Marianne Elliot

Here’s how a humanitarian rights advocate is getting off her Mat and Into The World, find out how you can too.


Marianne Elliott is the Regional Leader for Off the Mat, Into the World in Australia and New Zealand. She is a story-teller, a human rights advocate and a yoga teacher. She created the 30 Days of Yoga course and is the author of Zen Under Fire, a memoir about her life and work with the United Nations in Afghanistan.

In this interview, Marianne tells us about  Off the Mat, Into the World and her role as our regional leader in this global network. The plans for Leadership workshops in Sydney 28-29 January 2012, and  opportunities for yoga teachers in Melbourne  to get involved too.

Marianne lives in Wellington New Zealand.  Yoga has helped her discover the tools and practices to make her humanitarian work and advocacy effective and sustainable.


Show Notes

If you would rather download the show notes to read them on paper later, click on the link to download. 007show notes Marianne Elliott 

Otherwise please enjoy the show notes below.

Bettina:  Welcome Marianne and thank you for being here on the Yoga Teacher Podcasts.

There are a million questions I have for you Marianne but lets just focus on OTM for now. Many of our listeners may have watched the film YogaWomanTV and seen Seane Corn and some of the OTM team in action building a birthing centre for a community of African women.

What is Off the Mat (OTM) and into the world?

Marianne –  Well as you said in your intro its a global network founded by Seane Corn, Suzanne Sterling and Hala Khouri (in 2007) who came together with this idea  that they wanted to  support  people to use the skills and qualities that are cultivated through the practice of yoga to get engaged in the world through conscience action.

They have done this in a number of ways including Leadership and purpose training programs and through the development of community, which is a fundamental part of the OTM model and through action. Actions that they’ve initiated have included the big global actions like the global Seva project in Africa, which people would have seen on the Yoga WomanTV film. They have also been local actions that have come out of small circles of change that OTM has supported and cultivated all around the world. So that in a nutshell thats what it’s all about.

B:  How did you get involved and what is it like to have the responsibility of being the Regional Leader?

M: Well I got involved because my career background is in International development and Human rights advocacy. I went into that work without necessarily having the tools to support and care for my self well and process the stuff that comes up in that kind of work. I ended up in Afghanistan, about 4 years ago having been through a series of relatively traumatic instances in Afghanistan and not really well equipped to process what was coming up. I fell back to my yoga practice, which had been an inconsistent habit. I picked up a video by Seane Corn and started to practice regularly and developed a personal practice while in Afghanistan and it literally saved my life. It gave me the tools I needed to process the kind of trauma and secondary trauma that comes up when you do that sort of work it also gave me the clarity to realise what was going on in terms of my own motivation to do that kind of work.

Eventually I left Afghanistan with these two parallel interests in becoming a yoga teacher, because I discovered how incredibly powerful it was. Being able to share the practices of yoga with people working in the development advocacy and human rights sector. I made contact with Seane and she was doing an OTM leadership training in the US. And I went along to that. It’s an intensive version of the trainings that I lead in NZ & Australia.

From the very beginning it was really clear that there was a very strong match that my background and interest was going in the same direction that OTM was going in. So from very early on Seane and the others said we see where the alignment is so we want you to be involved. So since then we have worked together to develop what that role was, and that has been really fun. I have two different roles with OTM one is this regional leader role which is all about cultivating local leadership in NZ & Australia and supporting the growth of local leadership with leaders whether that is in their local yoga community or other communities. The other role is on the senior management team of OTM that is related to my specific background and interest in aid and development work.  We are looking at how we can take OTM training & community support out to people working in the international aid and humanitarian sector.


B: Tell us about Kelly Fisher and Nick Potter and their roles in the leadership team with you.

M: What I did to get things started in NZ is exactly the same thing as I am proposing to do in Australia, which is to run a turbo training where I targeted and invited people who where already leaders in the Yoga community or involved with social justice and social change and had a personal spiritual practice of yoga or meditation, to say this is what OTM is all about, who of you would like to take on a Leadership role in NZ and Nick and Kelly where two of the people who stepped up from the very beginning. So now they are now playing a leadership role for OTM in NZ.

That’s a part of the objective of the training that we are doing in Sydney in January 2012. I have invited a number of people who are attending who have a leadership role in the Yoga community in Sydney, of course its open to anyone who is interested. I targeted some invitations to people who I thought would be able to take on this role in Australia.

B: That training is happening in Sydney on the 28- 29th Jan 2012. But we did have a chat earlier and you mentioned that there might be something happening in Melbourne, tell us more about that.

M: Well yes, nothing is finalised yet, but Nick Potter is planning to visit friends and connections in the yoga community in Melbourne. So I proposed to him why don’t I come too in the following week after the Sydney training and do a 3 hour taster workshop in the afternoon. At this stage it’s just an idea we have floated. Nick and I are totally up for it so now its about finding a venue to host it and spreading the word.

