New Leaf Yoga Foundation is an amazing and impactful non-profit organization that I have recently partnered with, in addition to the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health, as cultivating the mental health and wellbeing of Torontonians, Canadians, and humanity are causes that are incredibly important to me.

If you are unfamiliar with New Leaf Yoga Foundation, it is a Canadian-based non-profit organization that develops and implements life-skills programming for youth, through yoga and mindfulness. The organization inspires and supports youth to tap into their inner strength and resources, so that they may cultivate seeds for peace in their lives and communities, and they have supported numerous youth within the city’s underdeveloped communities, within the Canadian justice system, and elsewhere.

As such, I have offered my services as a photographer and cinematographer to New Leaf, pro bono, and I will also be collaborating with them as an ambassador, by sharing my story with the youth that they support and mentor.

Through my own experiences, through the myriad of challenges that I have faced over the course of my life, and through my observations of the challenges experienced by many other individuals (and organizations) around the world, I intimately understand the hardships and opportunities that anxiety, depression, other forms of mental illness, and childhood traumas can present in one’s life. And it has taken me thousands of hours (and a lot of concentration) to process and transcend my own experiences of anxiety and depression.

Fortunately, my daily practices of yoga and various styles of meditation, my studies of the eight limbs of yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhism, in conjunction with numerous other tools, including (but not limited to) psychotherapy, journaling, stoicism, and weight lifting, have taught me how to gracefully navigate life, while actively participating and creating within an often perplexing and stressful world.

In this way, especially over the course of the last three years, after I discovered mindfulness and many of the previously-mentioned tools, I have learned how to empathize with myself and others, I have learned to accept and detach from my emotions, I have learned to accept and appreciate the impermanence of life, I have learned how to slow down, I have learned how to understand myself and the human experience from numerous paradigms, from a position of groundedness and equanimity.

The implications of the previously-mentioned practices, which New Leaf aims to bring to all youth that can benefit from them, are profound, and have changed my career and all aspects of my life for the better. They have truly taught me how to surf the inevitable ups and downs of life.

With that said, a month and a half ago, I documented New Leaf Yoga Foundation’s Still We Rise Gala, which was, among other things, a celebration of the organization’s ten year anniversary, and the non-profit’s fourth time hosting their annual gala.

The gala took place at 99 Sudbury, in Toronto’s Queen Street West neighbourhood, it was well-organized, and included an exciting and welcoming ambiance, great food, drinks, and music, in addition to beautiful people that came together for an important cause.

As the photographer for the Still We Rise Gala, I learned three things about New Leaf Yoga Foundation, and about non-profit organizations, as I weaved in and out of the packed house that came together in the name of yoga and mindfulness.

Firstly, New Leaf raised well over $60,000 at the gala, within a few hours, which showed me that it can take up to a decade to create the infrastructure, relationships, and sweat equity needed to establish an impactful non-profit organization, but once such assets are in place, it takes very little time to raise capital.

Secondly, the stories of childhood trauma that were shared at the Still We Rise Gala were incomprehensible, challenging to process, and quite dramatic, as they involved substance abuse, neglect, abandonment, incarceration, death, and violence. As such, the fact that the individuals that shared their childhood stories  have since transcended their traumatic beginnings, showed me that New Leaf’s mandate, team, and tools work, and that they are needed more than ever before, throughout Canada and around the world.

Thirdly, I learned that New Leaf’s obvious successes are a result of the hard work, dedication, and multifaceted skill sets of the new Leaf team and community, which includes many of the youth whose lives have been saved through the organization. Moreover, I learned that New Leaf and many other inspirational institutions are only as effective as their team members, and that it takes a relatively lengthy period of trial and error to find individuals that embody the ethos of any given organization.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude towards Laura Sygrove, one of New Leaf’s co-founders, and I walso want to thank the rest of the New Leaf team, 99 Sudbury, and the awesome contractors, artists, entrepreneurs, and sponsors that brought Still We Rise to Life.

I had an amazing time at the gala, I met a small army of incredible, loving, and inspiring individuals, it was an honour for me to sponsor the event, and I look forward to contributing to New Leaf’s continued success, in this moment, and in the near and distant future.

More of my photographs of the event can be viewed below, in addition to a video-based summary of New Leaf Yoga Foundation. Also, a full list of the event’s sponsors can be viewed via New Leaf’s website.