Project Haiti
Collaborative Effort to Bring Therapeutic Yoga to Haiti


I’m happy to report that after a gazillion emails and some lovely phone calls yesterday things are starting to get more clear. The initial whirlwind around this idea was overwhelming and somewhat scattershot but in my experience you sometimes need to cast a wide net to see what you’re going to catch and only then can you plan, cook and enjoy your dinner. Now that the team has congealed somewhat, things are feeling a bit more focused and here’s the update. I spoke with Mark Lilly of Street Yoga (whom I adore and is one of the most sensible, articulate and wise people I know) and Steven Gross of Project Joy . I love what both these men as well as other minds on the team have to say.  As Mark put it: This project will be focused on using yoga and mindfulness to help build long-term resilient communities by fashioning part of our work on the Community Health Worker model, with yoga and other mindfulness practices as tools for individual and community self-care. This model will allow us to train people on the ground in Haiti who are already community leaders, people who can each train countless others, and whose impact can last for generations. This is exciting to all of us because we all feel that moving fast and furiously with a broad and heavy hitting approach and then leaving without having empowered the community to do this work themselves is accomplishing very little in the end, and in fact creating more chaos. It’s kind of like curing a headache with a gunshot to the head. It gets the job done but leaves a pretty nasty mess behind!

In my conversation with Steve, he had some fantastic advice and great things to say. Steve has spent a lot of time in devastated countries and communities, training the community leaders, caregivers, teachers to help the children of the community heal through play and movement. Steve has worked in the field of trauma for many years and has a real, unassuming and refreshing approach to working with any an all populations!  I love that he stressed flexibility. I know in my work with yogahope that you can have the most meticulously laid out plans, but once you get in there is a pretty good chance that you are going to have to tweek and change things around so that your are making the connections that you need to make! Often times you really don’t know what that’s going to be until you are in the work (this is the VERY thing I love about my work; the fact that the women I work with are the ones who shape the very work we do) As Mark said in an email “the tools we offer will be tailored to be locally appropriate” which means (as Steve stressed) maybe we don’t call it yoga. Maybe there is another way of framing what we are doing where the root of what we’re doing and the effect is the same, but the “packaging” is different. Steve is a smart man, who has worked around the globe and he’s right when he says “if the people of Haiti are not receptive to ‘yoga’ then we’re dead in the water.” We may need to get creative around how we present the idea to them. I am going to the concert on january 31st where there will be many local Haitian community members who have families in Haiti (and who are also dealing with devastation and loss of this earthquake). Information on this concert is at I hope to meet some of these community members and get a better sense of what they might be receptive to. I hope Steve is able to join me at this event.

One other thing Steve mentioned that I absolutely loved. In his experience, cultural differences are not really an obstacle when you are connecting with people at a fundamentally human level. Laughter, love, sadness and joy are some of the elements we all share, whether we are Americans, Haitians, Africans or Palestinians (have you seen the film Promises? It’s such a heartbreaking testament to this notion. I recommend it..two thumbs up!). I experience this first hand with the women we work with at yogaHOPE and it’s what drives my passion. It’s not how I (or we) am different that allows me to reach people, it’s how we are the same.

Lastly, Steve (clearly, my new best friend) had this to say: “forget about the melting pot: we’re really a salad” and then he went on to explain. If we are going to truly collaborate, we need to honor the work that we each do, which we all do really well, and allow that to happen. Just like a salad, all the ingredients standing alone have their own deliciousness and value. Together they make something delicious and nutritious yet the integrity of the individual ingredients are all still there. Mark, Steve, David Emerson, and Jenn Cohen of Little Flower Yoga are all amazing at what they will shine in this project. One thing is certain: we all agree that focusing on community education and empowerment with an eye to long term sustainable programming driven by community leaders is crucial. Also, we’re taking the “plant the seed” approach. When the time is right we will use local contacts to determine on facility, (home, hospital, community center or whatever) s the best place to place our program and we will plant the seed. As they say, “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever”

Thank you for reading this blog. It’s an honor to share this process with all of you and to have a way to keep thing documented for myself and anyone else wanting to embark in similar projects. My children come back to me tomorrow so I’ll be quiet for a few days. I look forward to updating you again soon! Peace and Blessings..


Somehow through the miracle of Twitter I got on Deepak Chopra’s radar and he has put me in touch with two physicians that he is close with. Both these lovely and caring people  are involved in the Longwood Orchestra and the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. In speaking with these two people as well as Dave Emerson, it is clear we are all on the same page to develop a strategy for long term sustainable yoga for trauma programs that can be in place for years to come. First step, to draft a brief proposal so that these Doctors aren’t sitting around thinking “who are these yoga wingnuts?” (I’m not sure if those were exact words but…) So…I’m spending my Saturday writing this proposal (love it) and realizing just how many Karma Chips I actually have!! Dave Emerson and the Trauma Center are completely committed to this project. The likelihood of long term studies on the project are very good (JRI is a committed sponsor for Project Haiti). I will be attending the Symphonic Relief for Haiti concert on January 31st where I hope to meet some local Haitian people that can give me some inroads to people on the ground there. Paul Farmer’s group in Haiti is compiled of at least 4000 Haitian employees and we are looking for an inroad there in consideration of program coordinators and administrators. In the meantime, the US team will be pulling together budgets, time-lines, connections, MONEY and trainings all with an eye on having programs in place when the time is right.

Time to throw in your Karma Chip. PLEASE come to the concert on January 31st to support any and all efforts in Haiti.

more soon!



yogaHOPE Sue here. For the last several years I have been meeting the most stupendous and open hearted people involved in the yoga for service field and making amazing connections with wonderful people with no goal or purpose other than just to be connected to this wonderful community. Today, I realized why our paths have been crossing. The interest and support for the yoga for trauma relief project in Haiti is completely overwhelming and glorious! Added to the team are Jean Zove, a journalist who wrote about yogaHOPE for Yoga Journal and Steven Gross of Project Joy Mary Canning, a former filmaker for NPR and Frontline (a yoga student of mine) will be making connections with her friend, producer and fellow yogi to see what interest she has. Maggie of Sprout Yoga has reached out to Gaiam who are enthusiastic about donating mats and supplies. Deepak Chopra has helped me make connections that could help with partnerships and sponsors.  David Emerson has secured JRI (parents to the Trauma Center here in Boston) as a sponsor and we are putting our preliminary proposal together for them to start with private and public funding. Things are shaping up like this: Mark Lilly of Street Yoga will be leading the training for the Yoga for Secondary Trauma program (for the helpers), Jenn Cohen will lead the training (hopefully along with Steven Gross) for Yoga for Traumatized Children, and David Emerson will be the lead on Yoga for Trauma Recover for adult victims. We have close contacts (thanks to Jenn Cohen and a contact from Partners) with folks who are on the ground in Haiti and can inform us of how the infrastructure is coming together. They can help us determine where are programs will be best placed (Orphanages, Hospitals, Temporary housing faciliites etc..). We will hope to have the program in place AFTER the immediate needs are addressed. That will be a while but timing is very important. The emotional effects of trauma don’t have an expiration date. They are there for the long term and we know that and need to stay out of the way while the disaster relief is taking place. NOW is the time for us to get the programs together the team rallied and the training scheduled. If you are a teacher, writer, filmmaker, yoga supply manufacturer, have contacts in Haiti, fundraiser or translator please get in touch. I look forward to keeping you all up to date on the birth, growth and execution of this amazing collaboration. Thank you to Maggie Sprout for planting this seed.

