1,000 People in Need Gifted Yoga & Meditation Classes
KOOSHOO means feeling good. It’s the ethos that we use in every decision we make and for us, an integral element of feeling good is doing good unto others.
When we began our business we knew that working closely with a charity – in commitments of both time and money - would be a core principle of our business.
As we set off towards building KOOSHOO our first thought was to offer our customers the choice of donating proceeds to their choice between 3 charities - 1 that benefited humans, 1 that benefited animals and 1 that benefited our earth. The thinking was that, by empowering the customer with a choice, that they would in turn feel a bigger part of the exchange, perhaps to the point that they would continue their involvement with the charity post purchase.
We still love this idea and plan on implementing it one day in the future but as we approached our launch date it became clear that as a small business we could create the largest ripple of good by putting all our energy behind just one super-awesome cause.
With this decided, we spent several months looking for the right partner, interviewing with several prospective charities keen to find a relationship that was truly win-win. Eventually our search led us to Karma Teachers Centre for Yoga and Meditation, a free (or by donation) yoga and meditation studio in the heart of Canada’s poorest neighbourhood.
Karma Teachers, as it’s known for short, was established in late December of 2011 by Emerson Lim and a team of incredibly dedicated volunteers. The Centre embodies everything that is right and good in the world. It is a literal manifestation of love, acceptance and empathy and mirror to the man who’s championed the concept from the very beginning: Emerson.
Volunteers, teachers and students together making up the community that is Karma Teachers
Here’s the Coles Notes of how it came to be:
Emerson Lim and his partner Derek had recently moved to Vancouver from their previous home (and corporate life) in Toronto, Canada. Drawn to the west coast for its liberal community and strong association with yoga, both committed to becoming yoga teachers before even boarding their flight west.
They enrolled in Semperviva’s Yoga Teacher Training (yes, that beautiful Vancouver studio that sells a huge selection of KOOSHOO product) and as their graduation approached they began formulating plans for a yoga and meditation studio that would provide free or by donation classes to those that needed it most.
Fittingly, on arrival in Vancouver they had purchased an apartment on the edge of Vancouver’s downtown eastside (DTES). For Canadians the downtown eastside of Vancouver, a commercial/residential neighbourhood straddling the high rises of downtown, has a reputation that long precedes it.
Known as “Canada’s poorest postal code”, the DTES has the highest homeless rate of any community in the country. Of those living on the streets, it’s estimated that 40% have some form of mental illness, while another major demographic are gay youth from across the country who have, for a multitude of reasons, been forced out of home. Wikipedia sums up the area as being known for its “high incidence of poverty, drug use, sex trade, crime (and) violence.”
Despite the jaw-dropping poverty that exists on its streets, it’s also home to some of the city’s most talented artists and driven advocates, all of whom work tirelessly to bring love and positive attention to their neighbourhood.
For Emerson personally, the DTES was not just that neighbourhood; it was his home. It’s where he spent the majority of his time when he first arrived in Vancouver and he had quickly become acquainted with all that it offered – for better and for worse. Feeling a particular resonance with the homeless gay youth community Emerson decided upon graduation from his yoga teacher training that he would volunteer his teachings to this particular demographic, keen to give back in his new community in any way he could.
What is clear from the moment you meet Emerson is that he is a special human being – one of those people that stands out from a crowd when seen from across the room. When he has a dream, no matter how far-fetched it may seem, he will doggedly pursue that dream until it becomes a reality.
In my 3 years of knowing him I have seen this confidence – a deep knowing, really – manifest in ways that I would never have been able to believe possible. Now, when Emerson tells me of what he is next working on (expanding Karma Teachers to communities around the world, leading teacher trainings through his studio, teaching for thousands of people at a time…), I simply nod my head knowing that somehow, as audacious as the plan may be, he will see it become a reality
A true partnership: Emerson, with Rachel, wearing his Amrit Vela Shawl
A great example of this is that Emerson has over time evolved his own unique style of yoga, drawing from extensive hatha & kundalini training, as well as years performing as a DJ. The style became known as Ecstatic Yoga - a fusion of breath work, asana, meditation and dance - and was an instant hit amongst the homeless gay youth he was reaching out to. Before long Emerson was teaching 150 youth at a time in back to back classes through community centres in Vancouver, always with the sole rule that participants be sober.
