Peer Leadership develops the Spirit of Service in Students

Written by Jonathan Relucio, Niroga Program Manager

Peer Leadership in School
Peer Leaders practice Dynamic Mindfulness in the classroom.

What is Peer Leadership?

This Fall we launched a Peer Leadership (PL) program at El Cerrito High School.  Our PL program is designed to develop leadership and the spirit of service in students who have participated in our Mindful Mentoring Program and/or our school programs.  The El Cerrito program is a little different because these students had not participated in our programs before, but they immediately embraced the practice and hit the ground running.

Our Program Manager, Jonathan, spends just one hour per week with the PL team.  In addition to the PL program, we also offer our Dynamic Mindfulness program. This consists of 15-min Transformative Life Skills (TLS) lessons in 3 classrooms per week.

What do Peer Leaders Do?

At this school, the Peer Leaders are referred to as Culture Keepers (CK) and after only two weeks of shadowing Jonathan, they began co-leading TLS with him each week.  Also, the CK’s are being trained to integrate TLS with restorative justice practices as they support their peers one-on-one through forms like “walk-talks” and assist school staff during conflict mediations.
Jenn Rader, the Director of the Health Center was a strong advocate for Niroga’s presence at the school.  She recently shared some reflections from a lunch meeting she had with the CKs.  Jen said,

“Thursday’s lunch meeting with our CKs offered me an experience of grace that I think I’ll be unpacking for a long time. It’s as if the vision that informed our initial conversations last spring suddenly rose up and took shape right in front of our eyes.”

Jen was also excited to share with us that the CKs were confidently leading their classmates in TLS practices (mindful movement, breathing and centering) and many are taking the TLS home to their families.

Youth as Leaders

The CKs also strategized how they could incorporate TLS into more classrooms and began to develop action plans.  They also thoughtfully discussed the impact their role of being a CK is having on their peers.  Despite any possible challenges with peers, the CKs were very excited and proud of their roles as leaders in their school.

We are excited to continue at El Cerrito and nurture these powerful youth into the leaders they were born to be!


Key Themes: Equity and Mindfulness

Dynamic Mindfulness Training

Equity and Mindfulness – Key Themes that helped to focus a day of Professional Development at Oakland’s Laney College. On Thursday, January 21 school staff and faculty gathered for a day development, training and community building.

Laney is working to develop programs to meet the specific needs of students who have had obstacles to succeeding academically. This acknowledges that a diverse student body has diverse needs and challenges.  Laney administrators have recognized that a key element of equity is cultivating a school culture of empathy and connection. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for achieving these goals.

We introduced Dynamic Mindfulness in the morning as a practical tool for cultivating wellness for staff and students.  We also highlighted how the practice can help create a supportive and empathic school environment.  The purpose of Dynamic Mindfulness practices such as mindful movement, breath regulation, and centering are to develop stress resilience, emotional regulation, and social-emotional intelligence.

In the afternoon, a smaller group of teachers, staff, and students gathered for the first half of Niroga’s Dynamic Mindfulness Foundation training.  We focused on personal wellness and sustainability. This foundational training helps people identify stressors, understand the effect stress has on the body and teaches key skills that support emotion regulation.

Participants told us that they are looking forward to the second half of the training next week.

“Thanks so much for the wonderful training, and to everyone who participated so openly and generously. I led a brief “dynamic mindfulness” moment before our English department meeting on Friday. It makes me want to do more!”

During part two of this professional development, they will explore ways to integrate mindfulness into professional and academic life.  This training teaches people how to create a plan for integrating Dynamic Mindfulness into their professional life, apply trauma informed instruction and how to facilitate a 15 minute practice that can be done anytime, anywhere.


DMF Laney_Jonathan

By Danielle Ancin, Niroga Program Manager

Feeling Safe As A Prerequisite For Healing: POC Yoga

By Vita Zus Burwell, Niroga Program Manager

healing yoga

Metta is generally translated as an offering of loving kindness to all beings and is commonly associated with Buddhist practices. These ideas are with me as I write this reflection on healing in the People of Color (POC) community. My reflection is built on my lived experience and is not meant to represent a full spectrum of voices.

