Caitlin Lanier: Trauma-Sensitive Yoga for Survivors of Sexual Assault

caitlin lanierThis is an interview with Caitlin Lanier, who has pioneered several trauma-sensitive yoga programs in the Boise, Idaho area — including one at a domestic violence shelter, and two at local universities for survivors of sexual assault (Boise State and 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.

Rob: How has the awareness gained practicing yoga guided you to seek deeper healing?

Caitlin: During my freshman year of college, I was sexually assaulted. Those assaults led to issues with anorexia, cutting, and trying to numb my uncomfortable feelings. And those were just outward manifestations. Inside, I felt broken, ugly, lost, like I couldn’t trust anyone, and so sad.

Eventually, I found my way to yoga, and the concept of ahimsa (non-violence) started to take hold. I vowed to try to stop hurting my body, to stop seeing my body as the enemy, and to take small steps toward health. I started trying to eat healthily and take care of myself in the best way possible, and then I started trail running. I started to be able to sit with uncomfortable emotions, like sadness and despair. I learned that it’s normal to feel those things, and I explored various yoga forms and learned breathing techniques to help care for myself.

Later on, while working a high-stress job as a technical writer, I kept coming back to the nourishing effects of yoga. When that job was eliminated, I decided to complete a yoga teacher training and then a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher training. As a grad student, I’ve started a yoga program at Boise State University called “Healing Breath Trauma-Sensitive Yoga” for survivors of sexual assault. Since I personally know the transformative effects of yoga, and how it helped me befriend my body, I’m eager to share and help others.

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

Following my experience with trauma in 2004, I joined a support group for fellow survivors of sexual assault, and went to a counselor. This counselor forced me to tell him exact details of what had happened during my experiences of sexual assault. I noticed that instead of feeling better, I felt worse — it was re-traumatizing.

The reason I started with this work was because of my experience with trauma, and feeling a lack of options for healing, given my experience with the counselor. I understand the trauma experience and aim to hold safe, healthy spaces for individuals to start or continue the healing process.

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

Before I started working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, I believed that trauma survivors are extremely vulnerable and I was scared to death of unintentionally triggering someone. What I’ve found is that, yes, some survivors are extremely vulnerable and can be triggered easily, but they are also extremely resilient, and their very act of stepping into a yoga class is very brave.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

Two distinctions are in language, and respect for participants’ physical space.

I utilize invitational language, such as “I invite you, if you’d like, etc.” My use of language is intentional, as I want to convey the idea that the participants are in control of their bodies, and it is their choice to move however and whenever they want. I also use interoceptive language, such as “notice, investigate,” etc., intended for participants to experience what’s happening in their bodies in the present moment.

I do not offer physical assists. My intention when teaching is to simply offer options, not to command poses and correct supposed imperfections. I view all yoga poses in the class as optional; perfection is not the goal, but rather each pose is an opportunity to explore the body.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

One piece of teaching yoga that I find to be especially challenging is the one-size-fits-all model that is the West’s interpretation of group yoga classes. Yoga was originally taught one-on-one with a student reporting to the teacher various ailments that he/she was experiencing, and the teacher/guru working with that individual to design a yoga practice that would specifically benefit him/her. So, add that into work with trauma survivors, and it’s all really tricky. Two especially helpful things are built into the trauma-sensitive protocol: from the beginning I let students know that they are free and welcome to do any pose they want at any time, and also that they are in control and the experts of their own bodies.

I have many friends and family who have given me support, whether monetarily to pay for yoga mats, or through verbal encouragement; and I hope anyone teaching this population can find the same. By the same token, my students are supported by their friends/family, who volunteer to babysit their kids or make them dinner so that they can take the class and continue their healing process.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the population you work with?

Get the appropriate training (i.e., Dave Emerson’s 40-hour trauma-sensitive yoga teacher training at Kripalu), partner with licensed mental health practitioners, put yourself in the shoes of your participants, be mindful and open to feedback, and trust yourself.

