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Interview – Rob Schware Co-Founder and Director of The Give Back Yoga Foundation

Rob Schware is my best friend in yoga. He’s also, conveniently, the wisest person I know in yoga…I wanted to write a feature about him for Colorado Yoga Magazine because yoga has helped him become the kind of guy that doesn’t toot his own horn, and I want to one day become that kind of guy…

You’ve read the article – or can here – but I thought it would be interesting to make available the complete transcript of that conversation between me and him.

Me: Who were you before yoga?

Rob: I think Yoga “found” me. I was a daily runner who seldom stretched. I pulled my back lifting my son Jordan out of a tree swing. Six months later I found myself at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in an Ashtanga Yoga trial class taught by Tim Miller, Beryl Bender Birch, and Thom Birch. I stopped running and started practicing Yoga. At first, Yoga was an intense workout and purification of the physical body; it had little to do with cultivating mental “purity” to recognize this purity in every moment or at all. I used to practice to combat the negative health and psychological effects of modern life and the stresses of a high-level job in Washington, DC.

Me: What’s your goal as a yogi?

Rob: The cultivation of yoga as service.

Me: You and me made a deal, damn it…when are we actually retiring?

Rob: When our mental waters are cleansed of all polluting thoughts, and all unworthy aspirations. When we can be that lotus blossom floating in a muddy pond, damn it!

Me: How long have you been practicing?

Rob: Twenty-three years with more intensives than I can remember.

Me: Do you still love yoga?

Rob: If you’re talking about the daily routine of physical practices, I keep showing up on the mat. I’m continually aware of how hard it is to just show up and practice–in my marriage of 34+ years, as a white male with unconscious attitudes that the social system has awarded preferences to, as a male trying to at ease with, not defensive, with healthy challenges.

Me: What’s your favorite thing about the practice?

Rob: I feel calm, clear, vibrant and safe in my body after a yoga class. I truly feel called to give back this gift, to pay it forward as a tool for healing and transformation.

Me: Give all the yoga-businesspeople out there a free tip, would you?

Rob: Think twice before you purchase. Do you really need it? Change your transportation habits and stop driving a car if you have this option available. Fly less often, if at all, and if you must, purchase high-quality carbon offsets.

Me: How can a yogi or yoga teacher most effectively be of service?

Rob: Service is already within you. One just needs to find clues to uncover that in your life and yoga practice. For me, it was calling and asking 11 years ago the simple question of Beryl Bender Birch, Founder and Director of The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute: “How can I serve the yoga teachers that have done so much for me during my career at the World Bank?” Together we created The Give Back Yoga Foundationas a national nonprofit organization to serve the yoga world.

The past few years I’ve interviewed around a hundred yogis around the world for the Huffington Post and Give Back Yoga blog series called “Yoga: How We Serve?” One consistent theme from teachers is that working in prisons, jails, rehabilitation facilities, homeless shelters, etc. allows them to make a difference in people’s lives–they see that every week. Yoga Makes Change! (Please join our annual Yoga Makes Change campaign this November!)

And keep up the yoga service because change is happening! The medical field, for instance, is slowly coming around and encouraging complementary alternative practices and therapies for patients. More yoga teachers are being contracted to work in VA and rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, jails and prisons.

Me: You’ve interviewed a lot of yogi leaders–who inspires you?

Rob: My primary yoga teacher and co-founder of Give Back Yoga Foundation, Beryl Bender Birch. She’s constantly striving to “find right action,” however difficult that may be, and to encourage inclusivity for all populations. Our Colorado-based Rod Stryker, Founder of ParaYoga who always reminds us that we have the blessing of yoga and are able to use it as a means to discover what we’re meant to do. And Sri Prem Baba, for his “Flower of the Day” emails and helping people become channels of love

Me: What’s the one question you wished someone would ask you in an interview but hasn’t?

Rob: Change has frequently been difficult for me. I suspect I’m not the only sane person struggling so. The question would thus be: Why is change so difficult?

Me: What is the greatest challenge facing mankind and how can yogis, specifically, help to solve it?

Rob: In an earlier career, I was a social scientist working with a distinguished group of well-known climatologists and policy makers on the socio-economic impacts of climate change. It was the consensus of the international climatological community back then—in 1980—that if worldwide use of fossil fuels continued to increase atmospheric carbon dioxide, humans would likely cause a significant average warming of the Earth’s surface within the next fifty years. We made best guess estimates of the costs of say, Miami, or even for that matter, New York, after 80 feet sea-level rise, or the consequences of waves of refugees moving across continents.

We could not imagine in our book, Climate Change and Society , that the Department of Defense would ever be involved in climate change policies and state with confidence that climate change will “threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.” Now, according to Untied Nation’s data, nearly 64 million people face climate turmoil (e.g., sudden-onset disasters like floods and storms, and low-onset disasters like drought).  The long-term effects of changing climate on Colorado will mean a reduction of between two weeks to nearly three months for our beloved ski season. For millennials reading this article, I’m not optimistic your grandchildren will ski here.

We can’t wait any longer to act. We are running enormous risks. As a leader of the ever-growing yoga service movement, I feel obliged to speak out publicly against Trump climate-change policies, and remind yogis that we can both resist these policies and change behavior in the fight against climate change. Cutting our own carbon emissions is a personal transformation itself, and is the subject of a book I recommend, Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.

Me: How can yogis positively influence climate change?

Rob: We need to extract the essence of yoga, distilling the practice down to a few minutes that can be done regularly by anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Imagine the possibilities if most of the one billion people in the developed world, where consumption is most rampant, were acting through emotional regulation and self-mastery most of the time, with each striving to be mindful of future generations. Humanity would make great strides toward leaving the smallest possible carbon footprint. And imagine the possibilities if every child in the world could learn these transformative life skills from childhood.

Me: Yoga is a white upper-middle class practice in Colorado and beyond. What, if anything, can we do about that?

Rob: Teacher trainings can custom content that tackles critical issues like white supremacy, radical inclusion, and the politics of wellbeing. Studios are reaching out more to facilitate classes and workshops to in-need and under-resourced populations, schools and community organizations. Maintaining engagement with vulnerable populations and learning methods grounded in Restorative Justice are ways to further our understanding and strengthen our commitment to the communities who we serve in Colorado. Argh! This topic could be a separate interview!

The other day I saw a fortune-teller…she told me to, “spend more time channeling as a writer”. I said, “get out of my head, witch!” Visit me at www.justinkaliszewski.com or come take my class at Outlaw Yoga Littleton – “Colorado’s BEST Yoga Studio”.

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