May all feel safe, be healthy and free from suffering, live joyously and at peace.

The hope is that these aspirations are not questioned by many. However, in light of the recent challenges faced by Seattle’s Rainier Beach Yoga studio’s POC class, the yoga community witnessed the scrutiny of what a safe space may look like.

Let’s take a breath and a moment to reflect. Practice humility and compassion when questioning the validity of someone else’s needs, mindfully observing judgements and defenses that come up.

Just as it is helpful to reflect on why one would feel unsafe walking alone at night in an unfamiliar part of town, it may be insightful to think about why some of us may need designated safe healing spaces.

The reality exists that often People of Color do not feel safe in primarily “white” spaces (which I define as a society, the default culture of which has evolved out of predominant Eurocentrism.) Whether implicit or explicit, we have been socialized to assume this majority dominance as the norm and the standard to follow and strive towards, which can cause deep damage on systemic and personal levels, undermining our collective health.

Healing is mending that which feels broken, soothing that which aches, connecting that which feels separate – wholeness, acceptance of all the parts. I feel whole when I am accepted from within, exactly as I am, honest, vulnerable, free. In order to accept myself, I need to feel relaxed enough to let go of external conditioning as well as internalized doubt and criticism. I need to feel safe.

Many of us are conditioned to seek validation through competition. Many of us feel anxious to have to prove and defend our worth against some pre-approved default. Many of us struggle with an internalized sense of inadequacy (or isolating supremacy) while constantly comparing our experience to that of a standardized majority. On top of that general discomfort, some of us experience inherited ancestral traumas, present day violations of our humanity, prejudice and bigotry, which are rooted in ignorance and separation.

Many of us are privileged to feel a relative physical safety in our bodies. Some among us aren’t. Some of us live with the daily burden of unresolved trauma that makes us feel too vulnerable to actually close our eyes and let go of the vigilance, interrupting our ability to relax the tension and heal.

Safe Space for Healing

By designating safe spaces for specific communities, we are creating space for everyone to experience the freedom of self acceptance at their own pace, without the implicit default standard of value and worth.

By practicing self acceptance, acknowledging our ancestral stories and celebrating our diversity, we hope to show up as whole, connected to and grounded in power from within. Our hope is that, as all bodies feel more welcome to yoga, we may take steps toward collective healing in the larger yoga community.

May our collective practice support us all.



Dynamic Mindfulness in Kindergarten

Daily Mindfulness
Kindergarten class at Equitas 3 Elementary in Los Angeles, CA engaging in their daily Dynamic Mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness in Schools

At the beginning of the 2015 school year, Niroga trained 80 staff members from the Equitas network of Charter Schools in Dynamic Mindfulness. We call the practice, Transformative Life Skills (TLS).  It is a powerful application of mindfulness practices for creating and managing environments for wellness and recovery.  In addition to the Professional Development, we also offer Equitas staff follow up coaching to support the them as they implement these practices in the classroom.

What is TLS?

The TLS practice consists of movement, breathing techniques and meditation. When these practices are integrated, they are effective for stress management, self-care and healing from secondary trauma as well as for enhancing resilience, attention control and emotion regulation, transforming institutional environments while strengthening family and community.

Students at Equitas practice dynamic mindfulness daily ranging from 2 minutes to 30 minute sessions. One student told our LA Program Manger, “My favorite is belly breathing because of how it makes my body feel.”

Peer Leadership Retreat

Mindfulness Peer Leadership








By Danielle Ancin, Program Manager

Peer Leadership in Schools

As part of the Dynamic Mindfulness program at Mission High School in San Francisco, CA, funded by Kaiser Permanente of San Francisco, Niroga offers a Peer Leadership class.

These young leaders had their 1st “Day Away Retreat” last Wednesday, October 21st at the Women’s Building in San Francisco.  The diverse group of 18 students spent the day together building community, deepening their practice, discussing bullying and brainstorming ways to create positive change in their community.