B: Well keep us in mind I’m sure we can connect you up with some yoga people in Melbourne. Tell us about the OTM Leadership training what will participants learn in this training and how will they use it?

M: Ok this is a 2 day version of what is usually a 4 day process so it’s a turbo version, designed as such its targeted to leaders in the yoga community, many of them have a lot of constraints on their time.  This has a three fold focus.

Learning ways to apply the qualities that we cultivate in our yoga practice; clarity, courage, perseverance, compassion and self-awareness and learning ways to apply that to our actions off the mat and into the world. That’s a core part of what the training is about. It’s not through the process of lectures or giving information but through an experiential process using yoga practice and other embodied practices to experience clarity around your purpose and to develop within yourself leadership skills, drawing on what you’ve developed in your yoga.

At the end of it you will feel clearer about your sense of purpose in life, where you see you can contribute your skills, whether that be in your paid or unpaid work your role in family or community.  You will come out with stronger communication and leadership skills. Another core part of the focus of this training is the development and strengthening of community of like-minded people.

B: Well that sounds fantastic, what is the investment if they want to be part of the OTM leadership training?

M: The weekend training in Sydney is $275 for two, fairly full on days. It’s set up so you can pay all at once  or pay in installments. That’s set up on the registration page on the website. And I’m not sure yet about the afternoon in Melbourne it will depend on what it costs us for a venue, but we usually run those for about $50 in NZ.

B: Well it sounds like a good investment in oneself, because you can apply the skills to all aspects of your life.

Off the Mat, Into the World training will be held in Sydney on 28 and 29 January 2012. You can read more about it and register here or download the flyer here.

B:  What are the challenges that you see for getting OTM out to the community

M: Well I have to say that I’m really excited about OTM in Australia.

The main difference between NZ & Australia, is the yoga community is much bigger and more developed in Australia than it is in NZ. Saying that, for example here in Wellington we have some fantastic teachers and some wonderful studios. But compared to what you would see in Sydney they’re relatively small. And it’s still a relatively small community. So we have faced a challenge on how to widen our audience at little bit, how can we encourage people who don’t have a current practice yet to get involved?

The training is really useful for people who don’t have a current practice. People like me who had arrived in Afghanistan who had done yoga in a gym and who are engaged in challenging and demanding jobs can really benefit from this. So our challenge in NZ is expanding beyond the yoga community. I feel that in Australia there is enormous potential, the community is vibrant. When I was in Sydney for the Yoga Woman TV premiere, I was buzzing there is so much going on there.

B: Yes, Sydney’s got it going on. In Melbourne we need to emulate some of the things Sydney is doing. We have brilliant yoga teachers here, that’s for sure. But it comes down again to population as well, that certainly drives initiatives.

What is your vision for OTM in Australia and NZ and are you excited about the future of OTM and the linking of our Yoga communities across the Tasman?

M: Well the point about linking of the communities across the Tasman is one of the things that I’m most excited about. OTM has the potential to be the platform that brings people together across the different traditions because the Karma or the Seva or service element of the yoga path is relatively similar across the traditions. The asana practices may vary but I think with the karma part there is a lot of common ground. If this can provide a platform for collaboration and bringing people together from different geographic locations, I will be thrilled because the NZ yoga community can really benefit from the kind of scale of possibility when you work together with the Australian yoga community. So that is something that really excites me and I hope that I can find and support local OTM leaders in Australian.

My vision is to find and support a local leadership team that is really committed to the potential of bringing people together. As much as I love coming to Australia, that’s not a sustainable model. The model is for a local team to grow and for them to develop their vision in collaboration with their community.

B: For more on what’s happening with Off The Mat in NZ & Australia visit

M: The address is coming soon, once we get a registered “not for profit” number.

B: Marianne would you come back to YTP and tell us more about Marianne Elliott the yoga teacher and Zen peacekeeper and tell us about your Workshops and Events for Change makers and about the book you are getting ready to release?

M: Yes, the title is Zen Under Fire: A story of love and work in Afghanistan.

I would love to come back and talk to you about it.

B: In the mean time our listeners can delve in deeper by going to your website and be sure to check out the 30 days of yoga – Marianne’s online course.

 B: Thank you Marianne Elliott, all the very best and I look forward to meeting when you get to Melbourne.

M: Thank you so much Bettina for having me on the show.


For more inspiring stories and hot news from revered Yoga Teachers visit Music from Summer Morning performed by Douglas Spotted Eagle.

This is Bettina Mitchell, your host signing out…Stay inspired!


Off the Mat, Into the World International is a program of the nonprofit Engage Network. It is dedicated to bridging yoga and action. OTM’s mission is to use the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable action and to ignite grassroots social change. Initiating local and international service projects known as Seva Challenges. Off The Mat Into The World CD is an ecstatic yoga flow music compilation. Find it on iTunes




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