Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington lead meditation at Contemplative Sciences Center

This week, Deepak Chopra and Arianna Huffington headlined — if one can headline such a thing — a meditation at the University of Virginia, as guests of the school’s Contemplative Sciences Center.

To refresh your memory, that’s the institute that Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones — backers of Jois Yoga and the Sonima Foundation — seeded with money last year.

Here’s a little from the school’s story on it:

The meditation got under way and silence fell over the Lawn, disturbed only by a distant train whistle or an airplane flying high above. Standing on the bottom step of the Rotunda stairway, Chopra guided the crowd through stages of meditation: “Let your mind settle into your breath,” he said. “Think of who can use your help. Ask ‘What am I grateful for?’”

The crowd numbered about 300. Some stood, some laid down on blankets; most sat upright, while others leaned on the bases of Jeffersonian columns dotting the Lawn.

The newsworthiness of Chopra and Huffington’s being on campus also was a reason for the school’s communications team to check in with center director David Germano. A few highlights of the Q&A:

UVA Today: Why are the contemplative sciences important?

D.G.: Education isn’t just about imparting knowledge; it’s about imparting wisdom. It isn’t only about critical thought and intellectual achievement; it is also about developing personal and social skills with an integrated depth of experience enabling our students to transform into active, engaged, compassionate citizens of a diverse world.

Contemplation is best known in terms of the formal practices that are thought to exemplify it. Such practices include those with long cultural histories, such as contemplative Christian prayer, Hatha yoga, t’ai chi or Buddhist mindfulness. Contemplative practices also include contemporary and secular applications, such as performance visualization, deep listening and leadership training. Such practices are thought to improve human life when individuals and communities cultivate them deliberately and intelligently. In various traditions and settings, contemplation is said to heighten awareness, deepen understanding, improve learning, facilitate compassion and increase the quality of conscious choices.

Questions arise about contemplation and its practices – some of them skeptical – and thus rigorous scientific study, broadly construed, into its mechanisms and impact in specific contexts is essential. The center is blending 2,500 years of knowledge from spiritual and secular traditions around the world with the systematic investigation, experimentation and understanding of modern scholarship in the sciences, humanities, arts and social sciences.

In addition, theory and research only go so far, thus we need tight integration of research with practical applications that implement programs for transformative effect in specific sectors inside and outside the University.

UVA Today: What types of research are being conducted at the center?

D.G.: Promising new research and initiatives are going beyond anecdotal accounts to scientifically demonstrate the effects of what some refer to as “mind training” or “conscious practices of the self.” Research is under way to discern the effects of contemplation on the brain and easing depression, to improve K-12 teaching and learning, to increase successful recovery from addiction and to reduce stress among office workers and returning veterans. Research is also being conducted on issues related to end-of-life care training; symptomatic relief in fibromyalgia; contemplative practices as a way to address the so-called “SpongeBob Squarepants effect” on children, whose executive functions are negatively affected by watching fast-paced and fantastical children’s television shows; quantifying spiritual growth; mindfulness and kidney disease; swim team and cardio-respiratory dynamics; and much more. Such research programs aim to understand contemplation and its mechanisms in the body and mind.

This research draws on academic disciplines ranging from philosophy to neuroscience and can be applied in many professions, contexts and sectors of society. Evidence-based research on contemplative practices is now being employed not only to help individuals thrive, but to solve intractable societal and institutional problems in concrete applications ranging from failing public schools to skyrocketing health care costs to poor employee productivity.

The center involves many people and sponsors a wide range of initiatives across academic fields, but is strengthened by the common purpose of advancing the study, teaching, practice and use of contemplation.

To facilitate an interdisciplinary approach integrating the humanities and sciences, and both in turn with the full range of professional schools, the center’s work is focuses on five interconnected themes as it explores contemplation in research and learning:

  • Health and Wellbeing: exploring physical, emotion, mental and social health and wellbeing through cross-disciplinary research and new models of learning.
  • Education and Learning: investigating how contemplative practices can help us teach and learn more effectively and creatively in elementary, secondary and higher education.
  • Design and Place: researching how we design and build our physical and organizational worlds to foster wellbeing and reflection as architects, engineers and professionals.
  • Professions and Performance: examining the ways contemplation can help us perform with more efficiency, innovation and wellness as athletes, musicians and professionals.
  • Culture and Wisdom: inquiry into traditions, histories and ethical reflections of contemplation and collaborating with scientists and professionals in research and application.

