Meet The Team

We are the heart beat that is Yoga Gives Back. With the support of all everyone else we are stronger and beter focused to help grow and support this great organization.

KAYOKO MITSUMATSU, Co-Founder/President
LOS ANGELES, CA

Prior to moving to the USA in 1992, Kayoko was a producer/director for NHK Japan’s National Public Broadcaster, working on prime time national broadcast current affairs and documentary television programs for seven years; and cultural attaché at the Embassy of Japan in London for two years. Her passion for documentary filmmaking to bridge diverse values and cultures are rooted in the perspective gained from years of living abroad including Australia, Brazil, United Kingdom and USA.

Kayoko co-founded Yoga Gives Back in 2007, from her yoga class in Los Angeles, which has now grown to a global campaign.

“As a middle age woman, feeling my life being so enriched by the practice of yoga, I felt a strong need to use all my resources to help others. I learned a lot about Dr. Muhammad Yunus’s revolutionary micro financing while working on a documentary about Social Entrepreneurship featuring Kiva.org. I was struck by the incredible impact which micro financing could bring to alleviate generations of poverty. And 25 dollars can make a fundamental difference on somebody’s life in India. As a happy and healthy yoga practitioner, I realized that I could contribute a little to India’s poverty issues. I hope to invite everyone who benefits from Yoga to join in our campaign by giving back and making difference together.”
PRITHA OGDEN
LOS ANGELES, CA

Pritha Ogden is a Senior Analyst in the Distribution & Strategy group at arthouse film studio Focus Features. Prior to her current role, she spent 3 years in the Private Wealth Management division at Goldman Sachs. Currently a Thousand Oaks resident, Pritha is a proud Jersey girl who originally hails from the colorful and bumbling city of Calcutta, West Bengal. In her spare time, Pritha likes to go to the movies (a lot), travel the world and try new and interesting cardio pursuits!

“I support YGB because I was fortunate enough to be born to parents who had the means and dedication to move me and my brother out of India at a young age and give us the opportunities to pursue any manner of education and professional lifestyles that we desired. The overwhelming majority of children in my hometown are not nearly so lucky and their limited paths are decided for them at a very young age. Oftentimes these paths are restrictive and binding and irrepressible. I want to help remove these barriers to prosperity for the children of Calcutta and elsewhere in whatever capacity that I am able. The work that YGB does is instrumental in doing just that and it deserves to flourish.”
CAROLINE AYLWARD
BOSTON

Caroline is a yogi, dancer and filmmaker who started doing yoga in college. After struggles with anxiety, yoga and meditation became and integral part of her health and life. As a lover of living mindfully, she has recently quit her full time job and embarked on a journey as a yoga teacher and freelance filmmaker. Eager to give back to Mother India and spread the gift of yoga – Caroline is excited to bring movement, rhythm, breath, compassion and rhythm to her students.

“I feel eternally grateful for yoga. It has changed and shaped my life in many ways. I came across YGB on the back of tank top at my local yoga studio. After looking into it and realizing that they provide micro loans to women and children in need in India, my heart was sold. I am a filmmaker and started collaborating with Kayoko on telling their stories and spreading the word for YGB. I am so excited to be a part of the team and to continue sharing the gift of yoga as well as giving back to those in need. Jai Bhagwan!”
LEAH COAKLEY
BOSTON, MA

Leah graduated from Clark University with a BA in Psychology and MBA in Global Business. After moving to New York in 2004 and beginning a career underwriting specialized insurance, she was blessed to discover Yoga which provided much needed balance to her life. She is so grateful for the mental and physical clarity engendered by the practice, and all the innovators and teachers who have allowed so many people to reap its myriad of benefits. It always puts a smile on her face to see the positive impact of those who practice and the peace they promote in others as a result. She is also happiest when capturing the world’s beauty through photography, creating it through decorating and gardening, and experiencing it when playing with her son.

