The Social Impact Interview Series spotlights real-life stories and voices from yoga change-makers who have engaged in Yoga Alliance outreach work, detailing how their teaching and practice have directly benefited their personal lives, those they care for, and the communities they serve.
Sandy Boutros is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Beirut, Lebanon, who started her yoga journey in 2012. After developing a keen interest in meditation, she left her advertising job and traveled to Bihar School of Yoga in India to take a four-month course in Advanced Yogic Studies. After the course, she completed her yoga teacher training and enrolled in Progressive Trainings on Raja Yoga with her guru Swami Niranjananda. In 2018, she established Koun, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that makes yoga accessible to economically marginalized communities and refugees in Lebanon to promote total wellbeing and mental health.
How did you find yoga?
As someone who has always been fascinated by the mind and its potential, I was drawn to philosophy and psychology books. One of my favorite psychotherapists is Carl Jung – the first to talk about super-consciousness, kundalini, spirituality and Eastern psychology in his field.
After diving into his books, I was intrigued to explore meditation, so I started searching for meditation teachers in Beirut.
My best friend’s uncle is a traditional yoga teacher and offered to give us private sessions. Together we explored the different branches of yoga, both practically and theoretically.
The turning point in my journey was in 2014, when two Swamis from Bihar School of Yoga visited Lebanon for a four-day yoga retreat. The retreat’s theme was “Purifying the Heart”, and it was simply magical and deeply transformative.
A year later I took a four-month advanced yogic studies course at the Bihar School of Yoga in India, and that was when yoga became the main focus of my life.
How would you explain yoga in one sentence?
Yoga is a path of self-evolvement.
How has yoga benefited your personal life?
Yoga drastically enhanced my self-awareness, and that was the first step towards transformation.
I stopped overthinking. I gained the ability to look at the big picture without identifying myself with certain states, thoughts, and emotions. I became healthier physically and mentally. I found contentment, and I started loving myself.
Yoga gave me the necessary tools to release my anxiety and depression, and empowered me on all levels.
I believe that the best thing about the practice is that it is holistic and focuses on all the aspects of one’s personality.
How has yoga benefited your community?
When I returned to Lebanon in 2016 and started teaching in yoga studios around Beirut, I noticed that yoga was only attracting a certain social class and was inaccessible to a lot of communities who really needed it.
This led me to volunteer in several refugee camps and migrant community centers across the country, making the practice accessible to marginalized communities.
The impact of yoga on these communities was much higher and more intense than on the ones who consciously decide to step into a yoga class in a studio, as they usually come with expectations.
Yoga allowed them to connect with their body, which is usually neglected because of lack of awareness, time, and necessary tools. It also connected them to their sense of individuality and their potential.
People stuck in a certain situation may feel helpless and can end up victimizing themselves. When introduced to yoga, they realize that even if they can’t change an external situation, they can actually change their reaction to it, accept what they can’t change, and do the best they can to improve their life.
After seeing the impact of yoga within marginalized communities, I set up my own non-profit organization “Koun” to promote mental health and empowerment through yoga in as many disadvantaged communities in Lebanon as possible.
Koun works with refugees, migrant domestic workers, sex workers, the trans-community, economically marginalized communities, and wars and conflicts survivors of all ages.
When you support Yoga Alliance Foundation, you’re supporting the impact yoga can have in making the world a better place.