Yoga and Trauma

By Rob Schware, Executive Director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation

Originally published on

Yoga and Trauma

The benefits of a yoga practice include building flexibility, strength, agility, balance, and concentration. However, a regular yoga practice can help anyone dealing with the stress of facing military deployment, being homeless, being in prison or recovering from alcohol and substance abuse.

It is tempting for me to write a book about each of these worthy people. Instead, over the past four years, I’ve interviewed many of them for a Huffington Post blog series called Yoga: How We Serve.

In their interviews, these women and men shared the unique needs of survivors of trauma, lessons learned in doing this work and how existing resources and treatments generally do not adequately address the needs of these populations. Here is just one of many extraordinary comments from a Vietnam War veteran in a program called Mindful Yoga Therapy:


“As I started to practice daily, I noticed several things happening. First, I began to sleep better. Next, I was getting to know myself, for the first time ever. Slowly I came off all of my psych meds. That was big! For the first time in over 40 years, I was medication free. Over the years, I’ve been on over 23 different kinds of medications, from Ativan to Xanax! Yoga is now my therapy.”

Vietnam War Veteran

This veteran went on to say he hopes that Yoga will someday be offered to all veterans, and offered to our troops during basic training.

I very much share this hope, because the costs of treating trauma — whether it occurred 40 years ago, or in the past decade –have become a major concern in our society. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, the economic burden of trauma is more than $585 billion annually in the U.S., including both health care costs and lost productivity.

The CDC also measures “Life Years Lost,” used to account for the age at which deaths occur, which gives greater weight to deaths occurring at younger ages and lower weights to deaths that occur at older ages. It turns out that the impact on life-years lost from trauma is equal to the life-years lost from cancer, heart disease, and HIV combined.

Statistics can’t say much about the personal burdens of individuals and families, of how individual sufferers are impacted, but it’s still instructive to mention one or two more here. For instance, there is an average of 293,066 Victims Of Sexual Assault Or Rape each year in the US, with someone in the United States being sexually assaulted every 107 seconds. And roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day from the effects of PTS symptoms, one every 65 minutes.


The word “trauma” comes from the Greek, and means “a wound” resulting from an emotional or psychological injury or experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems, usually for a long time. According to Bessel Van Der Kolk:

“Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable. Most rape victims, combat soldiers, and children who have been molested become so upset when they think about what they experienced that they try to push it out of their minds…The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their lives.”


The lives of many trauma survivors revolve around coping with the constant sense of danger they feel in their bodies. It is typically difficult for them to feel completely relaxed and physically safe in their bodies. As Yoga Of 12-Step Recovery (Y12SR) founder Nikki Myers puts it, “Sustainable addiction recovery is about more than the mind…the issues live in our tissues.”

Y12SR is a rich framework for integrating the wisdom of yoga and the practical tools of 12-step programs, with Y12SR meetings available nationwide, and the curriculum quickly becoming a feature of addiction recovery treatment centers across the United States.


Yoga helps one reconnect with the body, giving the opportunity to discharge accumulated stress and anxiety, and restoring the human organism to safety. Sabrina Seronello’s story paints this picture: she was on active duty in the Air Force from March 2000-March 2006, working as a medic in the emergency department of a Level 1 trauma center at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland AFB. Sabrina deployed to Iraq in January 2005 to the Air Force Theater Hospital, a Level III (injured patients and emergency operations) trauma center. Given what she saw and experienced taking care of the wounded in Iraq, and being a victim of sexual assault while in active duty, she had been suffering anxiety and panic attacks. Upon returning from Iraq she was introduced to yoga and saw how it helped her deal with post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. In 2013 she started teaching a regular weekly yoga class to incarcerated veterans at San Quentin State Prison in CA under the Prison Yoga Project.

Trauma-sensitive yoga programs are becoming more available at domestic violence shelters, and universities are offering them for survivors of sexual assault. Caitlin Lanier was sexually assaulted during her freshman year of college. This assault led to issues with anorexia, cutting and otherwise trying to numb her uncomfortable feelings. According to Caitlin:

“Those were just outward manifestations. Inside, I felt broken, ugly, lost, like I couldn’t trust anyone, and so sad.”