“I am thrilled to be a member of an amazing team with a truly inspiring mission. What better way to give back than to work for a cause I am passionate about, not only out of compassion for disadvantaged women and girls, but also out of gratitude for a life that has been so enriched by the Yoga teachings rooted in the Indian culture.”
SHAMANTH SHANKAR
HOUSTON, TX
“As a yoga practitioner myself, YGB’s mission of empowering women in India through the yoga community is in close to my heart. Born and brought up in Bangalore for my first 18 years, I have seen and come across families with abject poverty, who had the potential to better themselves with financial aid. I have supported families, individuals, and have contributed to traditional colleges within my reach. I believe in YGB’s intention of bringing the yoga community together to aid would-be successful women in India. On a personal note, by God’s grace I have practiced different forms of popular Yoga styles, meditations, and Tai Chi since 2001, when I started my yoga practice with the intention of improving the community by improving myself. I continue to practice yoga (Ashtanga and Ramdev) and Sri Vidya meditations. I have worked with Schlumberger (an oilfield service company in Houston) since 2001. I hold engineering degrees from IIT Madras and Texas A&M.”
SARAH COX
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
“2 years ago I met a new friend, called Yoga. We were strangers to each other, but from the first moment we met, we were connected. Yoga gave me new friends, new challenges, new vision and above some flexibility. Now it’s time to give something back, with the same dedication as the organization Yoga Gives Back and the many ambassadors all over the world. Together we can try to make the difference. It’s an honor to be part of YGB.
RAQUEL GUZMAN
ExperienceYoga
LONDON, UK
“I’ve always had an interest in volunteering and started doing it with different projects at a very young age, but Yoga Gives Back attracted me specially because of the amazing opportunity of giving something back to the birth place of yoga and show my gratitude for such a great gift. My interest in Yoga drove me to live in India for over a year to complete a Teacher Training. Learning Yoga brought balance and confidence into my life, it reinforced the principles and values that I had learned when growing up, and made me aware of my true self. It is a very useful knowledge and I’ve seen how it has changed the lives of many people. Anyone who has been to India will agree with me that it’s a country of contrasts. The experience was overall very positive but at the same time living in India showed me a dark side too: poverty and injustice. My interest in volunteering grew enormously and also the need to share what I had learned. Being involved with Yoga Gives Back allows me to do that and also to collaborate in collecting funds to finance micro credits or educational programmes for women and children in India. My experience with YGB has only just began but I hope we can have a very long relationship.”
ELINA LIM
SINGAPORE

Elina had her first yoga class 4 years ago in a heated room Bikram style and has since go on to complete her 200 hours yoga teacher training in Vinyasa Flow in 2013. A keen traveller and avid lover of the sea, Elina tries to incorporate yoga in her life as much as possible; from visiting yoga studios in every foreign location she is in, SUP yoga to trying out underwater yoga poses whilst scuba diving (for laughs). Yoga has had a tremendous positive impact on her life, body, mind and spirit – and Elina wants to share this with her family/friends and beyond.

“I came across YGB at the 2014 Yoga Asia Conference in Hong Kong and immediately thought that this was something I wanted to support and get behind – to give back through yoga!! This resonated with me – and I believe that YGB’s approach is totally sustainable through education and micro-financing to help alleviate poverty. And it’s amazing how the cost of one yoga class can make a fundamental difference in somebody’s life in India.”
ANAND VARADARAJ
BANGALORE

Anand Varadaraj is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Ecoforge Advisors Pvt Ltd. He has a background in renewable energy and Sustainability related projects.

Anand has a Post Graduation in Management Studies with a Bachelor Degree in Mathematics, Statistics and Economics.

Prior to EcoForge, Anand worked in GENPACT, A GE Company, where he worked on Business Market Intelligence projects in GE Aviation. He also worked on GE’s Ecomagination Project on Wind Power turbines. He worked on background research on cost-effective model wind power in the world’s energy portfolio for GE. He has also worked on projects with livelihoods initiatives, Training rural women panchayat members and advising farmers in water shed programs in rural Bangalore, India. On the board of Bangalore based NGO Vidyanikethan, he advises on development of the NGO in socio-economic sectors. He started a program for the Ngo’s School students through corporate funding.

