Self-Care Is Primary Care

Kula for Karma has been operating programs in hospitals since we first began offering therapeutic yoga to patients, 11 years ago. One of the most alarming trends we've observed in more than a decade of working in clinical settings is the rise in stress, burnout, depression, and suicide among physicians, medical residents, nurses, and other caregivers.

As a result, we began to turn our focus to offer therapeutic yoga, mindfulness, and stress-reduction classes not only to patients but also to the medical personnel who care for them. And the demand we've seen for this offering has been growing exponentially.

 Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash.

Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash.

Stress and burnout can lead to preventable medical errors and patient deaths, and they can spiral into a depression that's all too common among doctors but rarely spoken about because of the prevailing culture within medical institutions.

In an article published on July 12 in Thrive magazine, Arianna Huffington noted that "Almost two-thirds of doctors in the U.S. say they're burned out, depressed, or both." And according to a study in The Lancet, the suicide rate among physicians is more than double that of the general population. A report published by ABC News puts the figure for physician suicides much higher, at three to five times the rate of the general population.

That's a statistic—and a reality—that we, as a society, cannot afford to look away from, or avoid talking about. This is a public health crisis hiding within our very health institutions, affecting everyone, medical personnel and patients alike.

Fortunately, there is growing awareness among hospital administrators, doctors, and chief medical officers that medical personnel need to practice regular self-care in order to prevent burnout, manage stress, and be able to adequately care for patients. One tool that hospitals can offer to their staff to help them practice self-care is therapeutic yoga and mindfulness.

Kula for Karma is on the leading edge of these hospital-based programs for caregivers, with three additional programs starting up this summer at leading hospitals in New York City and Miami, and numerous other programs in the works.

These weekly classes are not for hospital patients but exclusively for doctors, medical residents, nurses, and other hospital staff. Therapeutic movement and stretching, mindfulness, breath work, and other forms of relaxation are taught to help medical personnel learn to regulate their stress levels and cope better with the enormous challenges they face on the job.

Clearly, there is an enormous cultural change that needs to take place within medical institutions in order to better care for the professionals who care for the rest of us. As everyone who's ever flown on a plane knows, "put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help someone else." Doctors and other medical personnel need to practice self-care, for their own benefit first of all, but also for the benefit of every patient they see.

Physician, heal thyself! Kula for Karma is here to help.


Dennis Hunter
Marketing Director
Kula for Karma

June Teacher of the Month: Sue Simring

Our Teacher of the Month for June is Sue Simring. Here is Sue's story in her own words....

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"I took my first yoga class when I was 64, so I came late to this practice. I have been a psychotherapist for 40 years, always interested in finding new approaches to life's stresses and struggles. However, I only signed up for my first yoga class after my ski teacher said it would help with my balance. Coincidentally, a new studio opened a mile from my house.

"What I soon discovered was that yoga affected and changed me far more than physically. Its emotional and spiritual components helped me to cope with my own personal challenges, and provided an approach to living that was positive, inspiring, and purposeful, especially as I get older. If yoga could be this beneficial to me, I wanted to integrate its philosophy and practice into my professional psychotherapy practice, as well as teach yoga to others. Teaching for Kula for Karma was one of my incentives to complete a yoga teacher training program.

"A new challenge developed when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. I discovered Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall, who together modified yoga practice to be safe and helpful with bone diseases. Once again, yoga is helping me deal physically and emotionally with the aging process.

"My first experience teaching for Kula was at Englewood Hospital with triple negative breast cancer survivors. For the last several years, Laura Eisdorfer and I have co-taught a gentle chair class on an inpatient psychiatric unit at Hackensack Medical Center. It has been a gift to share the class with her. We learn from each other and enjoy the challenge of leading a group that changes every week.

"Frequently, at the beginning of a class, I wonder how I are going to "do yoga" with this disturbed population, all of whom are on major medications. Many are also seriously physically limited, and don't appear to be engaged at all. However, by the end of class, I'm amazed by how many patients respond to our yoga class with appreciation, even if it is not much more than breathing and the most gentle movements. I am grateful for the opportunity to teach for Kula, and to be part of the larger Kula for Karma community."

Thank you, Sue, for your generous heart and warm presence. We are so grateful for all you do!

April Teacher of the Month: Rosemarie Monaco

Our Teacher of the Month for April 2018 is Rosemarie Monaco.

