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Shining a light

Orange, green and blue yoga mats masked the Ashland High School gym floor Friday night. In between the quilt-like rectangles were votive candles that cast a silvery thread of light across a wooden surface usually reserved for competition.

Tonight, however, the participants — yoga instructors and their students — were in unison, reaching their arms to the sky 108 times and by coming together, raising more than $20,000 to help organizations in India provide refuge, rehabilitation and economic opportunities for survivors of human trafficking.

Without planning to, the yoga practitioners also learned that a fleeting thought could become something so much bigger.

The idea for the Shine a Light event came to organizer Mary Rogan two months ago. The Ashland mother was dealing with the bittersweet sorrow of saying goodbye to her college-bound daughter, Grace.

To find a new direction, Mary Rogan enrolled in a five-day yoga-action workshop called Off the Mat, Into the World. On her way home, she thought she could galvanize yoga teachers to raise awareness and money for women who were caught in the sex trade.

On her website, iwillshinealight.org, she posted; "I put my privilege front and center and revealed the opportunities I had to focus on issues much more compelling than a child growing up healthy, safe and prepared for college."

She vowed to raise money for The Global Seva Challenge of Off the Mat, Into the World and modeled her event after the successful One Love, a Dallas, Texas-based yoga group that has put on a fundraiser for the past three years. A dozen yoga instructors would lead a group for two hours in 108 sun salutations.

The 108 number was inspired by the beads on a mantra-counting mala and also the numbers 1, 0 and 8 can be "one thing," "nothing" and "infinity," and collectively are said to represent "the ultimate reality of the universe" as being simultaneously "oneness," "emptiness" and "eternity."

Rogan's seemingly lofty goal was to raise $16,500.

By Friday night, supporters had given more than $20,000. And counting. Donations are still being accepted at iwillshinealight.org.

In the high school gym, Mary Noble of Ashland was with her team, which ranged from high school girls doing a salute to the sun and plank positions every minute to senior citizens sitting and meditating. Noble was inspired to raise money because she saw victims of slavery when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, Africa, and when she lived in Thailand.

"In the case of slavery for manual labor or for sex, the maxim holds: as long as one person is oppressed, none of us is truly free," she said.

Mori Samel-Garloff of Ashland participated, too. "I find it internally rewarding to stand in solidarity with my fellow sisters throughout the world as well as those I live and love with here in my own community," she said. "We here in Ashland are so lucky. We put forth our freedom to help those who cannot speak out for themselves."

Rasa Center for Yoga and Wellness therapist Natalie Stawsky of Ashland looked around the gym and saw people hugging each other. She said, "It's amazing how one person put this together and everyone rose to the occasion."

Organizer Rogan decided to hold the event on the winter solstice. "This is the darkest night of the year and we are using our energy and resources to Shine a Light into a very dark place and onto a very dark issue, sex trafficking and sex slavery," she said.

After she conceived the idea, Rogan quickly received permission to hold the fundraiser at the high school gym. Yoga instructors from Southern Oregon agreed to lead the group in the sun salutations and a teacher from Mt. Shasta promised to be in Ashland, but she and her team couldn't make it over the Siskiyou Pass because of snow so she hosted a satellite Shine a Light event at her Shasta Yoga Studio.

Each of the 140 participants were asked to raise a minimum of $108.

Sharing the goal made it less daunting, but it was still difficult.

"For some, the intensity of becoming aware about sex trafficking made it a challenge," said Rogan. "For others, it may be a challenge to sit when they physically can't complete the practice. It may be the challenge of having to ask friends and family for support because a $108 donation is beyond their reach."

Sheryl Grunde, a yoga instructor at the Ashland YMCA and the Rasa yoga center, gathered a group of supporters, but clarified that despite the location, the event was not a competition. "There are no team banners," she said, gesturing around the gym. "Yoga is a spiritual practice that can be internal or can help us reflect change in ourselves and the world."

Rogan talked to the group before the first salute to the sun and gave them the ultimate pep talk: "I am truly awed by what can happen by an idea popping into someone's head. Trust your ideas. Go with it."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.