Anand regularly participates in conferences on renewable energy. He was invited to UN conferences on Climate change both at Bangkok and at Copenhagen. He was also interviewed by BBC London for his participation in COP15. He is also TiE member and organizes Environmental related events for them. Anand also works with International TV on Business news reports.

Anand is actively involved in finding and following existing projects of YGB in India.

YUKI SARUWATARI
LOS ANGELES, CA

Yuki is a freelance journalist contributing to Japanese magazines, newspapers and websites. Before moving to the U.S., she was an editor of a monthly women’s magazine in Tokyo. Yuki first explored yoga in 2000 at a West Hollywood gym. She thought yoga would be too easy for those who love a vigorous workout (like herself), but she gave it a try anyway, and was surprised at how hard it could be. But what really got her into it was the fact that it wasn’t a mere physical workout. The more she realized how deep it was, the further she wanted to study it. Soon she abandoned the gym for a yoga studio, and since 2001, has been practicing Ashtanga yoga exclusively.

“I did not know Kayoko until summer of 2012, but as soon as I heard about YGB, I knew I wanted to support her mission. I often wonder how my life would be today, had I not discovered yoga 13 years ago. I am truly grateful for what yoga has given me. Working with this team is my own little way to give it back.”
ANITA HOFFMAN
LOS ANGELES, CA

Yoga was an integral part of Anita’s upbringing, raised by a yoga teacher/yoga therapist in Los Angeles. She is currently completing a six month, 200-hour Iyengar style yoga teacher training at Casey Health Institute, moving toward qualification to teach a sexually traumatized adolescent population. Through yoga’s philosophical framework Anita found her direction in public health early on, and in recent years discovered that this would be in an entrepreneurial capacity of making health education for young people accessible and engaging on a wide scale. She graduated from The New School in New York City with a self-designed degree in Health Education & Business, and now lives in Washington, DC where she is building a new YGB network and co-organizing DC’s first YGB fundraiser event (coming up in September!).

“YGB’s message resonates with me because yoga has given meaning and direction to so much of my own life and it is profound to me that I can have a part in changing the circumstances for women and children in yoga’s place of origin. Secondly, I believe that access to education is fundamental to individual and societal wealth of health, spirit and critical thought. I am enthusiastic that my service to YGB is directly allowing children who would otherwise be prevented from this basic right to learn how to help themselves and their communities to be afforded the option to thrive.”
MIDORI HATAKEYAMA-SIMOVICH
SAN DIEGO, CA

Midori is a passionate holistic wellness practitioner and a yogi, who will help with the Japanese translation of YGB contents and more.

“I grew up in the era where Japanese women were yet to be fully liberated and many hurdles had to be jumped. I feel the pain of the women whose growth and life style are hindered by the social injustice. When I watched a presentation YGB at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, and learned that many young girls in India are still subjected to the forced marriage under age of 15 and being deprived of basic education even today, I just could not pretend I did not watch the presentation. So, here I am now to actively participate in the movements for improving my global sisters’ lives. I feel that the micro loan program is ingenious and sustanable. Give a woman a fish and you feed her for a day, help a woman buy a fishing pole and learn to fish, then you feed her and her children for a life time.”
ADITI SHAH
NEW YORK, NY

Aditi is a 200+ hour registered yoga teacher and primarily teaches in New York City. As a yogi and teacher, she values creatvity, playfulness, self-discovery and alignment on and off of the mat.  Yoga helps us find the thread between our bodies, minds, spirits and minds, so that when we create space in our bodies, we can find the space to live with grace, love and laughter.

