A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.
Once a month on Saturday evenings, yoga students walk into a dimly lit studio at The People’s Yoga in Portland, Oregon. They bring with them their mats, their water, and a desire to give back.
They drop however many dollars they can into a donation jar set out on a table with brochures from NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Then they assume child’s pose while a meditative guitar plays in the background.
The donation-based yoga class is taught by Melina Donalson, a former costume and fashion designer who turned to yoga almost two decades ago to calm her mind amidst the fast-paced life in Los Angeles.
“I was totally burned out on all the ego and materialism in that world,” she says. “I was just too sensitive for it.”
While in California, Melina would teach yoga to friends in exchange for food, books, or anything else they felt like offering. When she moved to Portland in 2009, she knew she wanted to continue giving through teaching.
“The years of practicing have really helped me be kind to people and react in mindful ways to the world around me,” she says. “It’s an important part of yoga philosophy to be of service.”
Melina’s dad lives with a mental illness. Every other month she sends a check to NAMI as her small way of helping the cause. Sometimes it’s $30. Other times it’s a few hundred dollars. Grateful for the personal touch of support, the organization sends her a thank you letter each time, no matter the donation.
For Melina, everything seemed to fall into place once she knew what she wanted to do.
“It’s almost effortless,” she says. “It takes emails, it takes organizing, it takes being present and showing up.”
By creating a welcoming environment, she also hopes the class helps students who might be new to yoga and are nervous or afraid.
“It’s a beautiful feeling to see people leave class so relaxed. They feel good and they know where their donation is going,” she says. “That’s my whole intention with that class. To make people feel good.”
Want to use your yoga skills for good? Melina would happily answer questions about everything from getting in contact with the right people to staying encouraged. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email email@example.com.