The #yogasavedme Campaign: Power, Privilege, and the Challenge of Storytelling

#yogasavedme postcard.jpg

At the start of the year, the Living Yoga office was buzzing and full of excitement as we entered into our 20th year of service to the Portland community. A milestone so momentous, particularly for a small nonprofit like ours, deserved serious recognition. What could we do to make this year special? How could we commemorate twenty years of impact, in a way that was unique yet accessible, celebratory yet humble?

What we landed on was the #yogasavedme campaign. The phrase came to us from words actually spoken by Living Yoga students and volunteers over past two decades. These words, “Yoga saved me”, would come to us in letters, cards, and in person when students came to collect their free yoga mat, and when volunteers reflected on how much they get from their practice as a volunteer teacher. Our students would tell us stories about how yoga helped them through grief, anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic pain, trauma, and combinations of these experiences. Their gratitude for yoga was so tangible, that the phrase felt as powerful as it did natural and true.

As the #yogasavedme campaign settled in, we realized it provided more than just stories. The campaign gave us an opportunity to collect evidence - real, qualitative evidence - of yoga’s healing potential. Through personal yoga accounts, we could help validate the scientific research being conducted by trauma experts, and shift the paradigm through which we address victims of trauma. The #yogasavedme campaign could add to that conversation, and expand the public’s understanding of what yoga and other mind-body approaches could mean for treatment, healing, and resiliency.

So it was unanimously decided. #yogasavedme would serve as the thread that connected all of Living Yoga’s communications and events throughout the year, bringing each endeavor back to the celebration of our 20th year, and at the same time, tying Living Yoga’s work to the broader global conversation on trauma.

We excitedly set the machine in motion, creating #yogasavedme story submission forms, and planning how we would roll out content throughout the year, beginning with Yogathon.

Yogathon (our annual month long peer-to-peer fundraiser) invites hundreds of people throughout the city to join us in fundraising to support Living Yoga’s programs. We requested that those participating in Yogathon share their #yogsavedme stories on their personal fundraising pages. Then, the Living Yoga staff and board set out to write our own stories. What we found was not what we expected.

We faltered. We stumbled. It was HARD to share our stories, even though we all had one. It was challenging to publicly share yoga’s impact on our personal lives, and even more difficult to explain how yoga had “saved us”. Not necessarily because it wasn’t true, but because it just wasn’t that simple. Many factors contributed to our healing and recovery including yoga, yes, but also therapy, community, support networks, and other healthy lifestyle choices. Moreover, many of us didn’t feel like the work was actually over! Healing and recovery are often lifelong, ongoing processes, and the finality of the word “saved” implied that the work was already done. But perhaps more than anything, it was difficult to share our #yogasavedme stories because it meant sharing what yoga saved us from, or that we needed to be saved at all.

What we realized, after sitting down to do the very thing we had asked our supporters and students to do, was that sharing a #yogasavedme story was a privilege. It implied a high level of comfort and safety in explaining where one has been, what one has done, and what has happened. #yogasavedme asked the storyteller to be vulnerable and to potentially re-live the events that brought them to yoga in the first place. And then it asked them to share that story with the world. That was heavy for some. Much heavier than we anticipated.

So the campaign that we so valiantly spearheaded came to an abrupt pause.

How could we continue to celebrate Living Yoga’s impact, and collect stories that validated the research of trauma experts, but do so in a way that felt safe, trauma-informed, and sensitive to the power and privileges that might allow (or limit) someone’s ability to share their story? How could we allow for more choices, more levels of engagement, more language, more self-identification? How could we more explicitly demonstrate that the sharing of stories at all is always optional? How could we make sure that the qualities and culture Living Yoga has come to be known for were not simply echoed in this campaign, but rather served as the driving force behind it?

One of the things we love most about Living Yoga is the organization’s ability to be self-reflective. To look critically and sensitively at what’s been done, to listen and absorb feedback, to adjust and ultimately grow into a better, stronger, more equitable and inclusive organization. That is the opportunity we have here.

The Living Yoga staff and board have taken time to process and re-imagine this campaign so that it serves as the platform we intended. Moving forward, we will continue to collect #yogasavedme stories, but with these important considerations in mind:

  • Submitting a #yogasavedme story is completely and always optional.
  • The sharing of stories can be difficult. We encourage you to share only if and to the extent that it feels safe and comfortable for you.
  • Using the hashtag #yogasavedme is completely and always optional. If there is another hashtag that speaks to you, or aligns more closely with your story, please feel free to use it. For example, you might use #yogasavesme, #yogaheals, or no hashtag at all.
  • We recognize that yoga is not the only factor in one’s healing process and/or recovery. While heartfelt accounts are encouraged, there is no need to hyperbolize yoga’s impact on your life in your submission. You are always welcome to speak to other factors that may have contributed to your healing process.
  • We recognize that healing and recovery are ongoing and always evolving. You may choose to speak about what yoga does for you in your day to day life to demonstrate the living quality of this healing.
  • All quotes shared from story submissions will remain anonymous, and we will obtain consent before using any stories/quotes.
  • We want to reiterate that the purpose of this campaign is to celebrate the many healing and wellbeing benefits of yoga, demonstrate Living Yoga’s impact, and contribute to the global conversation on yoga as a treatment tool for trauma.

If you would like to submit a story, with these considerations in mind, you can do so HERE.

We know that unpacking issues of power and privilege isn’t easy, and we know that mistakes are inevitable. We are grateful for the opportunity to listen with compassion, process, and make changes to ensure that all of our programs, events, and communications are as safe, simple, and inclusive as possible.

Here’s to learning and growing together, always.

The Living Yoga Team

Avery Lewis