Namaste, Africa!

Hang on to your yoga mats, people. A whole new movement is afoot, led by three formidably fit, flexible, and fired-up yoga masters, called Off the Mat, Into the World. Enough with the navel-gazing — Off The Mat is using the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change, training yogis across the country to be leaders and community activists who take on local and global service projects. In its first two years of action, OTM raised over one million dollars for communities in crisis in Cambodia and Uganda, and this year, they’re focused on South Africa.

Yogi Gwen

My friend Gwen Soffer in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania is getting up off her mat and taking on this 2010 Global Seva Challenge. An inspired jewelry maker and yogi, who opened her own studio Enso in Media a few years ago, Gwen is committed to raising $20,000 this year to support OTM’s work on HIV/AIDS prevention and education in South Africa. Now that’s going to require a lot of grassroots fundraising (previously known as friendly arm-twisting) but it couldn’t be for a more worthy cause.

Seane Corn, OTM founder, and South African kids

In South Africa, one in five adults is HIV positive. The country has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world, with than 5 million people thought to be living with the disease. 2.5 million people in Africa receive anti-retroviral therapy, but an additional 8.7 million are in need of treatment. Worst of all, 13 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in all Africa, and South Africa has one of the highest number of children under 15 living with the disease– estimated between 180,000 and 280,000.

The funds raised by Gwen and the impassioned yogi community will go to a few select organizations who are working to combat the AIDS crisis in South Africa, particularly as it affects children: TAC (since 1988, the world’s most effective advocates for increased access to treatment, care and support), YouthAIDS (a global education and prevention initiative that seeks to raise awareness and stop the spread of AIDS) and Linawo Children’s Home, founded by Ivy Konisi in 2002 outside Cape Town for abandoned or orphaned children.

If Gwen raises $20,000 by the end of this year, she will be going on the OTM Bare Witness Humanitarian Tour to South Africa in February 2011, and straight into the heart of her service. It sounds like an incredible journey, and I’m happy to be a little part of it (particularly since it didn’t involve any downward dogs).