American Yoga Foundation

American Yoga Foundation

A History
of The Foundation for the Study of
American Yoga

American Yoga Foundation
Monica Hathaway

The late Monica Lind Hathaway (1923-1996) was the principal founder of the Foundation for the Study of American Yoga in 1969, as well as chief creator of the practice known as "American Yoga." Prior to that, Monica had been a storied Broadway dancer and classical ballerina who trained and danced with Lew Christenson and Leonid Massine, as well as George Balanchine, Hanya Holm, Valerie Bettis, and Pierre Vladimiroff.

Monica’s interest in American Yoga was deeply personal. By age 22 she had already been a highly successful dance soloist on Broadway and in classical ballet. After completing a Broadway show for Julie Stein and Sammy Cahn, and dancing lead roles for Leonid Massine and the Ballet Russe in New York, her career was interrupted by polio and the consequential paralysis of the right leg and hip that required her to use a cane and crutches to move.

American Yoga Foundation
Monica Lind dancing on Broadway

Fully determined to dance again, Monica returned to her hometown of Portland, Oregon. She began working with George Emigh, a trainer with the Portland Beavers, a semi-professional baseball team. Emigh was a logical choice, as he had previously helped a local swimmer recover from polio and go on to become a world class athlete. Monica also drew on other therapeutic sources, which she combined with her work with Emigh and experience dancing, developing a unique expertise in how the body moves and functions.

Despite the pain, Monica worked diligently with George Emigh, who combined massage therapy and exercises to work on her polio. In combination with these and other therapies, Monica became able to move her right leg and hip again. Over the next year she worked through the pain of polio, eventually overcoming paralysis. She was able to resume dancing professionally, establishing her own ballet company in Portland before returning to New York City.

Her experience with exercise, coupled with acute physical awareness acquired from being a professional ballerina, was a rare mixture that led her to become interested in “freeing up” the body through its innate tension-releasing capabilities she had realized through healing polio by natural means.

Like most athletes, dancers suffer from many physical problems. Monica felt many of these injuries were due to insufficient knowledge of the body. She continued working to develop the natural exercises she had used to overcome polio as a way to help dancers release distortions and tensions from the body, which helped many heal their physical problems.

When she later began studying singing, Monica made some keen observations related to the effect conscious, diaphragmatic breathing has on the body. She combined her first-hand experience with breathing and body work into a restorative process that remains an integral element of American Yoga as practiced at the Foundation today.

While teaching dance to children in Portland, Oregon, Monica saw how the children imitated the bodily habits and emotional attitudes of their parents and the adults in their environment. This imitation was well-developed in many children and in some cases would shape and limit, or “condition” them, for many years of their lives. This led Monica to discover methods for freeing the body-mind from conditioned attitudes.

American Yoga Foundation
Monica teaching American Yoga to a player of the New York Jets.

Between professional dancing engagements in New York, Monica donated her time to working with the elderly at senior living facilities to help them release tensions from their bodies. This illustrated that the alignment principles she discovered work effectively through the spectrum of age, from childhood to old-age.

Monica also operated her own dance school that included a practice for private and group classes she named, “Dramanatomy,” a therapy program based on dance movement, breathing, and analytical examination of emotional attitudes and mental fabrications inhibiting an individual’s physical performance. During this period, Monica introduced many new, highly effective, innovative exercises by combining breathing and movement. Students of Dramanatomy nicknamed the method, “The Yoga of Performance.”

In the 1940s and 1950s Monica began studying Eastern contemplative and wisdom traditions, including Buddhism and Taoism. She combined these teachings with her ballet expertise, recovery from polio, understanding of anatomy, breathing exercises, certain yogic forms, mindfulness, and meditation to create what she called “American Yoga,” which was specifically designed to assist individuals from Western cultures to liberate their mind and body from inhibiting environmental and behavioral conditioning.

In 1962 Monica began teaching a new student, Harmon Hathaway. By 1966 Monica and Harmon were working as partners, developing their techniques, teaching and working with others.

American Yoga Foundation
Monica and Harmon Hathaway

In 1969, a benefactor who had been working with Monica and Harmon donated funds to formally establish “The Foundation for the Study of American Yoga and Tibetan Buddhist Doctrine” as a 501 (c)(3), non-profit organization based on the IRS code. They incorporated the Foundation and built a center on 132 acres in Bovina Center, New York for the continued work, study, and practice of American Yoga and meditation. The name was later shortened to “The Foundation for the Study of American Yoga,” which is sometimes referred to as “The American Yoga Foundation” or AYF.

The founders and early student volunteers built the Foundation’s original structures using slate retrieved from stone walls on the property that farmers used to create separate fields. Since the Foundation’s inception, many additions and renovations have been made to the buildings and property, with generous financial and strategic support donated by students and instructors.

American Yoga Foundation
Original stone structure of The American Yoga Foundation

Today, students of American Yoga practice mindfulness meditation and do body work to develop an understanding of the body-mind based on practices established by Monica and her many colleagues, as well as practices that have existed for millennia.

American Yoga Foundation
Flag of The American Yoga Foundation

Monica documented her teachings and exercises in a series of books, including "Yoga for Athletics" in 1978 with Harmon Hathaway; “How to Pick Strawberries without Becoming Arthritic" in the 1980s, and "Because You Were Born" in 1991. She also wrote many texts in the last years of her life as she sought to memorialize her teachings, exercises, and experiences.

American Yoga Foundation
The Foundation for the Study of American Yoga

Note: Monica Lind's dancing career is documented at the Performing Arts Library of Lincoln Center archives in New York City and in “The Complete Book of 1940's Broadway Musicals” by Dan Dietz. The “Oregonian” in Portland also wrote a series of articles on Monica in 1946, including “Dancing Away from Polio: The Story of Monica Lind.”