How Yoga Can Help Nepal
By: Jessica Kaufman
July 23rd 2015
Today, news headlines about Nepal read, “Earthquake Toll Rises”, “Trying to Rebuild”, “Violence and Arrests over New Constitution” but the headlines often leave out an invisible disaster: mental health. Nepal is the poorest country in South Asia and it is estimated that four out of five people with mental illness in low income countries receive no effective treatment and that mental health is one of their lowest health priorities.
Mental health is a state of well being in which an individual can work productively and contribute to their community. Without a healthy mental state, coping with conflicts like stress, trauma, and everyday events is extremely difficult. Lauren Fiske is going back to the cultural roots of Nepal to promote mental wellness and community building with Nepal Yoga Project.
Lauren started practicing yoga when she was eleven years old and says, “Yoga was the constant in my life that I was always able to fall back on and it helped me to find peace of mind and be resilient and open to whatever was happening.” Scientific research proves the same point; yoga can improve quality of life, reduce stress, help relieve anxiety and depression, and improve overall physical fitness.
As a Rhode Island native, Lauren became involved with Shri Studio‘s Shri Service Corps in Pawtucket. Shri Studio is a social business that provides free yoga programming to local underserved populations, what they call “urban revitalization.”
After Lauren visited Nepal this past March with the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, she saw a natural connection between the Shri Yoga curriculum and a way to serve the community in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Shri stands for support, honor, respect, and inspire. Nepal Yoga Project is taking the curriculum that is used across schools in Rhode Island and adapting it to what students, teachers, and the community need most in Kathmandu. Lauren will work with students from grades 5th through 8th at the Learning Realm International School (LRI School) school by providing yoga classes three times a week for three months. She hopes to teach 250-500 students and get as many teachers involved as possible.
The yoga curriculum focuses on helping students feel safe, learning to respect the environment, inspiring healthy change, and supporting them as they rebuild Nepal. Teachers will be given the chance to take classes before and after school so that they can get a taste of what their students are experiencing, and learn tools to help reduce stress in and out of the classroom. Community classes will also be held once a week at LRI School and are free and open to the public.
Students from LRI School will also participate in a Pen Pal program with students from the Shri Service Corps in Pawtucket. Personal journals and yoga pose cards will be given to students at LRI School as a way to keep track of their yoga practices, write to students in Pawtucket, and to record their thoughts. Yoga will serve as the common thread that connects students from Kathmandu and Pawtucket as they learn the importance of wellbeing and community together.
For Lauren, one of the biggest components of this project is sustainability. By teaching the community and teachers the curriculum she hopes that the program will continue on without her and eventually, through continued training, provide economic opportunities for young adults and women in Kathmandu who are interested in becoming yoga instructors. Lauren hopes to create a “Yoga Room” at the school. Thanks to Athleta, who donated fifty mats that will remain at the school, students will have a safe, clean place to continue their exploration of yoga.
Yoga studios in Kathmandu charge seven to ten US dollars for one drop in class, which is comparable to prices in the US, and the average Nepali citizen makes 700 US dollars per year. The yoga studios are mostly geared towards tourists and many young people see yoga as a religious entity and not as a pathway to better health. Lauren believes that yoga should be accessible to those who wish to practice.
The planning period for Lauren’s trip was rather short, but having a great place to work in made it a whole lot easier. Shri Yoga offers classes to entrepreneurs and staff at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Hub. Lauren was able to take advantage of the Hub as a place to plan her trip and says, “Having a clean bright space to work in is amazing! Just being around the energy of the people working on things they love and doing great work helps me stay focused and learn new ways of doing things.”
Lauren says Nepal Yoga Project is her “own personal mission” and for other socially minded entrepreneurs she advises, “You will never feel ready, many times I thought, ‘I don’t have enough money, I’m not an expert, The timing is not right’ but, the truth is you will never feel ready, you just have to go and do it. Trust yourself and have a good group of people around you that can provide support.”
Part of Nepal Yoga Project’s social mission is informing people about Nepal’s struggles and yoga’s impact. She recently presented a 1 Million Cups Providence, upon the suggestion of Social Enterprise Greenhouse which is a presenting sponsor of the weekly event.
With the support of family, friends, Shri Service Corps, and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, Lauren departs August 1 to Kathmandu to support their community and well being with the healing power of yoga. It’s not too late to support Lauren in her venture. Support her fundraising campaign here:
Student Venture Intern
Jessica Kaufman is the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Student Venture Intern for Summer 2015. She is working under the Social Enterprise Greenhouse University Initiative, which is funded through the Blackstone Charitable Foundation Innovation Grant to retain students and recent graduates in Rhode Island through enabling them to work on and in social enterprises. Her work centers around documenting the success stories of student and recent graduate social ventures. Learn more about Jessica here.