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Yoga, Buddhism, and psychology: Training yogis to heal communities


With the School for Compassionate Action, Jill Satterfield aspires to arm New York City yoga instructors, therapists, and school teachers with the training they need to be compassionate counselors.

Picture this: In a classroom at the Henry Street School for International Studies on the Lower East Side, boys with ADHD are learning meditation, yoga poses, and deep relaxation, encouraging a mindful awareness that will help them focus later on during Geometry class. A few blocks away, in a group therapy session for women in chronic pain at Gouverneur’s Hospital, the clients try simple chair-yoga poses and meditation for pain management.

Jill Satterfield is the reason why these scenes are already a reality. And Satterfield, a seasoned yoga and meditation teacher, aspires to make them commonplace by arming yoga instructors with the training and tools they need to work as compassionate counselors in New York City communities.

The first class of the School for Compassionate Action, which Satterfield has founded, will start this September at the Tibet House. The 300-hour certification includes courses with yoga and meditation teachers, clinical psychologists, social workers, and Buddhist psychotherapists. Students, who may come from a variety of backgrounds but must have a developed yoga practice, will also complete internships working with at-risk youth and adults, patients with chronic illnesses, and people living with PTSD and addictions.

Satterfield, who was motivated to form the school by her own experience with illness 30 years ago, began practicing yoga to heal chronic pain. She’s now been teaching yoga for 21 years, and in 1992, she founded Vajra Yoga, which integrates Buddhist philosophy and meditation into the practice of hatha yoga.

The Compassionate Action program marks the first formalized effort to bring the tools of meditation, yoga, and psychotherapy together on a community level. “There’s great need for the benefits of yoga and meditation outside of yoga studios,” says Satterfield, who trained yoga teachers to do just that for ten years with her Social Action Teacher Training, a 120-hour course that she offered her yoga teacher graduates. “I realized that a gap existed in terms of training yogis to go out in the world and use their practice to help people,” says Satterfield. “And yogis wanted to deepen their training.”

The School for Compassionate Action takes the yoga and social action training even further—by training yogis to teach and implement these healing modalities.

Jill Satterfield at the Tibet House, where most of the School for Compassionate Action coursework will take place

While most of her students have been yogis looking to branch out in their practice, social workers, counselors, and therapists are also enrolling in the new program. “There are a lot of New York City therapists bringing mind-body practices into their work without the training,” says Satterfield. “And a lot of yoga and meditation teachers bringing psychological or emotional support into populations, and they haven’t been trained. This program is an effort to bring everyone together for thorough training,” she says.

Satterfield’s goal? To create a new profession of informed healers. “I want to educate as many therapists, school teachers, and facility directors as I possibly can,” says Satterfield. “And little by little, it will change the landscape of what’s being offered in New York City.” —Lisa Elaine Held

For more information on the program and faculty, visit www.schoolforcompassionateaction.org. The school is still accepting applications for September.

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