It’s usually evident when someone moves beyond simply working to finding and living out his or her true vocation. An undercurrent of purpose and passion runs just under the surface in the way these people move, speak, and interact with others. Sarah Yukie Gingrich, the founder of the non-profit organization Create Karma, is one such individual.
Create Karma’s work is deeply rooted in the practice of yoga, but Sarah makes it clear that yoga is just one component in a multifaceted path to something deeper, not an end in and of itself. We recently sat down with Sarah to discuss her passion for transformation in the lives of her clients and their communities.
Founded in 2015, Create Karma exists to give clients the tools they need to pursue “embodied transformational leadership and wellness.” This is not a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all program but rather a personalized training that responds to and meets clients where they are in their individual journeys.
It might not be obvious how training in yoga translates to leadership, but Sarah explains, “Wellness is not necessarily fitness, but the environment you’re in…the ability that you have to really connect and relate to people around you.” She explains that whereas leadership is often taught in the context of “doing,” Sarah and her team teach from an understanding of “being.” Through their training programs, Create Karma “gives [clients] the tools that they need to transform their environment” and by extension, their relationships with others.
Like many people in the nonprofit world, Sarah’s path to her present-day work was circuitous, one in which she discovered a new passion and then in light of it, reimagined how she might use her professional skills for a deeper purpose. In the early 2000s, Sarah worked in corporate management, teaching managers across the entire northeast region of the United States. In her spare time, she learned yoga and came to love it. She reflects, “I discovered myself through a physical practice…and what was important to me shifted.” This affected her not only personally, but also professionally.
In light of what she was learning, Sarah came to see that in her management training work, “we were missing the dimension of who people were as humans.” This new awareness, coupled with an education in behavioral science and interest in philosophy, led her to wonder how people can support each other in creating meaningful existences. Eventually, she transitioned out of corporate work altogether to teach yoga classes and train other yoga teachers.
Sarah says she could have continued in that trajectory indefinitely, but everything changed when she had an opportunity to work and teach in Africa and the Middle East. It was through this time that Sarah experienced challenges to her biases about what yoga can do for people and for culture. She remembers realizing at the time, “the work of yoga isn’t how to be skinny or stretch. It really is this: how do we change and transform our awareness so that who we are is integrated and whole? And how do we get present to our own biases so we can connect with anyone and bring people into that wholeness?”
While she was in the Middle East, Sarah led the first teacher training of its kind, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians. She said it became clear that “when we bring together self-inquiry and communication with communities and physical work, this is what’s up.” Seeing the transformation and progress among her students, something shifted in Sarah’s mind. “I realized how small I had been living, and what the big work actually is.”
In light of this experience and the privilege she knew she enjoyed in terms of education and access to training, Sarah became committed to finding a way to share those resources with as many people as possible. The idea that would eventually become Create Karma was born.
When Sarah got back to the United States in 2015, she knew what she wanted to do, but she lacked the background and know-how to take it from inspiration to reality. Fortunately, that was when she was introduced to ASSETS. In a span of about 24 hours, she says, “Three different people told me, ‘You have to apply for the Great Social Enterprise Pitch!’” She had never heard of it and she wasn’t sure it was the right fit for her goals, but Sarah decided to investigate and attend an informational session at ASSETS.
When she learned more, she realized The Pitch was a great opportunity for her business. “It felt like it could help me create something that would actually work,” she says. She applied and Create Karma ended up being among the ten finalists that year. Sarah continued to take advantage of other offerings at ASSETS, attending entrepreneur training classes and learning as much as she could.
Sarah discovered early on that there was a lot she didn’t know about making Create Karma a reality. Jonathan Coleman, ASSETS Co-CEO, was the first to tell her she needed a nonprofit to accomplish her goals. “I just thought I could teach this training and people would show up,” she laughs. After that fundamental piece was addressed, there were other challenges: finances, accounting, startup costs. This was completely new territory for Sarah.
She had some mental blocks to overcome in order to move forward. Sarah admits, “I had no training, and I made up that it meant I couldn’t run a business.” Soon, though, those misconceptions faded. “I realized I don’t have to know stuff. I just have to have the ability to trust and talk to the people who know and can do stuff.” ASSETS proved to be a great place for Sarah to make those exact connections.
Reflecting on her training at ASSETS, Sarah makes a long list of ways in which they provided her with practical help. “I don’t think Create Karma would have existed without ASSETS; without the support I got attending a class every week and the ongoing accountability of having to do the homework.”
Working with ASSETS at the beginning not only set Create Karma on a path to success, but it also formed who Sarah is as a business owner. She says that learning how to pitch her business was key. “It gave me the ability to concisely and repeatedly talk about the organization in a way that people could understand me. ASSETS’ pitching structure is the foundation for who I am now.”
Receiving business leader training at ASSETS also helped Sarah keep perspective. “I look at the whole instead of getting really focused on stuff I love. I could spend all day looking at anatomy, which is my specialty, but that doesn’t work for us. Because of the classes and the diversity of the content, I realized I needed to zoom out. That’s what leadership is; taking the far view.”
Four years into the entrepreneurial journey, Sarah now gives back at ASSETS as a member of the Women’s Business Center Advisory Board and a guest facilitator for Business Start-up Idea Incubators and the SheOwnsIt Forum. For those who are just starting down the path of business ownership, her advice is simple: “Trust yourself…and share. Share your idea with as many people as you can and then listen to them and what they say. Surround yourself with talented people and listen to them. Create with other people. Getting competitive will just suppress your growth. There’s enough space for everyone.”
Even as she meets the demands of business leadership, it’s clear that Sarah has not lost sight of why she started Create Karma in the first place. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see the lives of our participants transformed. We have had people apply for internships, change their jobs…really be who they said they would be. When I can be with other humans who are transforming their lives, it’s magical.” Her eyes fill with tears as she continues, “And when I can know that I had even a small part in that, it’s overwhelming. My heart is so full of gratitude.”