‘Ashtanga would never be the same’

We all remember the Vanity Fair piece.

I’ve been surprised — maybe pleasantly — that Ashtanga’s role in the Encinitas yoga in schools story hasn’t led to further parachuting in by the media to figure out what it’s all about.

Finally, someone thought to jump. The San Diego Reader (understandably in Encinitas’ back yard, or vice versa) has delved into Ashtanga, and more specifically, Sonia Jones’ role with the Sonima Foundation:

Soon, Ashtanga yoga attracted young, beautiful people — movie stars, Wall Street zillionaires, and the like. In the late 1990s, Sonia Jones, a former fashion model who lived in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, with her very rich husband and their children, took up Ashtanga in New York.

Ashtanga would never be the same. Jones proselytized for it and got help from her husband, Paul Tudor Jones II, a hedge-fund operator who is worth $4.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Sonia Jones pledged to spread Ashtanga far and wide — particularly into schools.

And then the trouble started. In 2011, an organization named for the Ashtanga guru, the Jois Foundation, funded a yoga program at an Encinitas elementary school. Sonia Jones and San Diego’s Salima Ruffin, who is in the travel business, had set up the foundation. The person hired to teach the yoga classes had studied in Jois’s institute in Mysore, India.

After the trial in 2013, the Jois Foundation changed its name to Sonima Foundation — a combination of the names Sonia and Salima. “They changed their name to Sonima because they got beaten up at the trial,” says Broyles. After the superior-court judge determined that Ashtanga yoga was a religion, “they tried to religiously cleanse the program” so they could get it into the schools. The former Jois website said the organization was meant to “bring the philosophy, teachings, and values of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois to as many people as it is able to reach.” This included a “spiritually conscious line of clothing.” On the new website, sonimafoundation.org, such references are generally expunged.

The name change came about because the organization wanted “a broader base of health and wellness,” ripostes a Sonima spokesperson.

“They are trying to camouflage the religious nature of what they are doing,” says Broyles, who is considering an appeal to the state’s supreme court.

But Sonima is spreading fast. Its yoga program reaches 27,000 students in 55 schools, including in Encinitas and Cajon Valley. Administrators say that the yoga helps the children focus and reduces bullying, among other positive aspects.

I suspect we’d all argue with the idea that Jones’ role has fundamentally altered Ashtanga — but the piece is for the masses, not the crowds in a Mysore room.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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