A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Mason Alumna’s Impact Stretches Throughout World

By Rashad Mulla, BA '11 on March 19, 2013


Elyse Leeds Acanda

In 1996, Elyse Leeds Acanda, BA English ’94, continued a life of fitness–which included cheerleading throughout high school and college–by immersing herself in the practice of yoga. She took classes with a variety of qualified yoga teachers, practiced multiple styles of yoga, and even trained in locations from Arlington, Virginia, to Miami.

But even she couldn’t envision the different possibilities yoga would open up for her.

“In 2002, I took a workshop in Arizona with [yoga instructor] Seane Corne, and she was really amazing,” Acanda says. “Eventually, she started the organization, ‘Off the Mat, Into the World,’ and when it got started, I signed up for the very first challenge the organization did in 2008.”

Off the Mat, Into the World uses yoga as a positive means to raise money for causes all over the world, akin to pledging money for marathon runners. In 2008, Acanda raised $6,000 for the Cambodian Children’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide education, health services, and food to children in Cambodia. She recently traveled to India, a big step in her involvement with the country: in December of 2012, she completed a yearlong challenge in which she raised $22,000 for victims of sex trafficking there.

Acanda at one of the Off Our Mats, Into the World events. Photo courtesy of Elise

Acanda at one of the Off Our Mats, Into the World events. Photo courtesy of Elyse Leeds Acanda.

If it sounds like Acanda is pursuing her personal passions, she is, alongside her ”day job” as vice president of business development for the talent management software company, Technomedia. Equipped with her yoga teaching certification and an MBA in international management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, she explained that causes involving children made her get out of bed each morning (Acanda is married and has a son and a daughter). She decided that there was room for dual interests in her life.

“I wanted to participate because the charity work involved children, and that compelled me, as a new mother,” Acanda says. “It’s really difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that some kids are born into unfavorable circumstances. This really changed something in me, so now when I hear about children suffering, it’s really hard for me to do nothing.”

Acanda finds the time dedicated to her passions well worth the effort.

“A lot of times, we as humans get complacent because we have so much, and we end up complaining about things that are not huge problems,” she says. “We should be happy with what we have, and we should also use our extra energy to do something positive for other people.”

This article appeared in a slightly different form on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences website.

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