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In 2004, when she started her studio, Spirit House Yoga in Oklahoma City, with her husband, Ted Cox, Martha McQuaid was looking for a way to give back. Her studio was thriving, yet she knew there were homeless families in town struggling to get enough to eat. Inspired by the words of Neem Karoli Baba, “Love all, feed all, serve all,” she held a donation class on Thanksgiving Day to benefit the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, an organization that feeds about 110,000 Oklahomans per week. They raised close to $650, and McQuaid decided to make it an annual tradition and to add a second annual benefit class on New Year’s Day. In 2011, she rallied the local yoga community to start the first Strike a Pose for Hunger, an annual fundraising event held one Saturday each January. About 22 studios participate each year, holding a donation-based practice to benefit the food bank. Last year alone, studios raised more than $6,000, which provided 31,000 meals.
For McQuaid, these efforts are a tangible way to practice seva, yoga’s teaching of selfless service. Her initial pull toward service was a desire to teach yoga to those in need, such as the homeless. But she realized there was an even more basic need. “You can’t know God if you’re hungry,” says McQuaid. “If you’re struggling to survive, just to get something to eat, you’re not going to be thinking much about your spirituality.”
McQuaid’s next project is a new seva-oriented studio slated to open this January in a low-income area in Oklahoma City. “[Service] is part of what yoga is,” she says. “It’s connecting to something greater within ourselves.”
How to Aid Food Banks in Your Community
Donation-based yoga classes benefiting food banks are catching on around the country. Look for one in your home- town, or sign up to volunteer at your local food bank—find one near you at feedingamerica.org/foodbank.
See also Grow Simply with Seva.