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Rosemarie is a 500-hour Registered Yoga Teacher. She is also certified to teach Restorative Yoga, Gentle Yoga and has trained with Charlotte Stone through Kula for Karma to teach adult oncology patients. She is a student of Sanskrit and has studied Yoga Therapy. She has taught every level of yoga at two studios: Indian Rock Yoga in Suffern, NY and Birchwood Center in Nyack, NY. She began teaching cancer patients and mental-health patients for Kula for Karma in the summer of 2015. Rosemarie is also a professor of Communication Arts for St. Thomas Aquinas and Dominican Colleges in New York and a published author.

“I started practicing yoga during a very difficult period in my life. It was transformational on every level. It was so life-changing, in fact, that I knew I had to share the gift of yoga with others, so I became a teacher. When I learned about Kula for Karma, I jumped at the opportunity to work with those who so need the healing energy of yoga. I've come to teach, play and laugh with my students. And I'm certain that I have learned more from them than they have learned from me. No one knows better how to live in the present moment than those who have faced life-threatening illnesses. I currently teach at the John Theurer Cancer Center of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC). I have also taught cancer patients at Englewood Hospital Breast Cancer Center and I have taught mental-health patients at Debra Simon Center for Integrated Medicine (HUMC) and in-patient psych at HUMC. For a short time I also worked with bone-marrow-transplant patients at HUMC. Every one of these populations have been awe inspiring. I thank Kula for Karma and all my program directors for this precious gift.”

March Teacher of the Month: Megan Skelly

Our Teacher of the Month for March is Megan Skelly.

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Megan was inspired to become a yoga teacher as a result of the tremendous impact her own practice of over 10 years has had upon her personal healing and wellness journey. She received her 200-hour Hatha Yoga Teacher Training certification from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in 2015, and also completed a Trauma-Informed Teacher Training through Liberation Prison Yoga in 2017. She currently teaches Kula for Karma classes at Bellevue Hospital for adolescents in the psychiatric ward on the weekends, in addition to working in the NYC public school system during the week. Megan is a Reiki I practitioner of the Usui lineage, and is in the midst of pursuing a 150-hour Holistic Health Counselor certification in an Ayurveda nutrition program under Vaidya Naina Marballi. She is infinitely grateful to all of the teachers who have guided her on her path, and honored to have the chance to offer these transformative practices to other seekers and to those in need. You can learn more about her at her website, Here's Megan's story in her own words:

"My story with yoga is that it has saved my life. Since an early age, I have struggled with depression and anxiety, which led me into drug addiction and other self-destructive patterns as a teenager. During this time, a friend invited me to a yoga class at the local gym (and later on, yurt) led by a Kripalu instructor. Although I went infrequently at first, maybe every other week, there was something about the practice that stuck within my soul. As the years went on, I developed a deeper sadhana and my habits began to fall away, slowly but surely, as I began to heal. Eventually, this led me to pursue my teacher training at Kripalu (a word which I would come to learn means "compassion"), which was also my link to Kula for Karma. During one of our practice clinics there, I partnered with Carolyn Bryan, who worked for Kula at the time. She asked me what I hoped to do after receiving my certification; I told her that, more than anything, I wanted to give back and offer the incredible gift of these practices that had helped my own metamorphosis to populations that have the least access to them and could benefit from them deeply (especially within prisons and hospitals).

As a result of that chance encounter, Carolyn introduced me to Kula for Karma, where I have been volunteering for about two years now. I teach biweekly classes to teenagers in the psychiatric units at Bellevue Hospital. I love my students dearly and they are some of my greatest teachers. Many of them suffer from some of the same conditions that first led me to a yogic practice, and I feel so blessed to be able to pass on the tools I have learned to them. It is not always easy: inpatient units are transient environments ridden with crisis and trauma, but I do my best to ensure that for the hour I have them every other week, my students feel seen, welcomed and supported through even the smallest touch (they love having lavender oil during relaxation!). Because many of them have left the inpatient unit by the next time I come to teach, it is truly an act of karma yoga in that I can only plant the seed and am usually not there to witness the blossoming of their practices down the line. One of my personal favorite moments during this work was when I had a student (who had seemed disinterested during our first class together) approach me two weeks later to tell me that she had been practicing Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) in her room at the hospital every day.

I am so humbled to be part of this mission in my own small way, and forever grateful to Kula for Karma for the opportunity to witness the light of awareness and peace spreading through their continual service."

