Dana Christian Lee, founder and director of EmbodyGR, a non-profit organization that offers free yoga and meditation for the underserved, was awarded the “I Have Made a Difference” award in the health category from WGVU Public Media this January.
“I was thrilled!” she said in response to receiving the award. “Being validated for one’s work is important to stay inspired and know you are making a difference. It was extra special because I had two members of our EmbodyGR team there with me. We were brought to tears by the speech the presenter gave to describe why we won.”
An experienced public school teacher, youth leader and yoga teacher, Lee founded EmbodyGR in 2014 when she offered her first free yoga class on Wednesday night at Fountain Street Church in downtown Grand Rapids. This weekly class continues four years later, and Lee believes that this consistency is important. “This gives people a point in their week to which they can look forward,” she said. “They can count on having a place to go each and every week, without fail, where they are seen, valued and part of something larger.”
Lee explained that from the beginning, it was important to offer yoga free of charge. “It makes the very expensive and exclusive practice of yoga and meditation/mindfulness available to those who otherwise might not have access. That number in Grand Rapids is substantial.”
Beyond offering a free weekly yoga class, which culminates in a social hour of tea, cookies and friendly conversation, Lee also believes that through feeling better through yoga, practitioners will be inspired to be of service. She recommends four hours a month of service, and EmbodyGR partners with local and national nonprofits each month to offer opportunities, including Heartside Ministry, HQ Homeless and Runaway Youth Drop-In Center, and Love Your Brain.
While some members of EmbodyGR focus on more traditional volunteerism, Lee’s definition of service is expansive. “Service looks different for every person depending on where they are in their personal journey,” she explained. “If they are struggling to get their own a life back on track, then taking care of themselves is considered service. If that is the case, people are encouraged to spend four hours a month outside Embody on themselves to do what is most life-affirming – exercise, go to support groups/counseling, work on personal goals, etcetera.”
Since its founding, EmbodyGR has grown and impacted more lives, Lee explained. For instance, Spectrum Healthier Communities is doing quality of life surveys to get data on how yoga and meditation done in community transforms the quality of people’s lives.
EmbodyGR’s future goals include scaling its model to other cities like Detroit and Chicago as well as partnering with medical professionals and corporations who want to expose their employees to the tools of yoga and meditation.
To fund this expansion, EmbodyGR is holding an annual event called Embody the Stars, which is a dance competition that pairs local professional dancers with Grand Rapids celebrities.
“Embody the Stars is an opportunity for people to have lots of fun while doing so much good,” Lee explained. “The event will help bring improved health and wellness to those who otherwise may not have access. EmbodyGR helps those who don’t have access to the ‘extras’ needed to help keep them physically and mentally well.”
*EmbodyGR announced the Embody the Stars dance pairings this morning on Facebook: Cory Goei & Tami VandenBerg, Connie Flachs & Gwadué MrFzique, Amy Wilson & Miranda Krajniak, and Rachel Leep-Williams & David Armbrecht Shizam.
**Photos courtesy of EmbodyGR