Karma Yoga for Community Lodgings
Sara Vandergroot, co-owner of Mind the Mat in Del Ray, never planned to be a yoga instructor and massage therapist. She had taught English in South America for two years after college, then studied law at the Marshall–Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
But law school was stressful, and she needed an outlet. She had always been athletic, and doing something physical appealed to her. Why not try yoga and massage?
From her first few sessions, Sara was hooked. What started out as a distraction from reviewing legal briefs became a new passion and ultimately a lifestyle. She studied yoga and massage after completing law school and while practicing as a tax attorney. Then, ten years ago, she and a partner opened Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga Studio in the heart of Del Ray, offering yoga, massage, Pilates and yoga teacher training.
Sara doesn’t regret switching from a lucrative law career to small business ownership. She likes the sense of connectedness and the mind/body movement that yoga brings her, the interpersonal relationship she has developed with her clients, and the positive transformation that yoga brings in them and herself.
Yoga, she explained, is more than a series of poses, or asanas. Karma yoga, or selfless service, is part of the yoga lifestyle, and Sara looked for karma yoga opportunities for her teachers in training.
“[Del Ray is] such a tight-knit neighborhood,” she said. “We really want to give back. It’s part of being a business owner in this community.”
She heard about Community Lodgings through a friend, and by May of 2016 her yoga teachers were leading classes for Community Lodgings’ adults in the transitional housing program, and the children enrolled in the after school program. Most of the them had never been exposed to yoga, which sometime made instruction challenging.
Teaching yoga to kids is like herding cattle, Sara admitted. Their attention wanders so classes were short. But, she added, the challenges also helped her teachers learn and grow. “With yoga the sky’s the limit,” she said. “There’s always something new to try.”
Ten to 15 yoga teachers have taught Community Lodgings clients, Sara estimated. She is happy with their partnership, and with seeing how the new yoga students transform as they learn more positive ways to deal with anger, grief, and impulsiveness.
“The work that Community Lodgings does is very much about giving people hope,” she said. “The scariest thing for someone is to feel like they are falling through the cracks and there’s no safety net. It’s organizations like Community Lodgings that recognize that and help them change their path.”
Still, Sara is inspired by the transformation in her teachers and their students. “We all need a boost sometimes,” she continued. “That boost can make all the difference in someone’s life. I don’t know what the world would be like without organizations like Community Lodgings.”