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From Inspired to Effective: Bringing Yoga and Mindfulness to Society’s Most Vulnerable Members


Carol Horton, Ph.D.

The face of yoga in the media is increasingly dominated by skinny models in fancy yoga poses, news about high-profile celebrities showing off their new ‘yoga body’ or the latest scandal involving assorted yoga ‘gurus’ or for that matter, see-through Lululemon clothing.

Yet, behind the scenes a wave has been building for years, and continues to grow: The use of yoga in public services programs across the country, serving disadvantaged members of our society. American yoga service organizations now work with an estimated 150,000-200,000 people annually, including women who have experienced abuse, prisoners, at-risk children and teens, veterans, those with cancer, and homeless individuals.

At the hub of this growing movement is the Yoga Service Council (YSC), which functions as the organizational and educational center for yoga seva initiatives. Formed in 2009 at the Omega Institute, YSC is dedicated to the development of “a community of professional support in the field of yoga service” that is engaged in “helping YSC members to move from inspired to effective in using the tools of yoga and mindfulness to reach underserved and vulnerable populations.”

In June, 2013 the Yoga Service Council (YSC) held its second annual conference at the Omega institute in Rhinebeck, New York. The annual YSC conference provides the opportunity to learn from some of the visionary leaders in the field, and to be inspired by the myriad of ways in which the yoga community is being of service to those in need.  

Indeed, after enjoying a weekend of inspirational talks, wonderful workshops, good food, camaraderie, asana and meditation, I felt as though I had participated in one of the most promising new waves of yoga in our time.

The conference was emblematic of the tremendous progress that the YSC has made toward linking yoga theory and practice with real world applications in diverse areas such as organizational development, addiction recovery, social outreach, and neuroscience.  These creative couplings represent invaluable new ways in which traditional yogic practices can be integrated into modern life.

This year’s YSC conference was larger than its inaugural debut in 2012. It is clear that the YSC is growing rapidly and that its mission is building momentum. The 2012 and 2013 conferences featured impressive keynote speakers, a variety of excellent workshops, and evening meet-and-greet sessions during which representatives of over 30 yoga service organizations offered informational tables. This enabled organizers and attendees the time to socialize, form collaborative relationships, and learn from each other. This year 30 individuals were awarded YSC scholarships to attend the conference. Recipients were mostly young members whose presence increased the gathering’s demographic and cultural diversity, and added to the excitement of the event.

The conference looked at yoga service initiatives related to addiction, trauma healing, high-risk youth, cancer survivors, elder care, and creating a sustainable yoga service program. Participants included many full-time yoga teachers as well as social workers, mental health and education professionals, and scientific researchers. Their shared commitment to yoga service created a sense of camaraderie and community.


Highlights from the 2013 Yoga Service Conference 

The conference proceedings were punctuated by a number of highlights. Beryl Bender Birch’s Friday night address on “Awakening to Spiritual Revolution: The Convergence of Practice and of Activism” was moving and inspirational.  Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., delivered a fascinating talk entitled “Strengthening Compassion” that offered insights from her 8-week training program in which she explores the nature of compassion and its roots in Buddhist meditation practices, spiritual philosophies, neuroscience, social psychology, and evolutionary biology.

Dr. McGonigal noted that the four key elements of compassion include 1) recognition of suffering, 2) feelings of concern and connection, 3) desire to relieve suffering, and 4) willingness and ability to respond. She offered a clear picture of the factors that support the development of compassion, as well as those that inhibit it.

People are less likely to experience compassion if placed in unsafe or unstable situations. In the face of uncertainty we are much more likely to resort to our innate fight, flight or freeze responses rather that to address the suffering of another with compassion. In the face of stress it is much more likely that we will be avoidant of another’s distress and choose to avoid, escape, shut down or dismiss a person rather than to choose a skillful action.

Dr. McGonigal detailed practices that can be used to strengthen our ability to be in the presence of suffering without defaulting to reactive or avoidant feelings or behaviors. “Compassion,” she emphasized, “is a set of skills that can be trained.” It is not an unlimited resource that can be continuously mined.  It requires time, effort and self-care to nurture skillful responses. McGonigal urged yoga service providers not to romanticize compassion, but to understand the concrete practices that help it grow, and the everyday scenarios that restrict it.  

