By guest author Alanna Krause, Yoga Stops Traffick NZThe week of March 4 – 10, all over New Zealand, there will be yoga classes, film screenings, yoga malas (108 sun salutations), and many other events for Yoga Stops Traffick NZ, part of the global effort to end human trafficking.
I’d like to share a little bit about my journey and how I came to organize this event.
The first time I went to India, years ago, I took a train. There was an old man with a long white beard in my car, who was being attended by a group of followers sitting around him adoringly. He took an interest in me and gestured to come over. I went and sat before him, hot air rushing in through the bars of the glassless window.
He placed his large, rough hands on my head and intoned:
Now you are a light bulb.
I was too stunned even to laugh. He continued,
I am passing light to you. You will glow. And when you go home, you will pass the light on to everyone you meet.
And then he laughed and offered me tea. I have no idea who he was.
It took me a long time to find the right way to share that particular light.
When I left for India to do my yoga teacher training, I was sure I would never actually teach. What did a newbie like me have to say about a lifelong practice, anyway? I was just there for myself, I told everyone, to deepen my own practice.
I chose a fairly traditional course at an ashram, which focused on all four main paths of yoga equally. We did asana, of course, along with meditation (raja yoga). But we also did a lot of chanting (bhakti yoga), studying the philosophy of vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita (jnana yoga), and worked around the ashram cleaning or whatever else we were told to do for “selfless service” (karma yoga).
We were taught that no matter which path of yoga we were on, the idea was to let go of ego and realize our true nature as one with everything.
Usually, I’m not spiritual, or a chanter, or a meditator – or a cleaner for that matter – and sitting on the floor for long periods makes my back hurt. It was challenging for me to overcome the resistance of my ego. Plus, it rained a lot. But I made it through.
It was there that I had a realization: it’s not about what yoga can give me, it’s about what yoga can enable me to give to others.
I had been living life as a sponge, soaking up experiences. I knew I wanted purpose in my life, but I didn’t know how to find it, so I floated along in my spongy way. I’d learned a lot, and now it was time to start giving something to the world.
No matter how humble my offering, if I had passion and knowledge about yoga, I had to share it. My fears and insecurities were only my ego talking. So I resolved to teach when I arrived in Wellington (I now offer a donation based class Tuesday evenings at Aro Valley Community Centre).
But it wasn’t just about teaching.
Following the logic of yogic philosophy to its natural conclusion, if we are all one, as long as there is suffering in the world, we are all suffering. If I help someone else, I am ultimately helping myself.
This same teaching comes up in a lot of different religions and traditions, and it’s something most people have experienced themselves: the teacher learns by guiding the student, the volunteer is herself uplifted, and the giver receives in the act of giving the gift.
I sent around an email to friends saying I wanted to do some volunteering while in India and did anyone know a good place?
The name Odanadi came from trusted sources. I looked at their website and liked what I saw: Over the past 20 years, Odanadi has rescued more than 1850 women and children from human trafficking, bonded servitude, forced prostitution, and abuse. They run a residence in Mysore where survivors live, receive medical care and counselling, and practice yoga as part of their rehabilitation.
This isn’t something I talk about a lot, but as a kid I was abused.
It was a long time ago, and my life is so awesome now that it feels like another incarnation entirely, but it’s there, in my past, a part of my story.
So when I read about these kids and saw their pictures, I knew I had to go. It felt like dharma: doing what you feel deep down is right, in harmony with the natural order of the universe, even if it’s personally challenging.
I went to Mysore, rented a little blue room in a house without indoor plumbing, and found my way to Odanadi. I rolled through the gates, parked my scooter, and was soon covered in tiny, smiling, large-eyed children all hugging me at once.
I didn’t save anyone’s life.
I just put my hands where they could be used for a while.
We cleaned out an old shed and put up new laundry drying lines. I helped a young woman – brilliant and beautiful, but schizophrenic and broken – to write a short story about a starving artist achieving her dreams. She cried when I left, and I cried, too.
Now, I’m organizing Yoga Stops Traffick New Zealand, which will help support Odanadi and the work they do for survivors. You can get involved by attending an event in your area, or hosting an event yourself. All the details are on our website. Please join us.
So what’s the conclusion, that I’m a karma yogi? That you should be? I’m not sure.
What I’ve learned is that yoga is a wide and deep practice, with something to teach at many stages of a journey. As long as we’re true to ourselves and give of ourselves, all paths lead where we’re meant to go.
It feels good to be a light bulb.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. – The Dalai Lama
All the details about Yoga Stops Traffick NZ are on our website. Please join us.