Seeing the way in which his teachings were helping to both empower and strengthen his community Emerson decided that a studio – one in which all members of society could feel safe and accepted – was needed. Finding a seldom used dance studio on the upper floor of a building in the heart of Vancouver’s DTES, Karma Teachers Centre for Yoga and Meditation was born.
Relying entirely on volunteers for administration, marketing, teaching and funding, the Centre has grown to offer classes 7 days a week to members of its community. Visiting master teachers have begun sharing their teachings through the studio and a multitude of social evenings that include lectures, kirtan and movie showings have only deepened the Centre’s bond with its community.
Additionally, Karma Teachers has gone on to partner with a number of other charities in the area including Beauty Night Society which builds self-esteem amongst impoverished women by providing free makeovers and life skills development and Covenant House, a safe place in the heart of the DTES that provides sanctuary to homeless youth.
From that introduction, you can likely understand why we were so keen to partner with Emerson and his Karma Teachers team.
In September 2012, a month before KOOSHOO was officially launched, we sat down with Emerson to indicate our interest in helping him with his vision. We told him that we planned on donating 11% of the proceeds from every sale towards his work in the Downtown Eastside, explaining what the average dollar value that 11% would be. He responded that, at that average, it would be enough to ensure 1 person in need attends a yoga or meditation class for every product that we sold.
It was the perfect equation and one that anybody could get behind: purchase a beautiful, ethically made headband, hairtie or shawl and, in so doing, provide someone in need with an opportunity to find both community and empowerment through Karma Teachers.
Today, having recently turned 1 and moved from Crawling to Walking, it’s with tremendous pride that we have delivered another cheque to Karma Teachers Centre for Yoga and Meditation. This latest cheque means that KOOSHOO has now provided yoga, meditation and community to over 1000 people!!!!
That's pretty freakin' awesome if you ask us :)
There were two reasons for this post today.
First, we wanted to better acquaint you with Karma Teachers so that, if inclined, you could connect with them to participate further in some way with the good they are bringing to their community (and soon others). Whether looking to attend a class, collaborate on an event or donate to the cause, please reach out via www.karmateachers.com and/or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.
Second, we wanted to personally thank each and every one of you who has purchased a KOOSHOO product over the past year. KOOSHOO was created as a conduit to good and your purchase has helped us achieve just that by providing someone in need access to a community in which they can find healing, love and friendship. So: THANK YOU!
We'll leave you with a quote from Jo, a student who has benefited first hand from the space the KOOSHOO donations have helped facilitate:
“What Karmateachers means to my life: I have felt welcomed and comfortable from the first time I walked up the stairs to the studio in the Phoenix Building.New to the downtown eastside, and forced on disability due to serious health issues I was depressed and afraid. I went to my first yoga class more or less just to get out of my small apartment. I had no idea what great things would follow. Karmateachers has allowed me to explore many of the flavours of yoga, including hatha, power, ecstatic, yin and meditation. I have taken restorative, sound and one odd class that I mostly slept through.Without Karma’s free or by donation policy there is no way I could afford yoga at all. The various instructors always have time after class to offer encouragement and answer questions, and Derek is always a welcoming presence at the backdoor entrance. It is important that I have never been made to feel self-conscious or bad for not paying. Equally important is that I have never felt judged for not having what I had always considered a pre-requisite for Yoga: a perfect size 4 body and a pair of lulemon yoga pants! When I started Yoga I wore my pyjama bottoms! Over the past year many of the people I met at Karma have become friends.My mental health has vastly improved and although my health condition will likely not improve, it has certainly not gotten any worse, I have lost fifteen pounds and I feel much healthier overall. Karma is an important part of the DTES community. I personally know a number of people who have incorporated yoga into there recovery from substance abuse. They too, would be lost to yoga without Karmateachers. I am so grateful for what Emerson, Derek and the volunteer instructors have created. They are truly changing lives, they have certainly changed mine.”