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A Non-Intentional, Intentional Community: How a YTT Fostered Community During a Crisis

In response to a few cases of COVID in Peru, the Peruvian president closed the borders to all travel entering and leaving the country. For us, this was half way into a 200 hour YTT. 20 students were from the US, Canada, and Europe. The 4 teachers were from Peru and the US. We were in the village of Moyobamba in the Amazonica region. Moyobamba is located 3 hours from the nearest airport in Tarapoto. And, Tarapoto is about 2 hours by air from Lima.

The President’s announcement came as a surprise. We realized that our flights home were cancelled. There was no way to get to Lima. Essentially by 8 PM that day we were stranded in Peru.

The 200 YTT was at halfway point and we would be there for an indefinite period of time. I was curious to see how the group would evolve. I wanted to see if the group would maintain interest in and focus on YTT, how group dynamics would evolve, and what would happen as this YTT became an involuntary community due to an international crisis.

That night the group met. At that time the borders had been closed for the next 15 days, which would extend 11 days after YTT ended. As the news sank in, we realized that we would be where we were for the remainder of the week then would need to find alternate living arrangements.

The following morning, our thinking was widely divergent. One overarching concern was where would people live. Some began to search for ways to get home. Others were looking for housing. Some wanted to prepare for the Zombie apocalypse. The first day of the new reality found the group lacking cohesion. The teachers decided to continue the YTT. Students participated and all made an effort to focus. But many told me that they were feeling distracted. At the same time, most in the group found comfort to the consistency of daily yoga practice, meditation, and meals together. Although there was internal turbulence, the structure of the program and its communal nature created a container where folks felt cared for while continuing to study yoga. Everyone seemed to be at peace with the new reality.

There was a wide variety of emotion. One person cried nightly. A nurse felt guilty that she was not in the US helping. One who believed that the-world-as-we-knew-it was coming to an end welcomed the opportunity to start over. Several said that they did not feel stranded since it had been their intention to stay in Peru after the YTT. Several came to this YTT during periods of transition and found it comforting to know that their time for transition would be longer. Others were concerned. One woman began to worry about job security. One woman was concerned for her son (she was able to make arrangements for him to be at his father’s house). Some who did not speak Spanish were concerned about staying on their own.

A shift occurred when the owner of the hotel agreed to keep the hotel open for our group until the end of the “National State of Emergency”. Most remarked that they felt very relieved when they learned that we could stay together and at that location. This bought a palpable sense of relief.

For the remaining days of the YTT students and teachers were both engaged and distracted. Everyone completed the YTT and there are now 20 certified yoga teachers. All completed their projects, practicum assignments, classes, did their practice teaching. At the same time they were engaged in creating this new non-intentional, intentional community.

After the YTT ended, we settled into our life. We had a pool. We had yoga class every morning, sometimes led by one of the students or a teacher. Each night we had restorative yoga or a movie, a trading blanket, or ecstatic dance. We made a running trail. One participant, a chiropractor, saw everyone who wanted an appointment. A massage therapist, offered massages to one person daily. A reading group started. Some began art projects. Some studied Spanish. One woman led a daily cardio- HIIT workout. Others started AB/core workouts. The combination of being in a safe place, in a town where there was no Coronavirus, with like-minded people, fostered more the feel of a yoga retreat than being stranded in the jungle in a third world country. A community evolved. People took on roles, friendships developed. While there was plenty to do it was easy to find time alone. Except for the fact that this was caused by a terrible pandemic it seemed quite nice.

A week after the YTT ended everyone was involved in the community. No one felt anxious. Many spoke of how supportive the community had become. Everyone was using time productively. For some that meant reflecting on the next steps in their lives. For some it mean study. Several learned that they could work remotely, full or part time. Some did but continued to make time for discussions, yoga, fitness classes, journaling, etc. Several decided to read books about yoga. No one felt bored or useless.

