What better place to find yourself than at the top of the Sierras? I thought
this to myself as I moved through another vinyasa at this year's
Wanderlust Festival. But yoga isn't just about bliss–it's also about the
uncomfortable poses and the places inside us we struggle with, because this is
where discoveries are made and where we grow from. Maybe it's ironic I'm
reminded of this I look out at one of the most breathtaking views I've ever
seen. But some of the women of the organization
Off the Mat into the World, who are leading this particular class, remind me
of this as I struggle to maintain my crow pose. Along similar lines, and some
may find this surprising, yoga is not just about yourself. It's also about
service. Which is why they formed Off the Mat: as a call for action to the yoga
community to use what you learn during your practice and to take it out into the
world, and use it for good. I had the pleasure of catching up with some of the
women of Off the Mat at Wanderlust this weekend, while they were taking a
breather between teaching classes, fundraising, and hosting a sold-out yoga
class/jam session with Michael Franti. Here's the scoop on the most powerful and
influential yoga activist group around…
How would you describe the Off the Matt community?
Sterling: Here at Wanderlust we have people representing Off the Mat from as
far as Japan, New Zealand, London, and all over the states–it's a global
community of people getting empowered to move solutions forward.
Kelly: Our community consists of a lot of yoga teachers, practicers, and
activists who want to make a positive change in the world.
How does yoga fit in to Off the Matt?
KK: Yoga gives people a tool set, the capacity and space to act from a place of
SS: We don't want to become burnt out activists, so yoga is our tool to learn
about ourselves–to find out our own strengths, how you respond to uncomfortable
situations, what our coping mechanisms are–and take those tools to make
What are the core values of Off the Mat?
KK: We have 3 main touch points. Empowerment: We teach people to use the
mind-body connection they learn in their yoga practice to realize their purpose
of what they're really passionate and ignited about, then give them the
practical skill set to take it into the world and create tangible change. We do
five day "intensives" to really dig into your stuff and awaken your commitment
of wanting to make change in the world.
Mobilization: With the numbers we have as a community, we can be a force.
We want to be a movement for change.
Action: We have something called the Global
Seva Challenge which is a call to action to our community to fundraise
for humanitarian projects abroad. It's sort of a combination of the first
two–the collective community comes together to be a force for change.
So what's the "off the mat" part?
KK: Our Global Seva Challenge is an invitation to the yoga community to join a
different humanitarian movement each year and step into their leadership roll
and start mobilizing their community by raising money and getting creative with
their leadership. We raise over a half million dollars each year to use for
projects, buildings, support, etcetera, in a country of need. We take the yogis
who have met their $20,000 fundraising goal to the country that they've been
advocating for the past year and participate in building the projects as well as
to see the impact of their work.
What other projects does Off the Mat do?
KK: Next year we're going to run a nonpartisan campaign called Yoga Votes to see
if we can mobilize our 30 million member community to vote. The yoga community
can be very powerful when we awaken our full potential. For example, when the
Seva Challenge first launched, it was an experiment. We thought: What would
happen if we asked yogis to raise money for a country that's in dire need? We
gave them the tools they needed mentally and spiritually to do it, and when we
found out we raised a half million dollars, it blew our minds. We knew we were
on to something.
What countries have you helped with the money Off the Mat has raised over the
past few years?
KK: The first year we went to Cambodia and worked with the Cambodian Children's
Fund. The second year we went to
Uganda where we worked on a couple different projects. This year we went to
South Africa where we worked with the HIV/AIDS community. And next year
we're going to
to lend aid to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
How did your interest in yoga lead you to your position at Off the Mat?
KK: Before I realized the power of yoga, I was on a very prescribed path in my
life–I was in corporate America on my way to being a hot shot in the marketing
world; I was going to be a mom and move to the suburbs. But the yoga world
invited me to listen in about what I really wanted and what I really stood for.
And that started to steer me in a whole new direction, to where I am today. I
started to wake up to my own talent as a coach and passion to support others and
awaken them to the ways they're great. The yoga cracked open a world
of possibility, but simultaneously it focused me.