lives, like it has in hers. “YEP is about empowering all kinds of people to find what they need within themselves,” she explains. “Since its student-led, it’s all about collaboration and reciprocal relationship building. We don’t have the answers, but we’re all seeking them together.”
As YEP participants seek to spread their work off-campus, they also recognize that their fellow college students may have critical needs that yoga service can fill. For example, YEP leaders collaborate with other clubs and organizations on campus to support events such as “Love Your Body” week, which supports students who are challenged with body image issues.
So what’s next for this busy group of service-driven yogis? Their goal is to spread yoga to everyone, but especially college students in need on campus and in the Rochester community. YEP leaders have recently been accepted to the Clinton Global Initiative University (a national leadership program for college students to promote service and community engagement) to present their idea to provide dynamic programming to college students to combat anxiety, stress, depression, and disordered eating. They hope to “introduce yoga as a mental health and wellness tool for both prevention and support on college campuses by partnering with Rochester Yoga Service Network and trained student leaders” (CGIU Commitment).
If you’re interested in joining the Yoga Empowerment Partnership, or you want more information about yoga service in the Rochester area, please contact Lynne Boucher, Chaplain in the Center for Spirituality at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Devine is a graduate student at Nazareth College. Originally from Cazenovia, NY, she became passionate about serving her community in high school, and was able to cultivate and refine her service skills by engaging in community service programs throughout her undergraduate career at Nazareth College, where she was an Occupational Therapy major, and involved with several service organizations. Lauren served as the Vice President of the Gerontology Club, an organization that organizes community events for older adults in the Rochester Area, and she was a student leader in the Center for Civic Engagement. Through her involvement with the Nazareth College YEP and the Rochester Yoga Service Network, Lauren was able to attend the 4th Annual Yoga Service Conference where she was able to learn more about combining her passion for serving the community and yoga. As an Occupational Therapy student, Lauren is dedicated to helping older adults achieve physical, mental, and social rehabilitation and comfort. She is particularly interested in exploring how to do so through the use of yoga practices.
Please note: The views expressed in YSC blog posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the YSC, its directors, officers, or members.