The end happened quickly. The night before we were to leave the hotel, the Irish embassy picked up the one Irish citizen. The next day the American embassy arranged transportation for 7 Americans. Within a day the Canadian embassy picked up the Canadian citizens and transported an American to Lima. One group who had planned to stay longer did. And, three teachers and the one male student stayed in Peru.

An obvious question is: How was this experience shaped by the intensive YTT? There is no basis of comparison, but it seems that the intense focus on yoga shaped and informed the experience of being stranded together.

Several remarked that they were changed by practicing yoga twice daily, having morning and afternoon meditation class, studying asana, yoga philosophy, etc. Indeed, this is the point of an immersive experience.

Whenever a group comes into a stressful situation it would seem logical that emotions would elevate and that stress would take its toll on individuals and on the group. I did not see that happening. I expected more evidence of stress. I expected cliques to develop. I expected to hear more criticisms. But, I noticed almost none.

As I reflect on my own experience, although a leader and caring for others, I also felt supported and cared for by this forced community. I think that this happening at the end of a YTT that focused on living the yogic lifestyle dramatically impacted the group’s evolution. It gave us the opportunity to live as an intentional community built upon common values and practices. It gave us the opportunity to live as a community of yogis.

It worked.

 

Before becoming a yoga teacher, Dr. Loren Thomas retired twice; once from being a school district superintendent and then from being a college faculty member. He began to practice yoga in 1997 and was inconsistent for years. But, upon retiring, yoga became his daily passion. He now teaches yoga and teaches in YTTs, focusing on philosophy and meditation. In addition to career and yoga, he is an avid marathon runner, rock climber, cyclist. He found that the combination of meditation and his outdoor physical activities supported him in his work as an active professional. He now works to promote healthy habits, a positive approach to aging, enjoyment of life. He encourages everyone to be active and pursue what calls to them.

 

Listen to Episode 9 of the Yoga Trade Podcast to hear COMMUNITY VOICES and other pandemic stories from the global yoga and wellness community.

 

Entrepreneurship and Evolution of Yoga: Adi Shakti

At first thought, the mix of entrepreneurship and yoga may seem like a paradox. Mixing business and yoga!? But really, when we are able to free ourselves from duality, we see that all things, including entrepreneurship and yoga are deeply connected. How incredible is it to be able to weave threads of yoga into our businesses and everyday livelihood. Also, a current theme in yoga evolution today is that of leadership. Taking responsibility as a teacher of yoga to not only teach students how to keep calm in challenging physical postures, but also how to step off the mat, lead with the heart, and ignite positive change within community. We are fortunate to live in a time where there are many extraordinary teachers of yoga offering many amazing things. Here with catch up with with one of these extraordinary yoga warriors; Adi Shakti. This woman and teacher blends her journey to purpose, devotional service, and professional development in a beautiful way. Continue to read and be inspired by her story and actions:

Tell us about your yoga journey…

I am a philosopher by nature, and I have been obsessed with the big questions since I was a little girl. I lost a lot of people I loved early in my life – and it made me terribly curious about the WHY of our human experience. Why are we here? And what are we to do with this life? This led me to higher study of the great thinkers through my time at University, and eventually I stumbled across the yogic philosophy. I had never found a philosophy that also gave such a clear path to not only knowing God, but also to having a direct experience of God. Through lifestyle, the body, the breath, and the practice of meditation. I was fascinated.

This is what started my journey into the lifestyle and philosophy. I did my initial training with the Shambhavananda discipline in Chicago, and a couple of years later spent a few months in India where I studied with my master Yogrishi Vishvketu. Since then, I have continued my own studentship and have also started my own yoga school where I have educated other seekers at the 200 hour, 300 hour, Pre-Natal and Trauma Informed professional certification levels. I am now partnered with Yoga Journal teaching Trauma Sensitive Facilitator Skills Training certifications around the United States – to focus even more on the BIG question – How can the yoga community serve as a powerful vehicle for social change? And this is my passion and focus currently.

