AdniJóga has become a shining light in Budapest showcasing the power of yoga within the community. This social enterprise is making the difference by offering yoga to at-risk groups to help them work through their life trauma. Manduka is working with the initiative as part of our “Roll it Forward” program to extend the reach of yoga across all communities and make the healing power of yoga available to all. We were lucky enough to get some time with Anna Kalmar the founder of AdniJóga to find out more about their mission and business model and how every yoga teacher and studio can make a difference in their community.
According to Central Eastern European statistics, 2 million people are estimated to struggle with mental health issues in Hungary alone, and only 100,000 have access to state funded therapy. This is the context where AdniJóga works to compensate for this gap in care by providing trauma-conscious yoga sessions to vulnerable groups. Since sustainability is a key factor in providing this service on a reliable long-term basis, they also partner with companies for office yoga classes. These corporate partners then fund the beneficiary classes on a one-for-one basis.
How did the AdniJóga journey get started and where are you today?
My personal social enterprise journey started a little over 3 years ago, when I returned to my home city, Budapest after a wonderful (and difficult) experience of teaching yoga to refugee women in Greece. Seeing the shift that movement, meditation and relaxation was able to cause there in just two months, I decided to set up a yoga initiative at home, in the setting that I knew the most, and this time, think long-term. At first, I began seeking organisations working with refugees and people living in poverty. I arranged regular classes with their beneficiaries. Then, I invited my friends over to practice with me in exchange for donations, which then helped to fund mats and other props for the beneficiary classes. Last but certainly not least, I posted in Facebook groups, asking if there were other instructors who would want to join a social yoga initiative. Over 20 people got in touch with me and soon our collective story, AdniJóga began.
Currently, our team consists of 17 dedicated professionals. Over the past years we have been able to provide free yoga and meditation to over 500 people, including adults and young, vulnerable children. We now work with an array of target beneficiary groups, in 10 regular sessions. To fund our initiative, our team also provides bespoke office yoga and meditation classes to partner companies, who, by buying our service, are giving back to the community as well. For every office class we also hold a session for our beneficiary groups, thus creating a ‘one-for-one’ social enterprise model.
What is the social issue that you are addressing with AdniJóga?
We see that mental health issues are on the rise worldwide. These issues disproportionately affect those living below the poverty line as poverty acts as a chronic stressor. Unfortunately, in Hungary and many other places in the world, vulnerable people, who are stuck in difficult situations are less likely to access mental health support services or psychological help to deal with their trauma and improve their wellbeing. In our experience, mental health issues can, then, act as a barrier between traumatised individuals and their goals in life, both personal and professional.
On a personal level, undergoing trauma means a loss of control that can prevail and hinder personal progress. Living in poverty can also foster a feeling of dependency. At our trauma-conscious yoga and meditation classes, we see people experiencing awareness and control over their bodies, breath, and thoughts. This seems to be a powerful tool that can also be applied to other areas of life. We believe it can really turn the life of a person around in the long run.
You’ve been helping people from all walks of life. Can you talk us through the impact you’ve seen upon individuals?
We work with a range of groups in Hungary to deliver social impact. Amongst our beneficiaries are children living in state care or in low-income families, refugees, migrants, domestic abuse survivors, young people with autism and parents raising children with disabilities.
The effects of yoga on each group (and in fact, each individual) can be completely different, but to bring some examples: For children, improved concentration and an increased awareness towards their body, emotions and thoughts can result in better school results. With adults, the same improvement in self-awareness and acceptance has been bringing real positive change in wellbeing. Taking time for self-care and practicing the usage of mental health tools can start an enabling process of healing in individuals, further catalysed by the supportive community they experience. This, in turn, makes them more resilient and motivated and improves their relationships and chances at finding and keeping a job.
All in all, our long-term goal is to help people lift themselves out of poverty, heal trauma and integrate into society. We believe that a balance in mental and physical health is an essential element of reaching this.
Do you see longevity in your business and do you think this is a transferable concept to other countries/cities?
We are passionate about proving that our ‘one-for-one’ social enterprise service model, where companies help to fund the work of mental health professionals for their employees and for vulnerable groups as well, would work well in other settings too. The key to validating our statement is reaching financial sustainability. As a social enterprise, it is always difficult to reach a fully self-funded stage. This is the goal we are trying to reach in the next few years, after which we would be happy to help similar initiatives set up in different parts of the world.
What advice do you have for other yoga professionals to give back? What are the 3 things that any yoga studio and teachers can do in their community to have the most social impact?
The success of the work that we do depends entirely upon the heart and soul of AdniJóga: the dedicated instructors who deliver our sessions. Each of our team members teaches a regular beneficiary class on a volunteer basis, targeting a social issue that they feel personally passionate about. We encourage other yoga teachers to seek out such opportunities too, after all, one free class a week certainly doesn’t derail your schedule but the impact it could have is considerable.
As for studios, post-pandemic: there are always ways to be socially responsible. Reaching out to your local community and teaching needs-based classes to those that cannot afford membership fees or inviting initiatives like ours to use some of your studio spaces are some great options. Make sure you provide such services on a regular basis though, not just at Christmas :)
And just a word of advice to any instructor working with vulnerable communities: don’t try to overstep your own boundaries in an effort to help. We are best at what we are qualified to do and referring someone to a psychologist, nutritionist or other kind of professional might bring better results and will also keep your soul safe.
What has been the hardest thing you have had to deal with throughout this journey so far?
There are a lot of minor difficulties when it comes to working with vulnerable groups. As an instructor you need to be very adaptable to the circumstances. Every group is challenging in a different way and it takes time to see what is best for each. Once the connection is built with the group, it is difficult to distance yourself from the issues that the participants have in their lives. Still, it is essential to draw boundaries to protect ourselves.
Speaking of hardships, of course, Covid19 hasn’t been easy on us either. A year ago, we had to transfer our entire social enterprise into the online space which was unfamiliar to all of us instructors. We have managed to continue growing the enterprise and built an online platform where our beneficiaries could practice with us on an every-day-basis too. In our experience, there has also been a positive shift in the perception of self-care and yoga in this past year. Thankfully, people are starting to acknowledge that taking time for one’s own mental health needs to be a top priority. Mental health is not a luxury and yoga should not be either.
Photo credits: AdniJóga