The conference included several other highlights. Sharon Salzberg, a renowned Buddhist meditation teacher specializing in loving kindness teachings, led a practice dedicated to deepening our capacities for concentration, connection, fearlessness, and genuine happiness.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a leading expert on trauma, provided us with a thought-provoking introduction to his work on “Yoga, Neurobiology, and Trauma.” He expertly synthesized information from a variety of fields including yoga, history, neuroscience, and psychology. This was followed by a panel discussion on diversity and cultural awareness in the yoga service movement. This topic will undoubtedly be the subject of greater discussion in future conferences.

The Yoga Service Council and its annual meeting represent a concerted effort on the part of the yoga community to engage in selfless service. The conference is a remarkable experience whether or not you’re interested in yoga service. It reminds us that there is no division between serving ourselves and serving others, and reminds us of the interconnection that is possible through mindful practice. 

The YSC meeting was also highlighted in Forbes magazine - see Grace Bullock's article about the promise yoga service offers for disadvantaged youth.

Photos courtesy of Omega Institute,

Restorative Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease: Strength, Balance, and Improved Quality of Life


Most Americans have heard of Parkinson’s disease or know someone who is affected. Roughly 1.5 million Americans suffer from the effects of the disease, and approximately 60,000 individuals will be diagnosed this year. Parkinson’s disease can create a significant financial and emotional burden for patients, family members and caregivers. It is important to understand how the disease affects patients, and why a restorative yoga practice may help patients with Parkinson’s to experience some relief from their symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease is an incurable, degenerative disorder of the nervous system that has no known cause.  Symptoms of Parkinson’s typically emerge after the age of 50, and often include muscle rigidity, slowness of movement, slurred speech, and difficulty walking. Thinking and behavioral problems associated with dementia often occur as the disease progresses, and depression is fairly common.

Parkinson’s disease occurs as a result two factors. The first is a build up of a particular protein in brain cells or neurons. The second is the decline of dopamine producing nerve cells in the midbrain, the region largely responsible for motor control. When the dopamine system does not function properly, coordinated muscle movement becomes impaired and symptoms like tremors, mumbled speech, loss of balance, or stiff, awkward movements occur. These symptoms become more pronounced and debilitating over time.

While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s, there is increasing evidence that gentle, restorative yoga can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease. Of greatest benefit are gentle, slow and precise yoga postures that

  • Increase flexibility and range of motion
  • Improve circulation
  • Enhance positive emotions, and
  • Improve alertness of mind

After a few classes of adaptive yoga, most students notice that they

  • Stand taller and lift their chests rather than slumping
  • Have better balance and are looking forward, not down
  • Are aware of their gait and less prone to shuffling their feet
  • Feel stronger and have greater range of motion, and
  • Feel relief from symptoms such as rigidity and fatigue

These experiences may improve an individual’s quality of life by

  • Reducing the fear of falling, and reducing the risk for injury
  • Improving the ability to engage in everyday tasks, and
  • Increasing the opportunity to socialize and interact with others

While there is no evidence that regular yoga practice has an effect on the systems in the brain that are related to Parkinson’s disease, patients report improvements in their quality of life.

Yoga classes for those with Parkinson’s disease need to be specially tailored. Postures must account for the fact that students are less mobile, and have muscle weakness and fatigue, reduced flexibility and motor control, and decreased mobility. Of greatest importance is that the yoga practice presents a minimal risk for falling. This means plenty of chairs, and an unobstructed place for moving. Next it is important to know which postures best target the physical needs of students such as trunk rigidity, hamstring tightness, and compromised balance and breathing. Props including bolsters, blankets, blocks and straps can increase the ease in which students experience a safe and restful practice.

Yoga can be very restorative and rejuvenating for individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It is essential to find a yoga instructor with a depth of knowledge regarding what works for individuals with the disease and what does not. It is also important to consult a physician to make certain that yoga is an appropriate exercise. Once these pieces are in place, the experience of yoga for those with Parkinson’s can be nothing short of wonderful.

