When Kala MacDonald’s brother Jordan was murdered in 2013, the then-24-year-old channeled her pain into taking every workout class she could afford. While others were burning calories, MacDonald found herself trying to burn off emotions. For years, yoga had been just another form of exercise to her, but in the aftermath of her brother’s death, heated vinyasa quickly became a vital part of her self-care routine in a way she hadn’t experienced before: On the mat, MacDonald found healing. “I wasn’t there to focus on the external shape of my body anymore,” she says. “I was there so I could get out of the house and be around people and be told to breathe.”
But the financial burden of regular instruction posed a challenge. MacDonald found creative workarounds to deepen her practice, cleaning studios in exchange for classes and working two jobs to fund a yoga teacher training in Bali. Yoga became a path forward in life.
MacDonald’s practice changed yet again when, just three years after Jordan’s death, her other brother, Brenton, took his own life. She began supplementing her asana with a quieter, breath-based meditative practice to manage her grief.
The results were so therapeutic that in 2018, MacDonald founded Yoga to Cope, a nonprofit that takes the supportive lessons she’s learned in her practice instruction in movement, mindfulness, nutrition, and more—and makes them available to others for free.
“When I needed help and healing most, I was young, too broke for therapy, and didn’t want to go straight to medication,” says MacDonald. “I set out to find a way to bring rooted, accessible yoga practices to those who find themselves in hard times.”
Designed to serve individuals experiencing emotional distress, Yoga to Cope creates community among people who feel disconnected or alienated by their trauma and offers both an outlet and a toolkit to navigate what MacDonald calls the “dark seasons of life.”
Yoga to Cope broadcasts fresh insights via a weekly podcast that features licensed counselors and wellness industry guests, such as Aaron Alexander, author of The Align Method, and Bad Yogi cofounder Erin Motz. Episodes tackle tough topics including disordered eating, trauma, and depression. There’s also a library of some 30 downloadable meditations and breathwork exercises on Yoga to Cope’s website, as well as a list of crisis hotlines. The organization is fundraising to release an app and video content next year.
“The resources are right there whenever I need them,” says Lauren Whited, who found Yoga to Cope through Instagram, where it has more than 10,000 followers. “If I’m feeling overwhelmed or on the brink of a panic attack, there are short meditations to help. Yoga to Cope has given me the tools I need to take time for myself and remember that I deserve it.”