You seem to have married the gift of awareness with intentionality. Can you share how that unfolded?
In 2004, I felt called to attend a Colorado Medical Society meeting which, at the time seemed odd for me, but I soon discovered that I was there by divine intervention. Since 1986, I had been a clinical yoga therapist. This meeting fascinated me as it featured conversations about the monumental issue of bullying in schools across the country, and how this was causing kids to become more violent and release their anger in unhealthy ways. The American Medical Association research statistics pointed in the direction of increasing violence in schools along with mass shootings. A lightbulb went off and I realized that I needed to assist the organization and their plea for help. I approached the American Medical Association Alliance (AMAA) president of the Boulder, Colorado chapter and told her that I knew of an easy answer: teach ahimsa in schools.
Ahimsa means nonviolence toward oneself and others in Sanskrit. This is the founding principle for CALMING KIDS (CK): Creating a Non-Violent World. As soon as I got this idea in my head, I completely took off in full passion mode. I realized that to solve the problem at hand, Calming Kids would have to directly interject at the most vulnerable point, upper elementary age students, and provide tools and techniques to address bullying and stress in children. I knew that to have an impact, I would have to take the CK program into the schools themselves, which is trickier than one would think. I approached Dr. Grace Wyshak, a well-published biostatistician at Harvard University in the School of Public Health. She advised me to create a self-reported before and after survey for my students to evaluate whether yoga would be an effective technique in eradicating or severely reducing bullying and violent behavior.
What did you find as a result of the survey work?
This study yielded shocking results which only further excited and encouraged Calming Kids to keep trucking along. We discovered that with our program, there was a 94% decrease in hitting, an 81% increase in the ability to control anger, and a 76% increase in focusing during school assignments. Although these results were incredibly positive, Calming Kids struggled for years to legitimize the reasoning for teaching yoga and mindfulness in schools. In 2005, many people heard the word “yoga” and had a negative connotation, especially in regard to education in schools. This provided a challenge as I continuously tried to implement the six-week program into elementary schools around Boulder. I had an outpouring of emails from parents who were terrified of the bullying and violence taking place across the US, especially as cyber bullying and the Internet became more accessible to students, but the CK message still didn’t break through to the school district administrators.
How did that cause you to rethink your strategy?
In 2006, I began offering teacher trainings for Preschool – High school age facilitators. Now, I could instruct the program to teachers, parents, and even some teenage students so they would be able to implement CK techniques into their classes and/or their daily lives. These trainings were wildly successful, and CK was sponsored to do training sessions across the USA and in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Israel, and the West Bank. The trainings were so in demand that in 2014 an online teacher training was launched. To fulfill requests from teachers and parents CK has designed hard copy support materials, and over the years, twenty-four films have been developed with student actors for streaming into the schools and homes—all compassionately created to be able to serve the world. Since 2015, CK no longer is the one to approach schools; they approach us.
Are there particular moments or stories you would like to share with us?
My favorite memories at Calming Kids involve the students expressing how much they have learned and how the program has impacted their lives. One story from a 4th grade boy telling me how he was able to empower his grandmother. “My grandma was yelling at me for no reason. She was out of line with the way she was talking to me ‘cuz I had not done anything. I said ‘Grandma, take three deep breaths and then speak. She then realized that she was taking out her daily frustration on me and apologized.” After seventeen years of teaching yoga in Colorado, I run into students who have graduated from college and gone on to postgraduate studies. Often these young adults will inform me that the CK lessons they received in Middle or High school completely changed their thinking and has assisted them through their lives. Stories like these are what keep me and Calming Kids going! These past years of the Calming Kids existence have been full of ups and downs, but at the end of the day if I can spread the light of self-regulation, enhanced concentration, and relaxation to even a fraction of the next generation, I have done my best, to help “create a non-violent world.”