Chelsea Roff: Warrior for Love: Interview with Sue Jones, founder of yogaHOPE

If I had to sum up the essence of Sue Jones in a three-word moniker, I think it would be “Warrior for Love.”

I met Sue this week at the Yoga Service Council Conference at the Omega Institute, and within just a few hours with her I knew I had to snag an interview. Her commitment and passion for the work she does with underserved women was evident from the get-go, and because of the path she’s walked in her own life, Sue struck me as powerfully empathic and deeply insightful. Those two qualities, I believe, are absolutely essential (and somewhat hard to find) in working with people in the midst of trauma and upheaval. Sue has lived in the darkness. And because (not in spite) of that, she’s made it her mission to support others in making their way back to the light.

It’s an honor to introduce you to Sue Jones:

Thanks for taking some time to do this interview, Sue. Can you start out by sharing with me what ‘service’ means to you?

Well, I like to think of service as stewardship. Whether we are parents, teachers, leaders, healers or change makers in the broad sense, I think that our service is in the stewarding of those around us toward healing, empowerment and compassion on all levels.

I know you’re here representing your non-profit, yogaHOPE.  What is yogaHOPE, and who do you serve?

yogaHOPE  is a non-profit outreach organization organization dedicated to improving health and well being through increased access to yoga-based mindfulness tools for under-served women in recovery.

Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to get involved with service to begin with?  Were there any particularly powerful life experiences or ah-has that led you into this?

It’s interesting because one of the questions I am asked, more than any other is “what is your background?” and my answer is “my background is my whole life”. In the summer of 2005 I had decided to take my own life—but not because I was tired of living, or sick of the hardships and struggles. I felt like I had caused such pain to the ones that I loved the most (my children and husband) just by being the person who I was, that removing myself from their lives seemed like the ultimate gift. It seems really crazy now, but back then it made all the sense in the world to me… it would be the one thing in my life that I got right. My yoga practice, that I had just started, allowed me to put of that decision for one more day. Days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months and finally I was out of the danger zone. It wasn’t long after that I knew I had to find a way to offer yoga as an intervention to women in real crisis.

One of the things I’ve been most impressed by in hearing about yogaHOPE programs is that you’ve been integrating the findings of recent scientific research in your curriculum. Can you say more about how you’ve done that? 

It definitely took a leap of faith and the willingness to suspend program growth while we delved deep into the research around all of the issues that the women we worked with were facing. Our big discovery, though not a surprising one, was that the root of everything was acute stress and traumatic stress resulting from early trauma. So we spent about two years pulling together all of the research that we could find on these issues as well as women specific programming, mind body practices, how trauma lives in the body, healing trauma through imagery and so much more. Then our task was to take all of this amazing information and put it in a program that was simple, accessible but highly effective. Not only that, but something that would be replicable, measureable and translatable across all cultures.

What is your growing edge in yoga service?

I would definitely say our growing edge is now empowering change makers all over the world to deliver this program. We are training facilitators in Haiti and the US, we are about to start training inmates in an all woman’s prison and we will be going to Rwanda in 2013.  This is when things will get really exciting because once these facilitators are out in the world, they have two tasks follow through on other than deliver the program. One is to provide us with the data from their groups, the other is to identify at least 2 women in their group who would make strong facilitators. So not only do we grow the program from the inside out, but we make a case to the world at large for why this program needs to be part of the larger health care system. I think that’s edge enough. 🙂

What was your intent in being at the Yoga Service Conference?

I mostly want to inspire anyone here to know that they can create change in the world. It’s not about having the best program or the strongest results or the largest budget etc… but to honor that just being a human being that is willing to sit with someone and say “me too”, or “I get it” or “you matter” can make the difference in someone’s life. The moment when I heard the words “you matter” back when I was in the midst of my darkest is a moment I will never ever forget.

This is the fourth in a series of interviews from the Yoga Service Council Conference, a gathering that brought together individuals and organizations from around the country who are actively engaged in using yoga to serve their communities. The conference took place at the beautiful Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where the council first came into being four years ago this May. Each year, Omega has graciously allowed leaders in the field of yoga service to stay on campus to meet, exchange ideas, share resources, and collaborate on joint projects. Next year’s conference will take place June 7-10, 2013. Keep an eye on the YSC website for details.