Lynn Burgess is the founder and director of Sarasota, Florida’s most established studio, Yoga from the Heart. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as an RYT 500 and E-RYT 500 instructor. She has been working with and teaching classes and private instruction specific to those with Parkinson’s Disease since 2007. A topic expert, Lynn writes articles that have been featured in Women’s Health Magazine and published in Yogi Times Magazine. To learn more about Lynn, visit; become her friend on Facebook:, or follow her on Twitter at: Yoga from the Heart @yogasarasota.


Cross Training Your Brain: An Antidote for Aging


We don’t usually think of exercise and the brain in the same sentence, but the brain and the body are very much alike. Fit people are likely to recover more quickly from injury or illness than those who are sedentary. Similarly fit, active brains are better equipped to recover from the damage incurred by accident, injury, illness, or the insults of aging.

For these reasons, the brain can benefit from exercise, just as much as the body in general.
This is the idea behind Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital’s Brain Fit Club in Boston, a ‘gym’ filled with games and exercises that give your brain a workout. Created earlier this month, The Brain Fit Club offers brain training exercises that include specially designed computer games, lifestyle and nutritional coaching, meditation, music, and yoga classes, and lots of time for socializing, reports The Boston Globe.

The brain has a tremendous capacity to rewire itself if it is worked out properly, new studies on neuroplasticity suggest. These findings are sparking a new wave of brain exercises designed to curb the effects of aging, and increase the probability that those with brain damage will recover more fully than previously believed possible.

“If you had asked me eight to nine years ago if I believe in cognitive training, I’d have said ‘pfft,’” says Bonnie Wong, clinical neuropsychologist at the hospital in the
The Boston Globe article. “But the research is quite convincing.”

The healthier your brain remains, the more it will be resilient to the effects of aging, disease and decline. This is why the Brain Fit Club at the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital is so important.

Not surprisingly, the Brain Fit Club has a long waiting list. Millions of aging Americans are concerned with memory loss, lack of mental agility, and diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While there are medications that can reduce the severity of symptoms, degenerative brain disorders eventually lead to considerable disability and death.

It is likely that facilities like this will become commonplace during the next decade, and that an increasing number of ‘brain games’ will be available to boost cognitive ‘fitness’ as we get older. Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, for example, is developing targeted computer games that can enhance specific brain skills. The brain is ‘plastic’ enough to adapt and change regardless of age, his research shows.

Brain training games must be fun, however. According to Dr. Gazzaley, people will be more apt to engage in a therapy if they are enjoying themselves. The brain releases dopamine and other chemicals in response to pleasure that aid in the learning process, so pleasure is essential. Brain health and treatment also require a multi-pronged approach, Dr. Gazzaley believes. “Given the complexity of the brain, we can’t hope to treat it effectively with a single modality like a drug.”

With over 1000 trillion connections, the human brain is very complex and its potential for growth and change is practically limitless. Donald Stuss, Scientific Director of the Ontario Brain Institute, and a professor at the University of Toronto agrees. He studies the brain’s capacity to reorganize, and has discovered that “…different regions can take over and [the brain] can use different pathways, different networks to perform the same tasks. So the potential is there.”

As more researchers explore the brain’s resilience and ability to rewire itself, we are learning that it may be possible to delay or minimize the symptoms of dementia and other similar diseases by training the brain and keeping it fit. While places like the Brain Fit Club are important for anyone interested in maintaining a sharp mind and a healthy brain, the Club is currently only available to existing patients at the Beth Israel Deaconess who are suffering either from Alzheimer’s, cognitive impairment, concussions, or ADHD.

Researchers will be working with patients to understand which types of activities are of greatest benefit and how much time is required for patients to build up their own ‘weak muscles.’  Participants at the Club receive intensive programs of classes and physical exercises and are immersed in social interaction, which is known to greatly benefit both brain and heart health. Patients will also be ‘cross-training’ their minds and cultivating new pathways by learning new skills. There is growing evidence that new brain pathways are stimulated through learning novel activities such as hobbies, languages, or taking classes in math, science, art, or music. Patients will be encouraged to bring their workouts home and to continue to learn and master new skills.

