Reaching Higher and Farther: Yoga and Community Outreach
To begin with, Liz Veyhl is an athlete that competed at the collegiate level at a Division I school (University of Texas)…so you already know she means business. But she laughed when I asked her about her first experience with yoga.
“The yoga teacher caught me in the hallway of the dorm room and commented that I walked like my muscles were tight. Since I competed in several different sports, I snapped back, ‘Of course they are!’ I thought it was perfectly fine that I couldn’t reach my toes, but he insisted practicing yoga could help with my flexibility.”
Liz now co-owns a yoga school, leads/participates in teacher trainings regularly – as a student and a teacher – has attended yoga trainings and outreach efforts overseas, started two businesses, AND founded a nonprofit called Small World Yoga. Through hard work, patience, dedication, and consistent practice, she has forged a career of doing what she loves…helping others.
With a background in corporate marketing, events, and public relations, Liz’s transition to teaching and community outreach was challenging, but her experience made it more seamless. “I received my RYT 200 [the initial certification for yoga instructors] but it was during my 500-hour training where my eyes were opened to not only a more global perspective but a true appreciation for the life-changing power of yoga.” By 2011, when she earned her 200-hour certification, she was already eager to work with others in the community beyond the standard studio setting. So, she began teaching free classes at a local non-profit.
“I sensed there was a gap not being met – part of it we were able to address through teaching yoga, and the other part was simply getting to know people and listening to and acknowledging their life experiences.”
By 2013, Liz was ready for more. As part of her 500-hour teacher training through the Baptiste Institute, Liz traveled to Kenya for two weeks, where she was introduced to the Africa Yoga Project – a Nairobi-based nonprofit. This program introduces local teenagers to the practice of yoga and gives the youth tools for facing personal and social challenges.
Yoga unifies people
“One of the most enjoyable aspects of participating in this training and program is that other people from all over the world were there to learn, and our experiences together with one another and with new students from local communities bonded us in inexplicable ways.” When Liz described the opportunities she pursued while in Kenya, it was easy to see how her love for yoga and for helping others were motivating factors for her continued success. “Teaching yoga and building relationships with people helps us to break whatever cycles we might be stuck in.”
As part of her community outreach abroad, Liz visited a local women’s prison, a class for the hearing impaired, and a class for younger children. By the time Liz came back stateside, her heart was on fire, and she was determined to continue her work helping others.
It’s a small world after all
After a bit of procedural research on founding/running nonprofits, Liz began the effort to help share the benefits of yoga by bridging the gap she intuitively sensed while pursuing her initial yoga certifications. In April 2014, she founded Small World Yoga (SWY) – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that connects yoga instructors with those in the community that have limited access to yoga. Upon asking Liz the inevitable, obvious question, ‘why yoga?’ she smiled and said, “It helps us to connect with others and with ourselves. Sometimes our SWY instructors incorporate fun activities like painting with stretching, other times it’s a more physical practice. Often it’s as simple as introducing new coping mechanisms that we’ve learned as students and now have the ability to share and serve others as teachers.”
As an amateur yogi myself, I could easily relate to her description and characterization of the benefits of maintaining a consistent practice. As we talked more about SWY, Liz told me about the weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly classes across the community. Each year, SWY also hosts two events to raise funds and awareness. Check their website for a list of upcoming events.
Now a full-time teacher, Liz leads teacher trainings, teaches paddleboard yoga, power vinyasa-style sequences, and outreach classes in the community. When I asked about her influences growing up, Liz said, “My parents always had a heart for service, from Room at the Inn, to helping tornado victims, to helping elementary school kids, and I think that foundation is what instilled in me the importance of getting involved in the community.”
As Liz’s passion for helping others continues to grow, she told me SWY is expanding to accommodate additional teacher volunteers. She is encouraged by how many teachers she knows that continually ask and sign up for volunteer teaching slots, and SWY has grown so fast that she is also actively recruiting additional volunteers for non-teaching roles. If you ever wanted to get involved in your community and help to empower others but weren’t sure how to start, get in contact with Liz and Small World Yoga.
Although Liz Veyhl’s yoga journey began with not even being able to reach her toes, she has inspired and continues to inspire us by reaching far beyond the confines of any physical limitation. As we approach the halfway mark of 2016, we’re eager to see to what new heights Liz will reach and in what ways she will elevate our community…and our world. Namaste.
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