Karma Teachers is a warm embrace on a dark, rainy Vancouver night. In the city’s famously psychotic Downtown Eastside, this is a sanctuary of sanity. Founded on the principle of selfless giving, this studio – tucked in a back alley off East Hastings Street – offers free or by donation yoga and meditation classes. And it’s not like they say it’s by donation and then there’s a front counter with a till and a sign saying “Suggested minimum $15.” No, it’s not like that at all. In fact, it feels like a miracle that the place is able to stay alive – with its broken little plastic donation box. But it does work and here’s why: This community is not profit driven, it is driven by love, compassion and the true desire to offer something accessible and helpful to those who are interested. And it does just that.
During the four months that I volunteered on the Karma Crew, I witnessed just how capable human beings are of healing their own trauma and wounds – physically and emotionally – when they are empowered and supported in doing so. When a person who’s been hurt, and hurt themselves, gets into an environment grounded in unconditional love, they learn that they are capable of the same. At Karma Teachers, a person is inspired, by the example of others, to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. There are no victims here; there are only those who formerly may have played that role. This is not to say that everyone who practices yoga here is fundamentally sick or damaged. There are many who have not experienced any significant trauma over their lives and they just come to experience the community and improve their own yoga and meditation practice. And there are those who come to learn more about what it means to be involved in selfless giving – the act of giving your time, energy or other resources without self-interest.
If you went and hung out in the studio for 24 hours, you would leave wondering who is in charge. That is because NOBODY is in charge! At least not in the traditional way that we view an organization being run. And guess what? It’s nothing like Lord of the Flies. There are people with specific roles and titles – Founder, Director, Teacher, Volunteer Coordinator, Karma Crew Volunteer – but there is no office and no formality of hierarchical decision making. The founder, Emerson Lim, leads by example and acts as just another friend within the community. He’s unbelievably dedicated and creates a safe and open space in which all participants are given permission to join in and contribute. The idea is to participate, collaborate, share and expand your own sense of self and to experience (within) your own inherent value.
Ecstatic Yoga, Emerson’s creation of yoga and dance – in a soul-nourishing rave party – leaves each participant sweating, energized, laughing, open-hearted and…..hugging! Hugging happens at Karma Teachers. It is a natural result in this type of environment. Hugs are always available (though not a requirement) and one may find that this practice is both nourishing and contagious.
During my time here, I was not only accepted and treated with integrity, I was loved. Emerson and Michael Olivotto (Director of Karma Teachers) were relentless in their inclusion and kindness. I volunteered on Saturday and Sunday mornings. During this time, there was a Karma College teacher training happening. Everytime, when my shift was over, they made sure I was invited in to participate. When I thanked them, I was simply told that “if there’s space, there’s space. Of course you should join in.” And they were excited about sharing this beautiful practice with new teachers, enthused about the guests who led focused trainings. And the Karma College students were just bursting with spirit and a desire to put love into action. I’d be sitting in the hallway and, when they came pouring out for a break, their happy voices and singing laughter tickled my ears.
Karma Teachers is a place of joy, with the door swung wide open. The sign reads “Everyone Welcome” and the people in this expanding community really make it feel that way. This organization is on the leading edge of a new form of business emerging in our neighbourhoods and our world. Compassion, kindness, love, collaboration and service are the foundation which enable its’ success. A fundamental understanding drives the actions at a place like this: There is no separation between the success of an organization and the success of each individual it touches. Because this community supports, it is supported – this is the cycle of Karma in which you receive what you give. And for this reason, the movement it is a part of is not only sustainable, it is rippling outward and touching each individual involved in a profound way. I feel really grateful for all I learned during my time there and I wish to see Karma Teachers, and all organizations of its kind, flourish into the positive future.
About Ross McKeache:
Ross McKeachie is another guy on the journey of personal/spiritual evolution and is his joy lies in expanding the energy of love in action. He is a writer/poet & performer with a background in marketing/entrepreneurship that has led to an interest in conscious business and the emergence of organizations and systems created by the new human paradigm.
Tags: 200 hour yoga teacher training, karma teachers, karma yoga, yoga