Breaking News: Ashtanga to Become Science! ~ Steven Cahn
Headline: $12-million grant seeks to marry yoga and science.
Yogis may know, instinctively, all the benefits their practice brings them: calm in a storm; peace amid stress; even, dare we think, happiness.
The trouble is: Where’s the “proof?” And by “trouble,” I mean for the mainstream Western world, the world of Newton and Einstein and science.
Well, one big-name yogi is seeking to find that proof.
Sonia Jones—the woman behind the expansion of Ashtanga Yoga via Jois Yoga studios, one of which opened this week in Greenwich, CT—and her husband, Paul Tudor Jones, are set to donate $12 million to establish a Contemplative Studies Center at the University of Virginia.
You read that right: $12 million.
The grant is scheduled to be announced on Friday, although the school began touting the big gift on Wednesday. In a release, the school revealed:
“At its heart, the center will be a series of collaborations among the College, School of Medicine, School of Nursing and Curry School of Education, fostering partnerships among humanities scholars, medical and nursing practitioners, clinical researchers, education researchers, and contemplative practitioners, among others. Plans call for evolving partnerships with other schools, including those focusing on architecture, business, public policy and adult learning.”
The program will investigate the modern application of yoga practices via existing research that is happening at the university.
Questions, of course, arise: Will the yoga studies simply be co-opted? (It’s been known to happen in academia). Is the emphasis on science correct, or should it be the yoga studies driving the investigation and not vice versa?
And, perhaps this: Do we need hard proof for something we “know?” Can we even find hard proof?
Of course, earlier science has proven the benefits of meditation and yoga. And, as long as we live in a Western world where science is the dominant mode of thought, there’s some degree to which we all have to work within the system we’ve been given. (Reminder: Don’t be co-opted by that system, though).
For their parts, Jones and Tudor Jones sound like they have their perspective in place.
“U.Va. has had, for a number of years, remarkable expertise in different sectors,” Paul Jones said. “What we need now are threads to tie them together and weave them into a greater whole. Our goal with this gift is to enable the Contemplative Sciences Center to function as an integrative force that pulls together disparate parts of the University.”
“At this juncture, our educational system needs to consider new ideas and practices for the mind and body that can complement its traditional valuation of critical thought and debate. We think contemplative and yogic traditions offer transformative possibilities in this regard, and hope that our gift will enable U.Va. to engage in an extraordinary experiment aimed at reassessing learning and well-being in relationship to these traditions.”
As an Ashtangi, I’d be failing in my duties if I didn’t mention that the university’s release mentions Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. From the release: “The Joneses’ initial inspiration for funding the center came as a result of their devotion to their Ashtanga yoga teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and a desire to honor his life and legacy, she said.”
In the program’s first year — it is set to begin in October — plans include courses in yoga and similar studies, a “contemplative-in-residence” and the awarding of research funding. It also plans an annual contemplative summit and a speaker series.
Over the next decade, the Jones are hoping for bigger things: “they would like to see U.Va. emerge as the world’s center of thinking about how higher education, and society at large, can be transformed by contemplative and yogic practices, ideas and values.”
Word is that Ashtanga teacher John Campbell is heading to UVa, as well. Nothing official on what his role might be or if he is the person in residence.
The program is seeking an executive director, however. Is your resume up to date?
More on this to come as details become available. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.