Chelsea Roff Uses Yoga Service to Help People with Eating Disorders | Omega

Since speaking at the first Yoga Service Conference (in 2012), Chelsea Roff has raised more than $100,000 to start her own nonprofit Eat Breathe Thrive™. Her organization works to help individuals prevent and fully recover from disordered eating and negative body image through evidence-based programs that integrate yoga, community, and service.

Before the conference, Roff was in transition—working as a managing editor for an online magazine and taking a break from her research in neuroscience. She was teaching yoga on a volunteer basis at a juvenile detention center and an eating disorder treatment center.

“My passion was serving people with eating disorders, but I figured it could never be a full-time job,” she said. “Apparently I was wrong.”

Roff attended the conference, and was asked to speak about her own experiences healing her eating disorder through yoga.

“I had never done a public speaking engagement prior to that,” Roff said. “I remember standing behind the podium, reading my talk off a piece of paper, knees shaking, voice quivering. But the reception and support from attendees was so encouraging. Now I do speaking engagements at universities and conferences frequently, and I look back on that first conference as my start.”

About a year later, she left her job and decided to raise $50,000 to start her yoga nonprofit.

“I reached out to Rob Schware, who I'd met at the conference and I knew ran the Give Back Yoga Foundation,” she said. “I asked if he would partner with me. I wanted to start the nonprofit under the umbrella of an established organization that knew what they were doing. I'm a big fan of collaboration over competition, and I knew Give Back had helped a number of other exceptional yoga service organizations get their start.”

“Rob told me he'd make me a deal. If I could raise the $50,000, Give Back would take on my nonprofit. I don't think he thought I would actually do it. He tells me now that it was then he learned I was 'the good kind of crazy.'”

Raising the money wasn’t easy, Roff admits. She started with an Indiegogo campaign, and 44 days into it she had only raised $19,000.

“I knew something drastic had to be done and that I needed to reach a bigger audience and create a sense of urgency in the final days of the campaign,” she said.

So she climbed onto a roof on Main Street in Santa Monica, laid down a yoga mat, and pledged not to get off the mat until the funds were raised.

“I quickly pulled together a website, promotional video, banner, shade structure, team of volunteers, and high-tech set up so I could live stream it online 24/7,” she said. “I invited a number of visitors—from yoga teachers to authors to eating disorder professionals—to come up and talk on the live stream about the work they were doing. I ate on that mat, slept on that mat, and even set up a privacy curtain so I could go to the bathroom without getting off the mat.”

Word spread quickly and even CBS News covered her story. The press helped her surpass her goal, raising $51,000. Two years later, her organization now has four staffers and more than 50 facilitators, and the program is in more than 20 yoga studios, treatment centers, universities, and community centers throughout the country.

She credits much of her success to that first conference at Omega and continues to get support from the growing community.

“The conference brings together an incredible community of professionals working to make yoga-based practices available to individuals in all sectors of society,” Roff said. “The people I've met at the conference have become more than colleagues—they've become friends, mentors, and a network of support.”

© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies