For 16 years, yoga instructor Jeanne Dowell has uttered the same words to her Mills students at the end of every class as they rouse themselves from relaxation: “Honor that great spirit within yourself, and that same great spirit in others.”
Dowell now has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share those words with an even bigger audience. Dowell is one of only 30 yoga teachers throughout the country selected to teach at the tenth anniversary celebration of “V-Day” in New Orleans this April, which will spotlight the resilience and continuing needs of hurricane survivors in the Gulf South.
V-Day is a worldwide movement to stop violence against women and educate global communities about women’s rights. For ten years, it has raised over $50 million in 58 countries by holding benefit productions of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.
This year, the play will be part of a larger event entitled “Superlove,” to be held at the Louisiana Superdome April 11-12, to honor both the female and male survivors of Hurricane Katrina. “Superlove” is a free event featuring music, poetry, discussions, storytelling and “love” – services such as massage, yoga, support groups, medical screenings and makeovers.
Dowell, who also teaches community classes in nearby Orinda and Moraga, was inspired to apply to teach at “Superlove” after two of her Mills students came back from New Orleans in 2006 with stories of their life-changing experiences helping victims of Hurricane Katrina. Dowell said she doubted she would be selected at all, so she didn’t give it much thought after submitting her application.
“I forgot I applied, and then it came through,” she said. “I got an e-mail, and yay! It was almost the same feeling as when I was accepted to study at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India.”
While Dowell’s yoga practice has taken her to countries around the world – including Greece, India and Nigeria – she expects this trip to be one of the more meaningful.
“I know it will be meaningful to me,” Dowell said. “I used to be a social worker, and I like that kind of work. I’m drawn to things like this where I feel like I’m helping and sharing my yoga life.”
She said she is also excited to see this year’s cast of The Vagina Monologues, which includes Salma Hayek, Faith Hill, Julia Stiles and Oprah Winfrey, as well as over a dozen other notable names, all of whom will be involved in other aspects of “Superlove” as well.
Dowell’s East Bay colleagues said she is a perfect fit for the event.
“She’s an inspirational role model,” said APER director Themy Adachi. “I’m probably 30 years younger than Jeanne, and I can’t do half the yoga postures that Jeanne does, nor downhill ski, nor share such a warm and caring spirit with the world.”
Adachi added, “She loves dogs, is a wonderful baker, [and] has a kind and generous heart.”
Dowell’s students also see great potential in her to make a difference at the V-Day event. Ariel Banister, a second-year nursing student, was one of the travelers to New Orleans who inspired Dowell’s decision to apply.
Banister, who has taken yoga with Dowell during her entire Mills career, said that Dowell will have a great impact on the event and the attendees of “Superlove.”
“She’s been doing yoga and making a difference in people’s lives for a really long time,” she said.
“She’s reflective of women in this country who strive to really make change, who appreciate other people’s needs, and she’ll be an advocate for the people of New Orleans when she gets back, I’m sure,” Banister said.
For now, Dowell continues to guide her students toward calmer and healthier lives and she looks forward to sharing her yoga life with people healing from disaster in the Gulf South.