Monday, July 13, 2015

The birth story of Yogis in Service (YIS): Light shines because we have all carried the torch

The birth story of Yogis in Service (YIS):
Light shines because we have all carried the torch

I don't know if you know the whole story- but the sparks for Yogis In Service (YIS) began through the kindling of spirits and because of the warmth of hearts. The first spark was lit at the meeting of two powerful individuals, community builders, and bright minds. In early 2013, Gary Steeves, Pastor at the Lutheran Resurrection Church (on the intersection of Genesee and Doat Streets on the East-side of Buffalo) connected with Susan Fain, co-owner of Power Yoga Buffalo. When they started talking and creating, the torch was lit. Moments like these are what are known as the sparks of creation

The spark became the flame on the torch, as words became actions. The earliest efforts involved working to train teachers from the East-side so that they could teach yoga in their own community. There were many obstacles from transportation to working out the best times to meet. I have learned that with anything new and great there are always obstacles. These barriers did not extinguish the fire. No. It meant that other ways had to be found. Susan and Gary persisted and it was decided that offering yoga for the kids at the summer camp would be a good way to create access to yoga on the East-side. The torch remained.

Alexis Asquith, a Power Yoga Buffalo teacher, dove in feet first and volunteered to help with day camp for the entire 6 weeks, for the entire day camp schedule. Alexis became the passionate holder of the torch. She was the central teacher for the yoga at day camp. A schedule was created and yoga teachers taught the 40 day campers yoga two times a week for 6 weeks. Susan Fain, myself, as well as others including students from the University of Buffalo, in the Counseling, School and Educational Psychology Program as well as students from the School of Social Work helped and the torch burned brightly lighting up the hearts of the day campers and opening eyes to the stress reducing, physical health promoting effects of yoga.

It so happened that this was this same summer (2013) that a group of yogis from Power Yoga Buffalo were going to Kenya to study the effects of the Africa Yoga Project. I led the research team that included students from my research team at UB (Jessalyn Klein and Carla Giambrone), a psychiatrist and yogi (Dr. Nan Herron), a psychologist and yogi (Dr. Jerry Cottone) and Power Yoga Buffalo teachers (Susan Fain, Steven Procknal, and Brooke Easton). The trip was amazing! What this team saw and learned was further inspiration to make a difference here in Buffalo.  While we were in Africa, Alexis and the other volunteers were tending the torch in Buffalo.

When the research team got back from Africa (July 2013) Susan Fain created the Saturday Community Class framework at the Resurrection Church Community Center modeled after what we learned in Africa. Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM a team of teachers provided a free community yoga class followed by a community meal. Susan Fain, Cole Baily, Alexis Asquith, and Casey Sotland (and a lot of other PYB yogis volunteering and assisting) led classes and provided meals through April 2014. They also created an amazing holiday season with gifts and food for the growing class of East-side Yogis. The torch was held high and burning brightly!

In April of 2014, Power Yoga Buffalo added an additional studio in Elmwood Village signaling that it was time to pass the torch. Once the PYB Elmwood studio opened, a small group of UB Occupational Therapy (OT) students who were taking the Yoga for Health and Healing course and a Service Course through their UB, OT program carried the torch until Summer. The Yoga for Health and Healing course is part of a larger certificate in Mindful Counseling for Wellness and Engagement offered at UB (see These were the very first students to bring service learning directly to yoga on the East Side. Dr. Mary Matteliano (clinical professor at UB and a PYB yogi) supervised these students (see her page here- Dr. Matteliano and the OT students now carried the torch. Graduation day came. It was time for the OT students to hand off the torch. (Note, Dr. Matteliano still supervises OT students as they support YIS to date!). 

This is the VERY COOL part of the story. You see, just when there was a very big chance the torch would go dark, a small group of East-side yogis picked up the torch. Inspired by all the work PYB (Susan, Casey, Cole, Alexis, and others) and the students from UB had done as well as Facebook support from Alexis Asquith (she had moved to California), Diane Rose and a small group of East-side yogis like Eric and Daija, kept going and practicing yoga every Saturday. I have seen the sign-in book. They kept it up. The torch was held.


This winter (2014-2015), when I dropped by the church to see if Yogis in Service was possible- Gary Steeves (pastor) showed me the yoga sign-in book. Despite my fears, the torch had never dimmed. There it was- as evidenced by the weeks and weeks of sign-in pages-  the torch was still burning and ready to grow.

It was at that moment that I knew creating YIS was the right thing to do.

I am writing this because I think sometimes we wonder if we make a difference. You wonder if the time that you carried the torch, the times when you showed up in the snow of December or the deep chill of January, the days you were there and no one else was, the Facebook messages of support, the reaching out, the kind words, the knowing in your heart- all of that- you, me, we all wonder if our efforts matter- I think- truth be told- we wonder if we matter.

Well- we do! You do!

Today, the torch burns brighter than ever!

This torch is now held help up by Yogis from all over Buffalo, across studios, from programs at the UB, and professionals like the amazing lawyers at who helped us get our 501c3- specifically- Dominka Tanianis, Esq. and Mark Fanton, Esq., like the powerful list of supporters- like Richard Amiko, Steve and Kathleen Boyd, Hope Commerford, Jamie Pearsen, Danny and Nancy Irwin, Sheri Curry, Lindsay Travers, Melissa Abrams, Marissa Bland, Sarah Panzica, Susan Fain, Hannah Duke, Marta Schoenle, Molly Muffoletto, Gary Steeves, Ingram Micro, and lululemon Waldern-Galleria- see more here and the wonderful YIS board of directors Lindsay Kirsch (also amazing web and t-shirt designer), Steve Procknal, Wendy Guyker (Treasurer), Allison Flammer, Mary Carney, and Jerry Cottone- see more here , and our creative teachers here- and more- like Diane Rose, Eric H. and Daija. 

The Saturday Community Class continues at 10:00- 11:15 AM every Saturday followed by a healthy snack. We are teaching yoga at summer camp just like the early years. We have outreaches in the spring and fall for East-side kids in after school- see for a description of our projects.

For perhaps the best view- see our video on our home page  (Thanks Lindsay Travers for video development). You will see exactly what I am talking about!

We shine because you shine. YIS is here because of all of those who showed up and kept showing up. YIS is here because of all of the torch bearers past and present. YIS is so very, very grateful. 

So help us carry the YIS torch or find the fire that lights up your heart. 

Importantly, know that what you do makes a difference. You matter. 


Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag