Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’re probably aware that yoga is sweeping the nation. This year, Yoga Journal Live San Francisco hosted the “Life in Balance” lecture with innovator Gopi Kallayil of Google, Congressman Tim Ryan and Beryl Bender Birch of The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute. All pioneers in their respective fields, these visionaries came together to share their perspectives on how yoga is becoming increasingly mainstream among a fast-paced hi-tech culture.
Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist of Brand Marketing at Google, is catapulting his own movement to bring yoga and meditation into the non-traditional work places of the hi-tech industry of Silicon Valley. An avid yoga practitioner, he recognizes firsthand how his time spent on the mat directly influences his life and work off the mat: Google, one of the most prolific tech companies in the world, offers several daily yoga and meditation classes open to all employees throughout the day, regardless of their position in the organization. Kallayil opened the discuss by sharing his personal connection to the practice, noting that he feels more connected, centered, focused and ultimately more creative and productive after his practice.
“Why has yoga found its way out of the yoga studios and into our government, our schools, and our organizations?”
Beryl Bender Birch, founder and director of The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute and the Give Back Yoga Foundation (GBYF) has been studying and teaching yoga and meditation for over 40 years. She is the author of several books, including her latest, Yoga for Warriors; a guide written especially for men and women in the military. Beryl has made it her life’s work to bring yoga off the mat to veterans and those suffering from trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She has pioneered the way in bringing yoga to our soldiers returning from combat and working with some of the most hardened criminals in prison.
“Doing yoga is more than just practicing asana (the physical postures). It is about getting the mind quiet. When the mind is quiet we begin to experience a connection to something larger than ourselves; we transcend separateness”.
Through her continued work with veterans and those suffering from PTSD, it’s the sense of connectedness, the stillness and inner peace that is cultivated during a yoga and meditation practice, that is the pull; that is why yoga is exploding into every facet of our society, that is what our modern culture is lacking.
Congressman Tim Ryan, also an avid yogi and daily meditation and yoga practitioner, provides a refreshing voice desperately needed in politics. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 29, he is currently serving his seventh term representing Northeast Ohio. He is an outspoken advocate for promoting mindfulness practice as an aid to addressing the variety of complex problems facing the nation, and the author of the book, A Mindful Nation. Congressman Ryan opened his talk with a story of a young girl in second grade who lost her entire family in a house fire. This young girl, who suffered unspeakable grief and trauma, was able to channel her grief productively, and within weeks, because of this mindfulness practice.
He continued to speak about how he is often brought to tears upon visiting the school and seeing kids in savasana (relaxation pose). This mindfulness curriculum teaches children to identify their own emotional state, recognize their triggers and find a healthy outlet enabling them to release this emotional energy. He goes on to admit that these are the kind of practices we want our government to be teaching our kids.
“Every single day, ordinary people do extraordinary things,” he says passionately. As a policy maker he has a responsibility to help people do extraordinary things, and if there is an approach that can take a young girl who is so grief stricken and traumatized and teach her how to not only heal herself emotionally, but exceed all expectations, this practice needs to be applied not only in our schools, but in our justice system, our healthcare system, and in our prisons. This practice “provides an opportunity for people to do extraordinary things.”
Throughout history, he continues to explain, society has had a tendency to get stuck in old mindsets, and the people who were able to change old paradigms of thinking and push humanity forward were the innovators, the explorers, the adventurers and risk-takers. He ends his passionate speech by declaring, “Yoga has a place of transforming our society in a big way.” We couldn’t agree more.