Jois Yoga backers to give $12 million for UVa contemplative studies program

UPDATE: Thaddeus at Elephant Journal asked me to write a little something about it. I was a bit more awake when I did, and it’s been posted. Feel free to have a look. I tried to sum up some of the discussion going on here and I noted John Campbell’s possible role.

Here is the link.


Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones, the force behind the Jois Yoga studios, are set to give a $12-million grant to the University of Virginia to establish a Contemplative Sciences Center.

The grant is to be announced Friday, according to a UVa press release. Here’s more:

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 center will foster exploration of the practices, ideas, and modern applications of contemplation, building on existing strands of related research and activity around the University, Germano said. [David Germano is a professor of religious studies in the College of Arts & Sciences, who will help lead the new center.]

“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.

And before you ask, yes, Ashtanga and Guruji get mentioned:

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.

The Joneses added that, in the next five to 10 years, 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.

In its inaugural year, the center plans to offer courses from yoga and contemplation instructors, host a “contemplative-in-residence” and award research funding. The center also plans to host an annual contemplative summit and a speaker series.

An interesting aspect to this is the interdisciplinary aspect to it:

The center plans to offer an innovative – and perhaps unprecedented – combination of diverse programs that integrate contemplation and yoga into a major research university, Germano said. The center will focus on providing basic and applied research, curricular programs and practical applications to real-life situations. The nursing and education schools, for example, plan to partner with the center to study how contemplative practices could help nurses and teachers be more effective and resilient.

Both Tudor Jones and his wife address that very idea:

“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,” Sonia Jones said, “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.”

It’s a busy week for the Tudor Jones, with the opening of the new Jois Yoga studio in their hometown of Greenwich, Ct. Tudor Jones, by the way, is an alum of UVa.

As far as I can tell from this initial press release, this sounds like a more campus- and community-engaged studies program than what we have out here in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. LMU’s is more a “yoga studies” program, so the mission obviously is different.  I don’t think there is nearly the same emphasis on research.

It certainly sounds interesting, and it is promising to see yoga, meditation and other similar studies be treated more seriously in an academic situation.

The program is set to launch in October, and they are searching for an executive director. Get your applications in!

Update: There seems to be a lot of chatter about John Campbell’s position. (See the comments below.) I failed — because I wrote this first thing this morning — to note that among the other items the program will include during the first year is a “contemplative-in-residence.” Perhaps that’s the position Campbell is taking. Also planned are a “contemplative summit” and a speaker series.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

25 thoughts on “Jois Yoga backers to give $12 million for UVa contemplative studies program”

  1. Yes…this all sounds very interesting. Two things come to mind though.

    One, I spent a good portion of my academic years in supposeded “inter-disciplinary” programs. They typically look really good on paper, but my experience has been that in practice the reality is quite different. This, in no small part, stems from the hierarchy inherent in the functioning of academic institutions, which serves to sublimate all forms of knowing and knowledge acquisition to “Science.” Again, in my experience, this really curtails the potential for the emergence of “revolutionary knowledge.”

    Two, on a very deep level, I think that endeavors such as this miss the point. Why do we need “science” (an epistemological approach really still in its infancy) to legitimate the process of self-realization passed on to us by over 5000 years of tradition? I really think that in this situation we have utterly confused the cart and the horse.

    I know that John Campbell is an excellent instructor and practitioner and I hope that his position at UVA accords him the freedom to push the enevlope in a good direction. Unfortunately, all that this entails is seriously making me consider whether I want to continue living and practicing in Charlottesville.

    1. Hi Thaddeus. We have plenty of academic experience here, too, and I almost included a line: Caution: It is easy to become what you behold. I definitively agree with your assessment, but I’ll remain “cautiously optimistic.”

      Your cart and horse analogy is interesting, too. I am reading the release to say that they are trying to bring yoga “thought” — for lack of a better term — to the sciences, and a bit vice versa. Just because science is younger doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. But, more to your point, it is obviously far more highly valued than just about anything else — we enlightened Westerners, right?

      My sense is that there is a lot to gain from this, with maybe a bit to lose (essentially people coming to the conclusion of “See, yoga doesn’t do any good). But if that’s where we end up, that’s where we are now. And it isn’t our millions being spent! 🙂


      1. I was just thinking…”Jeez, I wish I had an extra 12 million to fund anything…”

        But seriously, I think you got it right…we’ll just have to wait and see and I pray that your optimism ends up being closer to the reality than my cynicism. Either way, I will be watching from the sidelines…at a distance.

  2. It could definitely be positive thing provided that it’s handled right. My concern is more so things of this nature becoming mainstream and its elements being watered down and stripped away.

    Another concern is that it also may result in overregulation of things due to the government and other agencies wanting to control and gain revenue, etc., from alternative methodology. I know that sounds cynical, though it does happen. I’ve seen the same things happen with bodywork therapies.

  3. Wonderful – because imbuing grass-roots communities and practices with millions of dollars has always turned out so well.

    Everything Sonia Tudor does makes me deeply uneasy at best. The hedge-fund backed Ashtanga branch seems to be moving in a direction that is quite orthogonal to the original (and heretofore default) paradigm.

    1. She certainly is not shying away from anything. Your thoughts, I know, are shared by many — I’m trying to keep an open mind on this aspect. Obviously, I fall into the camp that wasn’t very happy about how Encinitas went down.

      I’m working on my non-judgement today. Don’t ask me how it’s going! 🙂


  4. Contemplative studies is hardly new. There are several universities and institutes that have thriving and vibrant programs that bring together many fields of study including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion and physics to study consciousness and mindfulness and sometimes even yoga. Brown, UCLA, Stanford, Columbia, the Mind-Life Institute are just a few. The existing programs could have used the grant! It is the intention that I find suspect……

    1. Well, there’s obviously the connection with Tudor Jones and UVa. Perhaps the goal is to give it an Ashtanga spin?

      But there’s also — and I’ve had enough dealings with donations and gifts to say this with some level of comfort — the ability to shape and, yes, control the development of something that one founds. As opposed to giving to something existing.

      I’m not sure that addresses your thoughts on “intention,” entirely.


  5. John Campbell will be a professor in the religious studies department and the director. Not the “contemplative-in-residence”.

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