The movement into brain fitness offers hope for the millions of Americans suffering from brain injury and diseases including Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s, and the millions more who are approaching old age or already there. Brain training has no side effects, the cost is minimal and the rewards are great. And of course, since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the new brain fitness gym is an important reminder for everyone to keep not just our body, but our brain fit.


Creating a gym for the mind, Karen Weintraub, Boston Globe Correspondent




Be Here Now - Yoga’s Present Moment and the Practice of Madhu Vidya


Be in the present moment. Experience your breath, watch your thoughts without judgment. These are instructions often given in yoga classes. The opportunity to “be in the present moment” is often touted as one of the benefits of taking yoga. But what does this really mean?

Yoga is a vast, varied and extremely old practice. The directive to “be in the present moment” is a powerful, timeless directive, the origin of which can be traced back to many of the early yogic writings.  In his Yoga Sutra (about 200 C.E.), defined yoga as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Certainly, when this is achieved, the practitioner has come into the present moment.

Patanjali’s work was a great treatise on the cosmologic order of the universe, the human being’s role in that order, and the nature of the mind. Patanjali wrote that the ultimate goal of the practice of yoga was to remove the veils of the ego and abide solely in the nature of the Purusha – or cosmic consciousness, in other words, God. So the practice of Patanjali yoga is not only to be in the present, but to understand that present as the abode of the Divine.

The wide variety of Tantric and Vedic writings on yoga which have contributed to this great tradition are centered around this teaching.

In Tantric yoga philosophy, moving towards a state of non-judgmental existence in the present moment is achieved within the foundation of a deep understanding of the nature of the universe. According to Tantra, the entire universe is composed of the fabric of Divine Love or prema. Because the matrix of reality is prema, the experience of being in the present moment is the experience of waking up to the blissful reality of the universe.

In other words, the present moment isn’t a quiet reflection of the ego – it is an ecstatic merging of self into a super-conscious, rarified, vibrational field of Love. Yogis throughout the ages have tried to describe this state and use the Sanskrit word Samadhi to encapsulate its essence, but it is truly only accessible through experience. Most people have spontaneously or randomly approached Samadhi at one time or another in their lives – while staring at the ocean or gazing out at mountains or in a deep state of communion with the divine. Yoga, in its many forms, provides the technology, developed and honed over centuries of time, to consciously cultivate a regular experience of Samadhi, generally through meditation practices.

And when you are not sitting and meditating, how can you encourage this cultivation? To completely remember who you are is to experience ecstasy. In Tantra, the practice of being in the present moment is called Madhu Vidya which means “sweet knowledge.” This is the practice of remembering the intrinsic sweetness of life – that every thing, every situation, person, place, and moment, is an expression of, is sheltered by, is actually composed of the loving force of the cosmos.

According to Tantra philosophy, when it feels like love is not the dominant force in a situation, when we are faced with challenges and heartache, we are reminded to gently but firmly guide our egos back to Madhu Vidya, to that sweet remembrance, which can help us see our situation as either a learning experience, a karmic payback, or an opportunity for growth. Maintaining a positive attitude even in the midst of adversity is certainly difficult. The practice of Madhu Vidya offers a direct route back to the Divine source in order to diffuse suffering.

To experiment with the practice of Madhu Vidya notice when you encounter a difficult moment in your day. Stop, breathe, remember who you are. Remembering that the moment, the situation, your body and the breath that you watch pass in and out of your lungs, are all manifestations of the powerful loving force of the universe.

Kristine Kaoverii Weber MA, LMBT, e-RYT is the director of the Subtle Yoga Teacher Training program and the author of Healing Self-Massage (Sterling, 2005).

Also check out her upcoming online course at YogaUOnline,

 Subtle Yoga: Enlivening the Healing Power of the Meridians in Yoga Asanas



Inversions: Working the Edge of Fear and Courage


By: Christie Hall - 

When I was a child, I wouldn’t do a cartwheel. I didn’t like somersaults. I detested being upside down. It terrified me.

