seva

Anahata Food Project Spring 2013

By Marcia Miller

Last week, the coordinators of the Anahata Food Project had our first meeting. We are excited to order seeds and get together for the first big work party of the season (Saturday, March 30 from noon to 2).  We planned what we would grow and which extra projects to do this year.

Right after that meeting I was talking to a friend who had helped us a couple of years ago and she asked if we were still involved. I felt amazed and grateful that so many of us have been working together since the beginning of the garden. And that new people join us each year to add meaning and service to their already busy lives.

Then my friend imagined the huge impact we have had on the food pantries we serve.  It is true that we have grown and delivered nearly 7 tons of organic produce since we started this project.  And while 14,000 pounds of produce IS a lot, I’m not really sure of the impact.  We grow and offer the food freely. In one pantry they divide up whatever food we bring so that most families get something fresh—sometimes only a quart of food per family, though at the height of the season it can be much more. And just because someone takes the food home does not mean it gets eaten.  Turns out there are lots of hurdles to getting fresh vegetables into the bellies of low income families. Some don’t have gas or electricity to cook with. Others don’t have pots and pans or don’t know how to cook vegetables so that they are nutritious and delicious.  Some families in need can’t even get to the food pantry for lack of transportation.

Still, there are many reasons that keep me inspired in what we are doing.

  1. It is so good for us!  Getting outside, in the fresh air, doing the physical labor with friends (or soon to be friends) is pure joy.  We can see the vast width of the sky and the weather patterns moving across it.  We occasionally visited by Kevin’s chickens and can see his cows from the garden.  There is a pond nearby that hosts migrating birds in the spring and fall and is home to many families of birds, frogs and fish during the summer.  We are surrounded by the sounds of nature which act like a healing balm to my soul.
  2. It’s good for the people who are using the food pantries once they get the food!  People who may not have access to good quality produce get some at least occasionally.
  3. The sense of working on behalf of others is a powerful tonic for the heart.  This is where the word Anahata comes from; it is the Sanskrit word for heart center.  It’s healthy for the volunteers beyond the obvious benefits of physical exercise.  The caring that we experience toward others reminds us that they are really not “the other”—they are us.  We value fresh, live, organic food so we do what we can to ensure everyone can have it.
  4. The magic of mattering.  I like to think that the people in the pantry wonder about us the way we wonder about them.  Who are these people spending so much time in the dirt working so hard, going far out of their way to bring some carrots and a bag of greens to them?  I hope they feel a sense that they matter to us even when we haven’t met.  For me this is part of the mystery of living this life together—we are connected—sometimes we can see it and feel it personally, other times we see the evidence before us—like a bag of greens.

Volunteer Details:  if you would like to work with us regularly or even occasionally please join us on Saturday, March 30, from noon to 2:00p for our first work session—a “Come to the Garden Party,” as volunteer Ann Janiak is calling it.  After that our main work day will be Sunday—we’ll meet earlier in the day as the temperature rises. Later in the season we’ll add a weekday morning session (either Tuesday or Wednesday) and a Thursday evening session as well. If you would like to volunteer,  send me an email and I will add you to our list  and you will received occasional emails with work dates and times.  Marcia@yogaonhigh.com.  I’ll also send you the farm’s address and location and my cell phone number in case you get lost.  We are only 15 minutes west of downtown!  Like us on Facebook or check out our webpage.

 

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Practicing Empathy: On Teaching Yoga to Children in the Public Schools

Colleen Leonardi, dancer, choreographer, writer and yoga teacher, has been working with the Yoga on High Foundation for the past two years, bringing yoga to students in under-resourced schools.  Colleen not only inspires those she teaches, but also those who know her, with her sensitive, thoughtful nature and creative spirit.

As I drive to the school where I’ll teach another yoga class to children, I’m witness to what has now become a familiar scene. Homes boarded up with eviction notices on the door. Yards littered with well-used, rusty objects and trash. What looks to be young, young children wandering alone along the busy street, dangling one foot out into the road as if to tempt fate. I drive slowly, carefully. The scene is markedly different from where I live in the Short North, a neighborhood of bright flowers and clean windows—a place that feels like a place of privilege, now.

