Yoga teacher Lisa Rueff
likes to party. Her life is full of purpose, and she throws parties with a purpose for nonprofit organizations all over the map. Literally.
Rueff’s fundraising efforts began in December 2005 while planning her own birthday party. She discovered that Natalia Rae Kraft, her beloved friend and sister yoga teacher, had breast cancer and needed financial assistance. Utilizing her extensive circle of musician and artist friends, Rueff turned her birthday party into a fundraiser for Kraft with three bands, interactive art and a silent auction.
Every community, even affluent Marin, where Rueff and Kraft live, has people in need. Rueff realized that she could be the point of connection between people in need and a diverse group of musicians, artists and people who care about their community. Since her first effort for Kraft, Rueff has organized at least a dozen events, which each raise about $8,000 as well as building deeper community interaction.
Recently Rueff collaborated with Peter Rowan, an internationally renowned bluegrass musician, to help reconstruct the Chumur Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist Community in Ladakh, India. Parties have also included benefits for The Tanzanian Project, which supports a child care center for HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa; Silver Lining, a scholarship fund for promising yet economically disadvantaged children in Marin who dream of attending after-school art classes and summer camp at Studio 333 in Sausalito; the Marine Mammal Center, which rescues injured and sick seals and sea lions; and DrawBridge, which provides art programs for children who are homeless, orphaned or otherwise vulnerable. The party Rueff threw for DrawBridge was attended by more than 300 people who spent the evening taking salsa lessons to the sounds of Corazon Sur, a local salsa band.
One unusual aspect of Rueff ’s approach to fundraising is that she is not just raising money—her parties foster “yoga off the mat.” For example, the core of DrawBridge is its innovative expressive arts program. Through drawing, painting, ceramics and collage, traumatized children can express painful emotions. Trained DrawBridge facilitators help the children transform these emotions into feelings of hope, initiating an emotional recovery and dialogue with parents, teachers and shelter staff. But this practice has an even deeper effect because after the homeless children, “…create the art, they go and bring it to children in hospitals who are terminally ill and it creates this amazing relationship between these children that don’t have much...all of a sudden [the homeless children] realize they have everything because they have their entire lives ahead of them.”
Like her parties, Rueff ’s yoga classes are joyful events. Through joyous music and an infectious smile, she lights up a room. Realizing that TV and newspapers are full of negativity, Rueff says, “I try to bring as much joy and lightness and love and passion and empathy into my classes as I can. And I find that the more I actually veer away from the media…I’m able to actually provide a much more warm and light-hearted atmosphere.”
Rueff’s yoga practice began during a two-year journey of self-discovery to India in the late 1990s. A friend encouraged her to practice sun salutations on a roof with a view of the sun rising over the foothills of the Himalayas. “I did my first sun salutation on a rooftop, under a blue sky celebrating sunshine…I noticed my body became more flexible, more strong, more balanced. It’s been an amazing journey and I’m so honored to be able to teach.” Later Rueff moved to Marin from Colorado after attending a silent meditation retreat at Spirit Rock.
Smiling, Rueff says, “No matter who you are or what you do, you have an ability each day to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s yoga.”