In the midst of life in the Digital Age and the global epidemic of stress and anxiety come the words of the Dalai Lama, “If we could teach every eight-year old to meditate, we could heal the planet of violence in one generation.” As standardized testing has become more the norm, performance anxiety and stress have spiked dramatically among both teachers and students.
My guest today is Stefanie Tovar, founder of Hanuman Homies, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to taking the healing effects of yoga and meditation to children in underserved communities.
Stefanie’s personal story is another, in a long line of those whose lives have been either dramatically changed or saved by taking up a practice of mindfulness. Stefanie is Mexican-American, born in San Antonio, Texas and in her own words, “with many secrets”. Among the secrets, “I was doing my own cooking and cleaning by age seven, encouraged to withhold the truth of her culture by not speaking Spanish at home in order to speak “clean” English at school.” She describes being traumatized having to protect her mother from her father with a machete the night they left to move into a trailer park where she experienced three sexual assault traumas before she turned 13.
As background, there are an increasing number of school systems across the country who are incorporating yoga and meditation into their curriculum. For example, in Newark, New Jersey, the Hawkins Street School has a daily 20-minute practice for students in kindergarten through fourth grade. One third-grader says, “When I do yoga, I feel really good. I feel like my whole body is new, like I was just born today.”
In one Baltimore inner-city school district, kids living in one-parent households often bring high levels of stress and anxiety to school resulting in classroom disciplinary problems and high suspension rates. The results from three-years of classroom mindfulness practice has resulted in significant reductions in suspensions, and other forms of discipline necessary to maintain control of the classroom and not distract from the students learning.
In this episode you will learn about:
–the tangible, evidence backed benefits for children from a practice of mindfulness:
-Bringing students into the present moment, ready for learning
-Encouraging community and connectedness in the classroom
-Creating a sense of confidence instead of competition
-Easing anxiety before test-taking
-Enhancing focus, concentration, comprehension, and memory
-Supporting social and emotional learning
–About the unique problems among children from these communities that might not be found among other children
-How her traumatizing childhood built resilience when the outcome could have been very different.
–How the writings of Dr. Maya Angelou influenced a young girl to take charge and rise above all of her self-limiting beliefs
–How her musical background and career provided an avenue for dealing with the emotional chaos of her early life.
–How a suicide by a person very close to her finally motivated her to leave the “road and stage lights”
–How yoga and meditation changed her life and why she has undertaken a mission to take this to kids and others currently underserved.
–About Hanuman Homies is involved in, and particularly it’s recent grant from the Tegna Foundation to help advance this very important mission.
In closing, many thanks to Stefani, for being a guest today, and in particular for her willingness to share so much of your very inspiring personal story and life journey.
Finally, I want to close with quoting the Dalai Lama one more time, because it is such an important lesson for all of us, “If we could teach every eight-year old to meditate, we could heal the planet of violence in one generation”. May we all take time each day to slow down, and take time to breathe and just “be here now”.
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