Sample from the Winter 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Nirmala Heriza by Laura Sevika Douglass

Nirmala Heriza, director of the Integral Yoga Center in Los Angeles, continuously works to spread the word on the transformational power inherent in the teachings of Integral Yoga. Her new book, Dr. Yoga: A Complete Program for Discovering the Head-to-Toe Health Benefits of Yoga, does exactly this. In this interview she shares her vision for Yoga therapy and the role she hopes to play in sharing the teachings of Integral Yoga with a wider audience.

Sevika Douglass: What led you to write Dr. Yoga?

Nirmala Heriza: I was actually invited by Penguin Books to write this book. When I was first approached with this invitation I said to the publisher, “My Guru has already written “the quintessential” text on Hatha Yoga, Integral Yoga Hatha.” I never would have dreamed of writing a book on Hatha Yoga because his book tells it all. Penguin Books thought it would be valuable to have a book with a little more medical information that was geared toward the mainstream.

Dr. Yoga is a book for people who want to find health alternatives and to keep themselves healthy. I have designed programs they can use at home for the heart, the kidneys, the reproductive system, and other vital organs. It is a therapeutic guide that will also be helpful to Yoga therapists who are interested in case studies and working with different populations. I hope it will be of value to physicians and physical therapists, as well as the layperson. Ultimately, I hope Dr. Yoga will introduce people to Sri Gurudev and his teachings.

SD: Would you tell us about your program at a prominent medical center in Los Angeles?

NH: I was invited to write the book based on my private Yoga therapy practice, my role as a consulting Yoga Cardiac therapist for Dr. Dean Ornish and my work at a high-profile Los Angeles-based medical center. I have developed a program for heart patients based on the teachings of Sri Gurudev and Integral Yoga that I use in my private therapy practice and with the medical entities I’ve mentioned. The addition of a Yoga therapist at the medical center, is truly groundbreaking. It is the only medical center that has a Yoga program on their premises. I was also encouraged to write the book because of my role on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

SD: What is your role on the President’s Council?

NH: The President’s Council was formed in the 1950s as an incentive for Americans to be active and healthy. It includes anything to get you up and active–running, playing baseball, golf. In 2001, the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared that their program would be preventively-oriented. They had read about my work at Cedars-Sinai in Time magazine (May 2001) and they thought Yoga would be appropriate.

SD: What does the position on the President’s Council entail?

NH: At the behest of the Executive Director of the President’s Council, I created the United Council on Yoga. The Yoga Council is really still in its genesis. It has gone through trial and error and testing to see what works. Sri Gurudev gave his blessings for it and to have his teachings be a foundational part of the Council. The Integral Yoga Teaching Academy, and Dr. Dean Ornish are all part of the Yoga Council. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is an associated medical entity.

SD: Do you see a shift in government in its openness toward embracing spirituality as a basis for physical and mental health?

NH: They still don’t call it “spirituality.” We emphasize the scientific aspect. I feel Integral Yoga does have a scientific basis and I explain it scientifically.

SD: Do you feel that helps Yoga reach a larger audience?

NH: It does. This program is really developed for the everyday citizen. Program participants who do so many hours of physical activity a week, get an award from the President. Because of the relationship I have with so many celebrities, we are looking into doing some media and press about the benefits of Yoga and how the President is endorsing it.

SD: Did your work with celebrities evolve out of your work with the medical center in Los Angeles?

NH: As I have mentioned, I have a private practice as well. I worked with an acupuncturist for about eight years and he was involved with celebrity clientele, and he started referring patients to me. Jane Fonda solicited me to do an Integral Yoga class at the legendary Jane Fonda Workout Program. I became her private therapist and from there it was a chain reaction of celebrities. Of course, some were introduced to me through Sri Gurudev.

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2005 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.