Holistic Life Foundation: An Onsite Inquiry into Mindfulness

The newest episode of our university podcast, ‘MindfulU at Naropa University,’ is out on iTunesStitcher, Fireside, and Spotify now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features the co-founders of Holistic Life Foundation (HLF), Ali Smith, Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez.

Holistic Life Foundation: An Onsite Inquiry into Mindfulness

“Personally in ten years, I see mindfulness implemented in every aspect of life — whether it’s school — a school will have like a mindful moment at the beginning of the day and end of the day and have alternative suspension rooms where kids de-escalate themselves. It would be cool if every business started their day off with the practice. I’m not saying that it’s definitely going to get there, but I can have high hopes and be optimistic.”

Full transcript below.

The Holistic Life Foundation is a Baltimore-based 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. Through a comprehensive approach which helps children develop their inner lives through yoga, mindfulness, and self-care HLF demonstrates a deep commitment to learning, community, and stewardship of the environment. HLF is also committed to developing high-quality evidence-based programs and curriculum to improve community well-being. Listen as we discuss the Foundation and Naropa with its founders.

Full transcript
[MUSIC]

Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement.

[MUSIC]

DAVID:
Before this podcast gets started, I wanted to introduce a three-part series. I recently traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to catch up with the Holistic Life Foundation crew. Ali, Atman, and Andy who I interviewed last year at Naropa University when they came to the school to give a talk. Over that time, we became friends and began talking about what it would actually look like if I came to Baltimore and brought in the conversation with principals, teachers, kids, and volunteers of their programs. My conversations were so profound and enlightening. Here’s what I found.

In this series — this podcast is one of three with me interviewing the guys of the Holistic Life Foundation. Enjoy.

DAVID:
Hello, today I’d like to welcome a very special guest back to the podcast — the Holistic Life Foundation crew. We have Atman, Ali, and Andy here with me. It’s such a pleasure to be speaking with them again. I’m actually here onsite in Baltimore with them in their conference office room and just doing the thing where we’ve established a friendship, a relationship and now we’re back here and I’m on site with you guys and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with principals, teachers, volunteers — some of the kids in your programs and what you guys have been doing over that time. And it just feels like unrealistic to me that we’re here again. It’s our one year anniversary, but ever since our last podcast we’ve been keeping in touch and develop that relationship. So, it’s just such a pleasure to be speaking with you again. So, thanks for joining me. Or thanks for having me, I guess.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION:
Thank you. Welcome. Welcome to B-more.

Yeah, it’s our pleasure man. Thanks a lot.

Yeah, yeah.

DAVID:
All right. So, I guess today we’re just going to talk about your program. What has shifted over the time? What’s going on new for you guys? Anything exciting? So, I guess we can just jump right into it.

So, it’s been a little over a year since we’ve seen each other last. So, tell me is there anything new from your programs, any placements, any new schools that you’re working with? Is there anything you’d like to share about the programs since then?

ATMAN:
One new development that’s pretty awesome is that we are piloting our teaching tool at BAM — B-A-M.

DAVID:
I remember that.

ATMAN:
What that stands for is Bridging Academics and the Mind. And it’s a teaching tool where teachers have access to animations of Ali, Andy and myself and audio content of us leading different practices — whether it’s breathing, a little slight movement or meditation of love and kindness practices. And the thing that I guess the people who are studying our program likes about it is that the practice only take maybe from like two to eight minutes — just to kind of like refocus and center the classes. So, we’ll see how that pilot study goes this year. We have it in four schools, and you know we look to you know see what’s working, what’s not — make some adjustments and then expand next year.

DAVID:
Yeah, yeah. When you see animation is it actual video or is it an animation — like cartoon?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
It’s cartoons of Ali, Andy and myself.

DAVID:
Yeah. I want to see all your avatars. All right.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
It’s pretty neat to see the three of us as cartoons so but we’re not cartoons though — we’re animations. The person that created it was pretty specific on that. We were animation not cartoons.