For some students, it was their first time doing a full mat-based yoga session. Among comments of feeling more clear-headed, peaceful, or energized, one student expressed, “I’ve never felt this calm before.”

How Bringing Dynamic Mindfulness to Schools can Relieve the Effects of Stress and Trauma

Why Dynamic Mindfulness










By Mallory Hubl

Students at risk for failure deal with chronic stress

Nearly half of the students who attend inner-city schools don’t graduate. About a million youths are dropping out of school every year across the U.S. Although this is a problem affecting all of society, with a cost of $260 billion in lifetime loss of income from dropouts in just one year, it is disproportionately affecting youth of color. One study, reviewed here, exposed that Black students were disproportionately expelled at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population in 77 school districts in Southern states.

Many of the children and youth who are at greatest risk of school failure come to school not ready to learn. Ranked one of the ten most stressed out cities, New Orleans hosts students who are deeply affected by stress and trauma. Those at risk for failure, like so many of their peers, are under chronic stress and are dealing with the effects of trauma. We rush to teach them, forgetting that we need to heal them first.

As Bidyut Bose, Founder and Executive Director of Niroga Institute, says, “The tentacles of stress and trauma run right through – domestic abuse, substances abuse, poverty, racism. And once a kid drops out, homelessness, substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, crime, violence are just waiting to pounce. Not to mention the boatload of chronic disease, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, diabetes… You start to see this powerful trajectory between school failure and adult outcomes.”

Although there is no single solution, there are ways we can directly impact outcomes for these youth.

How to deal with chronic stress

According to the latest neuroscience research, our ability to hold attention and regulate our emotions is disrupted by chronic stress; neuroscience also shows that mindfulness practices can mitigate these very effects.[1-4] Researchers have already established that self-control is a predictor of academic achievement, and that low self-control is responsible for a broad range of personal and interpersonal problems.[5],[6]

A Dynamic Mindfulness protocol developed by Niroga Institute involving mindful movement, breathing techniques, and meditation practiced by hundreds of youth in inner-city schools was studied by independent researchers. The protocol was shown to have lowered stress, increased emotional regulation, enhanced school engagement, and changed attitude toward violence.

“Every year, I used to suspend 10-12 kids, and each time it broke my heart, because I knew it fed the school-to-prison pipeline. With Niroga Dynamic Mindfulness in our school since Fall 2013, we have achieved zero suspensions two years in a row. And I am flying a mile high!” Scott Worthing, Principal, King-Chavez Schools, San Diego, CA.

Niroga conducts a Peer Leadership program in two San Francisco Bay Area alternative high schools. Although the National and bay area graduation rate of students from alternative high schools is 50%, Niroga’s peer leaders had 100% and 98% graduation rates.

On the heels of the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Niroga Institute is recognizing that the problems of stress and trauma persist. Niroga is bringing its ground-breaking professional development program to New Orleans on November 16th and 17th. During an open training at Tulane University, Niroga will be leading teachers and mental health professionals through a comprehensive Dynamic Mindfulness Training.  This training will expand their toolbox of  self-care and trauma healing strategies, as well as develop tools for enhanced stress resilience, attention control, prosocial behavior, and emotional regulation.

“If we could bring optimal trauma-informed programs such as these to enough children enough times, I believe we could reach a powerful tipping point,” Bidyut Bose. With the November training at Tulane, and more, Niroga Institute is doing just that.

Niroga provides direct service to students in inner-city schools, but the organization is also reaching for maximum impact and cost effectiveness by training the adults who are around these children (e.g., school teachers, counselors, and parents) in these dynamic mindfulness practices. The dual-advantage is that these practices help adults with with their own stress management, self-care, and healing from secondary trauma, and also enables them to create communities of practice in their schools and homes.

“I am truly thankful you are helping our schools to be resilient environments for our children to learn and flourish.” Delaine Eastin, former CA Superintendent of Public Instruction


Dynamic Mindfulness Training

November 16 10am-5pm & November 17 9am-4pm

Location: Tulane University, New Orleans

Cost: $275 until November 6

To Register:

[1] Liston, et al. “Psychological stress reversibly disrupts prefrontal processing and attentional control,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106, 912-917. 2009.