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

My hope is that more studios will offer free classes to make yoga accessible to the whole community. I also hope that NIMH will fund more research studies on yoga for trauma treatment, as well as other disorders (i.e., depression and anxiety). We are increasingly aware that yoga and mindfulness work an as ancillary treatment for these disorders, but my hope is we can gain more understanding as to how and precisely which of these yoga exercises works most effectively. I hope for more randomized control trials with large sample sizes to empirically show what works best, and what doesn’t.

How has this work changed your definition of service? Your definition of yoga? Your practice?

I used to think of service as a one-way road — one person giving, and another person receiving. Now I see it as a round-about where I’m giving my yoga teaching and also learning from my students.

My definition and practice of yoga has changed, too. I used to be into a physically active practice and strove to do everything the teacher instructed. Now I see yoga as a scientific wellness system for mind, body, and spirit, and I listen to my body and heed its messages. If I’m feeling worn down, I’ll aim for a practice with slow movements and more restorative postures. Additionally, when I attend classes, I often “disobey” the teacher and do what pose feels best to me.


Are you interested in adding mindfulness techniques to your teaching toolkit? Explore the ways our yoga therapy and yoga service trainings can prepare you to support people in overcoming trauma.

Dena Samuels: Culturally-Inclusive and Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

This is an interview with Dena Samuels, who I met through the social justice work she has been doing as an educator and activist for about 15 years. Her new book on the topic is called The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World (Columbia University’s Teachers College Press). It was written for any educator teaching any subject (including yoga) who wishes to serve diverse clients. It asks readers/educators to delve deeply to understand their hidden biases, and to transform and heal themselves, each other, and the planet through self-reflection and mindfulness. Dena is Assistant Professor of Women’s & Ethnic Studies and Director of the Matrix Center for the Advancement of Social Equity & Inclusion at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. She is also a yoga teacher serving in a donation-based studio and in an addiction recovery center. Dena believes, “we have so much to learn and reflect on to make all our spaces places where every single person feels like they belong.”  — Rob Schware, GBYF Executive Director

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

Dena: Because I am a trauma survivor, yoga and meditation have been, and still are, a huge part of my path to healing. I am continually motivated by the notion that yoga is a moving meditation, and a means of surrender. Coming back to the mat makes my life work physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and brings me a feeling of inner peace and contentment that stays with me both on and off the mat. Although I continue to heal from the many forms of childhood abuse I suffered (physical, emotional, and sexual), knowing that I can hold space for others to heal and transform is what continues to motivate me as a facilitator of their self-acceptance, learning, and growth.

Is there a standout moment from your work with recovering addicts?

There are so many; one that I continue to experience is the humility that comes over me whenever I am working with a client who is going through detox. That person’s willingness to engage in their yoga practice even though their bodies are fragile and literally shaky from withdrawal, has been incredibly inspiring. Like the lotus flower rooted in muck, yet growing toward the sunlight, I’m continually reminded that this is what true survival and reaching for one’s best life looks like.

What did you know about the population you are working with, before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

Not having had an alcohol or drug addiction myself, I did not know a lot about that specific recovery process. However, I do know what healing one’s life looks and feels like, so I have used my own process to shape the classes I teach. I think I assumed all the clients would be much more physically challenged by practicing yoga than they are. I have been surprised by their strength and stamina.

What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?

The key difference is that in a studio, I wouldn’t practice with my clients; also I give hands-on adjustments. In the addiction center teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, I do not get off my mat because I want the clients to know where I am at all times. Also, many clients are new to yoga, so when I practice asana with them they can use not only my verbal cues, but also visual ones. Physical adjustments with trauma survivors is not permitted at the center, so I use more verbal cues to provide feedback as clients adjust their own alignment or sink deeper into a posture.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

The greatest challenge for me is finding a balance between encouraging clients to explore their boundaries in a posture and at the same time, wanting them to feel secure in their bodies. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive ideas but still require some forethought. For example, if I wanted to use “cultivating gratitude” as a theme for class, I have to consider that that may not be available to some clients at this point in their journey. The tool that I rely on is remembering my own healing journey, which allows me to use language and concepts that are more likely to resonate with anyone who is in the process of deep, heartfelt discovery.