There’s mention of an online Contemplative University that will be launched in 2014, but the link isn’t active. I wonder what that’s about? Stay tuned.

Posted by Steve

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Ashtanga in the news

This one, I’ll admit, is a bit tangential, but Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga and the University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center all get mention.

Why? Because of something that Jois Yoga backer Paul Tudor Jones said at an event at his alma mater (hint: it’s UVa). And because it ran on Friday in one of the nation’s biggest newspapers — admittedly not quite the mark of praise it once was — I’m just passing it on.

The newspaper, by the way, is the Washington Post. Here’s the crux of the story:

Four legendary investors gathered at the University of Virginia in late April to share their philosophies and strategies for success, personal fulfillment and philanthropy. All four were men, white and aging, and that prompted several audience members to submit questions wondering: Where are the women?

Paul Tudor Jones II, a 1976 U-Va. graduate and billionaire Greenwich-based hedge fund manager, took a stab at answering. According to those who attended, Jones explained how traders must have extraordinary focus and commitment, working long hours and forgoing personal time. A lot of women opt out of such a high-intensity career, he said, especially once they have children.

Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the U-Va. McIntire School of Commerce, said that he immediately received complaints from alumni and faculty members who were concerned and, in some cases, appalled by the substance and framing of Jones’s comments.

There you have it. And then here’s the Ashtanga-related stuff:

In April 2012, Jones and his wife, Sonia, announced they had donated $1 million to U.Va. to create a Contemplative Sciences Center, which pulls together different academic disciplines to study contemplative and yogic traditions. In a video posted on the university’s YouTube channel, the couple explained how Ashtanga yoga changed their lives and how they hope the center will transform higher education.

Jones said: “This new center will tie these people and programs together and weave them into one fantastic whole for the benefit of the entire community.”

That announcement came as Vanity Fair’s April 2012 edition featured a lengthy article about Sonia Jones, the “lithe blonde” who started yoga studios and a clothing line inspired by her Ashtanga yoga teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who died in 2009. Some followers of Jois have criticized Sonia Jones for starting these businesses so soon after their teacher’s death.

One thing I’ll point out comes from the last line I just quoted. As more and more media cover the Joneses, or Ashtanga, in a natural fashion — events like this creating stories — quick takes on Ashtanga and its various “controversies” will get distilled down like this. That’s already a pretty quick take on the Vanity Fair story, which itself was a take on things. And when the next reporter is doing a story and searches about for information, this will pop up and that will be the basis for his/her quick explanation of things.

And so it goes.

Posted by Steve

Big weekend ahead for Jois Yoga-backed center at UVa

As I’m sure most of you know, Saraswati and Sharath are beginning their time in America. (So it’s a good time to brush up on your Led Primary etiquette!)

One of their early stops is in Charlottesville, Va., at the University of Virginia. Yes, it’s the site of the Contemplative Sciences Center, which was funded by Jois Yoga backers Paul Tudor and Sonia Jones. On Friday, students, faculty and staff at UVa have the chance for a free 90-minute class and lecture featuring both Saraswati and Sharath.

Not a bad deal, huh? Here’s a bit from the center’s announcement, Gurus on Grounds:

After a hour-long yoga class, Sharath will discuss the benefits of yoga and answer questions in a seminar moderated by UVA alum, yoga-enthusiast, and dear friend of JPJ, Paul Tudor Jones.

[snip]

Admission to the event will be on a first-come, first-served basis, and necessarily limited by the maximum legal capacity for the space. Please be prepared to arrive early to ensure being among the fortunate 300 first arrivals who will receive a commemorative t-shirt.

No prior experience with yoga practice is required to participate.

Non UVaers are told to register here, which is the Jois Greenwich site.

But it isn’t just the Friday class that is making for a big weekend. All day Saturday, the center is hosting a conference titled, Contemplation and Medicine in South Asia & Beyond. There are three focuses: Yoga and Ayurveda in Premodern South Asia; Mindfulness, Compassion and Ayurveda in Contemporary Clinic Care and Research; and Healing Places: Contemplation and the Build Environment.

