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Omega in Action

Omega in Action highlights inspiring people and organizations making meaningful change. From protecting the environment to empowering women, healing veterans, and serving nonprofits, you'll find fresh perspectives, trending news, and the latest information on noteworthy events here at Omega and around the world.

Update: Power Lines Plan Approved by Public Service Commission

11 months 3 weeks ago

Dear Friends,

I am sad to report that the New York Public Service Commission has announced that they approved moving forward with the transmission line development project. 

Omega is grateful to all those who called and wrote to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Public Service Commission. Your support helped shape the process along the way and has made the outcome less harmful than it would otherwise have been. 

While the decision does take into consideration some of our stated environmental concerns, it will still cause damage and saddle the rate payers of the region with a very large, unnecessary construction bill. The route of the transmission line development will thankfully not impact historic sites or Omega. There were two routes in question, one directly bordering Omega and one east of Omega, with the eastern route being chosen. 

Together we have built a strong coalition that will continue to work toward a 21st century energy plan for New York State. Thank you for your support over this long process. I will be in touch about ongoing work.

For more details and comments from other members of the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition, please read PSC Allows High-Voltage Power Lines to Proceed Despite Project’s Failure to Meet Tests of Need, Fairness and Emissions Reduction.

With appreciation,

Robert Backus's Signature

Robert "Skip" Backus 
Chief Executive Officer 
Omega Institute

Omega Needs Your Help! Call New York's Governor by December 17th

12 months 2 days ago

Dear Friends,

It’s been nearly two years since Omega, along with the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition, began speaking out to create a better energy future for New York State. But there is still work to be done.

On December 17th, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) is expected to make its final decision on whether or not to approve an unnecessary new power line expansion project that would cut through the heart of the Hudson Valley.

If this project is approved new, taller, overhead electric transmission lines will be built through 25 communities in seven counties—including potentially bordering Omega's campus.

Please help us by contacting Governor Andrew Cuomo and letting him know there is no need for this project. See a summary of talking points here.

You can call the Governor’s office at (518) 474-8390 or contact them via email at www.governor.ny.gov/contact. You can also call the Public Service Commission hotline at (800) 335-2120, as well as contact the PSC.  

The most recent review of the state’s electricity needs now and over the coming decades shows that New York already has more than enough transmission capacity, with 90 percent of the project’s projected $1.2 billion cost being borne by tax payers.

Not only does this project directly threaten the Omega Institute campus, as the proposed route runs directly behind our property, it threatens the environmental and economic future of the entire region.

Instead of out-dated, massive long-distance power lines, what the region needs is a 21st century energy grid, based on clean, renewable energy, generated as closely as possible to where it is used.

To learn more, join us on December 13th from 10:00-11:00 a.m., at Upstate Films in downtown Rhinebeck, New York, for a series of short films including High Voltage, Dark Shadow, which portrays the threats the Hudson River faces from this transmission project, as well as from toxic PCBs, and from oil transportation by so-called "bomb trains.” The short film series will be followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Jon BowermasterDr. Gidon Eshel from Bard College, Ned Sullivan and Hayley Carlock from Scenic Hudson, and Greg Quinn from Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition.

Can’t make it on December 13th? View and share the short film today. And don’t forget to call the Governor’s office by December 17th.

With appreciation,

Robert Backus's Signature

Robert "Skip" Backus 
Chief Executive Officer 
Omega Institute

Omega Teachers Receive Rockefeller Grant For Youth Mindfulness Program Expansion

1 year 6 days ago

In 2014 Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) founders and Omega faculty, brothers Ali Smith and Atman Smith and their good friend Andres Gonzalez, were busy expanding and strengthening their mindfulness programs for inner-city kids, which they’ve been developing since 2001. The expansion was thanks to a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, whose mission is to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world.

HLF defines mindfulness as “the combination of awareness, centering, and being present… which leads to the development of empathy, compassion, love, balance, and harmony.” The grant is specifically for their Mindful Moment program now featured at two local Baltimore schools—an elementary and a high school.

“When we first started, there were not many yoga studios in Baltimore,” Ali Smith said. “Now ‘mindfulness’ is a term you see everywhere and yoga is all over pop culture. But we started based on our own practice even when it wasn’t as prominently featured. People thought we were kind of crazy but then they saw the changes in the kids and that turned them around and they realized we were on to something.”

