Written by Elyse Venturella


A few years ago I approached an acquaintance that was starting an NGO in Uganda. The NGO focused on family preservation and the services being offered, such as childcare, income generating, and transitional housing would help keep children in families, not orphanages. The unique model intrigued me. After various conversations myself and the NGO’s staff agreed that I would come to Uganda to volunteer as a social work consultant during the pilot year. 


The year I purchased my plane ticket I was in a state of confusion, stress, and destruction. A relationship ended and I handled my reaction with substances, closed off behavior, and a regression into unhealthy eating and exercise habits. I would only come out of my damaging space to work, randomly visit friends, but always to attend yoga. I bought my plane ticket as an escape. 


Prior to Uganda I would come to my mat to blame, hurt, and push myself to unrealistic limits. My mat became a punching bag. The last month leading up to my trip was an awakening. There would be classes where I would cry without a warning, I would reach new heights in a standing posture, and I would leave feeling relief and forgiveness. 


The time had finally arrived. I entered Uganda with a burst of energy and eagerness. Within a week I crashed. I was upset, angry, and confused. I wanted to leave Uganda. 


The months flew by as families started to receive the NGO services, I attended various home visits, engaged in government meetings/workshops, visited various orphanages, and became a social work teammate. In the mist of these experiences I went to my yoga mat everyday. I punched the mat.  I let it the mat punch me back. I embraced the practice. And I let the practice embrace me. I realized how much of a fool I was acting before. 


I.33b-35 Yoga Sutra: Our minds feel bright and clear when we hear someone say that our real purpose in life is to help and serve others; and not with kinds of help that will themselves quickly be used up and disappear. We were all meant for more.


I wanted to share yoga with others. Uganda fulfilled my need to practice, share, and speak endlessly about yoga. I shared yoga weekly at a local coffee shop to Westerns residing in Uganda, I went to an orphanage for children with physical and mental disabilities, and of course I shared yoga with the caregivers, children, and staff at the NGO I was residing/serving. These yogis embraced yoga principles and practice effortlessly.  


I share yoga because I believe it should be shared anywhere, i.e. studios, recovery houses, hospitals, schools, etc. It is a practice compassion.