The moment I read about Lauren Rubenstein's service in Haiti on a local yoga blog, I knew I wanted to learn more. Her beautiful reflection on her seven (!) service trips to the disaster-stricken nation acknowledged the seeming triviality of teaching yoga to children who do not know whether they will receive a hot meal on a given day while at the same time espousing hope in the mission and long-term benefits of her work. To learn more about what inspires Lauren and why entering a new situation before you know all the facts isn't always a bad thing, read on...
How did you know it was time to make a change?
My first time volunteering with Go Give Yoga in Haiti required a huge leap outside of my comfort zone. I am neither adventurous nor an intrepid traveler, and didn’t expect that to change in my 50s. I like to say my (now 7) trips have reflected a different sort of midlife crisis: I didn’t buy a sports car or have an affair; I went to teach yoga in Haiti!
What gave you the confidence you needed to move forward?
When I took a week-long kids’ yoga teacher training with Creative Kids Yoga at Kripalu, I really wasn’t sure why I was learning to teach yoga to children. I began to teach some kids’ classes and even pursued more training locally in DC, but it was not a career change. As a clinical psychologist who has worked with children, I immediately recognized the mental health benefits of yoga for children. When I received an email from YogaKids informing me that their non-profit was looking for volunteers to teach children yoga in Haiti post-earthquake, I jumped at the chance. While part of me was saying, “YOU? Are you kidding?” another part was simply following my heart.
Who/what inspires you today?
I am inspired by Don and Marsha Wenig, Cinda Rierson and Candy Blaxter, founders and founding board members of Go Give Yoga. They worked hard to find the right partner non-profit in Haiti, and together we have continued to deepen our work there. I am inspired by Gale Hull, the founder of our closest Haiti partner, Partners in Development. I am also inspired by Lizandra Vidal, who moved to Haiti two years ago and founded Ayiti Yoga, with whom we have worked closely.
What are you dreaming about now?
I dream about a positive future for some of the children I’ve gotten to know in Haiti, especially 7-year-old Michelda, the girl I’ve been sponsoring since my first trip, and 9-year old Alexandra, the daughter of Partners in Development's cook, who already shows promise of becoming a talented kids’ yoga teacher. I dream of ways we can support the Haitians we have trained to teach kids’ yoga.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
In yoga teacher training we were taught to offer yoga without becoming attached to a specific result. This is a good reminder when I find myself fantasizing that I will be able to put Michelda through college….
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you started?
The most difficult part of this work is recognizing and understanding the obstacles to offering service across-culturally. Like so many well-meaning white people before me, I was wide-eyed and ignorant of the multi-layered issues. My friends who are international development veterans smiled bemusedly at my initial excitement. On the other hand, had I known then what I have learned, perhaps I wouldn’t have taken that first trip.
What book(s) have provided guidance or inspiration for your New Beginning?
Learning all I can about Haiti has deepened my experience and the meaning I make from it.
To learn more about Lauren and her book, Visiting Feelings, visit her website. To learn more about Go Give Yoga and how to get involved, visit them online at GoGiveYoga.com.