Both schools pause for mindfulness moments in the day. The program also features an “alternative to suspension room” where Ali said, “Kids who are feeling angry, can't focus, are sad, or are under stress at home, can either self refer or be referred by a teacher.” They spend 20 minutes and practice mindfulness and stress management techniques with supportive teachers in a room filled with inspirational posters, calming aromatherapy, and tea.  

Since implementing these programs, suspension rates dropped to zero at the elementary school, Ali said. The high school rates have dropped significantly, too.

As teachers for Omega's Yoga Service initiative, Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez share their work training others to teach yoga and mindfulness to young people.

“Omega is one of the things we mark on our calendar, and we count down like kids to Christmas,” Ali said. “The staff and energy there is amazing and you feel the energy when you are on that campus. Each summer we build more family and we learn a lot about ourselves, too.” 

Learn more about Omega's Yoga Service Initiative

Omega Shares Dining Hall Meals With Wider Community

1 year 2 weeks ago

Ever wonder how Omega FoodWorks balances the amount of food prepared with participants served?

Since 2002, saved and repurposed meals are shared with a local organization called the Lunch Box in Poughkeepsie, New York. Started in 1982 as a midday meal program, the Lunch Box now serves 200 residents at midday, after school, and dinner, and uses Omega’s donations to provide up to 5,000 meals each year in a city where more than one in four households experience food insecurity.

In response to the effects of impoverishment, unemployment, and underemployment, the Lunch Box and other programs of Dutchess Outreach say they “strive to meet the basic needs of low-income people when no other resources are available to them."

Margot Schulman, manager of the Lunch Box, says donations from Omega support the organization’s broader efforts to increase the quality of food they offer. The Lunch Box provides comfort foods with a focus on ingredients that are more nutritious than typical soup kitchen varieties, which often include highly processed or overcooked foods.

“I’m working hard to make connections with local farms and increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that we serve,” she said.

Omega’s commitment to sustainability is illustrated through use of local and organic ingredients as often as possible in dining hall meals. Ingredients are sourced from farmers in the Hudson Valley. In addition to donating meals to the Lunch Box, food scraps also get composted at MacEnroe Organic Farm in Millerton, New York. 

Robert Turner, general manager and executive chef emphasized the high quality of the meals shared.

“When we donate a frozen chili, the beans that are in it are organic,” he said. The size of each donation depends on what was prepared and not served in Omega’s Dining Hall.

“During a menu rotation, we identify what we can save and repurpose,” Turner said. A section of the freezer is dedicated exclusively to donations.

Omega’s most recent donation of more than 100 gallons will be used to provide 1,600 prepared meals.

“We received a huge amount of frozen food, which is really nice for us because we can pull out what we need, when we need it. We probably got about eight full meals [for 200 people each], which is pretty incredible,” Schulman said.

The Yoga Service Council & Omega Institute Publish First White Book in New Series

1 year 3 weeks ago

Yoga Service White Book: Best Practices for Yoga in Schools Now Available on Amazon.com

RHINEBECK, NY – The Yoga Service Council (YSC) and Omega Institute for Holistic Studies today announced they will publish a series of white books to establish best practices in the field of yoga service. The first book in the series, Yoga Service White Book: Best Practices for Yoga in Schools, is the work of 27 of the nation’s leaders on yoga in schools and is now available on Amazon.com.

“We are tremendously excited for the opportunities that this series of white books holds for making progress on our shared goal of helping to mainstream the practices of yoga and mindfulness in school systems, veterans’ facilities, prisons, and other social institutions,” said Rob Schware, president of the Yoga Service Council.

The intention of each of these Best Practices Guides is to be a resource for those who wish to share yoga practices in a way that is safe, effective, and positioned in a broader social context; in touch with the relevant research; and respectful of the many intersecting realities found in any social setting, including the need for skillful relationship building within institutions.

“Yoga and service have always been core components of Omega’s offerings and continue to serve as transformative tools toward our personal and collective growth and well-being,” said Robert “Skip” Backus, chief executive officer at Omega. “Over the years, an ever-widening network of people and organizations that share our deep commitment to service have enriched our community. Through this experience we have learned that the power of working together is much stronger than walking the path alone,” concluded Backus.