No doubt the Contemplative Sciences Center is off and running. We’ll keep watching where it heads. (And that’s no April Fool’s Joke!)

Posted by Steve

 

Jois-connected Contemplative Sciences Center to offer free online courses

I’ve been periodically checking in with the Paul Tudor and Sonia Jones-backed Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia since its $12-million funding was announced a year ago.

There hasn’t been a lot to see, I have to admit. But today, for whatever reason, I finally found the Center’s UVa web home. In other words, those of you who want to know more about this program, with its more-or-less Jois/Ashtanga connections, now have something to investigate. (It’s copyrighted 2013, so I’m assuming it is relatively new.)

What jumped out at me is:

  • The “Contemplative University” will begin offering free online courses via Coursera in spring 2014. From the website: “The Contemplative University will thus function as a virtual University for members of the public, as well as a powerful resource for on grounds teachers, researchers, and students. The Contemplative University will be a profoundly dynamic site where partners from all across the world and social sectors will be empowered to contribute to form a remarkable distributed network of knowledge production about contemplation in all aspects.”
  • The first “Contemplative Institute” will also happen in spring 2014. Again from the site: “The Contemplative Institute is an annual private symposium hosted at UVa each year to explore the possibilty [sic] of transformative impact by new contemplative approaches in a specific social sector.”
  • The “Contemplative Encyclopedia”  will be “a massive and unprecedented reference resource that will provide an elaborate guide to the true diversity and depth of the world’s traditional and modern contemplative practices and traditions, as well as contemporary research and applications. The Encyclopedia will provide, through this structured and deeply layered outline, a way for scholars, students, and the general public to explore these traditions in the past and present, and view audio-video, texts, translations, photographs, and much more.”
  • There also is a page seeking proposals, but it seems limited to UVa faculty and staff.

That encyclopedia sounds interesting, right? At the same time, it also is a bit quaint in our Internet / wikipedia era. But the way lots of yogis/Ashtangis love their deep resources, this could be a hit for a certain circle of the Internet.

The site looks to be still in somewhat a development stage; its contact page promises “More information is coming soon.”

Posted by Steve

University of Virginia starts Ashtanga Yoga Program

Ever since the University of Virginia announced its grant from Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones (the backers of Jois Yoga), we’ve been keeping an eye out for developments around the school’s Contemplative Sciences Center.

There hasn’t been much, which isn’t too surprising. Universities (in our experience) err on the side of not talking too much about programs, studies, etc. until “after” they succeed.

Today there’s something to point out:

The Contemplative Sciences Center is collaborating with U.Va. Intramural-Recreational Sports to offer an Ashtanga Yoga instructional program of traditional character and uncompromising excellence beginning in October 2012. Principal instructor John Bultman is recognized as an “authorized level 2” instructor by the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India.

The curriculum will be entirely traditional as based upon the system of Sri Pattabhi Jois and will be open to students, faculty, staff and community members.

The Mysore Ashtanga Yoga program is for all levels (beginner to advanced) and will be offered in Memorial Gymnasium (Multi-Purpose Room #2). Participants practice individually at their level and pace in a group with personalized instruction and may show up anytime between 12:00 PM & 3:00 PM Sunday–Friday. Schedules may change due to intramural, athletic, special events, inclement weather or as needed.

So there you have some development. There also are some discussions coming in November, according to this set of talks:

Contemporary research findings from contemplative neuroscience, higher education, and positive psychology point to the significant potential of reflection, meditation, and other contemplative practices. How can these findings be applied on a university campus? For example, how can contemplative practices inform the pedagogy and/or the content of academic courses, or the nature of co-curricular campus offerings?

This presentation will survey relevant research studies and describe the work of George Mason University’s Center for Consciousness and Transformation, founded four years ago. Contemplative practices play a central role in that university’s undergraduate minor, and the Center offers an array of contemplative-based co-curricular activities to all students, as well. This session will also offer an opportunity for participants to reflect on and share with others the value of consciousness and transformation as it applies to them, where they live and work.

Finally, last month the alt weekly in Charlottesville did a piece on the center and Tudor Jones. You can find it here. It touches a bit on the Vanity Fair story on Jois Yoga, the university’s controversy surrounding its president and the question of what the center might do for UVa’s reputation.

Posted by Steve

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.”

[snip]

“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