- Bidyut K. Bose, PhD
Yoga is prescribed as “medicine” for diseases ranging from arthritis and asthma to multiple sclerosis and sleep disorders. As a prevention and intervention strategy, Yoga has the potential to substantially impact our physical health. However, very few know that the impact of Yoga therapy could extend well beyond that. We have defined the field too narrowly by focusing primarily on individual health. There are links between personal health and the health of our fragile planet.
As Swami Vivekananda puts it, connecting to the source of infinite power and potential within each one of us is the purpose of our Yoga practice. That connection is built with love and compassion, empathy and forgiveness, gratitude and selfless service. The practice of yoga systematically develops self-awareness and self-mastery, helping us to act rather than react most of the time. When most people act with self-mastery most of the time, there is a scope for improvement in major domains of social function, including education, health care, violence prevention, and global sustainability.
According to the recent reports there is a 50% drop out rate in urban high schools in America, that is one in two youths. The lifetime cost of a high school dropout is $260,000 (Rouse, 2007). Not only that this is a colossal waste of human potential, these youth end up doing drugs, alcohol and crime and eventually end up in prisons. One in thirty Americans is either in prison, on parole, or on probation.
Niroga Institute was born less than five years ago out of a conviction that the healing benefits of Yoga are not only time-tested tools for personal transformation but are also a necessary condition for social transformation. Realizing that those who may need Yoga the most will not come to a Yoga studio, we decided to take Yoga to schools, homeless shelters, juvenile halls, prisons and hospitals, etc. We provided Transformative Life Skills (TLS), a multimodality intervention that includes Yoga postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana). We started to document the therapeutic effects of Yoga in these settings. Our research showed a statistically significant decline in stress and an increase in self-control—two factors that affect everything from academic potential and interpersonal relationships to emotional regulation, substance abuse, and psychopathology.
Realizing the tremendous challenges faced by at-risk youth in our communities, we are taking troubled cities, such as Oakland and Richmond, and preparing to provide TLS for every child for a period of 12 years, wherever they are—in schools, juvenile halls, or community centers. I believe this will not only transform that generation but also that the beneficial effects will spill over and affect the generations to follow. This generational reshaping could create a tipping point, leading to lasting societal change. Let us heal ourselves and heal the world around us, one breath at a time!
Bidyut Bose is the Founder and Executive Director of Niroga Institute (www.niroga.org). He is also on the Board of Directors of IAYT
This article was published in the Souvenir of Yoga Sangam, the International Conference 2012 of Yoga Bharati.