Thank you, Megan, for your incredible dedication in bringing the healing effects of yoga and meditation to a population so much in need. You are amazing!

Our director, Penni Feiner, will share her addiction story on Facebook Live

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We are committed to helping people recover from trauma, addiction and depression through yoga. Why? Because we know it works. Our executive director Penni Feiner is proof. After years of drug use, and then years of sobriety, she has stayed on a happy and healthy yogic path.

It's not always easy though. She's going to share her story with us on Facebook Live on Tuesday, 2/27 at 2 pm on our Kula for Karma page. Her journey is inspiring, her wisdom is beautiful, so this is a conversation you won't want to miss!

Penni wakes up every morning for meditation and chanting to clear her mind and spirit. She's a regular asana practitioner, too. "I have wrapped my body, mind and spirit in acceptance and compassion," she says. In our Facebook Live, she will share all of her methods for staying calm--and most importantly, clean!

Her work for Kula for Karma is especially rewarding. "My role in Kula allows me to turn my passion into action, working with a team of dedicated volunteers and partners like our founder Geri Topfer and our wonderful staff." Penni, through Kula, wants to change the paradigm and shift the stigma related to addiction. "The opioid epidemic in our country is frightening," she says. "Through yoga, by creating a safe container, we offer people space to address their issues, needs and habits free from judgement." Kula teachers share tools for mood management, impulse control, relaxation and exploring the inner landscape of the mind.

We reach people in recovery in all kinds of settings--schools, prison, hospitals and more--at no cost to the students. Our volunteer teachers are compassionate and well-trained. If you want to be a volunteer, contact us today. And if you want to learn more about trauma and addiction, Kula is offering a special teacher training on Saturday and Sunday 3/23 through 3/24 in Miami. Come learn the mindset of an addict and of someone who has experienced trauma. Our training will cover language, asana, pranayama, themes, poetry and self-care for the teacher.

Penni has been through it, and she's been working in this space for many years. We hope you'll pop onto Facebook and hear her story this Tuesday!

Meditations to Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart

There is power in getting in touch with our hearts through meditation; but we can never think our way into this connection. We have to humble and quiet the arrogant brain and speak the heart’s language.

A lot of people come to meditation with the notion that it’s a brain activity, something that we do with our thinking, logical minds. We sit down to be still, and instead we encounter the thinking mind’s untamed wildness. We spend a lot of our time in meditation dealing with that part of our being that exists from the neck up. And that alone seems like it could be a full-time job!

But humans are not just disembodied heads, despite how much it might feel that way sometimes. Below the neck is a whole other realm of embodied experience unfolding in every moment, a vast world of sensations and pulses and somatic messages coursing through our veins and our nervous systems. Our gut often knows things instinctively, and instantly, in ways the brain can’t quite comprehend. The enteric nervous system, which rules the gut, has 100 million neurons, more than can be found in the 45 miles of nerve fibers running through the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system. The body has its own forms of knowledge and even wisdom, whose workings often remain hidden from the conscious mind. The body’s mysterious wisdom is experienced as sensation, feeling, intuition, and emotion.

Read more in an article Dennis published in Yoga Journal. He describes 2 forms of meditation that help you get out of your head and into your heart and provides detailed instructions. Learn a lot more about Mindfulness of Body Practice and a Simple Metta Practice. These are tools you can start using today to experience more consciousness, peace and love throughout your day.

--Dennis Hunter from his website called One Human Journey.


Yogis Get Cancer, Too: Our Facebook Live with Lisa Merkle


We get to talk to yoga teacher and cancer survivor Lisa Merkle (pictured right) on Facebook Live tomorrow, 2/14 at 10:30 am EST on our page. (If you miss it, go check it out--the video will be there). This is super exciting for us. She has spoken and written extensively about her battle with cancer. Because she was a yogi living the wellness dream, she tried natural remedies for a really long time when she first had symptoms. She just wishes she had seen a traditional doctor sooner because then she would've caught her Stage 3 Rectal Cancer earlier. 

After chemo, surgeries and treatment, Lisa is cancer-free. Thank God. But she does want yogis to know that we can come down with conditions despite how much we meditate and drink kombucha. Colon and rectal cancers are actually on the rise for younger people in their 20s and 30s. Regular physicals and doctor visits are as important as ever. And our healthy, holistic lifestyles certainly help, too.

