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NYC Yoga Project Empowers Beyond The Mat

Achieving empowerment may take a lifetime of growth, self-acceptance, and work. But one passionate New York project is working to bring the magic of reaching this point, in just eight weeks.

Dawn Rizzo, the co-founder and president of NYC Yoga Project, left a 20-year corporate

career to start a project dedicated to empowering people to live their passions. After Hurricane Sandy, she turned to a local Baptiste studio, on Staten Island, to get herself grounded.

“Then I started to go into my neighborhood with others in my yoga community to help people get back on track.” Rizzo realized she wanted to do more, and do it in a bigger way. She left her career, got certified, and then, with co-founder Celina Ramsey, who has an M.S. in Health Communications, and is specifically interested in the young LGBTQ community, set up the Empowerment Workshop Series.

This program is different from non-profits that offer a well-rounded asana practice because at the forefront of this organization is an inquiry in one's self and one’s potential. Think of it as yoga-mindfulness-coaching.

Each two-hour weekly session is strategically created to encourage students to step out of the practice and ask thought-provoking questions like, “How are you showing up in your life?” and “How can you show up differently?”

“We’re not just putting kids on the mat,” Rizzo explained, “We’re helping them see how they show up in their own lives.”

Rizzo knows this situation well. She dealt with loss and homelessness growing up and she’s living proof that even if someone can’t change their circumstances they can become powerful, by looking inwards and asking the right questions.

It seems to be working. “Yoga has allowed me to discover my purpose, declare it to be mine, and now I am conquering it,” says Mariah, NYC Yoga Project student and ambassador.

Serving over 10 locations, including LGBTQ and autism centers across all five boroughs, the tightly knit community of volunteers leverage their knowledge from yoga teacher trainings, combined with personal resilience of overcoming their own childhood traumas.

“We’re looking for volunteers who already teach and have a meditation practice,” Rizzo said. “Most of our methodology is about practicing more mindfulness.” They frequently host a Leadership Workshop for Yoga Professionals that provide insight about obstacles holding them back in their teaching and how to facilitate instruction to individuals with trauma.

Even with their small group of volunteers, they are getting a lot done.

Among other things, this summer they partnered with the Police Athletic League's Girl Talk to help 60 young women from Staten Island who got so much out of the program that they'll continue working with them all year. They helped recovery workers in Snug Ha

rbor learn skills for their own self-care which is so vitally important in this kind of work. They picked up a few prestigious grants, and their vision is to open a center and continue to develop their pool of volunteers.

The goal for students is to move obstacles that block their drishtis so deep down they can recognize the power within themselves. “Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz,” Rizzo said, “we support the person on the journey to tap into their own power. The more we give, the more we empower ourselves.”

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—Ashley Rose Howard

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