This summer at In Fine Feather Yoga, all the students enrolled in our 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training course took the summer months off. Which meant they were out of the classroom and putting their training into purpose and action. They had a number of assignments and self study projects to complete throughout the summer, one of which was 5 hours of volunteering within the community. The intention of this exercise was to bring the moral principals of the Yamas and Niyamas into the volunteer work they did with an organization or charity that was not related to yoga. Specifically, looking to explore and exercise these principle to help guide them through the experience of volunteering. We felt really inclined to share Kelsi’s Karma Yoga exercise because it is the embodiment of how the Yoga practice should be lived and explored everyday to enrich our personal growth but also our connections to other people. If you aren't very familiar with the Yamas and Niyamas, you will still love this article, but we've also provided you with a link HERE to do some background reading if you feel included to know more about the philosophy.
Thank you Kelsi for allowing us to share your experience with the IFF community!
I chose to take this opportunity to volunteer with an organization that has been a big part of my life for the last 3 years.
The Hamilton Victory Gardens is a not-for-profit organization that turns otherwise vacant spaces into flourishing gardens, growing organic vegetables to be donated to local food banks and hot meal programs. When I first found this organization a few years back, I unearthed my love for gardening and interest in food security. While I have been privileged enough throughout my life to not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, this is not the case for many Hamiltonians. In further, the nature of food banks results in many donations consisting of canned or boxed food items with little room for fresh and local produce. The Hamilton Victory Gardens works to fill this gap, to increase access to healthy fresh fruits and vegetables for those in need. Organizations like this cannot independently disband food insecurity while cost-of-living and the housing crisis are prevalent issues at the forefront, however they play a vital role in supplementing the immediate need for improved access to nutritious options in our community.
My Past Volunteer Experience
For the last two years, until December of 2018, I became very involved in the Hamilton Victory Gardens. I was so passionate about the efforts of HVG that I took every opportunity to try to help - I organized events and fundraisers, liaised with new volunteers, managed the web platform, curated social media and newsletter content, and completed large grant applications. While I held this volunteer role very close to my heart, there came a time when my plate began to overflow from volunteer responsibilities, my full-time job, and family obligations. As much as I loved contributing to the organization, I found it was my health and personal well-being that was being compromised. At that time I became detached from the reason why I started volunteering and the pressures of all my responsibilities, and felt it was best to step down from my active role within the organization.
Connecting the Yamas & Niyamas
I spent my 5 hours volunteering at the Cancord Site behind the food basics on Barton & Mary. Reflecting on my mornings gardening I felt a number of the Yamas and Niyamas were applicable. For me, Svadhyaya was the most prevalent for a number of reasons. I was able to once again unearth my passion for gardening - which is something I truly miss now living in an apartment with only a few window herbs at my disposal. I had forgotten how meditative a morning with the plants can be, how much I enjoy being outside, giving back, and learning about horticulture. I also found this a peaceful recluse to quiet my thoughts as I worked through the mundane tasks of pulling weeds, turning soil, and up-rooting plants that had gone to seed. I applied the Niyama of Tapas as I pulled the various types of weeds. I allowed myself to really be able to feel the pricks of Dandelion poking through my gloves, the sensation of extracting a deep root, the hot sun beaming on my skin, being fully aware of each individual task I was completing. Ishwaraprandihana was another relevant principle as I honoured forces larger than me that play into the success of community gardens. As much as humans like to say “look what we did!”, there is so much more playing into the equation here. In my own belief, Mama Nature is the ultimate dictator of the success of each plant; the amount of sunlight, the quantity and frequency of rain, the nutrients in the soil, the insects or animals are present are out of our hands. We, as gardeners, can help plants by creating a supportive environment, but the greatest part of the work is done between the plant and its immediate environment. Therefore, rather than focusing on the pride in what we have grown, the success of the harvest we reaped, we really should be taking more time to be grateful to the sun, rain, earth, and surrounding life that support the growth of our food. The more time we spend in our gardens, we reinforce a better our connection to our food, and better our connection to the Earth.
I am grateful for the Karma experience to allow me to re-explore this closed chapter, and re-visit the reasons why I found myself so heavily invested in the gardens in the first place. This opportunity provided some closure for my decision to step-down, where I had been harbouring feelings of regret and guilt. Becoming more aware of the Yama Ahimsa - I feel more reassured that it was the best decision for myself at the time to make the conscious decision to be ‘non-harming’ to my own well-being.
I am looking forward to continue visiting community gardens across our amazing city!