“As leaders in the yoga service field, we have a responsibility to offer schools the most effective, sustainable, and inclusive programming possible,” said Jennifer Cohen Harper, board vice president of the Yoga Service Council and coeditor with Traci Childress of Best Practices for Yoga in Schools. “No matter how hard individuals work, when we work alone, we work with blind spots, and many of us are working alone. Coming together as a community, to share and learn from one another, allows us to serve all of our students from a stronger foundation and to hold one another accountable.”

This first publication, Best Practices for Yoga in Schools, considers practices from several perspectives, including individuals sharing yoga within their school; administrators of schools who are interested in incorporating yoga into the curriculum (or are being approached by those interested in doing so); and yoga teachers who teach (or want to teach) in schools.

“Ultimately, we hope this collective work benefits both the teachers and students, and we hope it is the beginning of more dialogue both within the yoga in schools field, and with other allied professionals,” concluded Harper.

Twenty-three contributors and four reviewers of Best Practices for Yoga in Schools committed to an 18-month process of reviewing existing research and responding to surveys, which culminated in a working meeting at Omega’s Rhinebeck campus in July 2014.

The partnership of the Yoga Service Council and Omega Institute began in 2009, when Omega offered space for a group of yoga teachers to come together and talk about ways to support those who worked with vulnerable and underserved populations. The YSC emerged from this initial gathering and offered the first annual Yoga Service Conference at Omega in 2011. As a result of the shared commitment to yoga and service, the YSC and Omega decided to formally partner in 2014 to bring yoga and mindfulness practices into the lives of more individuals and communities who have limited access to these vital teachings.

The second Yoga Service White Book will address yoga for veterans.

About Yoga Service Council (YSC)

The Yoga Service Council is a collaborative community that welcomes yoga and mindfulness teachers, therapists, social service providers, educators, health professionals, researchers, and all others who share our mission and vision. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our mission is to maximize the effectiveness, sustainability, and impact of individuals and organizations working to make yoga and mindfulness practices equally accessible to all. YogaServiceCouncil.org

Yoga Service Council contact: Jennifer Cohen Harper, Jenn@YogaServiceCouncil.org 

About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Founded in 1977, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is the nation’s most trusted source for wellness and personal growth. As a nonprofit organization, Omega offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. Located on 250 acres in the beautiful Hudson Valley, Omega welcomes more than 23,000 people to its workshops, conferences, and retreats in Rhinebeck, New York, and at exceptional locations around the world. eOmega.org

Omega contact: Chrissa Pullicino, ChrissaP@eOmega.org

 

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Rejecting Keystone XL Pipeline: A Step in the Right Direction

1 year 1 month ago
Saying that now was the time to act to "protect the one planet we've got while we still can," President Obama rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The decision is a genuine victory for the planet, both in its symbolism and for what it means practically for protecting our climate, air, and water.
 
"It's great news that there is a growing understanding of the real danger of transporting highly explosive tar sands oil, as well as the increasing negative impact that burning our remaining sources of hydrocarbons has on our environment," Omega CEO Robert "Skip" Backus said on hearing the President's decision.
 
Due its composition, oil spills involving tar sands are considerably more difficult to clean up than spills with conventional sources of petroleum. Tar sand oil extraction and processing also creates more greenhouse gas emissions than other crude oil sources.
 
TransCanada's Keystone XL has been a highly contentious fossil fuel infrastructure since it was first proposed, becoming a touchstone of civil disobedience for environmentalists throughout the United States, with dozens of arrests taking place outside the White House.
 
"While rejection of Keystone XL is important," Backus added, "there are other, more local, extreme energy projects that now deserve our renewed attention. To protect our water, air, and climate from pollution, we need to keep the spotlight on efforts to transport oil through our region via so-called bomb trains and on Hudson River barges."
 
The decision, coming as it does just weeks before the COP21 climate talks in Paris, is being hailed by environmentalists.
 
Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org and Omega teacher says, "This isn't just a victory for the climate movement—it's a victory for everyone who believes in the power of organized people, from the streets of Missouri, to the border crossings of Arizona, to the hills of South Dakota and Nebraska. Together, we're on the path to real, substantive change."
 
"If we want to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable future, we have to make the choice to expand our national and regional clean energy infrastructure, rather than continued investment in expanding polluting energy sources," Backus said. "Rejecting Keystone XL is a step in the right direction."

