Watch: An Investment Banker-Turned Yogi Brings Healing to War Vets

—video interview and blog post by Sura (suracenter.com)

Molly Birkholm was an investment banker in New York City when she nearly died in a serious taxi cab accident. After an SUV struck them sideways while running a red light, Molly experienced near-death injuries, enduring a fractured skull and a severe spinal injury. After witnessing her cab driver become decapitated, Molly suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Recurring nightmares and an extreme fear of driving in cars led her to yoga and a specific meditation practice called yoga nidra. Yoga nidra, translated as the “yoga of sleep,” was instrumental in helping Molly recover from PTSD. Molly’s journey of healing eventually led her to leave her job on Wall Street and travel through Asia, where she lived in ashram in India and became certified as a Sivananda Yoga teacher.

Upon her return one year later, Molly had no idea what she would do next. After marrying her husband and moving to Florida, she was invited to volunteer a few hours a week teaching wheelchair yoga to vets at the Miami Veteran’s Administration. What happened next was what Molly describes as, “unbelievable and completely unexpected.” War veterans experienced overwhelmingly positive results. Both Molly and the staff saw veterans experiencing alleviation from their PTSD, insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Her classes soon expanded to the 3-month Residential PTSD & Substance Abuse treatment programs, outpatient PTSD treatment programs and even the acute mental-health ward. The program went so well that in 2008, the Department of Defense Center of Excellence rewarded the program with a $262,000 grant to conduct clinical research measuring the effects of iRest yoga nidra on veterans with PTSD.

Clinical research is validating that yoga and meditation are effective in helping soldiers and vets heal from PTSD. In a study conducted by the Department of Defense at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, researchers found that a secular form of yoga nidra called iRest, which has been widely adopted by the military, helped to alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD, reduce combat stress and trauma. Participants reported feeling less anxiety and increased feelings of safety. Another research study measuring the “Effects of Sensory-Enhanced Yoga on Symptoms of Combat Stress in Deployed Military Personnel” found that the individuals participating in the yoga program showed significantly greater improvement in 16 of 18 mental health and quality of life factors over the individuals who were not practicing yoga.

As Molly’s programs at the Miami VA grew, she co-founded Warriors At Ease, a non-profit organization that has now trained and ‘deployed’ over 500 yoga and meditation teachers into military communities.

Molly Asebey-Birkholm (Madhavi) is an advanced Sivananda yoga teacher (RYT 500) and a certified Integrative Restoration (iRest) Instructor. She is the co-founder and director of the Yoga Center of Key Biscayne, in Florida, an affiliated Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center.

Why did Gandhi and Jesus die by violence?

Swami Swaroopananda Spiritual Director of Sivananda Ashram in the BahamasQ: In the Raja Yoga Sutras, it is said that by performing samyama – the combined, simultaneous practice of dhāraṇā (concentration), dhyāna (meditation) and samādhi (union) – on ahimsa, or non-injury, violence no longer exists in the presence of the practitioner. If that is so, why did Gandhi and Jesus die by violence?

Answer: Look at the life of Mahatma Gandhi and you will see that his life experience was permeated by violence. When he was in South Africa, he experienced racism and the effects of racism. When he was in India, he experienced a lot of violence. Because of this we know that Mahatma Gandhi had to have performed violent actions in the past, and death itself is prarabdha karma, or the karma from one’s past lives.

Now, think about Gandhiji’s agami [the karma of the present life through which one creates one’s karma for the future]. What was his free choice? What did he do in the present? In the present, he generated seeds of ahimsa. He actually practiced ahimsa, and what was the result of this practice? First of all, he transformed India. He caused the British to leave India through non-violent methods and helped India to regain its independence. He was able to stop the violence between Hindus and Muslims, just by his own personal example, if you know the story. He affected the whole world and continues to affect the whole world until the present day, all through the practice of ahimsa.

