What do you burn for?

I am equity. I am justice. I am oneness.

Yoga For All Movement (YFAM), started as a desire to afford others the opportunity to participate in yoga.

As someone who has always struggled with my self-regard and my connection to my healing body- yoga was a nonjudgmental sanctuary for me to regain control of my physical experience. When everything else was going on in my life, the yoga mat felt like the closest connection I had to home.

The more I did yoga, the more I realized that just like other healing modalities (acupuncture, massage, spa days, etc.) yoga was becoming increasingly more expensive for me to practice. There I was, a 20-something, working, privileged woman, and my yoga practice was almost becoming unaffordable.

If I felt like the yoga class was out of my league, were other people feeling the same way? Knowing that my limited salary was cutting me out of a club that I deeply loved being apart of, I decided to scale back from teaching and practicing at the high velocity I had been.

This recognition that I couldn’t clearly articulate at the time took me on a path to become a social worker. I wanted to be in the space of seva (selfless action). In graduate school, I learned about trauma-informed care. I learned that about 85% or more of the general population was a survivor of either direct or vicarious trauma.

I remembered that yoga helped me heal from my own trauma and allowed me to nurture the connection I had with myself and with others. Yoga was the return to my true nature. By breathing and staying present with my breath, I realized it didn’t matter what pose I was doing, how big or expensive the class was or what anyone else was doing on their mat.

My breath was me practicing yoga. When my mind started to wander or when self-doubt started to creep in I remembered that I had control over my breath and thus, my outlook on myself, and my surroundings.

What would it look like if more opportunities to practice yoga were availed to those who otherwise didn’t have access?

This idea has laid the groundwork for YFAM: create more access.

In 2014, the first YFAM class started at Rountree Men’s Correctional facility in Watsonville.

Imagine 15 men in jail, hands over their hearts, eyes closed, listening to the sounds of their breath. After the class, each one shook my hand, expressed gratitude, and said they would return.

Since then, we have expanded our outreach to include youth in the foster care system, juvenile hall, incarcerated men and women, individuals in recovery from substance use disorders and survivors of domestic violence.

We believe that it’s not about what we teach, but about how we are teaching it.

If we can teach yoga in an intentional, compassionate and mindful space, we allow our students the space to safely unfold and remember their true nature - we all have the capacity to change and we can create space for transformation.

If we can teach yoga in a way that’s trauma-informed, that promotes healing the self from within and creates community with others, can we promote equity in our community? Yes.

By allowing people the opportunity to return to their breath in settings where they may have limited to no control over their surroundings, can we promote empowerment? Yes.

Yoga is empowering. Yoga is equity.

So, what do you burn for?

My name is Shandara Gill, I am a founder and Executive Director of Yoga For All Movement.