Yoga and social business

Image of a business meeting

Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus proposed the idea of a “social business.” He defines social business as different from a traditional non-profit organization in that it is self-sustaining. A social business does not depend on donations for its continued existence. This means the social business is a profit making entity. However it is different from a normal business in that the promoters and investors do not get any distribution from the profit. The profit is retained for expansion of the business and only the initial investment of the promoters and/or investors is paid back without interest.

The goal of a social business is to meet a social need that would not be addressed ordinarily by a regular business. Unlike a non-profit, the social business would be self-sustaining and scalable thus able to address the needs of large sections of populations without a constant need for fund raising. The energy of the promoters is thus focused in meeting the social need rather than constant fund-raising effort.

In a social business the promoters and employees of the business get paid market wages. This means that though the promoters do not make a profit they can make a living wage for their effort they put into the social business.

The key idea is not to supplant non-profits or normal businesses but to complement. A non-profit will exist where a social business cannot. And a social business should find a niche where a normal for-profit business does not want to play.

Here are the seven principles of a social business: Continue reading

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The Mustard Seed

Kisa Gotami was distraught. Her only son, a toddler, had just died. In desperation and grief she ran from door to door of her village and asked for medicine that could revive her dead son. Most villagers thought that she had gone mad, however one wise old man said in a comforting voice, “I do not have the medicine you need. But you can go to the neighboring village where the saint Sakyamuni has come. Maybe he can help you.” (Buddha was known as Sakyamuni, meaning a monk from the Sakya clan.)

Kisa was overjoyed to hear his words. She ran back home and picked up the body of her dead son and ran all the way to the neighboring village. Out of breath, she reached the place where the Buddha was seated. She placed her son’s body near his feet and fell to her knees and pleaded with folded hands, “Please, my Lord! Please revive my only son!”

Buddha looked at Kisa Gotami and understood that she was not in a condition where he could reason with her. He then said, “Very well, I will revive your son! However, you must first bring me a single mustard seed before sunset from that home where nobody has died.”

On hearing these words, Kisa Gotami felt energized. “How hard this can be? Surely I will find at least one home where nobody has died!” She thought as she picked up the body of her son. She bowed before the Buddha and took his leave. She then started running as she went from door to door of the village. In a few hours she had gone to all homes of the village and had found not a single home that was free of death. She then went running back to her own village in the hope of finding at least one home that was free of death.

By evening she was exhausted. She had scoured all the homes in the few villages that were in the vicinity and found not a single home that was free of death. Not knowing what to do she sat down on the bank of a river to ponder. The sun was low in the sky and she looked at it and thought, “Should I back to the Buddha and ask his help? Surely he must be having a remedy to the situation? There is still time, the sun has still not set!” Continue reading

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The Yoga of Autism

Yoga for autistic children
All of us have felt the magic of yoga. It is likely, if you are reading this article, that you are a believer. I am. I know the powers of yoga and have dedicated my life to helping others discover this power.

And I know that the magic of therapeutic yoga reaches into lives of people in diverse populations. Those with physical ailments, traumatic injuries, emotional imbalances or mental upsets can all come to realize the healing potential of yoga and its ability to empower them.

I have heard of football players bowing their heads in namaste, angry young men in drug rehab surrendering in savasana (corpse, or relaxation pose) and prison populations finding solace in yoga. I personally volunteer with Gabriel Halpren at Yoga Circle when he teaches young adults who have many forms of developmental disabilities. I have seen them transformed as Gabriel brings them into the world of yoga.

But autistic children? I must admit that even I wondered how–or if–autistic kids could find some peace on the yoga mat. My friend Tanya Sugarman is a drama teacher at the Lincoln School in Evanston and a longtime yoga practitioner. She told me of the difficulties in getting a small group of autistic children involved in drama and her decision to instead introduce them to yoga. She had already received the approval of the children’s main teacher, Karen Mahoney, and was busy getting mats donated and developing an appropriate sequence of asanas. I wondered how the program would work out.

Research asserts that autistic children are often withdrawn and self-absorbed, being more interested in objects than people. They are often engrossed in stereotypic behaviors and may show rage if these patterned activities are interrupted. How, then, would they respond to the demands of doing yoga postures? What would motivate them to stop their behavior patterns and listen to specific instructions on how to move their body? Could they be still long enough to benefit from savasana? Continue reading

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A simple solution


A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can’t be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed across the line so that customers all the way down the supermarket don’t get pissed off and buy someone else’s product instead.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort.

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using some high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighing less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done.

A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That’s some money well spent!” – he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. It should’ve been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren’t picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before it, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin.

“Oh, that — one of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”, says one of the workers.

This story came to us via e-mail. We do not know the source of the story or even if this is a true story. But we love the story because it provides us with a metaphor that illustrates the power of simplicity. Many times we get lost in jargon and complexity while the answer stares us in our face, waiting for us to get off our high horse. In yoga we look for complexity where simplicity works just fine. We wish to study complex sutras and esoteric text while neglecting our simple practice. Let us keep in mind that complexity eventually unfolds to simplicity and that we are better off waiting for the process to happen on its own.

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Larry Sherman interview

Larry Sherman shows off his reduction in size

Larry Sherman

Larry Sherman lost 350+ pounds using yoga. We recently published his story here. But when we talked to Larry we found out that this is not just a fascinating weight loss story, but a story of triumph against overwhelming odds. Here is the full interview:
What was the diet plan you were on when you began losing weight?
I ate three nutritious meals with no eating in between. I eliminated all products with any type of flour and all sweeteners and sugars. No desserts, breads, pasta. This is the diet I follow even now.

My discovery was that I am a Food Addict and these particular foods create a craving in me similar to the one I had when I used drugs and alcohol. I don’t eat any processed foods, I make everything from scratch. It is not as hard as it seems. It is really quite easy once you get the hang of it.

What was the role of yoga in your weight loss?
I weighed over 550lbs when I started. I could not physically do any exercise: I could hardly walk or climb stairs or even sit up for long periods of time. It was an exertion to even breathe. After I lost the first 50-70lbs I wanted to do something and I met a yoga teacher who told me I could do yoga at my current weight of over 500lbs and she would help me. Yoga taught me many things: when I got into distress in a pose I was told to calm my mind and breathe and concentrate on the breath instead of my mind. So when I felt like eating, (usually because I was upset about something) I learned to breathe and concentrate on my breathing and find peace of mind. When I did this I found that I would feel peace instead of distress and didn’t have to eat over it. Also I learned that when I am uncomfortable in a pose that I could work through it mentally and actually become comfortable with feeling discomfort. So when life gets uncomfortable I don’t run from it, I work through all I can do at the moment and work through the mental discomfort like I do to deal with the physical discomfort on my mat.

Did you go to the gym (besides doing yoga) when you were losing weight? If so what was your exercise program? Continue reading

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