I know there were times in my healing when gratitude was not even remotely possible to contemplate; in fact, it brought up shame that I was unable to feel gratitude! So I might suggest clients consider whether there is any part of their lives that is positive at this moment that they can focus on. I might give them some suggestions, like the fact that they have chosen to be here to start a new journey, one that is different from the past. Or I might suggest they focus on a part of their body about which they feel positive: a big toe, the way their knee bends, or their smile. This has allowed me to connect to clients’ experience better, which in effect means I am connecting more profoundly to them.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach yoga to people in recovery from addictions?

If the teacher has not had their own experience of recovery or healing, I would strongly recommend reading books on the topic to try to understand what clients might be experiencing. Overcoming Trauma through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper is short and to the point, and although it’s not perfect, it offers some good suggestions.

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

I believe all yoga is service yoga, but it shouldn’t stop there. We have so much to learn and reflect on to make all our teaching spaces welcoming to every single person. We need to consider how to change our yoga spaces to welcome new and diverse members of our greater communities. The current Western paradigm is that yoga is for thin, educated white women. This needs to change. We need more yoga spaces that offer adaptive yoga for people of varying body sizes, shapes, and abilities.

I would love to see more donation-based studios. My home studio, Cambio Donation Yoga, is an example of the fact that this is a sustainable way to offer yoga. Donation yoga also means that the studio is much more diverse.

How has this work changed your definition of service? Your definition of yoga? Your practice?

My practice has been an affirmation of the deep impact that yoga can have on our bodies, minds, and spirits, and I’ve known I wasn’t the only one gaining these kinds of benefits from yoga. This form of service reminds me that we can all benefit from yoga, no matter who we are, what our experiences are in life, how our body is shaped, etc. And that yoga is always available — whether we are new to the practice, have taken time off and are coming back to it, or are committed to a regular practice — we can always gain some benefit from the movement as meditation in motion.

Originally published on The Huffington Post Blog on December 29, 2014


Can you join us in Giving Back from your mat? By donating the cost of one yoga class ($15) per month, you can give the gift of yoga to those who need it most – like veterans, first responders, prisoners, at-risk youth and more. Please join the Give Back Yoga family today by sharing a monthly donation!

Groundbreaking Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and Resiliency Training to Benefit First Responders

The Sedona Yoga Festival and the Give Back Yoga Foundation (GBYF) are proud to present “SYF Gives Back: Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and Resiliency Training to Benefit First Responders and Emergency Personnel” on February 4 – 6, 2015 in Sedona, AZ. 


Sedona, CO (PRWEB) December 04, 2014

The Sedona Yoga Festival and the Give Back Yoga Foundation (GBYF) are proud to present “SYF Gives Back: Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and Resiliency Training to Benefit First Responders and Emergency Personnel” on February 4 – 6, 2015 in Sedona, AZ.

This intensive training is useful for yoga teachers, psychologists, first responders or anyone wanting to or working with first responders and law enforcement personnel who may be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), aka “compassion fatigue.”

Scientific studies now show that yoga and other mindfulness practices have a significant positive contribution on alleviating PTS and STS symptoms, and on strengthening body and mind resiliency. Students will leave this trauma-sensitive yoga training with the necessary tools to benefit this population. Certified yoga teachers are eligible to receive 14 CEUs through Yoga Alliance through the training, while nurses and counselors can receive 22 CEUs.

Last year, the Sedona Yoga Festival helped the Give Back Yoga Foundation to reach their goal of getting therapeutic yoga toolkits into the hands of 10,000 Veterans. Through the 2015 SYF Gives Back training, the organizations collaboratively aim to share skills and tools to help bring therapeutic yoga to at least 4,000 first responders nationwide.

“In the lives of first responders in service to our country, traumatic events are experienced, sometimes on a daily basis,” says SYF founder and former wildland firefighter Marc Titus. “This cumulative stress has profound effects on the human body, mind and spirit — to which the efficacy of Yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices as treatment and prevention has been beyond proven in our scientific community, as well as described in the ancient texts of this thousands of years old science.”

The Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and Resiliency Training to Benefit First Responders is the first offering of a new program called Yoga for First Responders, sponsored through the Give Back Yoga Foundation. The Yoga for First Responders program and upcoming training are led by Olivia Kvitne, ERYT-500, who is also an Assistant Editor of LA Yoga Magazine. Olivia has taught regular yoga classes and continuing education for the Los Angeles Fire Department, as well as specialty workshops on trauma-sensitive yoga for high-ranking command staff of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Download the training flyer to print and share.

“This training bridges the gap between the yoga community and a population that may not have considered yoga as an effective and accessible tool to address their needs,” says Kvitne. “I am proud to bring together top authorities in psychology, neuroscience and trauma-sensitive yoga to create a down-to-earth and science-based yoga system that can benefit our nation’s everyday heroes.”

Another fellow faculty member, Bhava Ram, ERYT-500 — aka Brad Willis — is a former award-winning network news war correspondent whose career was ended by a broken back. After a subsequent diagnosis of terminal cancer, he embraced mind/body/spirit medicine and the deeper sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda, through which he ultimately healed against all odds. As a yoga teacher, he now shares the message that we all have the inner power to heal.

“As one who was on the front lines of conflicts and crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Central America, I can attest to the fact that yoga gave me the strength to lift myself out of an abyss of profound physical and mental anguish, and ultimately find new meaning and purpose in life,” says Ram.

“No one should feel weird about doing yoga, especially first responders who experience injury, trauma, and death,” adds Give Back Yoga’s Executive Director, Rob Schware. “This is the first intensive training to mobilize hundreds of yoga teachers and yoga therapists to come out of their studios and offices and bring their knowledge and skills into police and fire departments. We extend an open invitation to all to join us in this work.”

Learn more about the Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and Resiliency Training to Benefit First Responders and Emergency Personnel.


Visit PRWeb to view the original version of this press release, supported through the web marketing team at Ramblin Jackson. We extend our thanks to Ramblin Jackson for supporting Give Back Yoga as a nonprofit organization.


Maggie Cohen: Serving Survivors of Violence and Toxic Stress

By integrating her two passions, activism and yoga, Maggie Cohen, a 500-hour advanced vinyasa yoga instructor and member of The Breathe Network, found that she could help her students on heal on a deeper level. In the latest interview for our yoga service series on The Huffington Post, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Maggie about her work of teaching trauma-sensitive yoga classes to survivors of childhood abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence.

“I’ve worked with survivors of violence for many years as an advocate and counselor, but I knew that offering yoga would be a different dynamic. I was surprised that my students’ trauma does not define our classes… My students are survivors and, more, thrivers.” – Maggie Cohen, yoga instructor and member of The Breathe Network

To read more about what Maggie has learned from her students and her thoughts on the future of service yoga, read her full interview on The Huffington Post.


A Woman’s Practice: Healing from the Heart is an invitation for any woman to engage in self-healing through a personal yoga practice. And when you purchase this book through the Give Back Yoga store, we can fund the printing of three additional books that will be made available at no cost to women behind bars.


GBYF To Support Non-Profit Operation of Mindful Yoga Therapy For Veterans

The Give Back Yoga Foundation announced this week that it will assume the non-profit operation of Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans, a merger that will allow service leaders to more effectively reach tens of thousands of veterans with a complementary therapy that can offer relief from symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

“Give Back Yoga Foundation already has a non-profit infrastructure that’s both effective and efficient,” said GBYF Executive Director Rob Schware. “By freeing up key Mindful Yoga Therapy staff members, we can allow them to focus on what they do best — teaching and helping veterans.”

An estimated 1 in 5 veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. And the number of active-duty military and veteran suicides is on the rise, prompting the Huffington Post to caution that “the warning signs of an approaching wave of suicide are unmistakable.”

Clinical studies and firsthand feedback from veterans show that yoga and mindfulness practices can be an effective adjunct therapy to help vets recover from symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as insomnia, hyperarousal and feelings of fear or guilt.

