Bears, Boulder and other stories


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I’m still playing catch up on the blog, hence writing this from Schiphol Airport on route to Kenya, where I will spend a week with the Africa Yoga Project. It was good to land back in Scotland for just under a week, catch up with my favourite people and repack my bag in time to leave again,  I’m not going to lie my body is definitely struggling with the multiple timezones and lugging my stuff around on my back. Sadly for me 37 is definitely not the new 24.

After a week in Vancouver (see last post) I flew to Boulder Colorado, to spend time meeting with The Give Back Yoga Foundation, an excellent umbrella organisation supporting 5 US yoga not for profits, and Comeback Yoga. I also got to stay with one of the best families I know, my friends Corinna, Will and Ezra. I met them, pre Ezra (back when I was actually 24 and could happily sleep on the edge of a knife) at a harbour in the Andaman Islands, off India. They were on their honeymoon, I was a dirty backpacker and it was love at first sight. We bonded over samosas and Kingfisher beer and a non existent ferry ticket and spent some of the best time together. Luckily for me our paths have continued to cross with minimal manipulation and it is always a joy whether dancing to Lizzo or playing Smashup over the dining table.  Anyways, that’s a different story.

The purpose of this fellowship is to learn specifically about business sustainability in Yoga not for profit, and if there is anyone who could advise me on this it is Rob Schware, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation. As is a theme of this trip, Rob was one of my yoga service idols (I can hear him laughing now) and luckily for me my friend Chelsea Roff, founder of Eat Breathe Thrive, put a good word in for me and got me connected. Robs background is in Global Finance, and he has a wealth of experience and wisdom as well as a warm and compassionate demeanour that I really enjoyed.

I was expecting Rob to meet me with a laptop, a multitude of spreadsheets and some hard nosed business advice. Instead he arrived in full biking gear and with a giant smile and once we bonded over living in India and how amazing Chelsea is, he said this (with an excellent head wobble) ; “I only have 2 things to tell you. They are mantras. Write them down and do not forget them” I felt like they might be important rules for life, and so I did indeed write them down.

Mantra Number 1.

“Ask yourself each morning, How can I be of service today?”

Mantra Number 2.

“Go deeper” 

We also spent some time discussing finance, the future of yoga and the best way to reach people who are increasingly existing in a digital world. Rob has experience, insight and advice on many issues that we have encountered as an organisation and it was such a useful and wonderful opportunity to get to spend time with him.

Working with veterans is work that we have been doing on a very small scale for a couple of years, but in the USA it is a much more evolved field. There is some specific challenge in this work, mostly that it takes dedicated time and effort to build connections and develop programmes that are sustainable and that work. The culture in the military and amongst veterans is unique and it takes people who understand this culture and are connected to it and who are champions or teachers of yoga to be able to successfully introduce yoga to this community. One of my fellowship objectives was to explore the potential for developing our  work with veterans, so it was great to spend time with people with vast experience in the field.

Kelly Wulf is the Executive Director of  Comeback Yoga, an organisation dedicated to offering yoga to serving military and veterans in Colorado. It’s through Kelly that I find myself driving on a long and dusty road to a Special Forces base, where she teaches a regular yoga class. It’s clear that Kelly is a popular presence on the base; and I’m reminded of the importance of relationship in being able to offer successful yoga programmes. The ability to go into different environments be it a prison, a hospital or a military base and be comfortable, confident, respectful and assertive enough to hold a professional boundary while meeting people where they are is an essential part of being able to working outreach settings. I notice here, as I did in Vancouver and as I do at home that there is a commonality amongst the teachers that are drawn to this work in the way that atmosphere is created and community is formed.

As the gym space fills up I am curious about how everyone supports each other to get to yoga. It is not mandatory but there is certainly an informal expectation that people attend and a fun sense of cameraderie an comradeship. They welcome me warmly and with genuine interest as Kelly introduces me by saying ‘This is Lorraine, from Scotland, she dropped the f bomb on the way here so I knew we’d be cool with her” Lots of the people in the class have recently returned from conflict zones and this time and space to breathe and move feels especially important, as do Kelly’s words on self compassion.

I learn a lot of from Kelly in the short space of time I’m with her. We talk about the need for focus and depth when developing this work  and the potential for needing to make hard decisions as you identify the scope of work. At ECY we do not just do one thing and though this serves us well in a small community we do have to draw margins around some of the parameters within which we work which means recognising that not all ideas can be carried out and that sometimes we have to say no. This is hard for me but I think it is important that we do what we do well and don’t compromise that by doing too many different things. I remember Mantra 2 from Rob. ‘Go deeper’ and it makes so much sense. Much to contemplate as we move forward.

Kelly and I also talked at length about fundraising and different models of raising money, which is an interesting discussion as the culture around in particular individual donations is very different in the USA and UK. I’m also really interested to hear that Comeback Yoga fund all the classes they run, even with the US military; one of our challenges to running outreach programmes is finding funding and/or negotiating cost with organisations that should have budget and should value wellbeing activities enough to pay for them, however this is often not the case  and I am curious about if and how our approach might shift as we generate more income from fundraising activity and our corporate work to fund more outreach projects long term.

Since I wrote the word bear in the title of this blog, its also worth mentioning that I actually did see a bear. Crossing a road in an urban area which was hilarious given that I spent a bit of time hiking and climbing around the flatirons where one would expect it more likely to find a bear or even a mountain lion.

No photo though, sadly. I left Boulder with a full heart and a fuller brain and was pretty delighted to have spent time in sunshine (which Boulder has 300 days a year of) catching up with good friends and meeting and learning from new colleagues and mentors before heading to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck to spend a week with the Yoga Service Council writing best practice guidelines for yoga and mindfulness for addiction recovery. More on that later.