DAVID:
All right, so something like that is — it’s like a digital file you give to a school and then they can play it for their class or for just like an announcement or how did they do that?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Well those online platform. So, on the online platform they access — they can access audio files or the animations and the curriculum itself and plus a little hand out that we have that can help them. So basically, it’s everything is very, very accessible — the goal is to make it as easy as possible and as little a burden upon the teachers as possible so that they can really focus on delivering what they need to — to fulfill their obligations as a teacher academic.

DAVID:
OK.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
And going along with our like reciprocal teaching model — we have like three phases in the program where the first phase it’s instructions — also how the practices benefit you on a physical level. Then the second phase is just the actual practice. Then the third phase — the students come up to the front of the room and lead the practices with prompt cards. So, you know we try to create teachers wherever we are.

DAVID:
OK.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Yeah one of the coolest things about the program is that it’s not left on to the teachers to develop a mindfulness practice to be able to teach. I think that’s one of the struggles that we had is we wanted to roll things out — teachers are busy. They have a lot on their plate. And they might not have the time or the desire to want to develop their own personal mindfulness practice. And you can’t really teach mindfulness effectively if you don’t have your own practice. That authenticity is key. So, we decided that if they had these teaching tools, they could just plug them in, and we give them like a formula to use to like if the class is about to take a standardized test you use practices a, b and c. If the class is — they need to transition from lunch to learning time or certain practices or two kids have just gotten into a fight you use certain practice. If the class energy is low you use certain — so it’s like very situational, but they get combinations where they can just push play and the practice is taught in a way that we teach them — because it’s us — there’s cartoons of us teaching and it’s our audio. So, I mean it it’ll work. And just making sure that they’re using a properly and make sure fidelity is high and it’s not just kind of being thrown out there, but it’s being rolled out in the proper way.

DAVID:
Yeah, I really like the fact that you can separate the idea of coming back from lunch and then transitioning into learning time or there’s just a mindful moment before a test. There’s these things that are different and they hold different weight and so they’re different practices to initiate different types of like mindsets. So, that’s really cool the fact that you can like announce that — it’s not this one size fits all mindful practice, you know. And it also sounds like the teachers can access this video, this audio and they can also practice it themselves. So, while the students are doing it, they’re like I can either grade papers or I can stay with the kids and do this practice as well. And then they can all practice together as a class. Have you heard any feedback when classes and or schools participate together in a mindfulness practice? Have you seen acceleration of development?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
It’s always better if we can get the whole school on the same page. And if not the whole school at least entire classrooms on the same page including the teacher. So, dealt with situations where we would — when we first started working in schools, we would work with the kids only. And then we would — run into the situation all the time where the kids would be nice and calm — the teacher would come back in and just start yelling instantly. And the kids are just totally thrown off again.

So, then we had to start working with the teachers too — being able to deliver the skills and the tools, but just self-care. Like it’s stressful being a teacher no matter what district you’re in, no matter where you’re teaching, no matter what grade level you teach — it is stressful so you gotta be able to take care of yourself first. So, it’s always more effective when you’re working with the teachers, the principal and the kids. Like down Patterson — you talk to Vance. I mean like the energy is different when Vance is practicing at that school. Vance is a very powerful personality, you know what I mean? And like when we first started working at Paterson we worked with the kids and the teachers and we weren’t working with him. Then we made it mandatory for him like just to get started at least like once a week he has to come down to the mindful moment room. He has to turn his walkie talkie off and he’s just gotta give us 10 minutes to sit there and breathe and meditate.

And like he took to it so much that he took the practice home and he practices on his own. He practices with his son. Vance can get fired up don’t get me wrong, but I think he has a more of an ability to know when he’s drifting away from center and to pull himself back to center from time to time when he needs to.

ALI:
Oh, another thing we’re working on. We’re working on a satellite program. We’re looking to expand HLF’s reach. And we were doing that — we’re finding a few cities where we have some key program partners. There’s a willingness to do some mindfulness in the schools, in the communities and the way that we’ll do it is we’ll send two of our staff to a city for an entire year. They’ll go there, find a program director or program coordinator from that city to kind of run things administratively and then we’ll also find some 18 to 24 year old’s from that city to train to be yoga and mindfulness instructors. They’ll shadow our staff and then Atman, Andy and I will come and do very intense trainings throughout the year and we’ll slowly kind of take ourselves out of the situation. So that by the end of the year — the 18 to 24 year olds that we’ve trained are capable of teaching mindfulness to any cross-section of the community.