Caitlin has recently pioneered several trauma-sensitive yoga programs in the Boise, Idaho, area, including at a domestic violence shelter, and at Boise State and the College of Idaho. She also trains local yoga teachers on the neuroscience of trauma and how to integrate trauma-sensitive practices into their teaching. She has woven breathing techniques and mindfulness into a weekly support group for survivors of domestic violence that she co-leads with a licensed clinical social worker.


People with post-traumatic stress (PTS) who practice yoga report better sleep, improved focus and concentration, less anger and irritability, and exhibit an overall greater ability to enjoy life in the present moment. The Mindful Yoga Therapy program has been found to be especially helpful for veterans who are also participating in evidence-based psychotherapy for PTS.

“Yoga is like a gyro that brings me back into equilibrium when dealing with the effects of my disorder,” says Paul, a Vietnam War veteran.


Breath work, three extended exhales, is part and parcel of the Prison Yoga Project protocol for addressing symptoms of un-discharged traumatic stress, according to James Fox, Founder and Director. “The extended exhale serves as the body’s built-in release valve to discharge stress and anxiety,” he says. This is confirmed from current and former prisoners at San Quentin State Prison who have been part of the yoga program.

“It was mainly because of the inner peace and trust that I have developed and nurtured through my yoga practice that I was able to respond to a confrontational situation with calm.”—B.B.

“I’m able to stay grounded by getting into my breathing which takes my focus off stressful, traumatic events such as flashbacks. It keeps me mindful mentally and physically and enhances my self control.” –D.B.


Finally, yoga can become a game-changer in combatting eating disorders. An estimated 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating). Chelsea Roff took her first yoga class at the suggestion of a therapist just a few months after getting out of the hospital for eating disorder treatment.

“The short story is that yoga brought me to a place in my recovery that no form of talk therapy or medical treatment ever had before. Downward dog certainly didn’t cure my eating disorder, but the practice did teach me how to relate to my body in a more compassionate way. And more importantly, perhaps, going to yoga introduced me to community–to the people I soon came to consider family – and I suppose that’s exactly what I needed to fully step into recovery,” she says.


What if the over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys who use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives, were offered regular yoga classes? Regular trauma-sensitive yoga classes for victims of trauma can help reduce our nation’s health care costs on a larger scale, as they address cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma. But a cultural change is required to make this happen. The current system is broken, because it overly relies on medical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, both of which are very costly without commensurate relief from symptoms.

According to Kantar Media, the heath care industry spent $14 billion on advertising alone in 2014, enough to fund over 215,000 trauma sensitive yoga classes. Especially for PTS, mainstream therapies have resulted in patients remaining significantly symptomatic after treatment, with additional problems including addiction, difficulties maintaining work, and homelessness.

The results are adding up to a national calamity that leaves human lives in ruins, particularly for men and women who have risked their lives to serve our country and need our help. According the Congressional Budget Office’s report on PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury among recent combat veterans, the average cost of treatment in the first year is $8,300 per patient and $4,100 in the following years. The average cost of treating an eating disorder is $1,250 per day, and only 1 in 10 sufferers ever receive treatment. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Such treatment is expensive not only for patients, but for insurance companies, and society at large.



The evidence base for the effectiveness of yoga in addressing trauma is extensive. Here are some resources for further reading:

The Body Keeps The Score: Memory and Psychobiology of Post Traumatic Stress – the textbook on trauma and body-mind practices by Bessel van der Kolk, MD

 Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper

The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From The Inside Out by Susan Pease Banitt

Intelligence In The Flesh by Guy Claxton

Help Prison Yoga Project Earn a Matching Grant

Light the Match


In the past year, our Prison Yoga Project program has realized a lot of dreams.

From the launch of our first Yoga Alliance-recognized Teacher Certification Training for 16 prisoners at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW), to a new 16-week fee-for-service yoga and mindfulness pilot program at CDCR’s Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, CA, we are making strides in sharing the transformational tool of yoga with men and women behind bars.

Now, we hope to realize one more dream: to create a teacher portal on the Prison Yoga Project website.

The portal will function as a place where teachers trained through Prison Yoga Project can make and renew friendships, trade experiences, discover new opportunities, collaborate on projects, organize get-togethers…whatever you can imagine. The portal will be open to all yogis who are interested in karma yoga, offering an opportunity to engage and learn more.