“I grew up in the US, but after college, spent 5 years in India. Yoga Gives Back brings awareness and intensely needed social work to parts of the world that are in desperate want for financial aid and growth. When I returned to New York, it seemed a blessing to find this opportunity to stay connected and to give back. I am very grateful to have participated in YGB events since 2014.”
JANE CONNORS
CHARLOTTE, NC
“I was first introduced to yoga in 2003 when I was injured. Using the practice to overcome my physical injuries, yoga began to resonate with me on an emotional as well as physical level, and I became a Yoga Alliance certified teacher to share with others the inner steadiness and outer sturdiness that yoga offers. But I was still hungry and desired to experience yoga at its source, which motivated me to travel to Mysore, India. There I studied Ashtanga under Saraswati, daughter of Pattabhi Jois, which led me to the orphanage. In the afternoons, several of my fellow yoga student volunteers and I took the children to the local park. I went to the orphanage to give my time, but what I gained was beyond measure. After I fell in love with yoga itself, I fell in love with an orphanage in India. Traveling to Mysoreopened my eyes to how content, open and generous the people of India are. In the West, we may be economically affluent but often emotionally starved. In India, they are emotionally thriving despite widespread poverty. India stirred a need to connect with myself on a deeper emotional level and a desire to support the people of India to further their economic stability through microfinance and “sister aid.” Yoga Gives Back is an opportunity to express my appreciation to those who gave me this beautiful gift of yoga. Yoga Gives Back allows me to participate in forging an exchange of economic and emotional wealth between the West and the East.”
DONATELLA HEYWORTH
UK

Donnatella was introduced to Yoga in January 2013 and since her first yoga class Donnatella’s mat is never too far away. Her daily practice is at Hot8Yoga in Beverly Hills and she loved it so much she successfully completed her 200 hour Hot Power Yoga Teacher Training Certification in August 2013 and now teachers Power yoga to a variety of groups in LA. Donatella is so pleased she found YGB, the people, the work and the ethos of the charity is so powerful, it got her like yoga and is so grateful YGB is a part of her life.

“Since an early age I have always been an athletic individual and when I found yoga it was mainly for fitness, but yoga became so much more than that. It became a part of my life when I needed it the most. I love the Asana practice, but the union of body, mind and breath has been where my soul has found its place. YGB was so inspiring and does such amazing work, it felt right to be a part of the charity helping this beautiful yoga legacy I daily participate in.”
MIRIAM SALENTJIN
MAASTRICHT, THE NETHERLANDS
“I started my own company in July 2008. Two years later in 2010, the business was going great but I did not feel happy with empty feelings, no happiness. Working 7 days around the clock without any form of relaxation. I had all kinds of complaints both physically as mentally.. Breathing disorder, panic attacks, muscle aches, joint problems, stomach pains.. I went through numerous check ups and scans with several doctors but nothing serious would come up. My doctor suggested yoga. I gradually discovered the benefits of yoga and my body as well as my mind began to transform and brought balance to my body. Also yoga stimulated me to change my eating habits, eating healthy, taking rest and consciously listening to my body. Also I began to take free time away from my laptop accepting that it was not necessary to always be on top of my work.. Answering mails a few hours later would not be any harm..something which was not an option before!! Yoga is a way of life and it is a process of transformation.. It takes time but it definitely worked out for me and I am still growing. Also you become happier from within and you want to share this with other people who are less blessed with fortune and happiness. It can be so easy to share your happiness by a simple smile.. a hug..a small gift.. That is why I want to support YGB. It changed my life totally and I am still growing. Once you get attached more deeply into yoga, there is no way back because you want to keep on growing and sharing.. I will do my best to support YGB in my special way which is supplying nice merchandise to sell and whatever the team comes up with where I can be helpful.”
JULES TAN
SINGAPORE
“Having been accidentally led into beading, I am able to put the focus of intention I’ve learnt in yoga to good use and started OHMywaves as an experimental business venture. Stumbled onto Yoga Gives Back, I’m truly humbled by its scope of support to the women and girls in India. Being regularly immersed in charity work all my adult life, I found that nothing else resonated as deeply with me, my journey through yoga, the humility I have learnt from the capricious waves, and a desire to give back. Beading with intention, combining crystals and designs inspired by life’s journeys, and the every moving wave, giving back to the less fortunate; there is no better dance in life”

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