Our program coordinator there is running things administratively. And one of the coolest things about it is that things are set up. We train people, we’ve employed people — but the program is also generating income because the way that the business model is set up — program is paying for itself. But it’s also generating income so that it is very sustainable model and we’re looking to set it up — hopefully we’ll do three cities in year one and then we’ll look for more in year two.

DAVID:
Okay. I love the fact that you guys emphasize training the people that are going to be working with the kids because like you said before it’s super crucial that people know what they’re doing and when a teacher just walks back in a room after the kids had a mindful moment with an audio recording or a guided meditation and the teacher just goes back to where they left off — it kind of jars you out of that mindset. You just get jostled back into that mind of reaction or just what’s going on. You got to like land the plane a little bit, you know, you can’t just jump right into it. But the fact that you train your people — that feels really nice to hear because you can just have someone walk in a room be like let’s breathe, you know. But if someone can hold that space you feel it. And so, I really appreciate that you make sure the people are trained well enough and that you’re developing community — you’re not just developing a mindfulness practice as well.

So, it’s really nice to hear that.

ATMAN:
The other awesome part about that program is the 18 to 24 year olds while our staff is down there facilitating programs in the various demographics that they’ll be facilitating programs with — our 18 to 24 year olds will be paired up with our senior staff that we’ll be sending there, and they’ll get on the job training. So, they’re not only trained with Ali, Andy and myself to learn about you know how to deliver these practices — the practicality of it, the benefits of the practices, but to also see it in action. So, when we do after that year pull our people away, they’ll have a lot on the job training. You know we’ll will set the people up for success.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Another one of the requirements for the 18 and 24 year olds is to develop their personal daily practice. So, part of their job description is gonna be practicing with our senior staff every day. I mean like they’re going to get together, they’re gonna get deep into the practice so that it’s not something that they have to pretend or something that they have to pull from. It’s like just instinctual that the practice is kind of exuding from them and their body.

DAVID:
Interesting. All right.

Since we last talked you feel like the mindfulness landscape has changed or has the message changed? It seems like there’s this sort of mainstream push of mindfulness. And I’m curious has that shifted your perception of mindfulness or your application of mindfulness.

ALI:
It definitely seems like it’s a lot more watered down and a lot more surface level and not the depth of the practice isn’t there. I mean I think with anything that becomes popular and once it starts to be on the cover of Time magazine and people start to take notice and people start to take notice of the research — people are like well I want to do that. Tons of people that cross paths with us will do the — the whole like, hey I’m going to go to this weekend retreat. Or I’m going to go take a quick NBSR certification course and then I’m going to go out there and I’m going to teach mindfulness to everyone. And without taking the time to develop themselves first. And it just makes the practice really, really watered down and like there’s no authenticity there and authenticity is definitely one of the keys to being a successful or an effective mindfulness teacher. So, I mean I think that’s definitely something that’s going on right now.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Yeah. I don’t think it’s really changed anything or any way that we’ve done our work. I mean all of us still have a steady practice daily and we try to really push that upon our staff and the people that are working together with us to reach our goals. I mean I can definitely agree with what Ali is saying is you know as you see it becoming more and more popular. People are just kind of jumping on the bandwagon even.

You know it’s cool because hey, it’s great to get these techniques out there, you know, and I mean? And you want more — as many people as possible to — to start going inward and to start going along this journey themselves individually, but you can see that lack of authenticity sometimes if you don’t have your own personal practice. And I think it’s so very important to come from that place of experience when you’re trying to guide another individual in the practice so that they can see I’m not just making this stuff up or I’m not just you know hey try this — it may work. No, I’ve done this practice over and over and over again and I know the benefits. And that’s why I’m here giving you this technique because I know what it’s done to me and how it’s transformed my life and I think it could be very, very beneficial tool to you, you know and that only comes from practice. You can see that being that it’s like becoming the MCmindfulness now. You know it’s just all over the place. But I don’t think it’s really altered the way that we function. The way that we work together as a unit. I mean we — we’ve always been practitioners. This is who we are, this is what we do — if we weren’t doing this work with HLF then I still think all of us would still have our practice and still be here at heart yogis.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
And I know one thing that has adjusted is honestly because it is becoming watered down, we wanted to hold the fidelity of our teachers and the brand of our holistic life foundation up. So, we’ve definitely stepped up our trainings to make sure that our staff are like the best trained people in all the world. You know what I mean? So, they — were getting a lot of professional developments, professionals from all different fields coming in — come help support our staff and you know get them up to a level that you know is acceptable to us. And you know developing their personal practice. And you know so it’s a journey for everyone. And you know we just want to help support our staff to make them the best teachers that they can be and more present in their lives and you know just positive citizens helping out mother earth you know.

