Meet the inspiring yogis ‘killing it’ around the world, from bridging communities to setting up festivals
As much as yoga is about the inner journey, it can also be a largely connective, unifying and sociable practice, whether that’s saying ‘namaste’ to fellow yogis at your local class, attending retreats or festivals, or using your yoga knowledge to help and inspire others. We speak to four inspiring yogis who are not only making yoga more of a community activity, but are also using their practice for the greater good. Because, after all, if you can’t look after others, how are you meant to look after yourself? Read on for their inspiring stories.
“Each morning, I write down the first new thing I’m grateful for”
Elizabeth Gowing, yogi, author and founder of The Ideas Partnership
Can you tell us a bit about how your new book, Unlikely Positions, came about?
“When I moved to Port Isaac, Cornwall, yoga was one of the ways I became involved in the local community and it made me wonder what I could learn from other yogi communities around the country. My journey took me to places I’d never been, from The Isle of Man to prisons, and one of the most inspiring apsects was hearing from people whose lives had been profoundly transformed by yoga, from those using yoga to manage living with Parkinson’s, to survivors of human trafficking.”
What inspired you most from your journey?
“I was particularly inspired by the power of yoga when I met a former prisoner who had learned yoga and meditation through the work of the Prison Phoenix Trust (theppt.org.uk). He was on his third prison sentence, and he told me how yoga had turned his life around. He’s now been out of prison for five years. ”
Can you tell us a bit about the charity you co-founded, The Ideas Partnership?
“I co-founded The Ideas Partnership charity in Kosovo ten years ago, together with my partner and a friend. We’re a volunteer-based organisation working in five municipalities across Kosovo, mainly with excluded Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian families and communities. We help children to get into school, support safe births, and empower young people to become advocates for their community’s needs.”
Key spiritual takeaway for Soul & Spirit readers?
“I keep a daily gratitude diary, and I was even brave enough to include diary entries in Unlikely Positions. Each morning, I write down the first new thing I’m grateful for, and this has been really transformational for me. Visit Elizabeth at elizabethgowing.com”
Unlikely Positions In Unlikely Places: A Yoga Journey Around Britain is out now (£10.99, Bradt)
“As yogis, we share a similar philosophy, irrespective of our race, religion and gender”
Kriti Sachdeva, yogi, vegan, and founder of Yogific yoga and vegan festival
What inspired you to set up Yogific?
“I attended my first yoga class at the age of six, and I was born a vegetarian. I turned vegan eight years ago and that was my moment of epiphany; I realised how yoga and veganism are related – if the yogic concept of ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) applies to humans, shouldn’t it also apply to animals, too? This gave me my mission in life: to create a community of vegan yogis and to spread awareness about yoga and veganism.”
How has Yogific grown?
“Yogific began in 2016 with a series of very small events. I realised I could reach far more people if I organised a bigger event which brought together yogis, yoga teachers, vegan traders and vegan activists under the same roof – from there, the Yogific Yoga and Vegan Festival was born. So far, we’ve hosted 28 events in five countries and have collaborated with over 200 teachers and 300 ethical businesses. We have a network of 150 volunteers who help us organise events.”
Can you tell us about some of the people you’ve met through Yogific?
“One of the most inspiring people I’ve met is Emma Slade, a former investment banker and Yoga teacher from Essex who is now a Buddhist nun. She is the author of the bestselling book, Set Free (Summersdale, £9.99) which chronicles her journey from the world of banking to Buddhism. She runs a charity in Bhutan to help disabled children.”
Does yoga help you to connect with people?
“Yes! As yogis, we share a similar philosophy, irrespective of our race, religion and gender. The word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ and yoga is an open community that welcomes everyone.”
“There is a Sanskrit Shloka (hymn) that translates as: A student learns ¼ from the teacher, ¼ from the classmates, ¼ with self-study and ¼ with experience. I apply this to my yoga practice and to any new skill I learn.”
Visit Kriti and Yogific at yogific.org
“For me, letting go is key”
Elaine Denton, life, yoga and fitness coach; founder of LifeYogaFitness; Yoga Socials host
How do life coaching, fitness and yoga compliment one another?
“I believe that some of the key pillars to leading a happy life are mindfulness, learning to understand the mind/ emotions and uncovering what may be holding you back on the inside. I also believe that being active, strong and flexible keeps us to keep young, confident and able to lead a fuller life.
Can you tell us a bit about yoga Socials? The Yoga Social is a half or full day event based around yoga, mindfulness and vegan food and was born out of my passion to connect people. I run my events locally, each month, to help bring people in the community together.”
How does yoga unite people?
“Yoga brings people together with a common sense of purpose. One of the philosophies of yoga is to practise ‘non-judgement’, which helps people to feel safe and accepted, both within themselves and the community as a whole. Yoga is about kindness, to self and others, and I believe we all need a bit of that in today’s world.”
Do you have a mantra that’s central to your practice?
“For me, letting go is key. It’s about letting go of self-judgement and learning to just be in the moment, in gratitude for what you have, right here, right now.”
Visit Elaine at lifeyogafitness.co.uk
It is when yoga is taken out of the studio and into the world that the greatest shift in consciousness occurs”
Jordan Ashley, yogi, journalist and founder of Souljourn Yoga
Tell us a bit about Souljourn Yoga.
“What inspired you to set it up? I was in a yoga class in New York when I had my ‘A-ha!’ moment; why couldn’t we all leave our mats and go to places where the leisure of yoga doesn’t exist? I had previously been a reporter in Southeast Asia, where I saw how imperative girls’ education and women’s empowerment is for creating opportunities and choice. So I thought: why can’t this same tribe of women travel, connect, and support girls’ education initiatives on the ground?”
Can you tell us about some of Souljourn Yoga’s achievements so far?
“The charity is inspired by ‘seva’, a Sanskrit word and yogic principle of selfless service. Our aim is to raise awareness and funds for girls’ education in developing countries by teaming up with both local and international nonprofits. We create opportunities to explore, practise, and educate through yoga, and offer workshops and global retreats to communities where equal opportunities aren’t always readily available. With over 14 retreats under our belt, we’ve raised more than £30,000 around the world, and this is only the beginning when it comes to using yoga for social activism.”
Can you tell us about some of the upcoming Souljourn retreats?
“Our 2020 retreat line-up is going to be epic! We are launching three new retreats, including Cape Town, Sri Lanka, and the Sahara, and we will also be returning to Cambodia in February, the Tibetan Plateau and Peru in May/June, and Rwanda in June/July – so a big year ahead!
Do you think the concepts of yoga and community go hand in hand? Absolutely! To be a practitioner of yoga, you practise compassion and kindness, regardless of your asana level. It is when yoga is taken out of the studio and into the world that the greatest shift in consciousness occurs, because we have the opportunity to see through first-hand experience for ourselves that we are, in fact, all one. And, let’s be honest, we feel good when we help others!”
Do you have a key quote or mantra you could share with us?
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Find out more about Jordan at souljournyoga.com