In just two years since Cassie Connor co-founded the Warrior Yoga Network, an international non-profit organization addressing barriers which prevent people from accessing yoga and meditation, she’s made the practice inclusive to many who otherwise may not have been afforded the opportunity.
Through a variety of initiatives in Ottawa, Toronto and Stockholm, the Warrior team provides yoga and meditation classes as part of outreach programs, offers scholarships for yoga teacher training and yoga therapy, and works on creating safe spaces for marginalized populations.
It was in the midst of completing yoga teacher training in India when Connor met Swedish co-founder Ida Farneman, and thus a friendship and mutual dream to create change in the world blossomed.
“I was a human rights student at the time and I couldn't help but apply that kind of critical lens to yoga, asking questions like who gets to practice yoga? Who gets to teach yoga? Who am I actually going to be able to help," asks Connor. "Yoga has helped me so much in my life and in my healing but am I only going to be able to teach it to the one per cent?"
It began simply as an offer that Connor extended through social media, proposing free yoga classes to trauma survivors.
Witnessing the students’ progress propelled her to then share her vision with Farneman, and the two didn’t think it would be a stretch finding others to join their efforts.
They were right.
Warrior Yoga has since grown to 50 yoga teachers since September 2018, when Connor and Farneman withdrew a small amount of money saved from waitressing to properly launch Warrior Yoga. And after being awarded a $5,000 Lululemon grant, they were really able to get things rolling.
Through their outreach program, Warrior Yoga has partnered with various charities, providing weekly yoga classes to those recovering from violence, conflict, abuse, poverty and discrimination, and one of the classes that Connor personally teaches is to survivors of human trafficking.
"I just personally have tons of sexual trauma from years of being sort of a reckless young person - not knowing, not ever being told, what I can say no to or when I can put boundaries up," explains Connor. "It’s been a learning process for me that I still struggle with. And a lot of relationship trauma as well. My first relationship was a really abusive one. Your mind just gets a little bit warped from that.”
Having admittedly used maladaptive coping strategies in the past, like alcohol and drugs, or in later years, becoming consumed with success, Connor says that yoga has become a healthy substitute.
“It’s a great community of being healthy and being well and supporting each other emotionally. It’s just so comforting. I still don't really know how to find the words to sum up what yoga has done for me. It’s just so important for me to have that space.”
With the belief that yoga can have a hugely positive impact on trauma, Connor aims to create a space that calms one’s sympathetic nervous system, allowing a few moments of rest, and providing a glimpse into what peace can actually feel like. One of these students who, says Connor, started out “huddled on the floor” has made such remarkable strides that she was recently awarded one of Warrior Yoga’s scholarships that will enable her to attend a yoga teacher training program herself.
“It’s definitely our dream that many of our scholarships would go to people in our outreach classes. That’s not always the case. But this time it did happen. And I would love to hire her later on to teach that class and pass it along which would be really really great. We want to have the teachers who really represent or who relate to those populations teaching those classes. That’s the goal.”
To donate or learn more about Warrior Yoga, click here.