Together, Mindful Yoga Therapy and the Give Back Yoga Foundation have already brought clinically tested, empirically informed Mindful Yoga Therapy “toolkits” to 44 VA facilities and 9,000 vets, free of charge. Designed with the input of veterans, these multi-media training guides help individuals to start a personal yoga practice.

By the close of 2015, the Give Back Yoga Foundation aims to bring these free toolkits to 30,000 vets and at least half of all VA facilities nationwide. The organization also aims to train 120 yoga teachers per year, including at least 25 veterans, to share Mindful Yoga Therapy with the veteran population. These training resources will continue to be offered under the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans brand, through the continued leadership of its experienced staff.

Download the press release: Give Back Yoga Foundation To Support Non-Profit Operation Of Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans

Kamala Itzel Berrio: Bringing Yoga to the Homeless and Victims of Violence

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Kamala Itzel Berrio for The Huffington Post Blog to learn what inspired her move from practicing law to sharing yoga and meditation with former colleagues, the homeless and those who are recovering from trauma or addiction.

“When I initially approached the St. Vincent de Paul Society Wellness Center about teaching yoga there, I thought I was offering to give them something. But the gift is truly mine…I’ve been profoundly inspired and transformed by witnessing the heart and strength of these students. Many of them go through challenges daily that seem insurmountable to me. I see them facing these hardships with grace, humor, and courage.”

– Kamala Itzel Berrio, founder of Attuned Living and co-founder of WiseHeart Lawyering, on her yoga service

Read Kamala’s full interview to learn more about her work, and how she overcomes her greatest teaching challenge.


Dharma. Service in Action. Sedona Yoga Festival Gives Back. Help us to bring the transformational power of yoga and meditation to 10,000 veterans who are recovering from post-traumatic stress by joining us at the Sedona Yoga Festival on February 6th and 7th for a two-day Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans pre-conference training. Learn clinically-proven techniques to help students recover from trauma and emotional stress, and bring trauma-sensitive yoga back to your own community.

Debby Kaminsky: Empowering First Responders and Children Through Yoga

In his latest interview for The Huffington Post Blog, Executive Director Rob Schware talks with Newark Yoga Movement founder Debby Kaminsky to learn how yoga outreach is benefitting New Jersey’s largest fire department.

“The fire department is the most polite group of public safety figures I’ve ever met; still the mindset of many firefighters is “why change?” and introducing yoga wasn’t 100% embraced. After one session, though, most were converted. In an informal survey this September, 84% said they enjoyed yoga and 74% felt the fire department would benefit from a continued program. A standout moment for me, I think, is watching the Fire Director practice yoga with his recruits, and then lead yoga in front of 750 people at Global Mala NJ 2013.”

– Debby Kaminsky, founder of Newark Yoga Movement, a non-profit that’s shared yoga with over 14,000 students and the Newark Fire Department

Learn how Debby tailors her teaching style to children and first responders, and her vision for the future of yoga service in America, by reading her full interview.


Do you want to bring the transformational power of yoga and meditation to underserved populations? Join Give Back Yoga at the Sedona Yoga Festival in February for a two-day Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans pre-conference training that offers yoga teachers clinically-proven techniques to help students recover from trauma and emotional stress.


Marc Titus: Festival Owners Making a Difference By Bringing Yoga to Veterans

This is an interview with Marc Titus, Founder & Director of the Sedona Yoga Festival in Arizona. I first met Marc when he approached the Give Back Yoga Foundation with an offer to host a training for hundreds of professional yoga teachers, to help them share yoga with our nation’s veterans. With the suicide rate among veterans at an all-time high, Marc and his wife, Festival Producer Heather Shereé Titus, believe that sharing yoga with these men and women is a gift for everyone.

– Rob Schware, Executive Director, Give Back Yoga Foundation

Rob: What originally motivated you to start a yoga festival?

