Mindful Yoga: A Catalyst for World Peace

By Bidyut K. Bose, PhD

“Darnell” was presenting his senior thesis in front of the whole school – Street Academy, an alternative high school in Oakland - and he had everyone spellbound. An African American teenager - angry, disillusioned and disenfranchised, he had ended up at Street. There he began doing yoga, and in due course joined the Peer Leadership program we have at the school, and then became a member of our Youth Advisory Council, which designs and develops our youth development programs in and out of school. His topic was, “How Yoga can prevent Youth Violence.” He spoke eloquently about how mindful yoga had transformed his life, and ended his presentation stating that he needed to deepen his own practice, so that he could share these dynamic mindfulness skills with his friends who need it the most. (See top photo of Darnell)

Youth violence is the leading cause of death among adolescents in Oakland, and here is a youth confidently articulating the power and potential of yoga to build a peaceful community. Toynbee said decades ago that we have guided missiles in the hands of misguided men. We rush to look for solutions to crime and violence in our external environments, forgetting that individuals are responsible for creating those external environments in the first place. Transformation of our internal environments must be the very foundation for social transformation. We also know that if even one of us held hatred in our hearts, peace in a family, community, country, or the world is impossible. And so we have to make the tools of personal transformation universally accessible, so that anyone can practice them anytime, anywhere.

What is an optimal practice for personal transformation? What is a practice that can systematically rewire our brains and change our behavior, so that we can become more self-aware and recognize the gulf of difference between “I am mad” and “I am feeling mad”? Validated by the latest research in neuroscience and somatic psychology, the eight steps of Raja Yoga provide a practical, secular and systematic framework for self-transformation, beginning with foundational practices (Yamas/Niyamas) such as non-violence (ahimsa) and truthfulness (satya).  The lives of Gandhi and King demonstrate the power of just one of these foundational practices to transform the lives of millions long after we are gone. The next two steps, yoga postures (asana) and breath regulation (pranayama), help us gain a semblance of control on our bodies and minds. The next three steps are a progressive inward journey consisting of introspection (pratyahara), deepening into concentration (dharana), in turn deepening into meditation (dhyana), leading to self-realization (samadhi), the realization that we are all intimately interconnected and that harming another is like harming oneself.

Niroga Institute is a non-profit that is changing the zip code of yoga by bringing it to thousands of children and youth every week, in inner-city schools and alternative schools, juvenile halls and jails, homeless shelters and rehab centers. It is also changing the face of yoga by training people from underserved communities to become yoga teachers, prepared to serve their own communities through the healing power of yoga. Every day we see the impact of yoga in transforming vulnerable lives, enabling safe and caring schools, building healthy communities, and ensuring peaceful neighborhoods. After attending only a few yoga classes while detained in a Juvenile Hall, a youth said, “Wow! If everyone did yoga, there would be so much less violence in the world.” Imagine a world where most people are regularly practicing the essence of Raja Yoga (mindfulness in motion), enabling us to regulate our emotions and act with self-mastery most of the time, transforming ourselves and creating a more peaceful world one breath at a time.

Bidyut Bose, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of Niroga Institute, which brings evidence-based Transformative Life and Leadership Skills (TLS: a dynamic mindfulness practice including yoga, breath regulation and meditation) to hundreds of educators and thousands of vulnerable students in several schools, alternative schools and juvenile detention facilities throughout the Bay Area every year, both within the classroom as well as after school. Bidyut conducts TLS trainings for leaders in education, health care, business, criminal justice and more, nationally and internationally. With a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UC Berkeley, his research interests have shifted to a systemic application of yoga and evaluation of its impact in major domains of social function, while developing cost-effective architectures for lasting social transformation.

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This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 15: Summer of Peace - Inner Peace and Practical Action - Yoga, Veterans and Forgiveness Day