peace and blessings,



I am very excited to report that David Emerson of the Trauma Center here in Boston, Mark Lilly of Street Yoga and Jennifer Cohen of Little Flower Yoga are all on board with our Yoga for Trauma program. Once there is some semblance of infrastructure put in place and all the immediate and most urgent emergencies (of which there are so many) are addressed, the people of Haiti will be dealing with the mental/emotional effects of this disaster. Our team intends to get a program of yoga for trauma survivors as well as yoga for secondary trauma (for the helpers) in place where it is most needed. David Emerson will be offering yoga for trauma trainings for our volunteer teachers and in addition to a project lead we hope to have a rotating team of teachers. If you are a teacher and would be interested in participating in the program please email me at  Jenn Cohen has a contact with a very high level person at the Embassy who can help us determine where the help will be most needed. We are hoping to find a sponsor such as Partners in Health or JRI. Maggie Juliano of Sprout Yoga is also gloriously well connected and has some ties to folks already working in Haiti. This project has a lot of steam behind it and I am very enthused to be a part of it!  As of now, we are looking for any and all suggestions for funding and partners. Photographers Avery Meyers and Andrew Morrell have offered their services. I’m hoping to convince film makers, journalists and photographers to document this project. I’ve reached out to  Charles Stone III, Kate Churchill, and Niels Alpert to come along and document.  There are also several journalists that I have reached out to including Kelly McGonigal, Katie Zezima of the New York Times, and Stacie Stukin of the LA Times

For the past 4 years I have been a part of this amazing community of yoga for service. This community is fast growing and the therapeutic benefits of yoga are real, documented through a growing body of scientific studies and not to be denied. The spit and polish shine of western yoga is not what we are about. When the aid organizations have gone and the people of the world continue on with their lives, shopping for Christmas, celebrating the holiday season of 2010, the people of Haiti will coping with long term emotional trauma. Project Haiti will be there to help them heal and I am very committed to making that happen and so blissfully happy that the community that surrounds me is on the same page. Thank you Maggie Juliano for setting the ball in motion.


This is a collaborative project between several yogis who work in the trauma field, including Sue Jones of Yoga Hope  – and Maggie Juliano of Sprout Yoga –

There is generous amounts of research on how yoga is used by counselors and psychologists to assist in treating those suffering from the effects of trauma, see details below. There is also a fair amount of research on how yoga was used to help survivors of Katrina and the Indonesian tsunamis. Ergo, we know it works and we are working on bringing it to Haiti.

Join us in this effort by donating frequent flyer miles, yoga mats, training space such as yoga studios, and money or by contacting your local yoga studio to set up donation classes.


Effects of a yoga breath intervention alone and in combination with an exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in survivors of the 2004 South-East Asia tsunami.
Descilo T, Vedamurtachar A, Gerbarg PL, Nagaraja D, Gangadhar BN, Damodaran B, Adelson B, Braslow LH, Marcus S, Brown RP.

The Trauma Resolution Center of Miami, Miami, FL, USA.

Descilo T, Vedamurtachar A, Gerbarg PL, Nagaraja D, Gangadhar BN, Damodaran B, Adelson B, Braslow LH, Marcus S, Brown RP. Effects of a yoga breath intervention alone and in combination with an exposure therapy for PTSD and depression in survivors of the 2004 South-East Asia tsunami.Objective: This study evaluated the effect of a yoga breath program alone and followed by a trauma reduction exposure technique on post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in survivors of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Method: In this non-randomized study, 183 tsunami survivors who scored 50 or above on the Post-traumatic Checklist-17 (PCL-17) were assigned by camps to one of three groups: yoga breath intervention, yoga breath intervention followed by 3-8 h of trauma reduction exposure technique or 6-week wait list. Measures for post-traumatic stress disorder (PCL-17) and depression (BDI-21) were performed at baseline and at 6, 12 and 24 weeks. Data were analyzed using anova and mixed effects regression. Results: The effect of treatment vs. control was significant at 6 weeks (F(2,178) = 279.616, P < 0.001): mean PCL-17 declined by 42.5 +/- 10.0 SD with yoga breath, 39.2 +/- 17.2 with Yoga breath + exposure and 4.6 +/- 13.2 in the control. Conclusion: Yoga breath-based interventions may help relieve psychological distress following mass disasters.


Soc Work Health Care. 2006;43(2-3):9-36.