The teacher portal will amplify the powerful potential of our community, so we can better support men and women behind bars. Prisons nationwide are starting to recognize the value of yoga to provide strategies for non-violent problem resolution, a renewed sense of self-worth, and skills for building a better life. Wardens are asking for trained teachers to come into their facilities – and through the portal, we can be much more effective in making this happen.


Kalliopeia Foundation

We are now within reach of this dream becoming a reality. Recognizing that a teacher’s portal is crucial to help Prison Yoga Project meet present and future demand for yoga programming in prisons, the Kalliopeia Foundation has pledged up to $5,000 in matching funds to help launch this project.

Will you light the match, and help us illuminate the life of men and women behind bars by making a donation today? Together, we can make a bigger impact for those we serve.


Give now and multiply your impact.

Karma doesn’t just mean cause and effect. It means creating a future.” -James Fox

“Untangle” podcast interview with Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox

Gaiam’s Untangle meditation podcast features real people with extraordinary stories, and experts who have devoted their lives to teaching and helping others through meditation. In this episode, host Patricia Karpas sat down to talk with Prison Yoga Project founder and director James Fox.

Prison Yoga Project was founded in the belief that yoga and mindfulness can bring about change in prisoners who have been impacted by chronic trauma for most of their lives. James’s work has taken him inside San Quentin State Prison, where he’s taught some of their most violent offenders. Here’s his story.


“They buzzed me right out onto the yard. I had another 25 feet to go until I went to the classroom. The gate clicks, the buzzer buzzes, the gate clicks open, I walk out into the yard. I’ve got my yoga mat under my arm…”

“I said, this is your opportunity to leave prison for the next hour and a half that we’re together. This is out of bounds from the rest of the prison. You don’t have to deal with prison politics. We’re here to practice together.




Donate to Prison Yoga Project to help fund free practice guides for prisoners. Or find a Prison Yoga Project training near you, and get involved in sharing the transformational tools of yoga and mindfulness with men and women behind bars.

Josefin Wikstrom: Yoga And Dance Programs For Incarcerated Women And Refugees In Sweden

JosefinThis is an interview with Josefin Wikstrom, who has been practicing yoga for the past 24 years. She has been dancing since she was a teenager, and teaching yoga the past 10 years in Sweden and internationally. She is studying dance and creative movement therapy with Tripura Kashyap in India, and has been a part of the Swedish Prison Yoga Team since 2010. Currently, she is developing a collaboration between the Swedish Prison Yoga Project and the one established in San Quentin State Prison in CA by James Fox. She has spent part of the each past nine years supporting dance and yoga programs in Mumbai for underprivileged children, youth, and women, where she works with Indian dance therapists and yoga teachers. 

Last year Sweden took in over 160,000 asylum seekers, the most per capita in Europe. Josefin is also working with some of the refugees fleeing increasing conflict and deprivation in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Learn more and contact Josefin through Kaivalya Yoga Project.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

My motivation comes from my own experiences. I went through a childhood trauma being sexually abused and threatened by a person I looked up to. My whole world was turned upside down. I was not able to trust others; I had anxiety attacks and generally chaotic behavior. Finding a yoga practice and dance was my way to freedom from these feelings and memories. The yoga healed me from the inside out and the dance from the outside and in. I felt if I could experience relief, this needs to be shared with others.

Now my motivation has changed in the way that I am sharing these moments with both the refugees and the women; experiencing stillness together, I feel a strong connection with them. My inspiration is being a part of this process, and also in being present for them.

Is there a standout moment from your work with these groups?

Every time I see the women dance, encouraging each other not to give up, and see women who normally fight with each other laugh and have fun together, these are big moments. Also moments in meditation where the women are completely still, closing their eyes breathing together, that always brings tears to my eyes, as it is so rare in this chaotic environment.

With the refugees, a stand-out moment is a man opening his eyes after relaxation saying,
“For the first time in my life I am truly in the moment, I have found peace here inside myself, and it was here all the time while I was running away from my self. Now I might be a refugee in the eyes of the government, but for myself I have reached home.” This man is now a great inspiration to the other refugees.

What did you know about these groups before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about them, and how have those assumptions changed?

Before entering the prison for the first time I was prepared to enter the storm, I expected it to be a huge challenge. I was expecting the women to be tough, and some were! I already knew about some of the women from headlines in the news. It was a challenge having 20 hyperactive women in front of me in a situation that is anything but positive.

