Sharon Watts Writes

when pictures fail me…

YogaCityNYC ~ article on Serving Those Who Serve.org

The events of 9/11 are still in New York City’s collective hearts and minds. Unfortunately its toxins, both physical and psychological, live on as well. Tens of thousands of people continue to suffer aftereffects such as breathing difficulties, depression and anxiety, and live in a time where public empathy, media coverage, and health funding has withered.  An organization called Serving Those Who Serve (STWS) is doing something about that and needs yoga studios for their latest effort.

Serving Those Who Serve (STWS.org) offers help to first responders, rescue and relief workers, survivors, family members of victims, and others who lived or worked near Ground Zero. Their healing tool is the holistic equivalent of the firefighters’ Halligan bar: Ayurvedic herbal medicine, breath work and meditation, and yoga.

Now STWS is on a mission. Its 9/11 Yoga By Donation Project is sending an APB out to the yoga community, asking instructors for the following: Open any of their already scheduled classes (Beginner level, Open, Restorative, Therapeutic, etc.) to people in the 9/11 community for a suggested donation of $10–not just on the anniversary, but all year long.

“We are bringing holistic healing modalities: herbs for toxicity, breath work and meditation, and yoga to people who might not otherwise be exposed to these, such as firefighters, police officers, and volunteer EMS workers,” explains Jose Mestre, who co-founded the non-profit organization in 2003.

Soon after 9/11, Mestre found himself peer counseling firefighters needing to vent. Being labeled heros for doing their jobs was not what they wanted. Neither was dealing with an often insensitive bureaucracy and a mountain of paperwork on top of being debilitated from toxins never before experienced.

A longtime volunteer in service organizations, Mestre joined forces with Rosemary Nulty and her knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine, and Richard Brown, M.D., of Columbia University, who was doing groundbreaking work in breathing and meditation techniques.

One of their first yoga teachers was Nechemiah Bar-Yehuda, who volunteered his bodywork services at St. Paul’s Chapel, which miraculously escaped damage and thus became a haven for the relief workers just after the World Trade Center attacks. Since 2004, his idea of offering yoga to the 9/11 community through STWS was implemented, and he now serves as Director of Programs.

He admits that it is a bit of a challenge to get a police officer or firefighter onto the mat. “They are mostly ‘family’ people, accustomed to a traditional western lifestyle.” Still, the concept of “Firefighter-Yogi” is not as alien as it was over a decade ago, when Ladder 3’s Captain Patrick Brown extolled the benefits of yoga on “The Today Show,” just months before he perished in the North Tower.

One firefighter who took to the mat after cleaning up at Ground Zero is 46 year-old Darren Taylor of Ladder 32 in the Bronx. Suffering from breathing issues and bouts of depression, he tried out the breath work program offered by STWS, which led to a yoga class given by Bar-Yehuda. Centering on his breathing helped to calm him, and had an almost immediate effect on his sense of well-being. Anxiety was purged, and Taylor claims: “I always leave his class feeling both grounded and elevated.”

Evelyn Pate, Project Coordinator for STWS, enthuses that many of the  studio managers, owners and teachers that she has gotten in touch with for the  9/11 Yoga By Donation participants are happy to be providing much needed community service — but that word needs to spread, especially to where first responders actually live. “We are reaching out to yoga studios in lower New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island to help make a difference in these people’s lives.”

Readers: You can help! Step up and contact this great organization: by clicking here.

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