Yoga is big business in the West. In the U.S., more than $6 billion is spent each year on yoga classes, trainings, apparel and accessories. With yoga pants costing close to $100 and drop-in classes up to $20, the economic contrast is stark when compared to India, the land where yoga originated, where around 70 percent of the population lives on under $2 a day, according to the World Bank.
Recognizing an opportunity to mobilize the global yoga community in humble gratitude to India and its people, Kayoko Mitsumatsu, a yogini in Los Angeles, founded Yoga Gives Back (YGB) in 2007. Inspired by the Nobel Peace Prize winning works of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, whose highly successful micro-financing model encourages sustainable financial independence by giving loans to entrepreneurial men and women living in poverty, YGB, supports micro-credit programs in India which lend small loans to women in particular, who have no access to capital. Its motto? "For the cost of one yoga class, you can change a life."
"As a yoga practitioner, I felt strong sense of blessing to my good health and peace. I wanted to give back to today's India," Mitsumatsu explains. "If [a fraction of the money spent on yoga in the US] is redirected to help the poor in India, we can make a difference."
YGB is currently sponsors 103 mothers and their children with microloans, according to Mitsumatsu, who has witnessed firsthand how this kind of support truly helps people change their lives. She mentions one woman, Jayashree, a mother of two who she met in 2007 when she received her first loan. "Every year, she has paid back the loan fully, and finally sent her elder son to a medical school. YGB is now funding his education until he graduates and becomes a dentist," she says.
In order to raise funds, YGB created the annual "Thank You Mother India" campaign, which in 2011 raised $27,000. In addition, there are donation-based classes and "yoga relays" in studios around the country, including a special event tomorrow at the Stella McCartney store in West Hollywood taught by the intrepid YJ.com Challenge Pose blogger Kathryn Budig. To find out more about this class and other Yoga Gives Back events and how you can get involved, go to the website.