[2] Davidson, et al. “Contemplative Practices and Mental Training: Prospects for American Education.” Child Development Perspectives. Vol. 6, No. 2, 2012. Pages 146-153 DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00240.x

[3] Greenberg, Mark T., and Alex R. Harris. “Nurturing Mindfulness in Children and Youth: Current State of Research.” Child Development Perspectives. Vol. 6, No. 2, 2012. Pages 161-166. DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00215.x

[4] Roeser, et al. “Mindfulness Training and Teachers’ Professional Development: An Emerging Area of Research and Practice.” Child Development Perspectives. Vol. 6, No. 2, 2012. Pages 167-173. DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00238.x

[5] Tangney, et al. “High Self-Control Predicts Good Adjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades, and Interpersonal Success.” J Pers. 72(2):271-324. Apr 2004.

[6] Seligman, Martin E. P., and Angela L. Duckworth. “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents.” Psychological Science. Vol. 16, No. 12. Pages 939-944.


IAYT Accreditation!

By Heidi Brown, RYT, Yoga Therapy Program Coordinator

IAYT Accreditation
Scenes from our 800 Hour IAYT Accredited Yoga Therapy Program

Accreditation Process

Yoga has become more integrated into mainstream culture.  Take for example the Verizon billboard on highway 405 in Los Angeles I passed on my way to SYTAR, the Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research, with the tag line, “Is that a new yoga pose or are you just trying to find a signal?” I attended SYTAR earlier this month to accept the International Yoga Therapy Association’s (IAYT) Certificate of Accreditation for Niroga’s Yoga Therapy program. 

The accreditation process is no cakewalk; numerous hours were spent by a team of people detailing each component of Niroga’s Yoga Therapy program to complete the application.  Hats off to that team and to the other schools that also received their certificates! There are now 23 accredited Yoga Therapy training programs around the world that adhere to the standards developed by IAYT.

The IAYT’s mission is to establish yoga as a recognized and respected therapy. The accreditation process ensures that programs are providing rigorous and comprehensive training. The accreditation process is voluntary, but we felt it was an important distinction to represent the high quality of our training.

The Field of Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy is a burgeoning and growing field.  One of the plenary speakers at the conference, Dr. Lori Rubenstein, discussed its development. Just as physical therapy grew out of a demand for rehabilitation of war veterans returning home, yoga therapy, is growing out of a demand for lifestyle management experts. The top causes of death in the US, according to Center for Disease Control are heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease.  Yoga therapists have the potential to help improve quality of life for those suffering from these conditions.

A yoga therapist often works with a small group or an individual to provide tools that their clients may use to help restore balance to body and mind. Dr. Loren Fishman, a physiatrist based in Manhattan shared some of the protocols he uses when working with patients suffering from rotator cuff injuries and scoliosis with tremendous success. And, with so many different plenary talks and topics to explore at the conference, the words of wisdom shared by Dr. Ganesh Mohan reminded everyone to focus on simplicity and practicality. Some of my favorite quotes by Dr. Mohan were:

  • “Classical yoga is essentially the skills for self-transformation”
  • “Skills of yoga can be used to restore balance to body and mind.  Therefore, look at the imbalances first and the disease second.”
  • “The clinical goal of yoga therapy is to restore function.”

The conference closed with the lovely presence of Yogacharya Ellen O ‘Brian’s sharing sutras that she offers her students:

It is

We are it

We forget

We remember

Apply Now for our 2 Year Yoga Therapy Program – the application deadline is Friday, June 19th for an end of June start!  The next opening will be early 2016.

Leap of Faith – Yoga Teacher Training

By Pesach Chananiah

Journey to Yoga

My name is Pesach. In Hebrew, it means “to leap” – as in “leap of faith”. And I seem to do a lot of leaping in my life.

Tree Pose. Yoga Teacher Training.
Pesach in Tree Pose.