When did you start Passion Yoga School and how did it come about? Can you share some of the highs and lows of creating and operating a yoga school?

The school started in 2014, and I began the logistics of running the business shortly before I moved back to the small Caribbean town I call home in Costa Rica. I wanted to offer phenomenal education, and I wanted the quality and style of what we were offering to dance to a radically different drum. I wanted authenticity, shared intimacy, tears, jungle mud, sexual liberation education, conscious business growth mastermind, trauma sensitive discussion, and to start a MOVEMENT of passionate soulworkers – rather than just crank out more physical practice focused teachers more concerned with the brand on their back than the soul in their teachings (sorry not sorry). I wanted to offer pristine education on the bio-mechanics of the physical body – but I wanted my students to leave with a profound understanding that this is just the FIRST STEP, and that our job as teachers is to work with the body as a vessel for profound emotional, mental, and spiritual healing.

This was the vision, and we started at super small platforms where people would provide their own room and board in the town. And in 2017, we FINALLY manifested our own Experimental Yogic Living Center deep in the jungle. Permaculture baby. Dry toilets, beautiful recycled container housing – and all the jungle we need to chant, scream, cry, dance, sweat and do our primal work without complaints from the neighbors.

It’s NOT always easy. And sometimes the work that we do is misunderstood, and sometimes that is difficult to handle as a sensitive leader who carries so much. We talk sex, money, race, privilege, respect for the lineage, working with broken hearts, and there is a lot of CHARGE around all of these topics. Sometimes, I am the target of people’s frustration with the way things are in the world, and I am always always being invited to step up and do what I do better. Sometimes, it’s exhausting. And I am committed (radically) to the process of receiving feedback, doing the work I need to do to put my ego aside – and sort through my own inner truth system to see how, when and if I need to change the route of this ship based on others (sometimes very mean) invitations for growth. You can learn more about Passion Yoga School here.

What wisdom do you have to share with yoga teachers who want to start teaching Yoga Teacher Trainings?

Have accountability. Whatever it is that you are doing – you can do it with more awareness. You can create a more loving container. We all have blind spots to the triggers of our students, and it is our responsibility to dig deeper and deeper into what it means to truly hold SACRED, SAFE, INCLUSIVE space. Commit to studentship, even as you sit at the front of the room. Know that every student will be a different medicine FOR you, and will perhaps need a different medicine FROM you. Honor your boundaries, lead by example. HONOR YOUR LINEAGE, and surround yourself by other colleagues who will quickly call you on your bull shit when you aren’t showing up the way you need to be.

What is Soul Work and why is it important?

SoulWork is the journey from inner inquiry to purpose clarity. It is about excavating the deep and complicated layers of ancestral patterning, the trauma from this life and others, and committing to constantly renewing our connection to Earth, God, the Great Spirit (whatever you want to call it). Without a commitment to diving into the shadow, our limiting patterns of mind / behavior, or taking RADICAL responsibility for our inner condition – we remain puppets on a string. We go into default mode and continue to perpetuate the agenda of those outside of us. The revolution starts within. When we are connected to our own power and have a community of others who reflect that back to us – that’s when the purpose work TRULY starts. Then, we can get clear on how we are meant to live our lives, and do it with integrity, clarity, courage, and purpose.

We’ve collaborated with Yoga Journal on our new project – SoulWork. And we are coming to the United States this Fall 2019! We are hosting Trauma Sensitive Facilitator Skills Trainings across 4 cities (DC, Chicago, Denver + LA). These are 4 day intensives where we educate soul seekers on how to facilitate transformation with integrity + how to grow their conscious businesses with our SoulWork model + leading SoulWork circles. You can learn more about that here.

You can also subscribe to our SoulWork podcast here – to start learning a TON more about everything I am sharing here.

In what ways do you see the global yoga community evolving over the next 10 years?