But as we started to move together it all fell away, and the tough masks melted. The practice allowed us to meet on neutral ground.

My assumptions have changed as I hear their life stories and understand even more where they are coming from. The yoga and the dance makes me forget about the past when I am with them.

With the refugees I was approached by them asking if they could join my classes. I was happy for their interest. Before getting to know them I felt that maybe I was in over my head as I am not a therapist, and they all suffer from severe traumatic experiences. The gratefulness in the group is healing on its own; for them just entering a room filled with stillness and connection with other Swedish people, without communicating with words, is a big experience.

In Sweden, 8-12 refugees can sometimes live in one room far out in the countryside. They are isolated from society, but they never have private quiet space. This, combined with their traumatic experiences, is a recipe for anxiety and chaos.

What are some of the things your students have taught you?

To keep it real! To teach only what I have felt and experienced myself. I feel that they have made me more humble. Working with them has given me some insight into peoples’ ability to adapt, no matter how hard the situation might be. They teach me so much, and I feel that, thanks to them, I am growing as a human.

In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in the institution or population you work with? In what ways does it not?

Yoga includes ethical guides for life called Yamas and Niyamas. I believe that these principles, especially notions of self-respect and how to treat others, are relevant to the women in prison. Also, simple things, like being able to take a few extra breaths before reacting, make a huge difference in their social interaction.

In the Swedish Prison Yoga Project we also educate the guards and prisoners to become yoga instructors, which has created a more friendly atmosphere.

The refugee program especially benefits from the concepts of Prathyahara and Dharana, that is to be able to be at peace and to keep focus. This creates a more peaceful atmosphere in a place where many different ethnic groups are living together. And acceptance of each other is creating better communication.

We have a small group of both Christian and Muslim extremists in the area I live and teach, so in that way the yoga practice can sometimes be controversial.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach women in prisons and refugees?

Be honest with who you are and the knowledge that you have, and if you feel nervous or insecure, just tell them. Keep it simple and real. When teaching these classes both for refugees and the women, I am following trauma-sensitive guidelines. This means giving freedom, using simple instructions, and inviting language.

I am careful not to call anything therapy. I just teach open yoga classes but with this understanding. If you feel that a person in class is disturbing the others or showing signs of panic attacks or other major issues, advise them to seek professional help. Make sure to inform the students that the yoga practice can release strong emotions.

There are great books by David Emmerson, Bessel Van Der Kolk, and also resources on James Fox’s Prison Yoga Project web site regarding trauma-sensitive yoga.

What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in Sweden in the next decade?

Sweden is the one country in Europe that has welcomed the most refugees per capita; the need for yoga service is greater than ever before. We need to open our yoga studio doors and welcome these people. My hope is that more people will find the interest to study the benefits of a trauma-sensitive approach, and offer classes at least once a week to these groups.

Editor: Alice Trembour

Image: Courtesy of Linda Stenmark

Are you interested in sharing yoga with men and women behind bars? Join the Prison Yoga Project for an upcoming training in your area. 

Making Sense of War: Healing for Veterans Through Yoga

By Executive Director Rob Schware

I’m having difficulties making sense of war. For Americans, at least, the war in Iraq is over. But only in a way, politically — not in the human sense of lives changed.

I recently returned from visiting San Quentin State Prison through an invitation from Prison Yoga Project founder and director James Fox. It was Thursday morning; the yoga and yoga nidra class was for incarcerated veterans. An alarming 10% of the inmate population at San Quentin are veterans.

Ron Self at San Quentin State Prison. Courtesy of Saalik Khan and Veterans Healing Veterans.

Helping me to make sense of the unintelligible on this journey was my current reading: Phil Klay’s new book Redeployment (Penguin Press), twelve stories by a Marine who served in Iraq that show the experience of wartime in a foreign country, and what war can do to people’s souls.

But while the human toll is great, there are also some rays of light in the darkness: while at San Quentin, I was honored to meet Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out President and Founder Ron Self, whom I had interviewed in my Huffington Post blog series. Veterans Healing Veterans brings incarcerated and free veterans together for mutual support and healing from post-traumatic stress, helping them to make a successful transition back into society whether they’re returning from combat or from prison.

