Our Story

DAYA: translates as mercy or compassion; and Delivering Accessible Yoga Alternatives.

The DAYA Foundation was founded by Sarahjoy Marsh and Jay Gregory who envisioned a vibrant center for yoga therapy, mindfulness, and the integration of East and West, Mind and Body, contemplative and active processes. 

The DAYA Foundation was formed to support humans to develop, recover, evolve, and transform. We provide education and therapeutic interventions to encourage psychological and physical integration and well-being. 

Founded on the strength of amrita: a sanctuary for yoga, Sarahjoy’s yoga center of 12 years, the DAYA Foundation specializes in Delivering Accessible Yoga Alternatives through its on site programs: amrita yoga, adaptive yoga, yoga and strength conditioning, yoga and addiction, and mindfulness and yoga programs.

Sarahjoy’s Story

  • Sarahjoy's Story

    From a young age, I was compelled to leverage my passion and spark on behalf of social justice. Starting with my own family system, I was compelled to understand the roots of anger, violence, depression, and interpersonal isolation. Living in Cambridge, Massachusetts during graduate school, I was able to more actively engage in community issues that extended beyond my personal experiences: homelessness, alcoholism, mental illness, extreme poverty, and the social systems that enabled communities to shun their most vulnerable members.

    While working as an Art Therapist intern in a residential home for adults with chronic mental illness, I shared my practices of meditation and yoga for the first time. The residents were enthralled by the guided meditations and the yoga intervention tools, and they began to make daily requests for these “exercises.” The center in which I was interning was supported by funds from the government of Massachusetts and was, tragically, unable to remain open following the budget cuts of 1992. After months of taking my clients to City Hall (on the subway – no easy feat!) to advocate for the center’s survival, this budget cut was a blow to my clients and to my own sense of place in the world. They became homeless people who would most likely end up lost in the system or in prison, and I became unemployed. To read more on this topic, check out the articles I wrote on this disappointing and life changing event, Taking Back the Shadow and Yoga for Freedom.

    This event was a turning point for me. I left Cambridge to go out into the world searching for the sense of place that I had lost. I was frustrated, disillusioned, curious, and felt alone and without direction or any particular destination. Following my thumb and the recommendations of fellow travelers, I backpacked and hitchhiked throughout the country, primarily heading to powerfully scenic locations such as the Canyon de Chelley, Tuolumne Meadows, and Orcas Island. This period in my life led to the auspicious four years I would spend at Breitenbush Hot Springs. Essentially my second graduate school, I delved into yoga, meditation, and community; and fueled my personal fire for social justice. It was while living at Breitenbush that I grew more and more compelled to teach yoga in prison.

    In 1996, I left “paradise” to go teach yoga in prison. After nearly twoyears searching for a prison in which I could teach yoga, I moved to Portland, Oregon. Columbia River Correctional Institution had its first yoga class in Unit 2 in the fall of 1998. After three years of volunteering twice a week, the program was able to grow when the state of Oregon built Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. Additional volunteers came in and we established a formal non-profit organization. As Living Yoga’s founder and volunteer trainer, it was a a deeply satisfying honor to train volunteers to teach yoga in prisons, drug and alcohol rehab centers, and in public support facilities for marginalized adults and teens. Since its humble beginning fourteen years ago, Living Yoga has trained hundreds of volunteers, engaged the larger community in supporting our mission, and taught over 20,000 hours of yoga a year. I was honored to be able to step into a role of public service and advocacy beyond the walls of my yoga studio. I will be forever thankful to and impressed by the members of amrita: a sanctuary for yoga community for their support of the organization and their commitment to social justice.

    Fundamentally, what fuels my passion for teaching yoga in prison is based on the following principles, derived from my personal life experience:

    1. When human beings are marginalized, shunned, isolated, or institutionalized we all suffer.
    2. Those who are pushed to the margins, or the shadows, represent the shadow side of our very selves, our culture and our communities. That which we can shun, is that which we shun in ourselves too.
    3. Those who are pushed to the shadows have critical things to teach us. We need to learn, from them, about their experiences of life and belonging (or the lost sense of belonging).
    4. When humans don’t feel they have a voice, they will act from a place of powerlessness and they will experience psychological pain that profoundly shapes their survival strategies.
    5. If we are to bring about a balanced community, one that supports the needs of all of its members and enables each of us to grow into our interpersonal and psychological, as well as spiritual, potentials, re-engaging these community members is essential.
    6. When we go in to the margins to offer support, we’re also going in to learn how to break down barriers, integrate our personal shadow, listen to the unheard voices of our brothers and sisters, and catalyze their potential to awaken their sense of place and belonging. We are also transforming how others see them. As we value these members of our community, we shape how the larger community values them too.

    The DAYA Foundation is founded on these essential principles:

    1. Yoga teaches fundamental life skills.
    2. These life skills transform our mental and physical health.
    3. These life skills make us better individuals, family members, and community members.
    4. All members of our community deserve access to the life-enhancing practices of yoga.
    5. All members of our community have something to teach us about life, human suffering, and human potential.
    6. When community is created, healing happens, for it re-knits our experience of belonging.