While a senior in college in Los Angeles, I took a leap to the Bay Area for the annual Power to the Peaceful Festival. Before the event officially started, there was a yoga class outside in the grass. I had never done yoga before, but figured that it would be as good a time as any to try out the “spiritual exercise” I had heard so much about. For the next 8 years, I would acquire a dedicated yoga practice – attending classes at school, at my gym, or wherever else I was drawn.

Three years ago I decided to begin a graduate degree at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Depth Psychology with an emphasis in Community, Liberation, and Ecopsychology. I was part of the second cohort to ever join the program. The school is geared toward a Jungian approach, so in addition to classes in community program evaluation we discussed the role of the “soul” and the “imaginal”.

One requirement for the program was that I fulfill 60 hours of what they call “Depth Transformative Practice”. This typically meant that students partake in individual psychotherapy. But because my program was new and unique, we had some latitude in how to fulfill the requirement: group dialogue, community theater, and vision quests were all options. Students are encouraged to use this requirement to further training in a group or community modality they hope to use in their work.

As my second year came to a close, I didn’t know how I would fulfill this requirement. So far, nothing had stood out to me. Then I remembered that I had been telling my partner that “when the time is right, I’ll do a yoga teacher training”. After attending classes for some time, I realized that I wanted to further my practice; to have a grasp of asana and pranayama which would allow me to really own my practice. It occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to deepen into a modality that was important to me and to get credit for it as well, not to mention that this investment would allow me to teach in the future.

The Journey to Becoming a Yoga Teacher

I had just moved to the Bay Area and hadn’t been to any yoga studio regularly. I researched the schools offering teacher training and began to compare them. I even considered going to India for a month. Then I attended Niroga’s open house. The humility and integrity that I immediately witnessed in both BK and Ros stood out in contrast to what I had seen in other yoga contexts.

At the time, I didn’t know how Niroga’s program would differ from others, but it felt like a good fit. I signed up right before going to work at a summer camp and would begin the program shortly after returning.

In hindsight, the program I chose was the perfect one for me – the Universe/Spirit hooked me up again! The emphasis on personal practice has been essential. Rather than depending on a yoga class for my practice, I have learned to listen to what my body needs. I now have a whole range of tools for responding to those needs. I am also really grateful for the emphasis on mindfulness in Raja Yoga.

I have had a meditation practice for a while, but often feel like just “sitting” has me wanting to jump out of my skin. Yoga allows me to channel that energy. My yoga training has developed my ability to slow down and control my breath. Throughout the training, I worked at a couple of restaurants. Due to my increased dedication to yoga, I was able to maintain an aligned foundation of body and mind in the midst of chaos.

Yoga and Social Justice

Niroga’s commitment to community and social justice has been an important component for me over the last year. Although I hadn’t included this as criteria in my search for a yogaYoga in the Park. Yoga Teacher Training training,  as a result my yoga practice has become even more consistent with my graduate program and my life’s work.

I took a class this past winter in which we were encouraged to pick an aspect of climate change, do some community research around it, and develop an action plan. I was drawn to explore the public health ramifications of climate change. I then became curious about how yoga could be used as a public health tool – and began to look at potential links between all three.

I utilized this same train of thought for two other classes: creating an asset based community development plan around yoga and climate change, and writing an evaluation proposal for a 6-week series on yoga, climate change, and public health.

This project brought me forward to my 20-Hour Service commitment, in which I co-taught (with the fabulous Andrea Steves!) a course on Yoga, Climate Change, and Resilience – geared toward environmental health practitioners. Not only was I able to contribute a valuable skill to people who need it, but I now have one more route on my path through which to do community work and fulfill my spiritual calling.

I am grateful that, due to Niroga, I have completed my doctoral coursework, obtained my yoga teacher certification, and discovered new ways to operate in the world.

Pesach Chananiah is a graduate of Niroga’s Yoga Teacher Training Program.  He also wrote a blog post on Yoga and Climate Change; it is an excerpt from work he did in his MA/PhD program in Depth Psychology with an emphasis in Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology and Ecopsychology. In one of his classes, he explored the public health consequences of climate change and how yoga could be used as a tool for increased health and well-being.