Marc: I moved to Sedona in 2007 to become a yoga teacher, after 7 years of practice. Even after that, though, I had to go down a personally torturous road, involving finding a way to transcend and heal from a very materialistically-lived life; it was during this transformation that I became a certified yoga instructor. Finally, while I was living in Los Angeles in the winter of 2011/12, on an especially hard day, with literally the last dollar to my name in my pocket, the spirit of Sedona appeared to me, and said, “It’s time to return to Sedona…it’s time to bring consciousness to humanity; and thus Sedona Yoga Festival was born.” I didn’t know how I would get back, how I would pay for it, or how it would unfold, but I said YES! Within two weeks, I was sleeping in Sedona in a beautiful house under a full moon, with money in my pocket, all my ‘stuff’ with me, and a new and profound sense of purpose.

What motivated you to partner with a non-profit organization for this year’s yoga festival, and to focus on introducing therapeutic yoga for veterans?

I’d been reflecting on my relationship with my father, who was a Vietnam War veteran affected by PTSD. It was like a lightning bolt that came to me: we can use the energy of the yoga festival to bring awareness to an ever-growing problem in our country.  We can help returning veterans with mental health recovery and rehabilitation tools that are inexpensive, and can help relieve the symptoms of stress-related physical and non-physical injuries. This approach would also promote community collaboration. As you know, Rob, the situation is very real, with several thousands of veterans returning with PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. I feel one solution our community can offer is simple: yoga, right now, brings about and supports inner peace.

I’m interested to know, what do you see as outcomes?

My friend Chris Courtney, an Iraq War combat veteran and yoga teacher, once said to me, “heal our veterans, heal our communities.” We are all affected by the return of so many veterans with trauma, and part of the solution is where and how we direct our attention. Therefore, at the 2014 Sedona Yoga Festival we envision over 200 teachers receiving the Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans training. We hope to support them with Yoga For Veterans Toolkits, in collaboration with the Give Back Yoga Foundation. And we hope these teachers will return to their communities prepared to serve our veterans and their spouses. If every teacher we train aims to serve 50 veterans in his or her local community, together we would provide 10,000+ veterans with useful tools. These will help them overcome the debilitating and often severe symptoms PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and the other myriad experiences that are making life incredibly difficult for returning veterans, their families, and their communities. Those are possibly real outcomes. We simply cannot solve the problem in the same way it was created. We need to step out of the energy of old, into a model of Giving Back–Dharma, Service in Action.

How do you maintain a mindful corporation, and emphasize “compassionate action” in dealing with festival partners?

I think it’s hard to run a “conscious business” with all that is going on in the world today. The accoutrements of our modern world, while purporting to be “helpful,” have actually created a situation in which we are always doing something, always needing to do more, always striving.  There is a lot of pressure to keep moving, to grow, etc. As an antidote, I try to be present to what’s happening right now, to life itself flowing through me, to you, to all of us right now.  The more I embodied this, the easier things got, and the more mindful, awake, and aware I’ve become.  As a result of a consistent and dedicated asana practice that completely stilled my overactive “monkey mind,” I’ve come to see that it all unfolds without my effort, and that if I am “to be” compassionate in collaborations with business partners, then I must learn to be compassionate with myself first.

What advice would you give other festival owners?

Maintain your connection to, and listen only to your inner voice, to your visions and dreams. Through your practice cultivate an intimacy with yourself that allows you to trust this voice, and follow it wherever it takes you: walk your own path. Be an advocate for Dharma, Service in Action.

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

I see yoga “doing” what it has always done, assisting humanity in letting go of all the trappings that prevent the inevitable; consciousness expanding infinitely. I believe yoga will continue to evolve, back to its own roots, right here in the west, as the masses of Western yogis realize what traditional yoga is all about. I believe we will see an expansion of “giving back” in the very near future, as we realize that we are all the same. In that individuated sameness, will come over 7 billion solutions to the one “problem” of separation. When that happens, the world will be a totally different place.

Editor: Alice Trembour


Dharma. Service in Action. SYF Gives Back: Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans. This 2-day pre-conference training at the Sedona Yoga Festival provides yoga teachers with certification in techniques and practices that are clinically proven to offer relief to veterans returning home affected by post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and other trauma and emotional stress. Join us February 6-10, 2014 in beautiful Sedona, Arizona.