Kids Will Love Vegetables Once They Know Them

1 year 1 month ago

"What we know," Poughkeepsie Farm Project education director Jamie Levato told the Seeds of Change conference audience, "is if you get kids excited about vegetables, if you show them what they can prepare, if you provide a fun and interesting learning environment with caring loving adults, they will love vegetables. They won't love them just baked into a muffin, or with some cinnamon and sugar on top, they will love to eat slices of raw turnip; they will love to eat raw kale."

Poughkeepsie Farm Project, based in the city of Poughkeepsie, New York, is the recipient of the 2015 Omega Center for Sustainable Living Leadership in Sustainable Education Award. The award was presented at the Seeds of Change conference on October 10. 

“We are delighted to recognize Poughkeepsie Farm Project as a nonprofit that has made great strides with community partners to increase support for growing and serving local food in schools,” Omega CEO Robert “Skip” Backus said.

In the first half of 2015, Poughkeepsie Farm project served some 2,000 participants in farm visits, school nutrition programs, and a newly created high school intern program, nearly a 100 percent increase in reach from the year before.

Levato summed up the importance of teaching children about where food comes from, what it takes to grow it, and what foods to eat: “Kids in urban environments often have less access to fresh vegetables and the great outdoors. Without that exposure, familiarity, and access, they are not as likely to make the choice to eat vegetables.” 

As part of this award, Poughkeepsie Farm Project receives $10,000 and a strategic planning retreat at Omega, to help strengthen organizational development and further its mission.

Scholarship Recipients Talk About #DoPowerDifferently

1 year 1 month ago

The Omega Women's Leadership Center's (OWLC) annual Women & Power event has attracted wide audiences for more than a decade of conversation about creating a culture of equality and care. This year 86 women received scholarships to participate in the event and contribute to the dialogue. Below, three of them speak about their experiences and what the campaign #DoPowerDifferently means to them. 

Name: Gifty Blankson
Organization: CUNY
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "First of all, I would like to use this opportunity to thank you all for giving me this extraordinary life-changing experience. Miss Elizabeth Gilbert's message on how to go after our dreams even in fear, was an eye-opening moment for me. She made me realize that fear is always going to be a part of my creativity journey but that shouldn't stop me."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "Doing power differently to me means identifying my destiny and having the courage to pursue it."
View the CUNY photo album from the conference.
 
Name: Nirmala Singh (pictured above on right with OWLC manager Sarah Urech)
Organization: Go Beyond Greatness
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "My biggest takeaway was Bonnie St. John explaining how being underestimated and devalued in society did not bring her down but ignited the fire in her to go above and beyond for high achievement and life success. My experience being around amazing, talented, and strong women leaders has helped me to understand the true definition of what is means to be bold."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "As an aspiring international human rights attorney, I realized doing power differently means I must step out, be bold, and become an important contributor who balances the power structure within American society and the world." 
 
Name: Lila Montoya  
Organization: Be the Change
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "The biggest way to change the world is to follow one's passion and not let fear dictate our decisions, or lack thereof."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "At times, we are put in unfavorable positions that we cannot control. What we can control is our reaction and what we are willing to do to better the situation, for ourselves, and perhaps for other women."
View the Be the Change photo album from the conference.
 

Women Veterans Build Supportive Community at Omega

1 year 1 month ago

More than 50 women veterans and service members, who were serving or had served in the military, attended retreats at Omega in the fall of 2014, and for many it was the first time they were exclusively among other women warriors. A year later, participants have shared the impact of their time at Omega.

The first program, Stronger Together: A Retreat for Women Serving or Who Have Served in the Military, was held in September 2014, and the second program, Healing From Military Trauma: A Retreat for Military Women & Women Veterans, was held in October 2014.

Judy, a Stronger Together participant, served in the Army for 21 years. With two children and a soldier husband, her family experienced 10 moves and multiple deployments. Early in her military training, she says she learned a "suck it up and drive on" mentality that stayed with her until she retired in 2012. Throughout her career she dealt with multiple health issues related to stress but never got support for them through military channels because she believed it could tarnish her reputation as a leader.  

