Changing the Face and Zip Code of Yoga

An interview with Bidyut Bose, PhD, Niroga Founder
conducted by Vlad Moskovski.

It brings me great pleasure to interview Bidyut Bose, or BK , as many of us know him. He is a leader in the Yoga community, inspiring many with his dedication, wisdom, and caring. Bidyut Bose, PhD, is the executive director of Niroga Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that brings Transformative Life Skills (TLS) to students, vulnerable youth, cancer survivors, seniors and people battling addiction. The work of Niroga directly uplifts thousands of people every week in schools, juvenile halls, homeless shelters, cancer hospitals and rehab centers all over the Bay Area. Niroga also trains minority young adults to become Certified Yoga teachers, prepared to serve their own communities with cultural competence and linguistic sensitivity.


Vlad: How did Niroga begin?

While employed in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley, I observed the ravaging effects of chronic stress on my colleagues and the entire organizational culture. Having grown up with yoga and meditation, I knew that there was a solution to this.

I studied the effects of stress and began to see the connections between chronic stress and the brain. The way chronic stress messes up attention control, emotion regulation, and empathy. I realized that there had to be very serious systemic social impacts because of this, and that we could do something about it. When I learned that one out of every two kids in inner city schools are dropping out, I realized we have to do something about this colossal waste of human potential. When a kid pulls a gun on another kid because they feel 'dissed' - in that situation what if we can create a space between stimulus and response? An increase in self-control could be the difference between life and death on the streets.


Vlad: What is the biggest challenge that Niroga faces right now?

I think it's getting the pervasive awareness of the power and potential of these transformative practices. A lot of work needs to be done to make a compelling case for that. So that people are really aware. Right now there is a confluence that is making it accessible. Neuroscience is showing that chronic stress really messes up our bodies and our minds, the brain and our behavior. And at the same time there is convincing evidence that mindfulness practices mitigate these effects. Major developments in somatic psychology on optimal treatment of trauma, which is of course the reality of many of the people we serve, speaks to the combination and integration of the kinesthetic, emotional and the cognitive. So yoga, breathing techniques, and meditation fit into this space. We have all three provided by this powerful practice.

The fact that being able to regulate our emotions affects everything we do, is huge. This awareness is a really powerful catalyst, this understanding is a game-changer. I still see most of us looking at major system change, with the focus on the external environment. If we are going to look at education, we say ok we need to pay our teachers better, we need a more brilliant curriculum, and so on. All true, yet not realizing that the children, who are dropping out are not ready to learn. We are rushing to teach them without healing them. This is an imbalance between the internal and external.

When we look at violence prevention, the notion of tough on crime simply is not working. Whether it is a prison or juvenile hall, all of them seem to be running at full capacity. Recidivism rates are in the range of 75% and higher. So we know that incarcerating is not going to get us out of this mess. One in thirty Americans is either on probation, on parole, or in prison! You can try to create safe environments, but you can't just do that and stop. You have to also change our ability to regulate ourselves and that internal environment, which is often missed or dismissed.

We must be able to influence people who are making the decisions. City council members, board of supervisors, the politicians all the way through to Washington. People have to do this practice for themselves, to feel it for themselves. People have to study the literature to see this is not bullshit, this is foundational. This is the biggest challenge, not only for Niroga, but for all mindfulness organizations in this space.


Vlad: Where do you see yourself and Niroga in 10 years? How will it grow and change?

The big picture dream for me is generational transformation. How do I affect children, their children and their children's children. In that process, everything we are trying to do is to get these TLS skills to as many people as possible, in as many places as possible. So that they are able to use these skills for themselves and be a lamp unto those around them. One lamp lighting another, there is no other magic to this. We are hoping for that type of exponential, viral effect that seeds the community with peacefulness, joyfulness, and mindfulness. In this way we can counteract the negative spiraling down - the pettiness, smallness, violence, and greed. To pull ourselves back out, so that each one of us can tap into the infinite potential that is within us. How do you bring that out, how do you realize it and manifest it in every thought, every act, every step, at every moment and with every breath? That's the dream!

- April, 2011

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