Karin O’Bannon taught me my first headstand. I was 38 years old and a few days into her teacher training. Truth to be told, if I had known there were headstands in yoga, I never would have shown up for that first yoga class 18 months earlier.

In my 16 years of teaching, some frightened students have asked me, what’s the point of it?

The same question might be applied to asana in general. If yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind what do yoga asanas have to do with yoga?

And in that regard, challenging inversions (as headstand is to most beginners) in particular might seem antithetical to yoga. Patañjali defines perfection in asana as effortlessness, and that is not intended to mean just on a physical level, but in terms of our mind as well.

But BKS Iyengar offers a refreshing view on the struggle most people feel when encountering inversions for the first time (and even later, when taking on increasingly challenging inversions). In his Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali he notes:

“Asana . . . offers a controlled battleground for the process of conflict and creation. The aim is to recreate the process of human evolution in our own internal environment..... The creative struggle is experienced in headstand: as we challenge ourselves to improve the position, fear of falling acts to inhibit us. If we are rash, we fall, if timorous, we make no progress. But if the interplay of the two forces is observed, analyzed and controlled, we can achieve perfection."  (Emphasis added)

I knew none of this the day I faced my first headstand. That day in 1997, Karin noted that some people were terrified of headstand.  Shrinking inside, I told her that I was one of those who were terrified. She taught me the finger interlace, the placement of the head, the actions of Sirsasana. Then she helped me upside down, with a wall behind me for support.

After quite a few hyperventilating breaths, I realized that the world was not going to come to an end. After my breathing slowed, she assisted me down, and asked what I thought.

“That was great!” I answered without thinking, surprising even myself.

It was six months before I tried kicking into a headstand outside of class. And it was several years before I could hear a teacher announce “Sirsasana” without feeling dread. But over time, the pose developed into the mainstay of my practice.

Of late, headstand has become ground again for the creative process Iyengar described. Now I face, not fear of falling, but fear of injury. Now, again, it has become that battleground for my fears, as I seek to perform the pose without injury, and yet to progress as well.

No matter. As Mr. Iyengar said: “If the interplay of the two forces is observed, analyzed and controlled, we can achieve perfection.”

Working at the edge of fear and courage, I focus on the interplay of forces. And with this, increasingly grows the realization—I am not the fear, I am not the fluctuations of my mind. These forces are there, and that is okay, but they are not me. And this, to me, is the epitome of yoga.


Christie Hall began studying yoga in 1995 to cope with crippling back pain. Her home practice started with the book, Yoga: The Iyengar Way. She started teaching in 1997 after studying with Iyengar teacher Karin O'Bannon and she has studied as student and as teacher exclusively with Iyengar teachers, including BKS Iyengar in Colorado in 2005 and Geeta Iyengar in 2007. More of her writings can be found on her blog: Her Web site is

With Help from Yoga, Disabled Veteran Walks Unaided

Boorman after 6 months of doing yoga




Even if you’ve already come across it, the story of Arthur Boorman is worth revisiting. It reminds us all how yoga can transform our bodies if we exercise patience and determination.

Boorman served as a Gulf War paratrooper: an airborne combat engineer who regularly made jumps with heavy equipment on his back. This, coupled with numerous accidents on the job left Boorman with knee, back, and nerve damage. Unable to exercise normally, he began gaining weight, which only exacerbated his discomfort. “I was in constant pain. I needed assistance to walk, to stand.”

Boorman had to wear braces on his legs and back and needed crutches to walk. “They basically told me that I was not going to walk normally again,” Boorman said in an interview with Good Day Utah. But with the aid of perseverant yoga practice, Boorman proved his doctors wrong.

When he first sought out yoga, he had given up. “I honestly thought that I was going to die,” Boorman said. “I wasn’t looking for a cure or any sort of recovery, I was simply looking for pain management when I started doing yoga.”