"This was the first retreat I have ever attended, and it was life changing," she said. "I learned that there were other women who had experienced many of the same challenges and stressors that I had. We all spoke the same language and understood each other’s perspectives. I learned many new skills for healing that I can pass along to my family and other military veterans I come in contact with. I had not realized until the end of the workshop just how much I had shut down emotionally, always needing to put on a strong face as a soldier and leader. [The retreat] allowed me to finally feel safe and relaxed enough to feel my emotions openly with the group the last day. That was a huge breakthrough for me. The healing I experienced through this workshop will never be forgotten.”

Many participants also reported a new sense of community built with other women during their time at Omega, along with the opportunity to relax in a safe, peaceful environment on campus.

“This retreat has changed my life in so many positive ways,” said one Healing From Military Trauma participant. “Finding out I was not alone in my experiences and being able to be with women who understood the military aspect was something I could not have found anywhere but here.”

“I can only describe my time at Omega as paradise on earth,” said another Stronger Together participant. “The entire time was relaxing and I look forward to the next meeting and learning segment.”

Participants in both programs tried a variety of healing modalities such as large-group and small-group discussion, work in pairs, art and music activities, movement, and self-regulation skills, which are practices that focus on safety, adaption, and integrative functioning.

Surveys six months following the Stronger Together program revealed 75 percent of the participants continued to practice movement activities once a month or more, and more than half continued to use Social Resilience Model skills (SRM). Healing from Military Trauma participants reported similar takeaways with more than 80 percent continuing to use movement and more than 70 percent using SRM skills after the retreat. 

“A safe space was created allowing these women to bond and trust one another to share at a deep level,” said Susan Lynch, primary faculty member for Healing From Military Trauma. “Through the mind-body movement and relaxation practices, the discussions and the connection with one another, they found tears, laughter, release, and connection to one another, which helped them feel like they are not alone.”

Omega's Veterans Initiative began offering retreats for former members of the armed services in 2007. In 2012, the initiative began hosting programs to create safe and healing spaces for women serving or who have served in the military. Laurie Leitch is leading the Stronger Together retreat again at Omega October 18-23, 2015, and additional retreats are being planned for 2016. 

Lyme Scholarship Recipients Give Back

1 year 2 months ago

The second annual Living Well With Lyme Disease conference at Omega in June 2015 brought together people with Lyme along with health-care practitioners, caregivers, and others impacted by the condition.

The response from the community was one of both resounding support and empowerment. Almost 200 people attended the weekend with 119 people receiving full and partial scholarships.

Participants of all ages and genders came to seek answers and find solutions, including Noelle, Elizabeth, and Rebecca, three scholarship recipients.

Noelle

“Someone once told me that getting a chronic illness is like getting a PhD in being alive,” said Noelle, a scholarship recipient from Massachusetts who is getting certified as a life coach to help others dealing with Lyme. “There were so many PhDs at the conference, people that have learned so much.”

“I’ve been sick for 14 years, off and on,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of support groups and done a lot of communing with other folks with Lyme but doing it in this environment was extra special. I was filled with more joy and energy than I’ve ever felt.”

To help reach Lyme sufferers who don’t have access to in-person coaching, Noelle is working on a virtual support group that will offer tips on how to heal yourself from the inside out. 

Elizabeth

Elizabeth, a family nurse practitioner for almost 35 years from New York, also suffered with Lyme. She says she attended the conference to learn more about treatment not just for tick illnesses but also for environmental pollutants and coexisting conditions.

“The conference is going to allow me to be a more comprehensive practitioner in my work," she said. "With this scholarship I am able to use the information I have received at Omega to help my patients. As a licensed family nurse practitioner, I can write prescriptions and order appropriate tests. I’m very excited to get back to work, and be even more helpful to people dealing with Lyme and tick borne illnesses.”

Rebecca

Rebecca, from Vermont, has a 12 year old son who is now eight years into his healing journey. She shared that once his symptoms improved and the family was out of crisis mode, she realized all they had been through.

“It didn’t have to be as bad as it was,” she said. “The social isolation piece. The financial disaster. So many different aspects of our lives were affected. There’s an intense focus on the ‘who done it’ of the politics and what’s causing the disease, but my take is that the experience of the disease is not being fully addressed.”

Rebecca is now completing a master's degree to become a mental health clinician.

“Before this conference, I had been on the fence about whether or not I wanted to focus exclusively on Lyme in my practice,” Rebecca said. “It was said several times here and it was really affirming: the root for everything is compassion. I now feel I can invest in this community because the conference reminded me that there’s more than just the darkness.”

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