Yoga service can be defined as the act of giving the gift of yoga to diverse populations, usually with little to no compensation. Nikki Myers and Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, James Fox and Prison Project, Seane Corn and Off the Mat Into the World; these are a few examples of yogis who have spread the healing powers of yoga.
There are a variety of resources on the web today on how to set up your own yoga service mission, where to find relevant trainings, and guides regarding the specific population you want to work with. The beauty of yoga service is that it can be as simple and as complex as you would like to make it (or have time for and resources for).
If you are interested in yoga service, here are some steps you can take to ensure success for yourself and the people you are serving:
1) Decide the population you want to reach. Maybe you want to teach yoga to children or introduce yoga programs to high schools. Maybe you want to work with battered women, at-risk youth, homeless shelters, or you just want to teach free classes in the park. One recommendation is to choose something that resonates closely to your heart rather than something you feel you "should" do. This avoids burnout and enables you to come into the situation with relatedness and empathy.
2) Once you decide who you want to serve, do your research! Where are your local women shelters? Do they already have a yoga program in place? What sort of supplemental training would you need in order to enter that unique location? Are there any nonprofit organizations in your area that are already doing something similar? These questions will help shape your intention and the timeline you should expect before you are actively teaching. Collaboration with others who are already on the seva path will help you not duplicate your efforts.
3) If you need additional training, make it happen. More often than not, you will need supplemental education to guide your language and show you techniques to maximize the benefits of your class to your students. If you do not have the money for training, not all is lost. Contact the organization and see if they offer scholarships or work study programs. There are also nonprofits whose sole mission is to help yoga teachers attain funding for their projects. Give Back Yoga and Yoga Activists are two fabulous resources.
4) Enter the institution you want to teach in. This may be the hardest part for many of you. Establishments such as detention centers and prisons are not easy to penetrate. Contact nonprofit groups around the country that have already entered a similar institution and ask them how they did it. It's also a good idea to start talking to the center you want to teach in and find someone who will sympathize with your mission. They might be the ticket you need to get in. Write out a proposal with plenty of research about what you will provide and how your program is going to help their bottom line. Use their language - you must convey yoga in terms they will understand. Use "reduce stress" instead of "increase prana". You get the idea. Additionally, it's important to quantify your research. If you want to enter a school, find out how much it costs the school for every student drop-out. Give statistics on how yoga prevents drop-outs and will therefore help their budget. Numbers are a universal language, use it to help prove your knowledge! PubMed is an excellent place to find current and past research to help you with this step.
5) Stay optimistic! This path you have chosen is not easy. The good news is, there are a plethora of avid yogis all around the country pursuing the same things as you. Yoga Service Council is working on uniting these individuals to help spread resources and knowledge. If yoga service is your passion, membership for YSC will only benefit you. As in all things in life, consistency is key. Keep doing what you're doing, your light will be reflected ten-fold.
6) Maintain your own practice. Giving to underserved populations places you in jeopardy of secondary trauma as well as codependency. A consistent meditation/yoga practice is essential to maintain the integrity of your well-being and ensures you do not burn out.
Many individuals who are in the field of yoga service say that the gift they receive is far greater than the gift they are giving. Studies after studies show the benefits of yoga and its ability to reduce stress, remove stored trauma in the body, and help individuals find peace in their hearts. What is stopping you from spreading the light?
Remember, serving is the act of giving. You are not fixing, alas, it is not your responsibility or capability to fix anyone. Helping implies you are above the person you are helping, furthering yourself from the concept of oneness. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to serve. Open your heart and see what comes of it. Those who are ready will be transformed.
Best of luck and namaste!