What started as pain management grew into something more as Boorman stuck with his practice. “I noticed in a few weeks I’d lost several inches,” he recounts. He weighed himself after the first month and discovered he’d lost nearly 40 lbs.

Now, a year later, he has lost well over 100 lbs, but more importantly, he’s gained back his mobility. In the clip below you can see Boorman’s transformation through yoga. At one point he attempts a headstand and lets us watch when he falls. He gets right back up and reminds us: “Just because I can’t do it today doesn’t mean I’m not going to be able to do it someday.” And indeed, he has. 


Interview with Good Day Utah:

How Safe is Hot Yoga?





Hot yoga is trending upward in the American yoga scene. Typical classes are held at a room temperature of 90 degrees or more with the humidity maintained at about 40%.  While this practice has had its share of controversy, the effects of hot yoga on heart rate and core temperature have not been studied. Recently the American Council on Exercise, affectionately called the country’s Workout Watchdog, commissioned Dr. John P. Porcari, head of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse and his colleagues to research the effects of hot yoga for healthy adults

Twenty healthy, relatively fit men and women between the ages of 19 to 44 participated in this small, uncontrolled pilot study. Baseline data regarding their level of fitness was obtained at the beginning of the study. Individuals were required to swallow an ingestible core temperature body sensor and to wear a heart-rate monitor during two, 60-minute yoga classes. The first class occurred in a room where the temperature was maintained at 70 degrees. Twenty-four hours later, the same group of participants performed the identical sequence of postures with same instructor in a 92 degree room with an undisclosed degree of humidity.  Core temperature was recorded every five minutes beginning five minutes before the class, and ending five minutes after the session. Heart rate data were collected every minute for the duration of the class.

Researchers found that the average exercise intensity averaged 56% of maximal heart rate in the typical class and 57% of maximal heart rate in the yoga class. These heart rates are associated with ‘light’ exercise based on the guidelines provided by the fitness industry. Core body temperature increased by 3.1 degrees F in the typical class and 2.9 degrees F for the hot class respectively. The highest core temperature recorded in the hot class was 102.4 degrees F, which is below a critical temperature of 104 degrees. Participants’ subjective ratings of the two classes consistently suggested that they experienced the hot yoga classe as being more difficult than the typical class even though the physiological evidence did not indicate that their bodies were working harder.  Everyone sweated profusely in the hot classes.

This study demonstrated that neither heart rate nor core temperatures rise to unhealthy levels during a 60 minute hot yoga class in this sample of healthy, relatively fit adults, These findings do not apply to Bikram yoga classes during which classes are held at 105 degrees or higher for 90 minutes.  Further studies are needed to ascertain the safety of yoga classes of longer duration and those held at above 92 degrees farenheit.  Researchers emphasized that drinking lots of water, before, during, and after hot yoga classes is critical to help the body safely regulate its core temperature.

Critics of hot yoga argue that practitioners are at risk for muscle, ligament or tendon strain, sprain or tear during heated yoga practices as individuals may push their bodies beyond their natural limits. There are also legitimate concerns that practicing yoga in hot conditions may be dangerous for children or adults with cardiac, respiratory, neurologic and other diseases and is ill advised for pregnant women. This small pilot study was conducted with relatively young, healthy, fit participants and only addressed the issue of core temperature and heart rate. As such, there is no evidence to suggest that hot yoga may be safe for the general population. Individuals interested in participating in yoga classes should consult with their physical to determine which types of yoga practice are best for them.


ACE-sponsored Study: Hot Yoga—Go Ahead and Turn Up the Heat By Ashley Nereng, B.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Clayton Camic, Ph.D., Cordial Gillette, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D.


The Science of Oneness: The Science and Nonduality Conferences (SAND)


Many people practice yoga because it helps them to feel good, stay fit, or manage minor health issues like insomnia, back pain, or stiffness.  Few are aware that the practice of yoga is guided by a vast and ancient philosophy devoted to lifestyle, health and healing.

The word yoga means union. The 2000 year-old Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that yoga is intended to still the fluctuations of the mind (yogah citta vritti nirodah: Sutra 1.2) to attain a state of sattva, or pure existence. This philosophy is similar to that of the mystics, seers and philosophers of many religious and spiritual traditions that have spanned human history.