This is hard for me. I am sensitive and extremely thoughtful by nature. I think about how one of these homes might be the home of the one of the children I teach. I think about how one of these children might be a friend or sibling of one of my students. I see the interdependency of things in this neighborhood. My yoga practice and teaching does not start and stop at the door of the school. I am acutely aware, before even entering the classroom, of what I’m truly stepping into. My heart is full of what I think I know and all that I don’t.

It is a humbling experience to teach, always. But it is even more humbling when teaching children in need in the public schools. The need is great. The children have such big hearts. And all I want to do each week is stay and play with them for more than an hour. I want to love them more because I see the need. But I know I must trust that my hour with them is enough. It has to be.

That is the reality of my relationship with them. The other reality, the one I speak of above, is much greater for them and for me. I can help them breathe and create space in their body for movement and play. I can help them relax in savasana. I can help them stand tall and strong in tree pose. We can do a lot together.

But I cannot move them to a nicer home. I cannot make sure they’re getting enough food to eat to help them stand tall and strong. I cannot make sure they have someone in their life who will take the time to learn, laugh and fail with them, as we learn and laugh when practicing the poses and falling out of them, saying together, “Oh, that was hard, wasn’t it?”

So my yoga teachings and classes becomes an offering I dole out to them and the teachers who take the class with me. But when I’m preparing to teach I also know that I’m going to be met with another hardship, another dose of reality that is always hard to swallow. My empathic response is going to be triggered yet again and I am going to be left feeling powerless yet again. So I build the courage and resiliency to face these challenges and teach a good class.

And what is a good yoga class? I continue to ask myself this question all the time. Meditation leader Susan Piver says,
“If you’re not practicing what you’re teaching, than you shouldn’t be teaching it.” I practice yoga daily. But I’m not just teaching the physical aspects of yoga when I go into these schools. I’m teaching kindness, respect, patience, equanimity, balance, self-care and self-love. If I’m doing my job, the job I want to do with these kids, that’s what I am teaching, and also practicing with myself!

So I suppose my openness when I drive through the neighborhood on the way to the school and my ability to see the hardship and breathe it in and cry for the children and their families before walking into the school is a sign of my practice in action. I suppose my empathetic response is a good thing. I call on my training, my knowledge of the human body and my years of experience teaching children and adults, to be sure. But at the end of it all I have to be willing to surrender all that I know. I have to be willing to not think my way through the neighborhood and think my way through the class. I have learned that in order to really reach these children I have to walk to meet them with an open, full heart. I have to be willing to feel.

It takes practice, a personal practice that cannot be cultivated with the use of books and language alone. It is a path—one all of us teachers must walk at some point our lives. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to walk it now, and to write about it here. Namaste.

To support the Yoga on High Foundation consider making a donation or attending our Summer Soiree and Fundraiser Saturday, July 14.

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A New Voice Sharing the Benefits of Yoga

Introducing Michele Vinbury, the new program coordinator for the Yoga on High Foundation. She came to us asking for volunteer opportunities that would marry her skills as a yoga teacher and her life-long commitment to helping those in need. And she became central to furthering the Foundation’s volunteer efforts in general. Please welcome her.

It is an honor to be able to work with Linda, Marcia, Martha and Jasmine contributing to the Yoga On High Foundation (YHF); something that combines two of my greatest passions – yoga and volunteerism.

I began volunteering in high school—making dinners for the local homeless shelter, helping at an annual fundraiser to feed the hungry, answering the hotline at a suicide prevention program, writing letters through Amnesty International. Lest you get the wrong idea, I was not a straight-A student (not even straight-B’s,) nor trying to fill my college entrance paperwork. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to college… I believe my interest in volunteerism stemmed from my parents and also from their friends, a close-knit group of bohemian artist types and activist, whom I have always considered an extended family of sorts.