With a brand new website and a new Executive Director, Mary Donovan, Veterans Healing Veterans is poised to make a real difference, working at the intersection of the military and the criminal justice system to heal wounds that can result in suicide and incarceration among our nation’s warriors.

Give Back Yoga also supports veterans’ healing journey by sharing free copies of the Mindful Yoga Therapy toolkit with vets, active duty service members and their families. Designed with the feedback of veterans who are coping with post-traumatic stress, this toolkit is a valuable resource for anyone touched by trauma who wishes to explore the healing power of yoga and meditation.

Will you join us in helping veterans to heal? When you purchase your own copy of the Mindful Yoga Therapy toolkit, you’ll fund five free toolkits for vets. Or make a directed donation to Yoga for Veterans – for every $5 contributed, we can reach one more veteran with this simple but effective tool.

Your support will have an impact on the life of a veteran…long after the fighting has ended.


Are you a yoga teacher who wants to work with veterans? Mindful Yoga Therapy’s new 100-hour certification program will lead you through a deeper understanding of how to support this population. Learn more at the Mindful Yoga Therapy website.

Kelly Boys: Bringing Yoga & Mindfulness to Incarcerated Veterans

This is an interview with Kelly Boys, who’s been practicing yoga for most of her adult life, and is a certified hatha yoga instructor. In 2006, she learned of the practice of yoga nidra, and immediately recognized it as a powerful healing tool. That led her to Dr. Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist, who trains teachers in a special form of yoga nidra called Integrative Restoration (iRest). Kelly began training with him, became a certified iRest instructor, and eventually moved to California to help run the Integrative Restoration Institute and work with Richard to train teachers. Along the way,  she taught yoga nidra at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, as part of its Wounded Warriors program, in a residential PTSD and TBI program through the Cincinnati VA, with cancer survivors, those with substance abuse, and in the prisons, teaching both men and women. Currently, she partners with James Fox of the Prison Yoga Project to bring a combined yoga and yoga nidra program into San Quentin State Prison for incarcerated veterans.

Rob Schware, GBYF Executive Director: What is iRest Yoga Nidra, and what originally motivated you to bring it to veterans incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison? 

Kelly Boys: iRest is a meditative practice that is deeply relaxing and restorative, and it provides tools for working with trauma, stress, and chronic pain, among other things. It’s typically taught in savasana, the lying-down pose at the end of the yoga class. It is simultaneously simple and profound, addressing our basic human needs for connection, belonging, and safety; using it, we can gently check in with ourselves. It can be a way for those of us who resist what life brings us to turn and face the truth about ourselves in any given situation.

I wanted to help people who have been wounded by war, by their families, and who have in turn wounded others to stop and face themselves, and to give them another way out instead of this punitive system which doesn’t tend to focus on restoration and healing. Having been on the receiving end of domestic violence, it is particularly poignant for me to bring the spirit of forgiveness and healing, along with the ‘sword of truth’ into that setting. This is the sword that cuts through all illusions that we hold about ourselves, and about the world around us. iRest provides such a neat way to get control of our lives by paradoxically letting go of control, and allowing this sword of truth to slice away everything that does not serve us.

What is the importance of mindfulness for developing impulse control? How does this help life inside a prison?

Mindfulness is a foundational element for impulse control; it allows anyone, anytime, to stop in any given moment and take stock of their own situation, to harness the power of attention and intention in order to see clearly. This moment gives a space for choice and response rather than reaction and violence. One of the vets in our program told us that this class has changed his life by providing him a way to deal with the chaos of life behind bars, leading to a feeling of confidence about going before the boards (which is when they decide if/when he will be released). Otherwise, he would have been reactive and victimized; now he feels calm, and has an inner resource to return to no matter what the board decides about his release. Another vet from the Korean War who is 77 years old said that this class has helped him deal with his lifelong racism toward Asian people, and that his tough, violent shell is getting cracked open.

I’m interested in knowing why we should be spending money on providing yoga and meditation to prisoners?

This is an investment that must be made; the transformative effect of yoga and meditation on the prison population is inspiring lasting change. We are beginning to see programs where we connect with the guys on the outside as well, and they are becoming change agents in their own communities. Most of these men will reoffend if we do not offer them another way.  Investing in these programs means to invest in the health and safety of our communities.The classes are waitlisted right now because there aren’t enough funds to run programs for everyone seeking to learn yoga and meditation in prison.

