As you may know, 10% of our proceeds go to mental health charities and on this week’s blog we thought we’d get to know a little more about The Yoga Foundation and the incredible work they do!
Jessica Hobson (the GM of the Foundation) shares how our donations are impacting the lives of vulnerable people and how powerful yoga is for their healing.
- For those that aren’t familiar with The Yoga Foundation and the amazing work you do, would love for you to share how you got started and what you do.
The Yoga Foundation was started in 2009 by Dr Michael de Manincor. Michael, a counselling psychologist and one of the most highly respected yoga teachers in Australia, recognised the many health benefits of yoga and wanted to provide it to vulnerable people with no access to it. Over time, the Foundation focused on mental health and Michael completed a PhD on how yoga reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression. His research underpins the Foundation’s programs.
Our mission is to create opportunities for people at risk to positively change their experience of life. We partner with other not for profits and government agencies to reach people in need and bring them free, quality, trauma informed yoga.
Over the last 12 years we have supported hundreds of people with diverse experiences: veterans with PTSD, people in the criminal justice system, people affected by homelessness, refugees and asylum seekers, women affected by domestic violence, psychiatric patients and at risk youth.
Our participants typically have mental or physical health challenges, socioeconomic or geographic limitations. Some cannot physically or mentally make it to a regular class or do not feel comfortable doing classes in the general community due to trauma or other complexities. We bring yoga to these people to improve their quality of life, enable social connection and support good mental health.
- How did you come to be the CEO of The Yoga Foundation?
I spent most of my career in senior roles in publishing and in 2014 was keen for a complete change and moved into the not-for-profit sector. I am privileged to be the first employee of The Yoga Foundation and it was exciting to become the manager and start working with the Board to create and execute a new strategy. I found the commercial experience and skills I had were really useful: understanding the market and the end user and meeting unmet needs by creating new, effective services and products. All my career, I needed to listen to customers and find ways to deeply understand a customer experience and it is really not much different at The Yoga Foundation. Our program participants (“customers”) are central to our work and meeting their goals is key to our success and impact.
- What does a working day look like for you?
My working days can be very different - which I enjoy. I work from home and get out and about for meetings. My role at the Foundation means there is a lot of variety as I need to be across all aspects of our operations. I really enjoy client meetings when I spend time with the organisations we partner with to plan a new program or evaluate an existing one and hear from them about their clients - our participants - and learn more about needs, goals and get as much feedback as we can so we can tailor the program.
I try to get on the mat regularly too and participate in our classes, where appropriate. I can learn a lot by gently observing others and checking on basics like the room set up, interaction with the teacher and how the client organisation supports the program. One organisation that we work with always organise a lunch after our yoga class and that works so well in building community, allowing people to chat and get to know each other better, strengthening trust and rapport.
I love spending time with our team of teachers - they are always inspiring. Our teachers are extremely experienced and amazing at what they do – their empathy, intuition, professionalism and curiosity all benefit our participants and lead to great results. There is nothing like seeing with your own eyes some of the magical responses to the yoga from people who have had very tough lives.
I am well supported by volunteers who help with admin, accounts and marketing and our Board are phenomenal in their skill, support of me and the organisation and their vision and passion to deliver our mission.
- What is the best part about working for TYF?
It is extremely rewarding when you see how some people respond to the yoga and the relief and joy it can bring. I have had many very memorable moments, seeing people unable to close their eyes or relax enough to unclench their fists slowly begin to feel safe, let go, smile, relax their bodies and minds. The gratitude they express is heart warming and motivates me to do as much as I can to enable more people to learn these techniques in ways that serve them best.
I am also extremely fortunate to work with a creative, supportive and dedicated team and the people you work with are such an influence on the day to day enjoyment of a role so I am lucky in that respect. Maybe it’s all the yoga everyone does but I have to say the team are very calm, considerate and generally wonderful human beings.
- What is your most memorable moment from working at TYF to date?
There are many special moments. Our first retreat for teenage girls was a real highlight in 2021. Real Active partly funded this retreat and it was such a success! We took a group of 7 girls away for 3 days to experience yoga on and off the mat. These girls had experienced abuse and homelessness so we created an excellent trauma informed program of activities for them to try. What was so great to see is how the girls relaxed, had fun, smiled a lot, opened up, trusted themselves, each other, and us. They were brilliant, having a go at everything and bringing a lot of joy to us all. We are planning a second retreat for girls this year and are looking forward to building on such a positive experience last year. We were very grateful to Real Active and are other supporters for their donations that enable these important events.
- Can you give us an example of how TYF programs are impacting people? (perhaps give an example of someone in particular)
Our programs impact people in a variety of important ways. They enable connection. To themselves and to others. Many people who have mental health challenges, who have experienced trauma or disadvantage, experience a sense of isolation. The pandemic has exacerbated these feelings. The techniques and strategies we teach are designed to help people better manage their symptoms, reduce anxiety and increase a sense of agency and felt control.
A year ago we met Sarah, a domestic violence survivor. She told us that the yoga had "an unexpected ripple effect” through her life. Our program connected her with other survivors and strengthened this community of people with a shared experience. After the program Sarah said “There are many dynamic and multi-faceted tools offered by the program. These tools become a personal arsenal to rearm yourself and step back into the world.” Sarah decided to start yoga teacher training and we were delighted to be able to part fund this with the Yoga Institute. It is exciting to follow Sarah’s yoga journey and she will be a powerful yoga teacher, with her lived experience.
We worked with a woman in a hospital who had suffered childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse and parental neglect. This led to self harm, drug use, paranoia and being completely disconnected to her body, so much so that she didn’t respond to physical pain in the way we would – she didn’t feel it at all. She told us “My mind and body are broken and I think yoga helps and heals me. Yoga helps me more than I ever imagined it could.”
Since she started yoga she has been able to take the step to start therapy to deal with her traumatic past. Before she was unable to even consider it. It seems that yoga has increased her sense of safety, agency and a provided a connection to her body again.
The calm, safe space of the yoga class and the opportunity to make simple choices about what she would like to do all seem to assist her.
She has gone from being unable to lie down in a yoga class (this felt too unsafe and can trigger overwhelming anxiety in many clients with severe trauma in their background) to choosing to lie down and rest and relax. This was recognised as a big step forward by her mental health team.
- How has Real Active helped TYF?
Real Active has been simply amazing. From our very first meeting back in 2017 there has been an alignment in values and a connection of minds. Carlie is a force of nature and we love her energy, passion and determination. What has been really important to the Foundation is the longevity and sustainability of the partnership and we appreciate the long running support. Real Active walks the talk, is so loyal to The Yoga Foundation and genuinely cares about improving mental health outcomes.
- How can our community help support TYF?
We always appreciate people spreading the word about our work so simple things like sharing a social media post are useful in building awareness of our work. We don’t receive any government funding so donations, big and small, are always gratefully received. Just $50 brings yoga to domestic violence survivors and can make a significant difference to these women – it’s a great return on investment.
We also run corporate yoga programs that help fund our work with at risk groups so if your community want quality yoga, mindfulness or meditation at their workplace we are a great choice as our programs have a social impact.
For more details on any of our programs and corporate yoga, or to make a donation, please visit our website.
Thank you so much Jessica for taking the time to speak to us and to everyone at The Yoga Foundation for the life-changing work you do! It is such an honour to work with you and we can’t wait to see what impact we can have in the years to come.
And thank you to every single one of our customers that have supported or purchased from Real Active, and allowed us to support these amazing mental health charities. You truly are making a difference!
Mental Health Warrior & Owner of Real Active