Where to begin? At the beginning of course, the very beginning. I was born in the Andean mountains of Peru to hippie parents. My mother had spent 6 or 7 years in the Peace Corps and my father was a wandering surfer and quasi-missionary, looking for truth and an escape from his stuffy and painful middle-class upbringing.

We spent the first few years of my life living communally in Peru and Brazil. When I was 3, my father, mother, younger brother and I moved to San Diego, where my mother had grown up, and then to Rhode Island where my father was raised. Once in RI, my mother went back to school to become a nurse, and my father found work as a carpenter. It wasn’t long after that they separated and divorced.

In South America, my parents had seen the extremes of developing world poverty. My father especially was affected by this global worldview. In the years after returning from Brazil, though we were poor by American standards, my parents knew that we were rich compared to so many others. This knowledge was something instilled in me from a young age—we are rich in love, we are rich in community. We have food, shelter, education, and we are so lucky to be able to share what we have with those who have less.

The years passed. In the beginning there was no car. My father would ride his bicycle to work and pick us up after school. He would ride us home, me on the long bar and my brother in a milk crate box on the back, down wooded streets and over the train tracks until we reached the house he shared with 3 others. I remember so vividly the day he told us he had built us a house – it was better than being told we were going to Disney. I grew up in the house that my father built. In the winters, the woodstove was always burning, and in the summers, the garden was large and bountiful. There were hard times, but there was always love.

In my late teens and early twenties, I hit a rough patch. Things seemed bleak and I seemed to make a habit out of making bad choices, opting for self-destruction rather than growth. In short, I was a mess. But I was a mess with family and resources. When I needed help, it was given to me, by friends, by family, by strangers and by yoga.

I am exceedingly grateful for the help I received along the way, and the love I continue to receive to this day. Now, in my mid-30s, I have a supportive family, a wonderful husband, healthy and happy children. I am safe. I choose growth, I choose bounty, I choose life. I have found my way, and I believe very strongly that my good fortune should be shared. I have done a lot of work in my life, but I also have been very lucky, some might even say blessed. I have a debt of gratitude for these blessings that I very willingly repay though my volunteerism and seva yoga. It is my joy to be able to give back when I have received so very much.

Through the years I have volunteered in a number of different ways with a number of different organizations. I have volunteered teaching philosophy to male inmates at a medium security prison in Maryland. While living in Maryland, I also did work on a Maryland Coastal Bays project as an intern for an organization called PACE (Institute for Public and Civic Engagement). I have volunteered at a domestic violence agency outside of Chicago. I’ve volunteered with voter registration drives and doing voter canvassing. I’ve volunteered here in Columbus with SARNCO (Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio), and then supported and volunteered at my mother’s non-profit, an organization which has given over 60,000 quilts to wounded soldiers over the past 9 years. Most recently, I have completed a training to be a speaker for a local anti-human trafficking organization, and will begin a training to volunteer with their street outreach, bringing services to woman victims of human trafficking in our area.

On the yoga front, I am teaching a class at Yoga on High for volunteers at a local crisis center and assisting in Yoga on High Foundation’s Yoga in Schools program. I have a few other yoga seva projects in various stages of viability and look forward to sharing them with you in the coming months.

I am very excited and inspired by the opportunities Yoga on High can, and does, bring to our community: Yoga in Schools, Yoga for Vets, an upcoming Cancer Retreat and the impending return of Yoga for Diabetics. In order to fund these programs, and to start new ones, the Foundation, along with the generous help and support of Richard Hillis, is hosting a “Moroccan Nights” summer soiree fund raiser this July 14th from 6:30 to 8:30. It’s bound to be a good time with food, dancing, live music, henna artists and much more. Tickets go on sale soon, you can check this link for updated information: http://yogaonhigh.com/community/community-events-groups/summer-soiree-fundraiser.

I would love to hear from you. Do you have a program you’d like to develop or one you’d like to fund? Feel free to get in touch with me at Michele@YogaOnHigh.com, and let’s bring aid, comfort and relief through yoga to those in need in our community!

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