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Meditating On The Evils Of Sex Trafficking

One Love Long Island hosts 2012 Yoga Festival

According to a 2009 report released by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), more than 1.2 million children are involved in prostitution and sex trafficking in that country. It’s these kind of horrific statistics that gave the ladies who make up One Love Long Island (OLLI) the impetus to get involved working with Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM), an organization that uses the power of yoga to inspire conscious and sustainable activism in order to ignite grassroots social change. Every year, OTM sponsors an international service project called the Global Seva Challenge that involves picking a country and cause in need. This year India is the country and the scourge that is sex trafficking is the social ill that’s being addressed.

For its part, OLLI will be hosting the 2012 Yoga Festival at Oyster Bay’s Planting Fields Arboretum on Sunday, September 23, which also happens to be the day of the autumnal equinox. For this event, 14 yoga studios from around Long Island will lead participants through 108 sun salutations (a repetition of sequential yoga postures) in a round robin setup. It’s a fundraising setup not unlike what’s done by athletes who raise money by running in marathons. In addition, there will be a live music debut by OLLI member Laura Ahrens and Break the Norm’s Jessica, who will be implementing singing bowls. Lastly, there will be an appearance by guest speaker Aaron Cohen, the co-author of Slave Hunter: One Man’s Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking, a firsthand account of Cohen’s infiltrating the world of sex trafficking. Sitting in the studio of Garden City’s Yoga Nanda, OLLI’s Cara Stone and Nicole Marzigliano passionately explain how their attendance at a Yoga Freedom Project event in January pulled them into the Global Seva Challenge.  

“[Money was being raised for] Somaly Mam, who herself was a rescued woman who had been sex-trafficked as a child and she founded the Somaly Mam Foundation,” explained Marzigliano. “So when we had gone to this event, we heard Somaly Mam speak about the atrocities, what she went through and how her foundation goes into these countries and is part of that reintegration process [for these victims.] To hear it firsthand by someone who had actually gone through the atrocities, it just shifts your mind into action.”

“So that event actually was done in collaboration with OTM, and Suzanne Sterling, one of the founders was there and she opened the introduction,” added Stone. “So we were exposed to just a lot of Off the Mat philosophy. It was also a round robin-led practice by many different well-known yogis and of course, Somaly Mam, who is just so inspiring. It’s just so emotional to listen to hear her speak. After that, we went to look at the OTM website and decided to sign up because we had to do something.”

Along with Stone, Marzigliano and Ahrens, OLLI is rounded out by Garden City’s Sylvia Ehrhart, New Hyde Park’s Andrea Russo-Weithman and Port Washinton’s Nadine Wolff. With the full support of Yoga Nanda owner Jules Boutelle, 13 other yoga studios were recruited to participate in the 2012 Yoga Festival. This spirit of collaboration and social consciousness is very much in keeping with the essence of yoga, a point Stone and Marzigliano are quick to point out.

“It’s not only about the cause, which is eradicating sex trafficking in India and supporting [OTM], but it’s also about unifying all the yoga studios throughout Long Island,” explained Marzigliano. “It’s really about seeing each other for each other being yogis; for being part of compassionate things; for being part of a community and being part of something that’s bigger than ourselves.”

“I think that generally speaking, yogis have very similar values,” pointed out Stone. “They are very compassionate. So when we draw together as a community and then go out into our individual communities and become active and share that activism among other people who might not practice yoga, you bring it out into your world. It’s really about loving Long Island, joining communities and unifying together for a cause.”

Proceeds from the 2012 Yoga Festival will go toward funding a number of grassroots organizations in India that rescue victims of sex trafficking and also rehabilitate them. Among these groups are Sanlaap-Project Rehabilitation and Made By Survivors—Employment Center Expansion, all of which train survivors in learning a trade and give them access to therapy, a safe haven and most importantly, a second chance at a normal life. It’s a complicated procedure that is in need of charitable efforts like what One Love Long Island hopes to achieve at Planting Fields Arboretum.

“It’s a very, very slow process because there is so much psychological work that has to be taken care of. So the process is very long, but it’s worth it. It’s getting these girls the help that they need,” said Marzigliano. “We see [sex trafficking] in the United States [but] it’s not as in-our-face in this country. But the idea is to start waking people up. The yoga community is a very big community and it keeps growing and keeps growing and keeps growing. We’re really trying to make yogis aware, to be active and to start thinking they can help and do something that can contribute to perhaps getting these young girls out of these brothels and slowly getting them integrated. It’s a very long and arduous process.”

For more information on the 2012 Yoga Festival, please visit onelovelongisland.org.

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