I started yoga when I was a professional dancer, young and energetic. It was another practice that moved, and I had to move. I started teaching yoga close to the same time, having no idea that this path would lead me into the depths of my own experiences of trauma, health, and then back out into the world, to share what I learn with other people.
Sondra Loring, Founder & Director, Sadhana Service Project
After years of practicing and teaching yoga, I was strong enough to face my own demons. My earliest traumatic memory from my family is looking up from the height of a two-year old into their totally worried faces, knowing something was wrong, sensing it with my already finely-tuned nervous system. And indeed, my brother was extremely sick with a mysterious illness, that stumped doctors for years and had my parents running around, searching for an answer, any answer. I thought I could help by not needing much, not being a burden, and by being sunny and cheerful. Yup, there was a toll to be paid for that, later.
It was really the teaching of yoga that changed me, one class at a time. I knew I was teaching people about poses, and about breathing, and meditation, but slowly I realized it was about healing trauma through the body. What was surprising was the day I realized that my students were teaching me not only about healing, but about love. They revealed the magic of being human to me, the tenderness, the suffering and the beauty. Most days I’m hungry to be with my students, so we can keep learning by practicing, and laughing together.
When I started volunteering in the Hudson Correctional Facility for Juveniles in Hudson, New York, teaching yoga to young women, and then to the young men, my heart broke open in a whole new way. To witness the degree of dignity and the depths of despair, housed in a broken system that should be abolished, was intense. I had to do more.
Sadhana Service Project (SSP), based in Hudson, New York, was born to foster a more peaceful and humane environment for justice-impacted people and the staff that works with them. We have to make it better in prison now, as we simultaneously work to educate everyone to transform the system into one that provides sane and restorative justice.
SSP has expanded to include rehab centers, and this year, we initiated the nation’s first yoga teacher training for women in a mandated recovery center. These women are discovering the self-awareness, self-worth, empathy and compassion that will lead them to make positive personal and pro-social choices, as they learn the 8-limbs of yoga. They will be certified yoga teachers when they leave the center.
It isn’t hard to convince yoga teachers to volunteer—generally they are empathetic, aware and progressive people. Something bothered me about this, however, as yoga teachers are notoriously under-valued and underpaid. My ideas about volunteering changed; the teachers needed to be paid for their expertise AND the organizations needed to get the service, without cost, at least until they could see evidence of the value and begin implementing yoga and meditation into their budgets. Our fundraising goes to pay teachers, who bring trauma-informed, mindfulness-based yoga to beautiful men, women, and young people in nine organizations in the Hudson Valley.