Whether termed consciousness, pure awareness, sat chit ananda,  nirvana, spirit, or one of a myriad of other terms, the tenet that all beings are borne of the same cosmic materials and separated only by ideas transcends time and tradition.  Author Aldous Huxley referred to it as the Perennial Philosophy in recognition of just how universal this tenet is.

Many spiritual and mystical philosophies and practices have emerged and flourished in the service of liberating humans from suffering and the delusion of separateness. Yoga is one such tradition. The ancient yogis aimed to cultivate the capacity to experience the oneness underlying all of reality through the combined practices of yoga postures, breath exercises and meditation.

During the past several decades, Buddhism, Taoism, and Yoga and other Eastern traditions have proliferated in the West. Mainstream America has grown to embrace their philosophies, practices, and culture, and commerce and popular media have shifted their focus in response.

In recent years, this trend has also moved into Western universities, think tanks and research laboratories. One example is the Science and Nonduality (SAND) movement, which was founded by Zaya and Maurizio Bennazo with the goal of uniting mystics, scientists, philosophers, and spiritual teachers to create a new paradigm that recognizes the interconnectedness of life and the ancient wisdom of nonduality. To that end, SAND offers ground-breaking conferences across the globe in an effort to unite science with spirituality and personal experience.


SAND’s 5th conference entitled, “The Science and Mystery of Perception” was held at the National Utrecht Park in the Netherlands in the spring of 2013. Conference organizers endeavored to create a context to explore “ the nature of awareness, the essence of life from which all arises and subsides”. Over 400 participants gathered for 6 days to examine topics related to perception, consciousness, and the self, within an overarching framework of integration, exploration and nonduality.

The SAND movement represents many of the beliefs and traditions consistent with the philosophies of the ancient yoga tradition. Their leadership and innovation provide an inspirational road map from which all beings can cultivate a greater awareness of their world and the interconnectedness of all beings.

The next U.S. SAND conference will take place from October 23rd through 27th, 2013 in San Jose, California. For more information on this important initiative to bridge science and the age-old Perennial Philosophy, see the conference website here.


Encinitas Ruling: Yoga Is Exercise, Not Dogma


Yoga, as taught in the Encinitas school system, is a simple exercise program rooted in American culture, not Indian culture, a judge of the San Diego Superior Court ruled on Monday.

Yoga, as taught in the Encinitas school system, is a simple exercise program, a judge of the San Diego Superior Court ruled on Monday.

The parents of two children in the school system had filed the suit, claiming that teaching yoga in the Encinitas schools constitutes religious indoctrination and violates the separation of church and state. With the ruling, the Encinitas Union School District can continue teaching yoga as part of its health and exercise curriculum. Students attend two 30-minute yoga classes each week.

San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer emphasized in his ruling that yoga’s origin in Indian culture doesn’t mean that its use in the U.S. is religious in nature.

"Yoga as it has developed in the last 20 years is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture," Meyer said, according to Reuters. "It is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas school district yoga advances or promotes religion."

Meyer noted that the school district had removed cultural references from the curriculum, including Sanskrit terms. Yoga postures have been given more kid-friendly names: Lotus pose, for example, is referred to as the "crisscross applesauce" pose.

Meyer noted that the opponents of the yoga class were not describing yoga as the phenomenon taught in the school classes, but rather relying on information from the Internet and other unreliable sources.

"It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does," Meyer said.

The ruling is particularly important by setting a precedence that even though a cultural phenomenon has its root in metaphysical beliefs and practices from another culture, those beliefs don’t necessarily automatically carry over into its U.S. expressions. Yoga in the U.S. today has become a uniquely American phenomenon, which stands on its own merits.

Encinitas Supt. Tim Baird emphasized that the program is about teaching healthy exercise and eating habits; the school also hopes to decrease instances of fighting and bullying. Supporters also noted that yoga is used at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego to help military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are not instructing anyone in religious dogma," Baird said to the LA Times. "Yoga is very mainstream."

