Yoga is a very personal practice, but it also has the ability to bring people together, sometimes to effect greater change.
That’s what Wilmington Yoga Center is hoping for this weekend when they hold their annual YogaFest, a free two-day event that raises money to help a local non-profit build orphanages in India.
“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” said Sandie Orsa, the center’s operations manager. “It’s a really fun atmosphere, there’s a lot of positive energy.”
The weekend kicks off Friday night with a free Yoga Glow Dance Party, which filled up quickly and has a waiting list of more than 20 people, according to Orsa. Then from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, the studio will be offering a range of their most popular classes at varying levels to both members and non-members. Since all the classes are free, the funds will be raised through donations as well as through raffles.
“Our goal for this weekend is to raise $5,000,” said Orsa, noting that last year’s target of $4,000 was exceeded. “We actually increase our goal each time.”
All proceeds from the weekend go to Homes of Hope, a Wilmington-based organization that has been building orphanages for girls in the southern and northeastern parts of India for the last 10 years.
“The whole idea behind yoga is not just to chant ‘om’ and stare at your navel,” said Paul Wilkes, the founder and executive director of the non-profit. “It’s really to find the best part of you, to find yourself and then go out and use that to help change the world.”
According to Wilkes, five orphanages that serve very poor and often abused girls have been completed since Homes of Hope was formed, and the cornerstone for the sixth one will be laid in the next few days. Some of the money raised this weekend will cover construction costs as well as basic needs for the girls.
“It’s amazing what our American dollars can buy,” Orsa said. “$100 can feed an entire orphanage for a week.”
Orsa also noted that some of the funds will go toward the girls’ education, a cause that Wilkes noticed is very near and dear to many of the yogis who practice at WYC.
“The education of the girls is very important to a lot of them,” Wilkes said. “When you’re a girl in India, you’re already a second-class citizen, and often the only card you have to play is education.”
Wilkes said part of the reason the partnership between the yoga studio and his organization has been so successful is because many of the studio’s practitioners and instructors have been to India and visited the orphanages themselves.
J.J. Cook is one of the members of the WYC community who has seen first-hand how the money raised here can change lives on the other side of the world. Cook, an instructor at the studio, got back just last week from his second trip to India. He and another teacher led a group of WYC students on the studio’s annual Kunga Journeys Service Retreat, a combination yoga and service project, to an orphanage near Fort Kochi in the southern state of Kerala.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said Cook, who said he and the others spent time every day with the girls, helping them study, practice their English, play soccer and of course, practice yoga. He said there were even a few dance parties, where the girls would put on music after dinner and dance for 30 minutes, asking the visitors to join in.
“As with all service-based stuff, it helps you get out of your own troubles, your own worries,” Cook said. “You realize that whatever you’re going through, it’s really not that bad.”
During his Hot Power Flow class at noon Sunday, the only class he’s leading during the fundraiser, Cook will be weaving his personal stories about the girls and the orphanages throughout the session. He’s hoping his experiences will help locals here connect to the cause and maybe even encourage them to go on future trips themselves.
“These girls can really be your best teacher,” Cook said. “They’ve gone through so much and have so little, yet they’re so giving of themselves.”
Wilkes said it’s people like Cook and others who use their skills, time and means to help others who have made the partnership between his non-profit and the yoga studio a successful one.
“I think they really represent the best of that world, of being able to find yourself and then go help others,” said Wilkes, adding that the two groups have worked together for six or seven years. “It’s really a beautiful partnership.”
YogaFest is free and open to the public. It will be taking place at the Wilmington Yoga Center at 5329 Oleander Dr., Suite 200. No pre-registration is necessary for Saturday and Sunday classes, but students are advised to arrive 10-15 minutes early since classes may fill up fast. For the weekend’s most up-to-date schedule of classes, visit the Wilmington Yoga Center’s website. To learn more about Homes of Hope, visit www.homeofhopeindia.org.