By Marni Prichard Manko Photography by Laurie Beck Peterson| April 20, 2015 |
Two thousand supporters will join Jean Sachs and Jennifer Schelter for Yoga on the Art Museum Steps in May to support the battle against breast cancer.
Jennifer Schelter (LEFT) has led Yoga on the Steps since its inception, in 2001.
Venture by the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the third Sunday of each May and you’ll see thousands of pink limbs turning and twisting in unison, like a single-minded army on a mission. And this is a war, all right. But the enemy is within—the war is against breast cancer.
Supporters from around the country have Namasted together under clear blue skies, drenching downpours, and in every weather condition in between, all in support of Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC), the Main Line-based organization whose purpose is to create a community of support for women affected by the disease. To date, the event has raised more than $2 million to further LBBC’s mission, and the concept has successfully been brought to other towns like Kansas City and Denver. This year, the number of people attending the one-hour class and Healthy Living Expo is expected to top 2,000. “The unrestricted funds raised allow us to grow our programs and support more women and families affected by breast cancer,” says LBBC CEO Jean Sachs. “And it helps us come closer to reaching our vision of a world where no one impacted by breast cancer feels alone or uninformed.”
Here, Yoga on the Steps cofounders Sachs and Jennifer Schelter, a Philadelphia yoga instructor and life coach who facilitates self-development retreats, talk about why the event is all about celebrating the journey, not just racing toward the finish line, and what it’s like to hold tree pose in the shadow of the Art Museum.
How did the idea for Yoga on the Steps begin? Jennifer Schelter: A friend of mine was fighting breast cancer, and she turned to yoga during her recovery. I wanted to raise awareness of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of yoga, but also to do a large-scale class in such a beautiful setting like the Art Museum steps. And I also wanted to grow the notion that yoga doesn’t necessarily have to be in a studio—you can take it into a larger public forum. So we approached Jean and LBBC about doing something together. Jean Sachs: We always wanted to do an outdoor fundraising event, but we couldn’t do a run because it’s already a crowded space with Komen. This notion of yoga on the steps met our objective of having an outdoor event that’s grassroots, very participatory, and very visible.
Why the steps of the Art Museum? Sachs: The location made it grow more quickly because it’s part of the story. We’re a Philly-based organization, and that’s such an iconic spot. I mean, we’re doing yoga on the steps of the Art Museum! To anyone who lives in Philly, that really means something.
How has it evolved since that first year? Sachs: [At] first, it was really just family and friends. Today, Jennifer and I don’t know half of the people there. Every year, someone will come up to me and say, “There are five friends that I only see once a year, and we get together just for this event.” Or mothers and daughters. Or someone who was at the event three years ago supporting someone else, but she was just diagnosed, and so she’s now coming back with a different perspective. Schelter: This isn’t a race where everyone’s trucking to the finish line. Here you’re breathing and stretching and meditating and reflecting. There’s a sensation of communal peace. Sachs: The event isn’t overly emotional. I’d say it’s appropriately emotional. It gives us the space and silence to remember the people who are no longer with us and champion the people who still are.
Is it just for the yogi crowd? Sachs: It’s for anyone at any level. That means not just women but men, kids, anyone with an interest. Jennifer really knows how to lead a class that gives everyone what he or she wants. Plus, there are tons of volunteers who go around making sure that everyone’s doing okay. Schelter: It’s a real mix, and we try to strike a balance. Yes, there are people who have done yoga before, but there’s also a beginner element to it. And for those who really love to do more advanced poses, knock yourself out.
Yoga on the Steps seems to really resonate with people. Schelter: I tend to lead with some type of inspirational message or theme, and people have told me that they love the message of empowerment for women. The world can beat people down, whether they’re going through breast cancer or not, and they love the inspiration. Sachs: You go to a yoga class and you might be there with 10, 15, 20 people. But here you can look around and see thousands of people and know that they’re all struggling. Everybody has something going on. I think Jennifer has [found] an incredible way [of showing us] that we’re all in this together. Sunday, May 17, at 9:30 am at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 610-645-4567