Let me be clear, though – this is selfish for me! I receive the most benefit from going into San Quentin. It is humbling and fulfilling beyond what I can say to sit with this group of men and get real, speak the truth, guide meditation, and hear the gems of wisdom coming from that circle of folks. Astounding, really. James and I often just shake our heads at how neat it is to teach there together. A complete blessing.

What is the greatest challenge for mindfulness classes becoming a regular feature in prisons?

As I said, the greatest challenge is funding. I currently donate my time to teach at San Quentin. The CEO at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, where I work training teachers in a science-based emotional intelligence and mindfulness course, has allowed me to rearrange my schedule so that I volunteer time every Thursday. If we had funding, we definitely have the teachers who want to teach, and we also have a way to train those teachers. That is the number-one need; otherwise, it won’t be sustainable.

What advice would you give to anyone who would like to volunteer teaching a weekly class to incarcerated veterans? 

Do it! Take a course preparing you to work in the prison environment as a way to make sure you are ready for the challenges of that particular venue. Jacques Verduin at Insight-Out and James Fox at Prison Yoga Project both offer trainings for teaching in prison. I would also say, to the extent that you are willing to welcome ALL of yourself, your hopes and joys along with your fear, hate, and the violence you do to yourself, is the extent to which you will be able to teach from a place of equanimity, heart, and truth. This path is a radical one; it asks everything of us. Yoga asks us to take a second look at the idea that we are separate, above, better than, different from, and to let in the thought that just perhaps, underneath all the surface differences, we share the same essence. This is quite inspiring when you really think about it.

What organizations do you admire?

I love what James is doing at the Prison Yoga Project. He tirelessly travels all over the world training teachers to teach yoga on the ‘inside.’ The Integrative Restoration Institute is doing amazing things bringing iRest out into many underserved populations. Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, where I work, is bringing this same work into Google, LinkedIn, Genentech, and many more places. Any organization that practices what it preaches, I admire.

For instance, where I work we meditate at the beginning of our meetings, we practice mindful eating, we do the hard job of telling the truth even when it is more convenient to gloss over it, for the sake of finding out what is really real, what wants to emerge in any given moment. There is a trust that happens when a whole organization of people do this. Whether it’s Google or behind prison walls, people are people with the same needs and desires. They are just dressed up differently! Instead of the new Google Glasses, I’d love to give the gift of x-ray vision to anyone that can’t fathom those two worlds being similar. It’s a trip to be able to have a foot in both worlds! I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


Would you like to support the transformational work of the Prison Yoga Project? Make a direct donation to support their outreach work, or purchase a copy of James Fox’s book, Prison Yoga Project: A Path for Healing and Recovery, from our online store.


Give Back With Sedona Yoga Festival & Denver Chant Fest

Coming together for yoga, music and love…while helping to change the world. What could be better?

Community seva projects sponsored through yoga festivals are becoming a key way to fuel our work. Yogis who support these initiatives are bringing the healing power of yoga to those in need – like prisoners, at-risk teens, veterans and those with eating disorders.

Help us to Give Back Yoga at two vibrant festivals this winter, and enjoy a special discount for being a member of our service community. Here’s how:


Sedona Yoga Festival: February 6-10, 2014

Sedona Yoga FestivalHeld in a town renowned for its healing energy, this “consciousness evolution conference”both educates and inspires. Featuring over 250 workshops, 108 presenters and 16 musical artists, you’ll hear from authors, speakers and energy healers from around the world; experience meditation, dance and kirtan; and learn from master teachers who will help you bring your practice and service to a new level.

Community Seva: Help Sedona Yoga Festival raise $50,000 to fund Yoga for Veterans Toolkits by making a donation to SYF Gives Back, or by signing up to host a team or individual fundraiser on Crowdrise.

FESTIVAL TICKET OFFER: Save 20% on a SYF2014 All-Access Pass by entering code “GBYF20” at checkout.

Pre-Conference Teacher Training: Join GBYF at the Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans two-day intensive training to learn clinically proven techniques for working with students who have experienced trauma. You’ll hear from expert teachers like Give Back Yoga co-founder Beryl Bender Birch, Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans founder Suzanne Manafort, Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox, Give Back Yoga board member Ann Richardson Stevens and more.