    THE DAYA Crossroad:
    Through my many adventures with Living Yoga and amrita, I developed into the vision and the teaching style I have today. Through life events, primarily the painful ones (funny how that turns out!), I developed into the person I am today. I wrote that phrase quite specifically: I developed… I couldn’t have foreseen any better processes than life itself to develop me as a yoga teacher and as a community member. I didn’t know, when I was in my Masters in Counseling program, where my life was going. Nor did I know this at Breitenbush Hot Springs. I didn’t know it when I walked into my first prison. Nor when I opened amrita. Nor when I planted my first tree in the backyard of my home. I didn’t know it when I was in an auto accident. Nor when I learned to walk again, twice. I didn’t know it when I met my teacher from India. Nor when I walked into the streets of Bombay, my senses assaulted on every level. Haunted by the insanity and beauty that India is, with its ancient systems of healing and health alongside of its despair, I became even more committed to the path of social justice.

    In the March of 2012, I found myself facing a crossroads. I was a month into a planned sabbatical from my board role with Living Yoga and the lease for my yoga studio was up for renegotiation. My bookkeeper and business manager had been trying for some time to shift the business structure of the studio to make it financially viable amidst the trends in the yoga industry. Primarily those trends were moving in directions I wasn’t going: more prevalence of hot yoga, power yoga, vinyasa yoga, and a growing emphasis on a yoga culture that was becoming fiscally exclusive. The consistent advice to me was to close the studio, reduce overhead, find a smaller location, and teach only private lessons and retreats. Yet, something stirred in me; and wouldn’t let me settle on this option.

    Four years prior, my own medical challenges (post-car accident hip surgeries, click here to read more about that) put me on the edge of personal bankruptcy while trying to manage the costs of care and the impact of my circumstances on the studio. By the time of my second hip surgery, I was well accustomed to being a medical patient with a condition that I knew how to advocate for within the limitations of my medical insurance and my budget. Yet, this experience gave me a glimpse into something previously hidden from my own life (another life-changing, personally painful revelation): in our culture, when faced with a medical condition, we become very vulnerable if we don’t have the capacity to self-advocate, the community resources to lean on for support, a basic sense of personal worth, and the skills of distress tolerance, fear-management, and self-care to navigate our journey through the insurance/medical system, let alone the condition itself. When I brushed up against insurance red tape and financial despair due to rising medical bills, I was profoundly grateful for my yoga practice. I would never have gotten through these experiences without the tools of yoga. I mean this literally. I was also extremely fortunate that I was able to keep teaching yoga.

    My personal vulnerability also clearly demonstrated to me that without a change in business structure, to one supported by community investment, vision, sponsorship, and enthusiasm, if I were made financially vulnerable again, for any other reason, the studio would not be able to continue. This would devastate our ability to keep serving the wider community. As service has been a fundamental value behind all of our decisions and my life mission, this was a possibility that I made a personal commitment to prevent.

    So, here I was at the crossroads I mentioned a moment ago: I could either close the studio and just teach retreats and private lessons. Or, I could revision the business structure behind the studio and create something sustained by community support and collaboration. The DAYA Foundation was born out of this. I knew I wanted to keep teaching classes. I knew I wanted to broaden the scope of my capacity to reach out to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to yoga, in addition to what I had been blessed to do within prisons. I recognized that the students in Living Yoga’s programs were unique because they lived in institutions, not because they had addiction, impulse control, or self-worth issues that escalated under stress. Much of our public health crisis stems from issues such as these. I also knew I wanted to broaden my ability to support people with medical conditions. I already offered medical discounts for private lessons and adaptive yoga classes, but my studio’s ability to support this population was limited to my capacity to do more with less.

    Essentially, I knew it was time to do the following things:

    1. Transition the studio to a community supported non-profit yoga therapy center.
    2. Offer training to other yoga teachers in the tools of yoga therapy.
    3. Offer training to allied health professionals in the tools of yoga therapy.
    4. Set up collaborative teams of practitioners and organizations.
    5. Respond to the many years’ requests for volunteer/yoga outreach programs throughout the Northwest.

    To offer your support for this endeavor and become a member of our Annual Sponsorship Program, please click here. Your donations are very much appreciated and are critical to the success of our mission and vision.

    The DAYA Foundation is founded on these essential principles:

    1. Yoga teaches fundamental life skills.
    2. These life skills transform our mental and physical health.
    3. These life skills make us better individuals, family members, and community members.
    4. All members of our community deserve access to the life-enhancing practices of yoga.
    5. All members of our community have something to teach us about life, human suffering, and human potential.
    6. When community is created, healing happens, for it re-knits our experience of belonging.

    Today, I’m honored to teach yoga to a wide variety of people. They range in age; physical size, ability and well-being; life experiences and life skills; and span a spectrum of economic, social, religious, spiritual, and educational diversity. I’m also honored to collaborate with the board of directors for the DAYA Foundation in creating programs for professionals to develop the tools of yoga therapy to bring to their patients, clients, students, and communities.

    When I look back over the ways in which I allowed myself to be magnetically pulled along, I see with great gratitude, the ways in which life events have been catalysts for growth. And, I see with great humility, the learning opportunities that I missed. I trust my community will support me in learning as I go forward.

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