The yoga program is funded by a $533,000 grant from a local Asthanga Yoga studio. The studio is linked to the Jois Foundation and supported by hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his wife, Sonia, who studied with yoga teacher Krishna Pattabhi Jois.

The ruling is not likely to be the end of the story. The lead attorney for the parents, Dean Broyles, said he will likely appeal.

Yoga is increasingly taught at public schools and social programs to ease the stress that even kindergartners are exposed to in today’s hectic world. Most yoga classes so far are part of an after-school program or are offered at only a few schools or teachers.

The Encinitas case is significant, because the Encinitas Union School District was the first to adopt yoga classes as part of their district wide PE curriculum. The Jois Foundation believes the program could eventually serve as a national model to help schools teach students life skills, the AP reports.



Closing Arguments in Yoga in Encinitas School Trial: Ruling This Week

yoga in schools Encinitas

The trial challenging the offering of yoga classes as PE in the Encinitas school system resumed last week, with closing arguments extending far longer than expected. While a ruling was first expected on Monday, July 1, the lengthy closing arguments may delay a ruling in the case till Thursday, U-T San Diego reports.

The ruling could prove historical, determining whether yoga is a variant of Hindu-based religion or, as proponents say, simply exercise. The suit was filed by parents wishing to remove the yoga program from the physical education curriculum in Encinitas schools.

In the closing arguments, plaintiff’s attorney Dean Broyles argued that the program sets “a horrible precedent for other religious organizations to buy influence,” since the program is funded by a grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, which he says has deep roots in Hinduism, reports the Encinitas Coast News.

Referencing testimony from Candy Gunther Brown, a religious studies professor at Indiana University, Broyles maintained that there are two broad categories of religion, “Those that are belief and word focused such as…Christianity, and those that are practice and experience focused such as Hinduism. Americans may not recognize practice and experience-oriented religions as religious, because they think religion requires that one believe or say certain things.”

Using that logic, Broyles argued that yoga poses are inherently religious and demanded that the yoga classes be discontinued, in line with the Constitution’s separation of church and state. The Coast News reports:

As further evidence of yoga’s spirituality, Broyles said that the sequence of poses in EUSD classes mirrors Ashtanga yoga, a particularly religious kind of yoga. Further, he said some children spontaneously chanted “om” during yoga classes, even though that wasn’t part of the planned lesson, and they weren’t instructed to do so.

“It shows they’re connecting it to something more than physical exercise,” Broyles said.

Judge John Meyer questioned that reasoning, among other parts of Broyles’ closing arguments.

“The curriculum is the basis for the class,” Meyer said. “What happens in class is not what happens with the curriculum — there’s a difference. “If you go to observe a class, and there are two children that use profanity, and then you conclude the curriculum includes teaching profanity, that’s wrong.”

On the defense side, Attorney David Peck, representing 150 families in the Encinitas school district, made his closing arguments Wednesday morning, citing that the yoga exercises are strictly stretching and breathing. It was introduced into the schools with the hopes that it would help the elementary school students focus better on their studies, keep them calm, and perhaps even curb bullying.

Equating yoga with religion means other school programs could theoretically be sued, he noted. The Coast News reports:

“Think of the slippery slope implication we would be faced with if any type of physical exercise that someone perceives to be religious, or incorporates into their religion, is banned from the public schools on constitutional grounds.

“There are sects out there that consider running to be religious…and certainly nobody is suggesting that we ban running from the schools,” Peck said.

Another attorney representing the families from Encinitas, Jack Sleeth, countered Brown’s testimony, stating that it is not credible, as she also believes chiropractic care and acupuncture are also religious.

He stated that the small link between the school’s yoga program and Hinduism does not make yoga religious. He stated: “The Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn is linked to Druidism, as practiced in England before the Roman conquest,” Sleeth said. “But it would be nonsense to say that the president can’t put out Easter eggs.”

San Diego’s Superior Court Judge, John Meyer, anticipates that a ruling will be given Thursday at the soonest. Both sides of this case have agreed that the Judge, rather than a jury, will make the decision.


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