Yoga is as much about how we treat and perceive our own body and soul as it is about how we interact with the world around us. One form of yoga, called karma yoga (from the Sanskrit root kri, meaning “to do”), is entirely about working to benefit others without the expectation of merit. Over time, this discipline of action furthers our understanding of self, which ultimately enhances one’s sense of well-being. I am enormously grateful for the karma yoga practitioners/teachers I have encountered in my life. Their actions and goodwill never cease to inspire me. Additionally, their work brings me to consider the resonance and effectiveness of my own actions, even the smallest.
One of these people is fellow yoga teacher/practitioner, Josh Tosteson, who I know from the Park Slope Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to being a gifted teacher with an absolutely amazing asana practice, Josh is the Program Development Officer for an organization called Nouvelle Vie Youth Corps Haiti. Founded in 2009, Nouvelle Vie trains groups of young adults in community empowerment, skills in trauma relief, and sustainable agricultural design and development. Yoga and meditation are at the core of the organization. Both have been widely embraced in Haiti! Nouvelle Vie is training youth corps participants to teach these peace-bearing therapies within their own community.
Nouvelle Vie Haiti
Josh works with gifted Program Director Uma Viswanathan, whom he met at the New York Art of Living Center in early 2009, where she was leading a kriya yoga session. As Josh said, “Uma spoke passionately about the situation in Haiti and the work she had begun with Art of Living to bring yoga and meditation-based leadership programs there to support the development of leaders among the huge young adult population. She spoke to the need for sustainable agriculture to address chronic food insecurity and the devastating deforestation that has wiped out so much of Haiti's natural capital; also, the need to develop entrepreneurial skills among the young adult population.” Josh, who had just finished a grueling 8+ year period starting up and running clean energy and sustainable agriculture-related companies (he had co-founded and was president of HydroGen, an industrial fuel cell manufacturing company), felt an immediate desire to get involved.
With tangible and well-organized goals, Uma, Josh, and their team did a tremendous amount of work during the rest of 2009. Then the devastating earthquake struck on January 2nd, 2010. I asked Josh about the impact this had on their mission. “When the earthquake hit, we realized why we had been investing so much energy in the development of our students - it was to plant and water the seeds of selfless service that would be needed desperately in the aftermath of the disaster. We were able to mobilize our students quickly to conduct effective trauma relief for thousands of people impacted by the earthquake, using breathing and meditation techniques that are at the heart of our core leadership training programs. The huge need for reconstruction, ongoing trauma relief, food security, and a viral spirit of selfless service to animate the Haitian people, have led us to form the Nouvelle Vie Youth Corps, a group of about 20 of our strongest leaders.” The group has a series of advanced trainings set up for 2011 to further develop the skills of these young leaders and will continue to mentor them as they help within their own communities. Josh is actually off to Haiti again this Saturday!
One of the reasons I’m so inspired by Nouvelle Vie Haiti is that they’ve accomplished so much by having clear, concrete, and achievable goals. It is the simple actions that often have the greatest effect over time. Teaching a child how to plant and nurture a tree, educating a group of young adults about recycling and composting, teaching yoga to help an individual cope with trauma. I am reminded to never underestimate the power of even the tiniest positive gesture, at anytime, anywhere. Now that is empowering.
To find out more about Nouvelle Vie Haiti, please visit http://nouvelleviehaiti.org
Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, "Take a Clear Look." Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.