TEACHER TRAINING TICKET OFFER: Through December 31st, your service can go twice as far. Donate $500 to our crowd fund campaign to bring yoga toolkits to veterans, and we’ll say “thank you” with a SYF Gives Back 2014 Access Pass that includes complimentary access to the Sedona Yoga Festival. (Offer limited to five donors. Miss the deal? Click here to purchase a SYF Gives Back 2014 Access Pass.)


Denver Chant Fest: February 14-16, 2014

Denver Chant Fest 2014The second annual Denver Chant Fest gathers the nation’s top Bhakti (spiritual song) musicians and beloved yoga instructors for a weekend of soul-stirring music, top-notch yoga instruction and offerings from wellness vendors from across the country. The 2014 line-up includes Give Back Yoga’s own Shanti Medina, performing Universal Kirtan with Scott Medina; Jai Uttal; Donna Delory; Rusty Wells; Jason Crandell; Dave Stringer; MC Yogi; C.C. White; Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band; Govindas and Radha; Pete Guinosso; Deepak and the Breath of Life Tribe; Tricia Heimbach; Tina Porter; Patrick Harrington; Dawnelle Arthur; Mike and Robin Konard; Arjun Verma; and many more.

Community Seva: Denver Chant Fest is collecting donations for Give Back Yoga, the festival’s designated non-profit partner. To make a donation, visit Denver Chant Fest.

FESTIVAL TICKET OFFER: Save 10% on a three-day weekend pass by entering code “GBYF” at checkout. Offer available for the first 100 GBYF community members. Stay tuned for a special ticket giveaway for GBYF supporters by joining our mailing list.

Spotlight: How Yoga is Changing the Lives of Prisoners Worldwide

“If it wasn’t for prison I wouldn’t have got involved in yoga, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. I would probably be dead…at one point I actually became grateful for being in prison because I could feel this massive evolution, this change that was happening within me through yoga. So I almost became like a grateful convict, happy to be where I was, paying the time for my crime and rehabilitating myself.”

– Nick, a former prisoner who served time in Argentina’s Villa Devoto, speaking to BBC News 

From Argentina to England, America to Kenya, a growing number of prisons are offering yoga and meditation as a way to help incarcerated men and women deal with intense stress and create a more peaceful atmosphere. Click here to read the BBC News spotlight “How Yoga is Helping Prisoners Stay Calm.”

Give Back Yoga Foundation is proud to be a part of this worldwide movement by supporting Prison Yoga Project, a transformational organization founded by James Fox to help prisoners to heal their lives through yoga and mindfulness. For incarcerated men and women, yoga offers a path for embracing self-compassion while taking responsibility for past crimes. It also helps prisoners to change trauma-induced, unconscious behavioral patterns like impulse control issues, mood disorders, violence, addiction and PTSD – usually, the behavior that landed them in jail in the first place.

To learn how you can help prisoners to find peace, compassion and a fresh start, visit our Prison Yoga Project page.


Want to help Give Back Yoga to put yoga and mindfulness guides in the hands of 10,000 prisoners this year? Purchase Prison Yoga Project’s powerful book, A Path for Healing and Recoveryfor yourself or on behalf of a prisoner.

Anneke Lucas: Yoga in Correctional Facilities Is All About The Love

Executive Directive Rob Schware talks with Anneke Lucas for The Huffington Post Blog about what inspired her to become a Prison Yoga Project Director for the New York area, and how karma yoga has helped her understand more about sharing and receiving love.

“I am a sex-traffic survivor, and was exposed to extreme violence as a child. My inspiration comes from James Fox, founder of the Prison Yoga Project, and I’m motivated by a desire to share yoga and meditation, because the practice benefited me in my own healing process. My journey continues as I share the practice with the prison population, and share the love and understanding that I’ve received along the way. That love is reflected back to me in a powerful way. I thought I came to help others, and find that I am helped each time I teach.”

– Prison Yoga Project’s New York director, Anneke Lucas, who teaches inmates at MDC Brooklyn, Riker’s Island Rose Singer Center and Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

Click here to read more about the challenges of bringing yoga and meditation to incarcerated students, and Anneke’s thoughts on the “quiet revolution” that has been sparked by yogis who want to give back to their communities.

Pictured: Anneke Lucas, left, and Prison Yoga Project founder James Fox, right.