Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.
And I was one of those people.
I started volunteering in my late teens as a way to give back. But being young and inexperienced, I hadn’t quite worked out that giving also requires taking - taking time for yourself, your family, and for general self-care.
It wasn’t until many years later when I launched Yogahood Australia and started volunteering up to 30 hours a week, did I reflect on all the lessons I had learnt and made ‘sustainable service' and 'volunteer wellbeing’ a top priority. Sustainable Service is in fact one of our top organisational values that we encourage everyone - volunteers and Board members included - to uphold and respect.
Sustainable Service is about giving time and effort to help your community, but not at the expense of your own health, wellbeing or relationships. Sustainable Service means giving to others while still taking time to give to yourself. As I continuously say to new members, “we are in this for the long haul, so we need to operate in a way that allows each one of us to live in a healthy and balanced way. While our work is important, we need to do it in a way that respects other important aspects of our life.”
Volunteering over the long-term is certainly not bad news. In fact, volunteering can evoke feelings of great happiness and self-fulfillment. According to Volunteering Australia, 95% of volunteers say that volunteering is related to 'feelings of wellbeing', and can result in a “helper’s high,” a powerful physical and emotional feeling experienced when directly helping others. Volunteering Australia also reported that just a few hours of volunteer work a week makes a difference in happiness and mood and sustained volunteering over the long-term is associated with better mental health.
Even feedback from our own volunteers supports this with one volunteer explaining,
“…once I start, I can’t stop. My heart explodes with joy when I’m with the kids. It easily is the highlight of my week, something I always look forward to. Driving an hour or two during my lunch break to see the kids isn’t me “giving up” my time — it’s actually a break from my routine. An incredibly life-enriching break.” – Via Tendon, long term Yogahood volunteer, in an excerpt from ‘Is Volunteering Selfish or Selfless’ for Yoga Australia
Our volunteers are incredible and I’m continually blown away by their willingness and passion to share yoga with communities in need. Some spend over two hours travelling to run classes, while others spend hours on the computer each week simply because they want to help. And while this is fantastic, I don’t take this level of commitment and passion for granted. That’s why we encourage volunteers to take time for other meaningful and purposeful activities such as travel, study, paid work, time with pets, friends, or loved ones. Volunteer teachers are also encouraged to take a break after running a couple of programs and to rejoin us once they've had time to recharge.
Last year we introduced regular Volunteer Wellness Sessions, with the aim of giving back to our volunteers and providing them with the space and opportunity to give back to themselves. Volunteer Wellness Sessions involve nurturing activities such as massage, relaxation and restorative yoga. We recognise that for some volunteers another activity in the week, even if it is focused on self-care, can cause additional pressure so all of our Volunteer Wellness Sessions are optional. We also post articles on self-care on our social media channels so volunteers can read, reflect and participate in self-care in their own time.
As a volunteer myself, it's essential I champion and uphold this value as much as anyone else in the organisation and with an impending new family member on the way, there has never been a better time for me to stop and reflect on the importance of self-care and giving in a sustainable way. Wherever you are in your 'giving' journey, I highly encourage you to do the same. With a bit of reflection and self-awareness, we can all ensure our experiences with volunteering can continue to be a pleasant one now and in the future.