In the span of a month I attempted to launch two selfless service projects. It didn’t come to me that naturally, I was in the middle of yoga teacher training and one of our assignments was a karma yoga project. It was in a nutshell: do something to help others that you don’t get anything back from. Upon seeing this on our assignment list my mood dropped. Everything else was manageable, but where was I going to find the time with work, a kid, and teacher training to start and give time to some service project?
As the idea simmered in my mind I realized that I would not be happy doing a one-off (like feeding the homeless a couple of times), I wanted to do something close to my heart. I wanted to provide a service that would fill in the missing puzzle pieces in my community. Upon deeper introspection I realized that there was one need close to my heart, a support group for tired, fractious, and confused new mamas.
The second service project came about as a side effect from some yoga history I had back in Long Beach, CA. I was also a fresh off the yoga truck yoga teacher. I desperately needed to learn how to teach yoga. Hence, free yoga in the park, offered every Saturday at 11am. There was a yogalution I was a part of in Long Beach, hordes of the yoga loving mobbed a grassy corner overlooking the ocean daily. I now lived in a small town outside Portland that didn’t even have a yoga studio. I was sure my town needed free outdoor yoga.
I tend to suffer from dreamer-itus. Dream big or go home. I can visualize the unimaginable. I saw moms lining up with babes on their arms, spit up lining their sleeves. They would begin bemoaning their many mom trials before their tired booties hit their chairs. How light their burdens would be after group! I saw a crowd of townsfolk all in sync in triangle pose, looking peacefully up at the glittering green leaves. I saw people waking up to Saturday thinking, it’s Saturday. I’m so glad I can go to yoga. I saw mama’s thinking in thought bubbles, if I can only make it to Mama Bear, then everything will be alright. I was convinced the measures I took to start these groups would work, take off, and do good. And they did, just not in the way I dreamed. I will reveal their current conditions at the end, so read on.
There are things I learned along the way on how to start a movement or a service project:
1. Get into action, any action. Do something even if later on you realize it wasn’t the right thing. The first thing I tried for Mama Bear was a flyer I put up everywhere. It was a call for mama’s to meet me a coffee shop. No one showed up. It did not work. It wasn’t till this happened that I realized I needed to find a space, pick a date, and get the word out.
2. Cast a large net. I emailed everyone to ask for space or if I could announce the moms group. Parks and Rec were iffy, some didn’t respond at all, and then our town’s library offered free space for the mom group without me even asking. I had only asked if I could announce it at baby time. You never know who is going to help. Ask everyone and keep asking!
3. Hustle. Yep you’re going to have to post up a lot of flyers and put up signs. I painted a sign for free yoga which I put out every Friday night. I had many instances when the people who showed up said, “I saw your flyer,” or, “I saw your yoga sign!” Also, create those social media pages. For me, the ticket was Facebook. It was helpful for mamas and yogis to get weekly reminders about the service. I became familiar with different photo aps to make simple pictures to advertise for the groups. I joined different city groups (housing communities, mom groups, ect.).
4. Be prepared for people not to like you. Haters gonna hate. I had a yoga teacher in my neighborhood find a way to get me kicked off our housing community’s Facebook site because she had issue with me teaching in the park there. I found that it wasn’t that people didn’t like you, but are indifferent toward you. People have busy lives, they are doing the best they can and a support group or yoga just doesn’t appeal to them or fit into their lives at that time. This indifference was hard for me to grasp. I would go to a local water park in our town and want to yell out at all the moms, “Come to Mama Bear!” Obviously, I needed to let go and let things fall where they fell. I had done the footwork. Those who were meant to show up at these groups would show up. This was the greatest lesson I learned.
5. Be the change you want, don’t expect your community to change. This was another valuable lesson I learned. Change began with me. Comparing my community with what my mental ideal was would only lead to negativity. If I wanted my community to have access to free yoga, or a place for weary moms to go find refuge to, then I could do my best to put it out there. That was all I had control of. Nothing else.
6. Don’t stop dreaming big! Even though things didn’t happen the way I envisioned, I believe they happened the way they were supposed to. This was a tough lesson for me to learn, but I am so grateful for the time I spent in these endeavors and the many lessons I learned.
And here is what happened with Mama Bear (three months later), and Free Yoga on the Green (two months later):
About four mamas consistently show up to Mama Bear. Sometimes they change, we get a new one, and some of the same ones come every week. I typed up a format but we rarely go by it. I had to let it go after the moms directed the group in a different direction which is basically that we just all gab the whole time. They bring their kiddos, I bring toys, it is fun. It is cathartic. It is joyful. We share hard stuff and swap mom notes. I’ve made some really good friends. The library tells me to keep going if more than three show up. It is exactly what it is meant to be.
Four to six show up for the free yoga. It has been one of the best things in my life to happen to me. Going through yoga teacher training is a huge plunge, an enormous step of raw faith. Actually stepping into a teaching role and feeling that experience cemented in your soul is an experience beyond measure. I get to see the lights turn on in people’s eyes every week. I get to do my best to help others love yoga as much as I do. It is exactly what it is meant to be.
If you think you will get rich from starting a service gig, you are right. It’s like the saying goes, the best things in life are free, and that goes for the giver too.
Please let me know if you have any ideas for your own movements, or questions!
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Photo: Chad Cooper via Flickr