We want to be a big part of shaping this direction. What I see trending, and what I intend to continue to advocate for – is the global yoga community being a POWERFUL vehicle for profound social change. Yoga teachers who are properly educated in the true power of the practice to transform people’s lives – hold an incredible platform, voice, and impact in their local communities. If this leadership is developed and their voices are amplified (and this is what we specialize in supporting through our professional development intensives) – I believe that we will continue to see the work come off of the mat and organize more into a socio-political movement. Diversity, accessibility, inclusivity. Bringing health of body, discipline of mind, and freedom of spirit tools and practices to the MASSES – not just the upper-middle class white woman. It’s time to TRULY take the teachings mainstream, and the time is now.

What qualities do you believe make an extraordinary yoga teacher?

A commitment to constantly fine tuning and expanding your own awareness. What’s that mean? YOU ARE WILLING TO CALL YOURSELF ON YOUR SHIT. You become more and more committed to living your life in alignment with your own values. How you shop, how you build your business, how you care for the Earth. It becomes about walking the talk – truly living your practice. Being nice to waiters. Giving back in your communities. Being an advocate for the things that are important to you.

I always tell my students – I could give a damn how you teach a down dog (even though you’ll leave our programs having that DOWN by like day 2). What is important to me is how students FEEL being in your class. Do they feel WELCOME? Do they feel SEEN? Do you create an environment where people can come and GRACE can do her work in allowing healing to unfold. Get out of your own way – hold space like a boss – and invite in a deep deep journey inside for your students.

You are also involved with several other projects including Selva Fitness and Shakti Seva. Tell us more…

Selva Fitness is my fitness company where we offer online education + global fitness retreats. I love to go deep deep deep, and I also found myself taking my life a little too seriously, so I wanted to start a company focused on FUN. That’s what Selva Fitness is about. Fitness, fun, and feeling sexy, strong + confident in your body. You can check out Selva Fitness here.

Shakti Seva is our non-profit extension. We started a community center for the indigenous community (upon their request after submitting a proposal) near our home here in Costa Rica. We host volunteers (mostly Costa Ricans) who dedicate 3 months to live in the tiny (tiny tiny) village and work with the community children. We also have built a classroom for my teacher’s school in India, are advocates for the work our partners are doing to support women transitioning out of human trafficking in Kolkata, and we are currently re-organizing with the help of Yoga Journal to give back to local urban organizations making yoga more accessible to a diverse audience.

How do you balance all of your work and projects with your own personal well being?

Fitness. I train like a freakin’ athlete, (pretty much) every day. And I eat well. And I have incredible relationships. And regular orgasms. And I freaking LOVE what I do. Work is work – but it’s also my hobby, my purpose, my passion, my baby. It’s not easy. I’m not always good at the life / work balance thing. But, I’m getting better at getting pickier about what gets my focus + energy every single day, and maybe someday I’ll be less crazy. (I kind of doubt it.)

What are you most curious about right now?

I’m curious if I’ll get to hold YOU (yes you – the one reading this right now) close to my heart one day. I share my story because I want to connect with you. I want to hear YOUR story, learn your fears, your desires. I want to know where you hurt, why you hurt. I want to grow with you, learn from you. I want to see if there are ways that my life experience can add more depth to your life, too. Come see me in the world? Please?

You can see my schedule of events here.

Follow Adi on Instagram – @adi_shakti_rising

 

Adi is a teacher’s teacher, philosopher + serial entrepreneur whose work and life is based out of an experimental yogic living permaculture center on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. She has trained hundreds of yoga teachers in the 200 hr, 300 hr, Lifestyle Social Entrepreneurship, Pre-Natal and Trauma Informed professional focus areas through her company, Passion Yoga School. She has also led international programs across the globe – including to Thailand, Cambodia, India, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. Adi is the founder of SoulWork and producer of SoulWork: the Film – focusing on the journey from deep inner inquiry to clarity around social purpose and responsibility. She is also the Executive Director of Shakti Seva Inc, a 501c3 organization focusing on uplifting the indigenous community near her home among other global projects.