On the Om Front: In the name of love

Srutih Asher Colbert turns her heart toward change
Photo by Jennifer Graham

It’s February—feeling a little love in your heart? Srutih Asher Colbert’s been feeling the love all year long. She’s a Bay Area yoga teacher (and hairdresser) who raised $24,000 in one year through grassroots fundraising to fight sex trafficking in India, where she’ll be going next week to volunteer her time to the cause.

Om Front talked to her about how, and why, she undertook the challenge.

SFBG Wow. You raised $24,000 in one year. Tell us about the organization you raised the money for.

COLBERT Off The Mat and Into the World is a yoga-based organization [founded by internationally-acclaimed yoga teacher/activist Seane Corn]. It initiates different projects around the world to create sustainable change. The idea is that people take their yoga practice “off the mat and into the world” to become leaders in their community and use that leadership to make a difference. Every year, Off the Mat conducts something called the Seva Challenge, in which people everywhere are challenged to raise at least $20,000 for a particular cause. If you can raise the money, you are invited to go on a trip with Off the Mat to volunteer your time to that cause.

SFBG  What inspired you to do the 2012 Seva Challenge?

COLBERT  The cause this year is to stop sex trafficking in India. Sex trafficking is happening all over the world, but there are over 3 million girls in India alone that are being held prisoner and being raped on a daily basis. Some of them have been tricked by being promised a job in the factory and then they end up in a brothel. Some of them have been sold by their own parents. There are so many ways they can be coerced. I have two daughters and it hit close to home to think that my eight year old daughter could be trafficked for sex. I wanted to see if I could help stop that kind of action. I didn’t think I’d be able to raise $20,000 but I thought I would try!

SFBG  So, how did you do it?

COLBERT I reached out to everyone in my yoga community, students and teachers, and planned all of these events. I don’t know how I did it, but it all added up in the end. Some of the events I held were a benefit Kirtan [chanting event] with Ananda Rasa and Prajna Vieira at the Sivananda Yoga Center; a yoga-DJ-dance party at Equinox in Palo Alto, where I teach; and a Thanksgiving benefit class at Namaste Yoga in Oakland with Vickie Russell Bell. I sold Stop Slavery Now tee-shirts, and held a cocktail party and a silent auction. Also, [legendary kirtan singer] Krishna Das did an amazing fundraiser in NYC on the Bhajan Boat and he donated his whole portion to me for the cause. It was incredible.

Thanksgiving benefit class at Namaste Yoga in Oakland with Vickie Russell Bell

SFBG  What was the biggest fundraiser?

COLBERT  It was actually at my hair salon, Monica Foster Salon, in Palo Alto. I got everyone to work on a Monday when we’re usually closed, and they all donated their proceeds, over $4000 altogether, to Off the Mat.

SFBG  So you’re going to India then?

COLBERT Yes! I’ve never been to India and I am so thrilled that I get this opportunity. We leave on February 17 for 10 days in Kolkata. We’ll be working every day with the local charities that are partnered with Off the Mat to help rescue girls, and teach them trades like jewelry-making. We’ll also be helping to build a new room onto a dance-and-yoga therapy center that helps these girls transition back into society.

It’s an interesting time to be going to India to do this work. After the recent gang rape in India, there’s been an uprising of women banding together saying we’re not going to stand for this anymore. It feels really good that we can be part of that timing and affect some social change.

SFBG  Is your fundraising effort over?

COLBERT  Technically, yes, but people are still giving me cash and writing me checks! We’re asked to bring a donation bag over with us filled with first aid supplies, art supplies, and things to draw with, that we can give to the different charities—so I’ve been using the additional funds for that. Once that bag is full, I’ll give the remaining money to Off the Mat.

Colbert with yoga teacher Vickie Russell Bell (left) at Namaste Yoga

SFBG  What has this year of fundraising taught you?

COLBERT That I am not in control of anything. Every fundraiser, I would think it would go this way or that way—and it was never like that. I would think there would be 75 people there and in walked 12. Or I thought a person was going to give me $5 and he gave me $500. I had to learn to not try to control things, and to just be in the present moment with what is.

SFBG  You’re leaving on February 17. Nice timing for Valentine’s Day, eh?

COLBERT Yes, but every day should be Valentine’s Day! Every day we should all be giving each other as much love as we can, helping each other and holding each other up.

If you want to donate to Off the Mat or learn about the 2013 Seva Challenge, visit www.offthematintotheworld.org.

Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco -- her On the Om Front column appears biweekly here on SFBG.com.

It’s All About Love
Yoga and Spirituality Listings by Joanne Greenstein

Seven Month Chakra Awakening Intensive with Anodea Judith

Open your heart through the chakras. Award winning author and internationally renowned teacher Anodea Judith is coming to the Bay Area to lead a series of seven workshops on the seven chakras over seven months.  Each month will focus on one of the chakras, offering asana practice, bioenergetic exercises, breathing techniques, guided trance journeys, chanting, art, music and more to clear blockages and active chakra energy.  Workshops will be supplemented by weekly emails.
Sat 2/9 – Sat 2/13, 1:00 – 5:45 PM, Yoga Kula SF, 3030A 16th, SF with 2 sessions at Yoga Kula Berkeley, 1700 Shattuck, Berkeley, $90/workshop or $560 for all 7.  Livestream also available at $45/sessionor $285 for all sessions. yogakula.com/chakra-awakening

Valentine’s Day Contact Yoga Class with Alok Rocheleau and Anjuli Mahendra
Open your heart through touch.  Connect physically, emotionally and spiritually through partner yoga, contact improvisation and Thai massage.
Thurs/14, 7:30 – 10:00 PM, Mindful Body, 2876 California, SF, $70 per couple in advance/$80 at the door. www.themindfulbody.com/main/workshopsevents.htm

Celebration of Heart with Deborah Lee
Open your heart through movement.  Flow through a series of poses designed to help you release tension, improve your posture and connect to your heart. 
Sun/10, 2:00 – 4:15 PM, Yogaworks, 1823 Divisadero, SF, $20 in advance/$30 at the door. More info here.

Kirtan with David Newman (Durga Das)
Open your heart through song.  David and his wife Mira will lead a fun, joyous evening of call-and-response chanting letting you access your heart space. 
Fri/15, 8:00 – 10:00 PM, Urban Flow, 1543 Mission, SF, $20 in advance/$25 at the door. www.urbanflowyoga.com/workshop.html

Tantra & Massage Valentine’s Workshop with Dee Dussault
Open your heart through connection.  Explore and deepen your relationship through these workshops for couples. On day one, learn tantric practices to enhance the intimacy, energy, communication and sensuality in your relationship.  On day two, improve your love-making through tantric massage, breathing and visualization.  Day two is clothing optional, with a non-genital focus.
Tantra Workshop: Expanding Erotic Energy
Sat/16, 1:30 – 4:30 PM, 548 Fillmore, SF, $45
Sensual Massage: Conscious Intimate Touch
Sun/17, 2:00 – 5:00 PM, 548 Fillmore, SF, $45
More info here.

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