Rob Schware, PhD, heads the Give Back Yoga Foundation and is President Ex-Officio & Advisor for the Yoga Service Council. He also writes for The Huffington Post Blog. In late 2006, Rob brought his two decades of management experience with the World Bank to a second career: helping to grow the yoga service movement. He wanted to combine his development and project management expertise in over 30 countries including India, Indonesia, Turkey, Rwanda and Palestine with his passion for yoga, by forming an organization whose mission it is to bring yoga to underserved populations. In 2013, his work of co-founding and furthering the Give Back Yoga Foundation earned him the International Association of Yoga Therapists’ Karma Yoga Award for “extraordinary selfless service in reducing suffering and elevating consciousness through yoga.” And in 2016, he received Yoga Journal’s Good Karma award. Read more: Rob Schware talks with Yoga Teacher Magazineabout the founding and mission of Give Back Yoga.
How did you get into the industry?
I was taking early retirement from the World Bank after 23 years where I was the lead IT specialist. I called my yoga teacher, Beryl Bender Birch, in New York, and asked her how could I serve the yoga teachers who had done so much for me the last decade. She said, as part of her 500hr teacher training for The Hard and The Soft Yoga Institute, that she required students to do a “give back” project, to write it up, implement it, and report back to the class. This was the seed for what’s become a great yoga non-profit service organization.
Any emerging industry trends?
The yoga service movement, especially the five programs under Give Back Yoga—Mindful Yoga Therapy, Prison Yoga Project, Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, Eat Breathe Thrive, and Yoga4Cancer—is increasingly introducing its protocols and resources into social agencies—VA hospitals, detention, re-entry or rehabilitation facilities, and addiction treatment centers.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Health care costs have an enormous impact on the American economy, representing a large portion of prison budgets, addiction and substance abuse recovery, treatment for disordered eating, and for survivors of cancer. We’re talking major taxpayer dollars—your money, my money. The list is staggering:
Every year, the federal government spends about $3 billion to treat veterans and soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Health care for prison inmates has experienced a ramp-up, reaching nearly $8 billion in 2011. Substance abuse costs our nation over $600 billion annually. From 2005 to 2006, the total hospital costs involving eating disorders were $271 million, a 61 percent increase compared to $168 million from 1999 to 2000. The average cost per hospital stay was $9,628 in 2005 and 2006 and $7,046 in 1999 and 2000. In 2015, about 15.5 million Americans were living with cancer and/or cancer treatments’ side effects. By January 1, 2026, it is estimated that the population of cancer survivors will increase to 20.3 million.
Each and every person in the United States is paying for these costs. Yet there is a cost-effective intervention that is still largely untapped by institutions in this country: yoga.
Yoga is a comprehensive system of practices for physical and psychological health and well-being that incorporates multiple components, including physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation/concentration techniques. And research suggests that this set of practices may benefit many of the medical conditions exhibited by cancer survivors, inmates, alcohol and substance abusers, and by veterans recovering from PTSD.
For instance, yoga, meditation, and a variety of other complementary modalities show promise in preventing eating disorders and supporting a healthy relationship with food and body image—while costing only $60 per session once a week.
Yoga has also demonstrated efficacy in the palliative treatment of a variety of mental health and medical disorders: cancer, chronic pain, arthritis, fatigue, heart disease and hypertension, insomnia, migraine headaches, depression and anxiety, and much more. As an auxiliary intervention, yoga has been shown to complement cognitive therapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Every morning I wake up and ask myself, “How can I be of service to the yoga community?” That was the question that led to the creation of Give Back Yoga Foundation, and remains our daily mantra.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Ultimately, we want to inspire yogis everywhere to take action, to take their skills and knowledge off the yoga mats, out of the yoga studios, and serve specific populations. I’m excited about a new online module Give Back Yoga and Here to Be (lululemon) have partnered to develop, “How Can I Serve”, a 6-hour online course. It was created to supplement 200-and 300-hour yoga teacher training curriculums, which don't tend to go into depth about yoga service. You’ll gain access to true experts—yoga service leaders who know that it means to serve and how to get started—and six hours worth of resources in the form of video, podcasts, and printed materials. We’ve filmed some of the leading luminaries in the yoga service world, including Beryl Bender Birch, a yoga activist and spiritual revolutionary, James Fox, founder and director of the Prison Yoga Project, Nikki Myers, founder of Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, and so many more. These inspiring teachers are examples of why it’s important to get involved with yoga service.
I’m also excited about a yoga4cancer video series we are producing for release in 2018 thanks to a generous individual donor. Cancer mortality rate is strongly linked to access to quality healthcare. Additionally, a cancer diagnosis usually comes with negative financial impacts due to the cost of healthcare, drugs, loss of income, and other secondary issues. We must improve the quality of support to those that most need it both in terms of geography and demographics.
There is a great opportunity to provide access and opportunity to cancer survivors to participate in a yoga class no matter the weather, location, their strength, or wellness. We have countless requests to participate in an online class, but due to resources and funding we have yet to produce a video. This could provide necessary support to thousands of survivors, both in our community today and to those in the future.
We are producing an online y4c class for cancer survivors and will distribute it for free on y4c.com and via YouTube. There will be two, 30-minute, and one, 60-minute cancer survivor classes led by Tari Prinster. It will feature up to three participants ranging in demographics, body shape, and physical challenges. Throughout the practice, the video will provide both the fact-based reasons for why each pose is valuable, and will support those new to the method. The ultimate purpose is to get people interested and to understand the value of yoga in the cancer community. It will support our existing classes and our 2,000 teachers worldwide.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Our key partner in yoga service is lululemon and the Here to Be program. It’s support has helped us grow intentionally and sustainably. We’ve used funds to send tens of thousands of yoga books to veterans, prisoners, cancer survivors. And it has been a godsend for brining our teacher trainings to underfunded applicants through the judicious use of scholarships.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Tight budgets can make seeking donor money a challenge. This is so typical for non-profit organizations that are mission-driven. So we just keep telling inspiring stories and stay on the path to give back yoga.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Taking one of our Give Back Yoga Program trainings, particularly if you have specific plans to introduce yoga to an underserved or unserved population in your community. We’re looking for genuinely motivated, qualified individuals who want to move the mission of Give Back Yoga into new prisons, immigration detention centers, addiction treatment centers, VA hospital facilities and Vet Centers, and cancer hospitals.
How do you motivate others?
I tell stories of how passionate yoga teachers are giving back, in small and large ways to their communities. And I share letters we receive at Give Back Yoga every day from prisoners and veterans requesting our free yoga and meditation resources. For instance, from Daniel came this recently: “I am confined in Solitary with very little space. Please send me some basic instructions in Yoga.”
Career advice to those in your industry?
When we know ourselves intimately, our choices and priorities become clear. Explore yoga and meet your physical limitations, thoughts and feelings. In my experience doing so regularly makes it possible to live a more creative, fulfilling and productive life and give back your gifts to others.
About Give Back Yoga Foundation
The Give Back Yoga Foundation believes in making yoga available to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the transformational benefits of this powerful practice. As a national 501(c)3 nonprofit, Give Back Yoga supports and funds research-based, clinically tested yoga programs for marginalized populations. It also provide supplies to help kickstart yoga programs in under-resourced areas. Through this work, the organization aims to inspire grassroots social change and community cooperation. Learn more at givebackyoga.org.