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A Good Day for Peace

The conclusion of our February Yoga for Peace symposium on February 11 coincided with a flurry of diplomacy around the world. One of the presenters, Joshua Goldstein, an interdisciplinary scholar on war and peace, wrote to us point out the headline: ‘Big Day for International Diplomacy Around the World.’ He noted these unexpected developments:

  • China and Taiwan began the highest-level talks in 65 years.
  • Turkey and Greece began talks about the long-festering Cyprus conflict.
  • North and South Korea began their highest-level talks in 7 years, and an American diplomat arrived in North Korea.
  • New negotiations started for Syria and they unexpectedly extended the cease-fire in Homs for 3 more days.
  • The European Union and Cuba opened talks to work toward mutual recognition after decades.
  • The warring parties in South Sudan met in Ethiopia to try for a more durable cease-fire.
  • Nepal elected a prime minister after years of political gridlock that followed the civil war there.

He ended with, “Trending: Peace! It’s sweet that this surprise upsurge in diplomacy corresponded with the conclusion of the Yoga for Peace symposium in the Bahamas that I had the chance to participate in.”

 

Jivana Heyman: Making Yoga Accessible to Everyone

Jivana Heyman

Please share what you do in 10-15 words: My goal is to make the powerful teachings of yoga accessible to everyone.

Why do you do what you do? I feel so blessed to have found these life-changing practices, which have provided me with a peace and joy that I didn’t think was possible. Teaching is not really an act of selflessness, but a practice that reconnects me to the teachings. I often feel that I have gained more than the students when I teach a class! What a great thing I get to do – share step-by-step practices that allow people to find their own healing.

What are you currently fascinated by in your work? I’m fascinated by the self-empowerment of Yoga. The key Yoga teaching is that peace and joy are within us. We don’t need to focus on outer achievement – money, beauty, fame, relationships, etc. for our happiness. Peace is our essence, and we just need to remember that it is always there. When we relax the body and breath, and quiet the mind, we can immediately return to this place of peace.

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If You Want Peace, You Have to Create a New Movie

Q: What is the best response to world conflict, to interpersonal conflict?

Answer: In the context of the law of karma, I’m going to say something very strong, which is that we are personally responsible for conflict in the world. We always say, “Bush is responsible,” or, “Obama is responsible,” but this is not true because I am personally responsible for everything that I experience in my world. The world that I experience is mine, and the world that you experience is yours, and there is also something in common.

The meaning of prarabdha karma is that absolutely every single experience of my present life, including war, is the result of my past actions. Within the system of yoga – and it does not really matter how you look at it, whether it is through yoga or vedanta or sankhya – the world does not come from outside, it comes from within. It is not that there is a world outside and I am the result of that external world; it’s the other way around. It is as if there is a projector within us that is projecting the whole world, which is outside. That projector is the mind, and the film is my prarabdha karma, the world that I experience outside is my prarabdha karma, and the movie runs. So, moment by moment, I see the movie. When the movie ends, my life ends. When the movie starts, my life starts. And everything I experience in this movie is my prarabdha karma, including the wars.

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Teaching Yoga and Relaxation to Children, by Mira Binzen

“Why practice yoga?” I asked the children at the beginning of our yoga class at Bloom Yoga Studio last week. “How do you think it helps you?” Hands shot into the air. A six-year-old boy wearing new Harry Potter glasses went first. He stated matter-of-factly, “Yoga clears your mind and relaxes your body.” All the children in class gave a response. Most mentioned the way it helps them relax and how it helps regulate moods and energy level. The children feel this every week in class and incorporate it into their daily life.

There are several ways that yoga clears the mind and relaxes the body. One of the most profound is the final relaxation at the end of each class known as savasana. The Sanskrit word “sava” means corpse. We call this pose “final rest.” Virtually all children mention this practice as their favorite part of class. They love crow pose and all the games we play, but what seems to resonate most with them is the opportunity to relax deeply at all levels.

Time spent in stillness at the end of each yoga practice is a key element in assimilating the benefits of the practice. It is important for the body and mind to have a chance to process and integrate the experience–to file it all away. Just like cleaning up after a party or making a big meal in the kitchen, your mind and body need to clean up and reorganize.

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Travel Yoga: Essential Tips from Julie Lusk

Mairplaneaking flight arrangements for your next trip to the Bahamas? Plan ahead so you can travel smart and stay balanced. Holistic health specialist Julie Lusk shares this excerpt from her e-book on Travel Yoga to help make your air travel more peaceful and healthy. (Reprinted with permission)

 

Traveling by plane: Air travel can be full of surprises. Some nice, some not so nice. Let’s face it, if served, the food is bad, the air is stuffy, and the seats are cramped and uncomfortable. Bad weather causes delays, connections are poor, and getting around airports is confusing. Anything you can do to prevent problems is important.

