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Karma Christmas

Each year, these compassionate yogis create their own holiday traditions of comfort and joy.

By Alan Reder

In their drawing board versions, the winter holidays were designed to focus attention on our deepest emotions and spiritual feelings. But in the current swirl of commercial and social pressures, it's easy to forget all that meaningfulness and just bull through the season, head down and teeth gritted, until it's done.

That is, unless you know folks like those profiled below. Every year in just about every town, unique individuals tap right into the core message of the holidays and create their own traditions—whether that means giving back to their community, reversing the tide of over-consumption, reaching out to those overwhelmed with suffering, or celebrating the gifts of life and love. Here are four stories that for us capture the essence of the season.

Joanne "Rocky" Delaplaine
Giving Back

Joanne "Rocky" Delaplaine has been teaching yoga since the early '90s. But having been an antiwar activist in the '60s, a women's movementeer in the '70s, and a United Mine Workers employee in the '80s, she sees the practice a little differently than most. Like her idol Mahatma Gandhi, who practiced yoga daily, she has never seen her spiritual and social passions as separate. And she's found a perfect expression for this unified view in the yoga classes she teaches on New Year's Eve morning, the proceeds of which go to nonprofit organizations.

For several years now, Delaplaine has held her benefit classes at the Unity Woods Yoga Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where she is a regular instructor. Directed by noted teacher John Schumacher, the center donates the space, advertises the classes in its newsletter, and handles all the administration so that maximum dollars go to the target beneficiaries. Indeed, Delaplaine modeled her annual generosity on Schumacher himself, who had taught benefit classes at Unity Woods in the past.

In 1998, Delaplaine ("Rocky" is a nickname picked up in her UMW days) led a class that raised $500 for Grassroots Leadership, a North Carolina-based group trying to change the political dynamics of, well, the Jesse Helms state. In 1999, her class raised funds for My Sister's Place, a Washington, D.C., shelter for battered women. In 2000, her premillennium workshop proved so popular that she led two classes. She managed to raise $1,635, which she split between a local rape crisis center and Awareness, a nonprofit organization helping victims of 1999's devastating hurricane in Orissa, India. Delaplaine has also donated to a Maryland organization that teaches children how to prevent assaults.

The nonviolence theme that colors much of Delaplaine's giving comes straight from the heart of her practice. She came to yoga in part to deal with the inner rage that fired her social actions but was burning up her relationships. "I had internalized the very violence I was working to end," she notes.

She began feeling inner peace in her first Iyengar class, and then found confirmation for her vision of spiritualized activism in Gandhi's life, Patanjali's teachings about nonviolence, and an activist/yoga teacher named Louise Dunlap. Having been inspired by so many others, she's hoping that other yoga teachers will follow her lead in their own towns and centers. "[New Year's Eve morning is] usually a time when both studios and people are available," she says. "And there's a great reward for little output."

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