GBYF & Niroga Institute Bring Yoga to the Next Generation in Palestine

In August, Give Back Yoga Foundation awarded a $10,000 matching grant to help the Niroga Institute bring its Transformative Life Skills curriculum to educators and other professionals working with children in the politically unstable region of the West Bank. A dynamic mindfulness program that integrates yoga, breathing techniques and meditation, the TLS program is designed to help at-risk youth better cope with trauma and stress. We caught up with Niroga Institute founder BK Bose after his team’s trip to Palestine to learn how TLS is having an impact in the Middle East, and how the Niroga Institute is building a more resilient and peaceful next generation.

Yoga in the Middle East

“This is exactly what we need! It is evidence-based and trauma-informed, and our children have so much stress and trauma. Will you help us bring this into our schools?”

This plaintive plea arrived in the summer of 2012 in an email from Maha El-Shawreb, a public health professional in Palestine, upon seeing our curriculum and the compelling research results supporting it. A few months later, Maha sent a representative from the Farashe Yoga Center in Ramallah to be trained at our day-long Transformative Life Skills (TLS) training. She, in turn, trained 15 newly certified Palestinian yoga teachers – and one of the yoga teachers, Mirna Ali, took TLS to four public schools in Nablus.

“The results have been remarkable,” noted Maha. “Students, teachers and parents consistently report that TLS has improved the students’ focus and concentration, enhanced classroom climate and school-wide learning environment, and improved interactions at home between children and their parents and families.”

This three-pronged feedback trickled up to educators and administrators at UNRWA, and they want to substantially expand the TLS program in schools across the West Bank.

With grant funding from the Give Back Yoga Foundation, a team of trainers and researchers led by the Niroga Institute recently went to Palestine and conducted a series of TLS trainings for over 200 educators, health professionals, social workers and refugee service providers throughout the West Bank. The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic – some participants have already started teaching TLS in their schools the day after receiving training, and they want Niroga trainers back in 6 months!

I dream about the possibilities for abiding peace throughout the world if we could bring TLS to an entire generation of children caught in conflict, as well as the adults around them. TLS could help them regulate their emotions and make them more resilient in the face of chronic stress and trauma, rewiring brains and changing behavior one breath at a time. TLS could help in bringing joy where there is sadness, shedding light where there is darkness, sowing love where there hatred, and building hope where there is despair.

It will require all of our passion and compassion, vision and imagination to bring yoga where it is most needed throughout the world. Share your time, talent and treasure with us so that we can scale and sustain these time-tested practices, and help change the world one breath at a time.

Bidyut K. Bose, PhD
Founder and Executive Director
Niroga Institute


You can help Niroga Institute to change the lives of teens by making a donation through Give Back Yoga Foundation to support At-Risk Youth. To see how Niroga Institute is “changing the zip code of yoga” and helping youths across the globe to overcome challenges, check out this powerful video.

Yael Calhoun on Working With Veterans: “I Can Feel Myself Breathe”

Executive Director Rob Schware talks with GreenTREE Yoga founder Yael Calhoun for The Huffington Post Blog to learn how a body-based yoga practice can help veterans begin to heal from trauma.

“I was sitting in front a group of vets, all large men from residential substance abuse. I looked at them sitting and waiting for me to do something, (and) I couldn’t speak! I felt the weight of the opportunity and I just didn’t want to get it wrong. I finally made myself start talking… and we did the practice, just as Dave Emerson taught me. They loved it. One guy said at the end, “I could feel myself breathe. I haven’t been able to do that.”

– Yael Calhoun, founder of GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that offers trauma-sensitive yoga programs and professional education

Click here to read Yael’s thoughts on why the world needs lots of yoga teachers sharing what they love, and her tips for working with individuals who are recovering from trauma.


Do you want to bring the transformational power of yoga and meditation to underserved populations? Join Give Back Yoga at the Sedona Yoga Festival in February for a two-day Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans pre-conference training that provides yoga teachers with clinically-proven techniques to help students recover from trauma and emotional stress.