Eight-hour yogathon raises money for local hospital and African nonprofit

On Saturday, 200 Bay Area residents put on their stretchy yoga pants and unrolled their colorful exercise mats to help Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland. For eight hours, barefoot participants moved and stretched their bodies at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion to inaugurate the first annual Yoga Reaches Out Bay Area Yogathon.

Sarah Gardner, president and founder of Yoga Reaches Out, spoke during the welcome address and told the kneeling crowd that she was inspired to help children when her son was born 10 weeks premature and weighed only three pounds. In less than three years, the Boston-based nonprofit organization has conducted three “yogathons” and raised over $700,000 dollars for children’s charities, she said.

To enter a “yogathon,” participants must collect a minimum of $250 dollars from family, friends and colleagues. Registration can be done as an individual or team. The highest fundraiser wins a paddleboard.

Along with Children’s Hospital Oakland, a portion of the proceeds will go to Africa Yoga Project—an East African nonprofit that advocates peace, and physical and emotional well-being.

“I started Yoga Reaches Out to bring people together who love yoga and want to take their passion and use that energy to give back,” Gardner said. “Yoga Reaches Out brings yogis together who are committed to bringing their level of yoga to a level of service. I see it as a win-win [situation]—do what we love to do and pay it forward at the same time.”

Jennifer Perell, Bay Area chapter co-chair for Yoga Reaches Out, said over $45,000 dollars had been raised Saturday for Oakland Children’s Hospital and Africa Yoga Project.

Paula Lykins, communications manager for the Children’s Hospital and Research Center Foundation, said 70 percent of the children they see at the hospital receive financial assistance, but that Medicare or traditional insurance do not reimburse the hospital for the services they provide. “This money will bridge that gap,” she said. “Each year we face a [financial] shortfall and it’s one of the challenges that we have. It’s only because of events like this and community support that we’re able to continue to provide services to children regardless of their ability to pay.”

When people weren’t on their mats touching their toes or moving their bodies left, right, up and down, they could be found roaming the old hangar bay looking for a massage or buying healthy snacks from one of the vendors. During lunch break, everyone got to venture off and try something new like acro yoga, stand up paddle yoga, or slacklining. Acro yoga is a technique used by two people to lift one another off the ground. The word “acro” means acrobatics. Stand up paddle yoga uses a big, heavy paddleboard so that yoga moves can be polished on water.

Ron Avitzur, a Berkeley slackline instructor, said slacklining began at Yosemite National Park by rock climbing enthusiasts and that the sport takes on the traditions of circus tightrope walking or gymnastics. “For me it’s a yoga practice,” he said. “Walking on a slackline is a moving meditation. It gives us a keen appreciation of balance and alignment.”

Danny Dwyer, of Boston, said last month he participated in a yogathon at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., and decided to come to the Richmond event because friends invited him. “Yoga has changed all aspects of my life,” he said. “I initially got into it for the physical. What I found out is that it’s much more than physical—it took me to a place on the inside and helped me balance my life out.”

Cindy Collinson, a neonatal nurse and palliative care practitioner at Oakland’s Children Hospital, said she first got into yoga in 1982 when she was a college student at San Francisco State University and needed one more credit to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Not much for athletics, meditation or spirituality, she said she knew getting that college credit wouldn’t be easy.

“What I realized was at the end of class I was really relaxed,” Collinson said of her college experience. “So [now] for me yoga is 60-90 minutes out of my day where I can only think about my body, my breathing and my balance. I can’t think about the stress of work, money or life—it’s very meditative and I always come home very relaxed.”

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