When I moved to Boulder, CO from Washington, DC four months ago, I didn't expect to find a for-profit Hanuman Festival supporting non-profit organizations like the Wellness Initiative, Off the Mat, and Give Back Yoga Foundation, or yoga teacher Tabitha Farrar.
Boulder has a lot of yoga. There is a studio on every block, a teacher training happening every week and every style of yoga. There are master yoga teachers here. It's quite a mecca. Named one of the top10 "Fantastically Yoga-Friendly Towns" by Yoga Journal, Boulder boasts over 35 yoga studios (for a population of about 100,160).
Yoga classes complement the healthy, trend-setting activities around the city. Only in Boulder do yoga students bike to class, dismount at red lights to stretch their hamstrings and carry their yoga mat in their backpacks. But not many students and yoga teachers in these nice warm studios get to make contact with women in shelters, or with the homeless recruited for sexual exploitation or other types of human trafficking. Enter Tabitha.
I was delighted there was so much yoga, but disgusted because of the high-end commercialism in studios, where everyone was wearing $100+ yoga outfits. That angered me. It felt like someone was trying to make money out of going to church.
Tabitha's journey into yoga did not start with falling in love with a yoga studio. It began with too much exercise, which is as dangerous as eating disorders. In fact, there's a name for it: Exercise Bulimia. Tabitha's eight-year exercise disorder almost killed her.
Somehow, as I delved that deep into depression that low, into my true feelings about my life, I found something inside me that liked myself. Something that actually cared about this body I was in. That was the day I found yoga. I got a connection between my mind and my body, and that same day I overcame a disorder that nobody thought I ever could. I literally stopped it there and then and have never looked back!
One day a client asked me to work with her daughter who had an eating disorder. The girl had been hospitalized three times already and had just come out of the clinic again but was deteriorating. Her mother tried everything, and for some reason she had this notion that I would be able to help her daughter. I couldn't exactly refuse. I had zero training and only instinct to go on. I just seemed to know what to say to her, she trusted me, and she recovered. After that I went into working with girls with eating and exercise disorders. As I got more into yoga and did a lot of yoga in my year that I was awaiting my green card in the U.S., I knew I wanted to teach people who could not get to yoga, as those were generally the people that needed it most.
Tabitha founded Angel Organic, a non-profit that offers therapeutic yoga, mindfulness and meditation instruction free of charge to foundations and organizations that work to better the lives of those in their community. She has yoga classes going at the Safehouse for victims of domestic violence, Bridge House, a day shelter for the homeless, and soon at Imagine, serving people with developmental, cognitive and physical challenges. Her goal is to expand the number of free yoga classes in these centers facilitated by Angel Organic. "Yoga should be seen as something accessible to all; as free as going to church," says Tabitha.
More class offerings in these centers would be good for Boulder, where it's difficult for current and aspiring yoga instructors to teach to anyone other than those fortunate enough to afford a studio membership. And with so many registered yoga teachers around town, some teachers get knocked off balance trying to find teaching opportunities.
Teaching a person who has never experienced yoga before is both challenging and exciting.
I learn so much about myself, others and yoga with every single class that I teach in a shelter. This is something that no teacher training course can give you. It only happens though the process of teaching to these wonderful students.
Tabitha represents what I believe to be yoga's next self-transformation, alongside the celebrity-driven culture of yoga, doggedly trying to introduce yoga to unserved places and communities. Stay tuned for more stories of these yoga activists.