Sample from the Spring 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
An Interview with Bo Lozoff
Bo and Sita Lozoff founded, with Ram Dass, the largest prison interfaith ministry in the world. It is now in 60 countries with 50,000 prisoners on the mailing list. Bo’s book, We’re All Doing Time, now in its 17th printing, with half a million copies distributed, is referred to as the “prisoner’s bible.” Recently having completed a 22-month prison tour, Bo shares his notes from the road abut a spiritual journey that takes a hard look at the real meaning of doing seva (service) in the world.
Integral Yoga Magazine: How did you get into Yoga?
Bo Lozoff: My first Yoga class was with Swami Satchidananda in 1972 at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. There were 200 people in shoulder stand, and he’s walking in and out of the rows of students, and our two-year-old son is walking next to him like an assistant! I first started veering toward Yoga in the early 1970s, when I got a job in psychic research at Duke. I was the point man for yogis and swamis for the Psychical Research Foundation on the campus of Duke. Gurudev came down for an experiment when I was there. A local devotee, also participated. We put them in two separate rooms and wired them to EEG machines which measure brain waves. We showed Gurudev different photos—nice things, harsh things to see if his devotee, who was trying to tune into him, would have a parallel EEG. The results were mildly significant, showing some correlation. Eventually, I left because I was more moved by the swamis we tested than by the science! So I took a few classes from Gurudev. My 20-minute Hatha routine is based on what I learned from him. I’m not trying to become an advanced Hatha Yogi, I’m basically a Karma Yogi.
IYM: How did the Prison Ashram Project start?
BL: In 1972, somebody gave my wife, Sita, a copy of Be Here Now by Ram Dass which she recommended I also read. When I opened it, the first page was a photo of Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaj-ji), Ram Dass’s Guru. I recognized him as the “magic man” about whom I had begun dreaming when I was eight years old. That got my attention! I must have dreamt of him a hundred times or more. I never could have imagined that he was real. I was 25 when I finally saw a photo of him and his face was more familiar to me than my own. Within a short time, I was a full-time yogi. We wrote to Ram Dass, and he visited us in 1973 and we became instantly connected. We talked about doing a prison ashram project. My sister’s husband was serving a 40-year prison sentence. I had no context for what I wanted to do in the prisons. We went to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to discuss the idea of offering classes. At the time I talked with Ram Dass about it, he was beginning to get correspondence from prisoners since they were reading his book, Be Here Now. He offered me some postage money to answer the letters. Letters started to pour in. We never planned to create a life-long prison ministry, but that’s what happened. We just quietly started sending free books and writing to people.
IYM: You ran Kindness House and also just finished a long tour?
BL: In October 2007, I finished the longest prison tour I’d ever done: 22 months. I visited 300 prisons, spoke at Yoga centers, churches and gave hundreds of workshops. For 13 years (until last spring) we ran our program out of a community on 70 acres in North Carolina named Kindness House (KH). We were able to take people coming out of prison as part of their parole plan. They learned to build cabins and transition back. We got a lot of people out of prison who wouldn’t otherwise have been released because they had nowhere to go, and we didn’t have one person go back to prison. The vision for KH was that it would be an ashram, a spiritual community where people would live long term…
Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.