  • Get to the airport well in advance of your departure. Allow enough time for traffic delays, parking, security checks, and long lines.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. At least eight to sixteen ounces every hour ought to do it. If you don’t get enough water, you are likely to suffer from dry mouth, racing pulse, dry skin, hair and nails, constipation, infrequent urination and the inability to sweat upon exertion. Unfortunately, alcohol and caffeinated drinks (cola, coffee, tea) increases the problems of dehydration.

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Reaching Teens Through Yoga with Charlotta Martinus (Chandrika)

 

Charlotta Martinus (Chandrika)

Please share what you do in 10-15 words: I run a company called TeenYoga, which trains yoga teachers to work with teens in creative and inclusive ways, following the main principles of yoga.

 

Why do you do what you do? Because I have two teenage sons who I feel have been very misunderstood as have many other teens and I think yoga can help with issues that they are facing. I think many people are scared of teens and do not believe they can be helped. I believe yoga is a treasure to teach them the three Rs: relax, repair, and relate.

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Inspiring Ashram Upgrades

The next time you visit us, you will notice a few improvements: the temples have been repainted, walkways have been repaved, 24 tent huts have been added, the Garden bathrooms have been expanded, there are new picnic tables, and the gardens have new plantings. Here are a few photos. Welcome and enjoy!

Without Giving, Our Practice Can Stagnate

Over time, sadhana, or spiritual practice, can become mechanical, or it can start feeling heavy and serious. How does one remain inspired and light?



Answer: It doesn’t matter what we do, the mind gets used to it, and if this happens in our spiritual practice we should not be indifferent, because it is a real problem. When we see the practice becoming mechanical, we should not wait. If we have a teacher, we should approach the teacher and ask for guidance. If there is a yoga center, we should go there and do some karma yoga, attend some teachings, attend satsang. Alternatively, we could go to nature to be alone, to be in silence, to meditate and get re-inspired. We must not allow stagnation to happen, so when we note that it is there, we should immediately, positively act.

One of the best type of actions is serving others. For example, if yoga teachers notice that their own practice is stagnated, they should teach more. This relates to the law of karma and it is a very important teaching. Under the law of karma, the only cause of receiving teachings is giving teachings. We receive valuable teachings in the present because we gave valuable teachings in the past. This is the only reason. Therefore, the more you teach others, the more you are going to receive teachings, and inspiration has to do with the reception of teachings. Practice is one thing, and inspiration is another. Inspiration is a form of teaching and we receive teaching from within.

Why don’t we receive teaching from within? It is because we make the mistake of cutting ourselves off from others. The moment our giving diminishes, the receiving also diminishes because, according to the law of karma, the only cause of receiving is the fact that in the past, we gave. This is also true in the present — the more we give, the more we are going to receive, and we receive teaching either as external teaching, or teaching in the form of inspiration. Therefore it is not enough to practice; we should also teach, so if you haven’t yet joined the yoga teacher training course, this is the time to do it.

Think about how you came to yoga.  I’m sure, if you heard the personal stories, you would see what a profound effect yoga has had on each one of us. Therefore, we practice yoga. Therefore, we come to ashrams, and so on. However, if you think, how did I receive the teaching of yoga — that wonderful teaching that changed and transformed my life — it is because of someone who taught me, right? So there should be someone to teach me, in order for me to receive this wonderful teaching and to transform my own life. You can see that it is very crucial to teach others.

If we don’t give, that river of teaching is going to diminish. It is going to become just a trickle. One day we will say, “I practiced and practiced, but within, I am dry.” Therefore, as much as it is important to practice, it is also very important to teach because it is by teaching that we receive teaching. This is how we stay inspired.

It is true that Swami Sivananda would say, “Practice, practice, practice,” but before that he would say, “Give, give, give.” He summarized his teaching in the following way: “Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize.” You can see that “serve, love, give” comes first. Then comes purification. Then meditation becomes possible. Then realization becomes possible. Without giving, nothing is possible. Without serving, nothing is possible. Without loving, nothing is possible. It is not complicated but we need to understand the principle. It is not sufficient to practice — we also need to give.

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