Member spotlight: Barrie Risman

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The Yoga Service Council is committed to highlighting the work and journeys of our growing community in an effort to inform, inspire and affirm our shared work and vision in the name of yoga service.

We want you to learn about one another, share experiences and perspectives, and to feel more deeply connected to a community and emerging field of yoga service. Many of you spoke to us during the conference about wishing to participate in our blog. This is a fabulous way to get the word out about what you do and the folks you serve, as well to become both connected with and a resource for others who might be doing similar work.

Please enjoy our first member interview with YSC community member Barrie Risman and learn about her incredible work sharing yoga in rural Botswana.


  1. What inspired you to become a yoga teacher and how long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching full time since 1999. I love asana practice and particularly the alignment-based technique that has allowed me to continually refine and deepen my practice over the years. For me, asana is a vehicle that supports me greatly in my path of self- discovery, inner knowledge and more conscious living. I was inspired to become a teacher out of the desire to offer that possibility to others.

  1. How did you become involved with yoga service – was it through an organization, a personal connection or random opportunity?

After teaching in the commercial yoga world for many years, including being a studio owner, I felt pulled to offer what I know and love to people who many never have the opportunity to enter a studio or learn yoga in the usual way.  A student connected me to World Spine Care. At the time, the clinical director had been interested in incorporating yoga as part of the rehabilitation process for the spinal care patients at their clinics. I volunteered to be part of the team that created that program.

My co-creator (co-everything, really!) Erin Moon and I created a 10-day, 45 –hour training program to teach local people (former and current clinic patients) how to teach classes in chair and prop-assisted postures, breathing and mindfulness to clinic patients. We launched the program in Botswana in April 2016 and our trainees have been offering classes in their local communities ever since.

  1. If you teach yoga both in a “service” capacity as well as in a more conventional setting – in what ways are those experiences different and how are they the same?

My experience of yoga service is in rural Africa it is very different from where I teach in the West in many ways. Also, we teach people how to work with populations that have pain and limited mobility. That too, makes my service work quite different from most of my regular yoga teaching. Even though I teach yoga therapeutically in the West, in Botswana we are working with students who have difficulty getting up and down from the floor and are often suffering from varying degrees of chronic pain.

The conditions are also very different. Classes happen outside, so props are limited and lying on the ground or using a wall for support is out of the question a lot of the time.

And, our trainees are obviously very different culturally. For example, in the West students in teacher trainings are usually very shy to get up and practice teach  in front of the group. Our Botswana teachers had no hesitation to get up and teach right away!

On the other hand, unlike in the West, the women in our training were not accustomed to sharing their inner experiences of the postural , breathing or mindfulness practices, even through they clearly got a lot out of doing them. In the West, trainees are much more used to reflecting on and sharing their experiences.

What was the same was seeing the trainees drop inside and become quiet during the mindfulness and breathing exercises. While the setting and context for the practices are so different, the effect and the inner experience is universal. And, the desire to help people and be of service was so clearly evident for all of us trainees and trainers alike!

Training the teachers who teach for World Spine Care Yoga Project takes me out of my usual teacher-training box completely which is why it is so fun and exciting for me.

  1. What is one thing that you did or said in a yoga service setting that you look back on now thinking, I would have done that differently?

On the first day of our training, everyone was asked to interview a fellow trainee, ask them these 3 questions and then introduce them to the group:

What’s your name? Where are you from?

And then the “fun” one: What’s your favorite food?

To this last question, I answered, “ice cream” and my co-trainer, “chocolate.”

The trainees had very different responses: “[sourghum]porridge, vegetables, salad.”

Through their answers, I was getting the message that this did not necessarily translate as a “fun” question for them.

At our debrief that evening we talked about the idea that perhaps food was not something to be spoken of lightly, or casually. A better question might have been, “What is your favorite childhood memory?”

  1. What is one of your favorite stories to share from your experience in yoga service? What was one thing that happened, or one thing a student said, that really let you know you were on the right path?

When one of our trainees told us that by doing the stretches she was learning when she got of bed in the morning she was able to walk more easefully throughout the day. Then she said she was telling her friends that they should do yoga instead of taking prescription medication for pain because with yoga, they didn’t need it.

  1. Where do you see the field of yoga service going?

I think the field of yoga service will expand dramatically in the coming years. As so many new teachers seek opportunities to offer yoga, I believe (and hope) that they will find their way to bringing these practices to the many, many underserved populations that can so greatly benefit from what yoga has to offer.

  1. How can people learn more about what you do and the people you serve?


We are currently raising funds to support an expansion of the program in 2018. Donations made now will go toward another teacher training, training manual translation and transportation costs for the trainers.  For donations to support our 2018 visit, donations go directly to World Spine Care and specify “Yoga Project”.


Yoga Service Council would like to feature YOU! If you are interested in being interviewed for our new interview series, please comment below and we will reach out to you for a preliminary conversation to learn more about you and your work.

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    This was a great read! So wonderful to learn about your teachings, Barrie, and read your thoughtful answers. I am part of an annual service project in Myanmar (Burma), teaching yoga-asana as a Buddhist nunnery during their annual Thingyan retreat.

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    Carly Gaffey

    Wonderful to learn about Barrie’s teachings through such thoughtful Q & A!

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