Yoga District: Charity in the Capitol

Last month we launched our first-ever Charity Challenge by asking our customers to activate the charitable contributions feature in their MINDBODY sites and inspire their clients to donate to our charity partners. We ran the numbers and determined that Yoga District, a yoga studio in Washington, D.C., drove the most volume of donations during the month of July. What the numbers couldn’t tell us, however, is how exceptional this dynamic yoga collective really is.

Rooted in the community

Jasmine Chehrazi opened her first studio in historic Dupont Circle after taking over the lease for a struggling yoga business in 2006. Service to the community is set in the philosophy of her business. “Our motto is ‘By the community, for the community,’ says Jasmine. “The community is so open and very passionate. Everyone works incredibly hard to keep the collective going.”

Now operating six locations, Yoga District is primarily run by volunteers.  “Our interns do administrative tasks, cleaning, promoting, beautification, marketing, blogging, web design, legal work and more, all pro bono. We have very low overhead costs because our community is very generous and quick to respond.”

When it comes to scoping out studio number seven, Jasmine is focused on Anacostia, an economically depressed area across the river from central DC. “We plan to offer a free teacher training in Anacostia before opening the studio.” The goal is to foster teachers within the community itself, as opposed to porting others from someplace else. Chehrazi describes this endeavor as a collective effort: “Anacostia is turning around, and landlords are willing to be generous with rent because they believe Yoga District will help to improve the neighborhood.”

In addition, her collective embraces a unique pricing structure to empower the community to join the practice. “No one is turned away from class because of a lack of funds,” says Jasmine. “We sell two classes for $11 and ten for $90, and we offer a sliding scale as well. We have weekly sessions that are by donation only, some even free.”

Sustainability in practice

“We search for environmentally friendly ways to do absolutely everything,” shares Jasmine. At Yoga District, volunteers clean the studio and mats with white wine vinegar. “Soap is only used for washing hands and dishes. The walls are painted with zero VOC [volatile organic compound] paint and we source the floors from sustainable origins. Finding [green] materials is actually very cost-effective.”

Apart from a passion for eco-friendly practices, Jasmine founded Yoga Activist, a non-profit organization that provides direct service to underserved communities by supplying volunteer yoga teachers with resources they need to spread yoga to shelters for the homeless and abused. These resources include everything from research on the success of yoga in alternative settings to fundraising guides to quarterly grants.  “We don’t pay people to do seva or good work in the community, but we enable them with supplies and support.”

One of the coolest aspects of Yoga Activist is the Mat Program. Since Washington DC is a transitional community, representatives from all over the world spend just a few months of the year in the District, then retreat back home. This movement leaves a large quantity of abandoned yoga mats behind. “We collect the abandoned mats and send them all over the place . . . Tibet, Haiti, even Texas! A teacher will say, ‘Hey, I need mats. I’m going to teach in a shelter,’ and we can use the gently-used mats as a currency to ensure that volunteer teachers follow Yoga Activist’s best practices.”

What about the gross mats? Jasmine has taken care to find a purpose for those, too. “We give the mats that aren’t suitable for practice to animal shelters. They use them to pad the cages, which gives the animals more comfort and a feeling of hominess.” Have an old mat you don’t need? You can donate it to Yoga Activist now.

Achieving balance

On top of running a growing business, Jasmine has taught yoga at the White House, serves on the staff of George Washington University, and contributes to the Harvard Karma Yoga project. How can she possibly make time to do everything?

“It’s not me [who’s] doing everything; it takes a village. There are so many community members supporting the mission behind Yoga District.” Jasmine likes to tell the story of Mata Amritanandamayi, an Indian woman who travels the world to heal others through the power of hugging. “This lady gives hugs to strangers around the world. From her I’ve learned that work from the heart cannot be exhausting. If you work from your ego, you’ll become exhausted . . . but if you work from a foundation of love, then you’ll become energized.”

Jasmine doesn’t look at her roles with Yoga District and Yoga Activist as work at all, but as a passion instead. “It’s like you’re on fire and running for water. That’s deep-seeded passion.”

Passion is exactly what motivates Yoga District to thrive, and what’s ultimately led to its expansion from a single studio to a six-location collective. Jasmine attributes much of this organic growth to MINDBODY: “It was the thing that made it all work. Without the MINDBODY system, I wouldn’t have had the level of professionalism [in place] and wouldn’t have been able to streamline everything on the backend.”

Check out more on Yoga District here.

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