In 1975, environmentalist, medical doctor, educator, and visionary Michael Lerner imagined a center that would change
the way we care for our health as well as
the health and wellbeing of Mother Earth.
Over the ensuing years, Commonweal has
served as the 21st century model for health-care, education, and the environment, and
supports a wide range of programs that
include cancer support, health professional
education, environmental health, yoga,
healing nutrition, permaculture gardening,
and juvenile justice.
As part of Commonweal's continuing mind/
body expansion, The Healing Yoga Foundation was founded in 2006 so that everyone—regardless of physical capability,
health, background, age, experience, or
financial means—could learn from yoga's
Their innovative teacher training offers
participants a unique skill set that includes
observation, modification, and therapeutic
applications, and currently stands alone as
the most rigorous, in-depth training in the
Dr. Lerner will be one of this year's keynote speakers as the International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT) celebrates
25 years at its June Symposium on Yoga
Therapy and Research (SYTAR) in Austin,
Texas. In anticipation of this always exciting event, we caught up with Dr. Lerner
and asked him to share some thoughts on
how yoga therapy can play a major role in
our everyday lives.
LA Yoga: The theme of this year's IAYT
conference, “Where your talents and the
needs of the world cross” by Aristotle,
suits you. What was your original vision
quest? Has Commonweal exceeded those
Michael Lerner: That is a wonderful quote
from Aristotle. The complete quote is,
“Where your talents and the needs of the
world cross—there lies your vocation.” The
second part is important because vocation
literally means “calling.” So it is not simply
a calculus of what we are good at and what
the world needs. It is also, critically, a question of finding our calling.
In 1975, I was called to create Commonweal by a vision of a center where we would
work to heal people and heal the earth.
Forty years later, that vision is intact, with a
dozen programs at Commonweal in health
and healing, education and the arts, and environment and justice.
Each program is led by a strong visionary
program director who has great autonomy
to shape her work as she sees fit. Take Kate
Holcombe's Healing Yoga Foundation as
an example: Kate has a passion for bringing yoga to low-income communities and
to offer yoga for people living with cancer.
How has Commonweal impacted the acceptance of integrated therapies, like yoga,
within the modern medical community?
We clearly have contributed to the accep-
tance of integrative cancer care over the
past three decades. When Bill Moyers pro-
duced his classic PBS series “Healing and
the Mind,” the Commonweal Cancer Help
Program was featured in the fifth and final
segment. More than any other single event,
that series moved integrative medicine into
the mainstream. But we are only one slen-
der thread in the national and global fabric
of movement toward contemplative mind,
yoga and other psychophysiological disci-
plines, healthy foods, exercise, and finding
meaning in our lives and work. We've done
our small part, but we are simply one pho-
ton in a beam of light shining into the hu-
Is the idea of integrating ecology, nutrition, mind/body wellbeing and scientific/
medical breakthroughs becoming more
widely accepted? Do you think that today’s doctors consider this approach to
be essential in order for society to survive and thrive?
All these factors are gaining traction culturally and in medicine. But medicine is
in crisis. Most physicians—with ten minute visits, electronic medical records, and
all the other challenges they face—have
little or no time to do lifestyle counseling,
so most lifestyle work is done outside the
medical community. There are important
and growing exceptions. Dr. Dean Or-nish’s work with heart disease is a notable
example. Given that a central challenge
of mainstream medicine is just to get the
most basic medical care to everyone who
needs it, I think that lifestyle work at present is often better done independently of
the medical system—or at most, in parallel
What are some must-have qualities for
a yoga teacher or yoga therapist to cultivate in order to create an atmosphere
conducive for healing and student/teach-er relationship?
A PLACE OF HEALING
Michael Lerner’s Vision Quest.
BY RITA TRIEGER