Of course, even as she spreads her message of awareness, Lisa is very grateful for her longtime yoga practice. It helped her through her battle and beyond. 

"From years of practicing yoga, I had developed a stable of tools that allowed me to look at my experience with cancer as transformative as opposed to being a victim. This was incredibly healing for me," she explains. She already had a gratitude practice. She was comfortable with the ideas of surrender and grace. Her meditation practice evolved. As wiped as she was during treatment, she was able to do asana which felt really good to her body. 

Today she teaches restorative yoga, and she's taking Kula's Advanced Teacher Training for Trauma and Addiction on March 24 and 25 in Miami. "I’m interested in the science behind meditative practices and the physiochemical state that yoga and meditation induce. It’s incredibly healing--not just for cancer patients. We all need space for healing as human beings living in turbulent times." We are inspired by her story, and we hope you are, too!

February Teacher of the Month: Sheryl Heller


We appreciate the hard work our Kula for Karma teachers put in to help other people through yoga. We especially appreciate Sheryl Heller, so we made her our February Teacher of the Month. For the last 2.5 years, she has worked at St. Joseph's Hospital Out-Patient Center for Children with Cancer in Paterson, New Jersey. She teaches kids ages 2 through 18 who are living with this disease. She says they are given a condition that's not very fair. "So how can I make their days a little better?" Sheryl asks. "I go in there, try to get them to smile and give them a break from thinking about what they're going through."

When she's not volunteering, Sheryl is a vinyasa yoga teacher at Nirvana studios in Montville and Wayne. She's a 500 RYT who has been teaching for 11 years. She does privates, and she even does massage. "Yoga has changed every aspect of my life: physically, mentally, spiritually. It makes me curious," Sheryl says. 

She's been happy teaching for Kula and helping her young students find a little peace and happiness on their mats. "Yoga allows the kids to handle changes. I am thankful to Kula for this opportunity, and I think Kula for Karma is absolutely incredible!"

We are pleased to honor you, Sheryl. We are so inspired by your dedication and work. Thank you!

How Yoga Helps Addiction and Recovery: Facebook Live with Maria Salvatore

Let's talk about how yoga helps conquer addiction and speed recovery on our next Facebook Live on Tuesday, 2/13 at 2:30 pm on our page. Kula teacher Maria Salvatore will share her own personal experience with substances and abuse, and how she overcame her issues to become a happier person. That's the name of the game. We all want to feel better. So whether you're dealing with addiction or working to understand this issue, we will provide insight.

You'll want to meet Maria. She is an awesome person, yoga teacher, mother, volunteer and survivor. She's been practicing yoga for 16 years. "My primary intention is to help people learn to heal themselves," she says. She's dealt with anxiety, addiction, body image issues and broken relationships. Yoga helped her turn her life around.

She teaches yoga for Kula for Karma to women in recovery at Integrity House in Secaucus. She also teaches near her hometown of Rivervale, New Jersey. She believes that everyone has the potential to feel contentment, and she uses asana as a tool to guide her students toward inner peace. To her, yoga opens the pathways to more openness, compassion, mindfulness and healing. Join us, and meet her on Tuesday on Facebook! We can't wait!


January Teacher of the Month: Judy Choix

Our Teacher of the Month for January 2018 is Judy Choix.


Judy is a NYS licensed Mental Health Counselor, Gestalt therapist and a body worker trained in yoga, craniosacral therapy, Integral Somatic Psychotherapy (ISP), and mindfulness practices. She has a private practice on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
As volunteer for Kula for Karma, she has worked with at-risk teens at Covenant House and currently volunteers at Bellevue Hospital working with in-patients in the children’s ward.  
“This work can be challenging since there is often so much trauma present with these populations,” says Judy. “But it is also rich in blessings since you literally see the children transform in front of your eyes. Upon entering the ward you can sense the dysregulation in their bodies, which may show up as anger, reluctance, ambivalence, as well as hyper- or hypoactivity. By the end of class there is usually a softening and settling. I always end class with savasana and the ringing of the mediation bell. As they lie there, I invite them to let in anything that is nourishing and helpful and let go of anything that is not needed and not loving. You can sense the dropping down into themselves and the peace that enters the room.

“It is very special work and I am privileged to be of service. It is an honor to work as part of the Kula for Karma team making a difference to so many young people by bringing yoga into their lives. Thank you Kula!!”

Thank you, Judy, for your generosity and the tremendously healing work you do!!!