Each time I hear or read about a U.S. yogi or yogini heading abroad to enlighten underprivileged people, I feel a twitch of concern, even when I know some of the people involved:
The Washington Post — D.C. teachers offer yoga to combat the stresses of conflict-ridden Ramallah: The training is the first of its kind in the West Bank. The 15 women who participated — several of whom came on buses from surrounding villages for the nine-hours-a-day classes — say they hope to take what they learned about yoga’s deep breathing and stress-relieving postures to schools, community centers and refugee camps.
I have taken class with Angela Cerkevich at Flow Yoga Center, and I have followed her efforts through the Anahata Grace, her non-profit for performing seva (selfless service).
My reservations come from two sources: first, I grew up the son of a minister and experienced up close the missionary zeal of “spreading the good news of Christ” around the world; and second, I lived abroad for 18 years in Peru and saw religious and secular variations of missionary zeal lead people to go to Peru to bring about change and liberation. I saw a lot of good done, but also the other side — the potential for cultural insensitivity and social harm. Today, I wince when I hear of a 20-year-old going to Haiti or South Africa with a mat and a vinyasa practice to show the grace that yoga can bring to people in distress.
I am sure that Angela and her group have handled their experience on the West Bank, supporting Palestinian women and children. Angela is pursing a doctorate in psychology and her colleague has experience working in international development organizations. They are working with a Palestinian organization with deep roots in community.