Partner Spotlight: Yoga Dana Foundation

Written By: Abby Rosmarin

When some people think of yoga – particularly, those who practice yoga – they potentially imagine a svelte young woman, someone with enough of a disposable income (and disposable free time) to afford name-brand leggings, a fancy yoga mat, and the $150/month membership at the downtown yoga studio. While yoga can help people from all walks of life, yoga in its mainstream format is sometimes unattainable by those who are struggling. It is a tragic irony that the people who need yoga the most are usually the ones who are not able to be a part of it.

That’s why there are so many organizations, including Veterans Yoga Project, designed to bring yoga to those who could benefit the most and yet have the least access to it. But they can’t do it alone. This is where Yoga Dana Foundation comes into play.     

Yoga Dana Foundation, at its root, helps those who are helping others through yoga, and was able to come to fruition thanks to the creation (and subsequent success) of Yoga Journal.        

Judith Hanson Lasater – who is considered to be one of the most well-known and well-respected yoga instructors in the United States – started Yoga Journal in 1975, out of her living room. Judith, alongside a few other yoga teachers, formed the California Yoga Teachers Association, where they collectively owned the magazine. When they sold it in 1998 to John Abbott (who is the current vice president of Yoga Dana Foundation), the CYTA invested some of the money made from the sale to create Yoga Dana Foundation.     

“The dollars used to make grants at Yoga Dana are homegrown dollars dating back to the early days in Judith Hanson Lasater’s living room,” says Anna Proctor, Yoga Dana Foundation’s executive director.      

The board members of Yoga Dana Foundation have a rich history in yoga. In addition to John Abbott being the current vice president, its treasurer was one of the early members of the California Yoga Teacher’s Alliance. Its president is a certified Iyengar teacher (one of the harder certifications to earn). Another member is a longtime student of Lasater herself. Members have an equally rich background in giving back, from teaching yoga to adults with disabilities, to providing free reconstructive surgeries, to being a former executive director of an organization working to end homelessness. And in turn, everyone plays a vital role in keeping everything running.    

Yoga Dana Foundations’ mission is as simple as it is profound: to help bring yoga to underserved communities. To invest in teachers and organizations that are helping to bring the toolkit that yoga can provide to people who might not otherwise be able to get it. And the reach of Yoga Dana’s help is far and wide.      

“We serve every level of incarceration from Juvenile Hall to the [San Francisco] county jail, to San Quentin. We have a Parkinson’s Disease community, a Cerebral Palsy community, and we support adaptive yoga for adults with various disabilities,” says Proctor. “…we serve veterans through the Veteran Yoga Project. We serve at-risk boys, as well as K-5 kids in under-resourced schools.  We have two brand new grantees: one brings yoga to communities of color and the other brings yoga to seniors in the Tenderloin [a neighborhood in San Francisco].”     

One of those organizations is, as Proctor mentions, Veterans Yoga Project. VYP learned about Yoga Dana Foundation through Yoga Dana’s former president, Richard Rosen, who is a veteran.       

“I believe he made the acquaintance of either Dan [Libby, founder and executive director of Veterans Yoga Project], and encouraged VYP to apply,” says Proctor. “We have been proud funders ever since.”      

But Veterans Yoga Project is just one of eleven incredible grantees who are able to bring yoga to those who need it most. From teens and young adults who are experiencing homelessness to those in the prison system, from those living with a variety of disabilities to elderly populations. These images are a far cry from the stereotypical yoga image.         

“We are a small but mighty foundation,” says Proctor, “with a deep dedication to our mission, borne out of deep dedication to the practice itself.”      

Yoga Dana Foundation is doing what it can to give yoga to those who need it most, not just in terms of grant funding, but in moral and intellectual support, as well. Every year, Yoga Dana Foundation visits its grantees and takes part in the yoga classes alongside their communities. They bring their grantees together for a biennial gathering, where everyone can come together, share a meal, practice yoga, and brainstorm ideas.

“I am most inspired and energized by our close relationships with our grantees,” says Proctor. “We have begun oral reporting, in which we throw out the paper application and instead, sit down and have a good old conversation with each of our grantees to talk about their progress. We like the face-to-face interaction and we like to see our grantees’ work firsthand.”        

Those at Yoga Dana Foundation know how hard it is for these programs to find funding. And, unfortunately, organizations designed to help support them are few and far between.         

“We only know of one other foundation that has our same mission [to] bring yoga to underserved communities,” says Proctor.         

This is why it’s important to be charitable on an individual level.        

“I would like to tell people: most all of us make donations of some kind every year. Consider developing a long-term relationship with an organization like VYP (or our other grantees just like them) and choose them as your go-to when you donate year after year.  It is the long game that makes the biggest difference.  It is the long-term relationships that make the biggest impact.  We get farther and share yoga with more people when we commit to doing it together.”