DAVID:
Yeah. All right. So, here’s kind of a fun question. Like a little thought out one. Where do you see the idea and the practice of mindfulness in 10 years? And where do you see the HLF in ten years?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I mean personally in ten years I see mindfulness implemented in every aspect of life — whether it’s school — like a school will have like a mindful moment at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day and have alternative suspension rooms where kids de-escalate themselves. It would be cool if you know every business started their day off with the practice. I’m not saying that it’s definitely going to get there, but you know I can have high hopes and be optimistic.

DAVID:
Yeah, it’s not going to seem so foreign or weird if a huge corporation has a meditation room.

ATMAN:
Definitely. I think it’ll be in all facets of life. Bring I guess a little bit more empathy into society which is needed.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I mean just to echo what Atman was saying, yeah, I think it’ll be in everything. So, whether it’s the education system and politics and the health system and education system. I think everywhere I think there’ll be some form or some facet of mindfulness. And then I see us being an integral part of that. You know I think see us being a resource and support to those systems and in providing individuals whether there are trained students, or we go in to other areas and we train new people in doing this. Or it’s us helping with curricula and implementation of these practices and techniques. So, you know we’ve always been adamant of wanting to be involved in all those fields. You know some of them we haven’t been able to get our feet into as much like the military and stuff like that, but I mean ideally, I believe that mindfulness will be in every facet of society and HLF will be a huge part of that.

DAVID:
And they’re implementing mindful moments in the military. I’ve come across a couple of different things — Richard Miller helping mindfulness and I think Sharon does it too to help them with the stress and the PTSD that may come with the career path they’ve chosen. And just mindfulness is this thing that can help you with almost any situation. It just gives you the idea of stepping forward in something and making the right decisions or dealing with some like heavy emotions. But yeah, it’s kind of interesting to see it in corporations too. Be able to use mindfulness like I’m going to go sit for 10 minutes. You know other than a cigarette break you’re going to go have like a meditation moment.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
It’s amazing how it’s not used more. You know a lot of people I feel like in corporations in the business world are like I don’t have enough time to do that. I don’t have enough time to do that. You know it’s like if you took the time to do it then you wouldn’t be in panic mode like I don’t have enough time to do it. I don’t have enough time to do it.

DAVID:
Okay. When the kids in the program are learning the meditation and the practices or they’re doing guided meditation what actual style of meditation are they doing — is they’re like multiple different ways of how they meditate? Or is there like one meditation you like to use over and over again? Or you were saying a little earlier ago that they have multiple different versions of meditation or how they show up when they have like different activities that they’re doing. Can you just go a little bit deeper into the practice?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
As far as meditation — it’s pretty much loving kindness practices. We do a meditation on the breath, but like if we’re first starting with students, we may just get them to lay down in the corpse pose, but in the school system we don’t like to see the corpse. So, we say star pose and just get kids to kind of sit still and just breathe. But it really depends on the demographics — whether they’re sitting in chairs, whether they’re laying down on the mat, sitting down, criss cross applesauce or the easy pose. But I know one thing Ali always says — our teacher always gave us a lot of tools because you can’t really approach the same people with the same cookie cutter class. So, we try to have you know like I said meditation on the breath. We have like a next thought meditation, which is an awesome practice — kind of like slow your mind down to get you ready for actual deeper meditation practice. We have a plethora of meditations in our tool belt.

DAVID:
Is there any moments where someone from a school wants you to bring your program there and because you know how the school is say they’re like more athletic — so you’re here to insert this sort of meditation or they’re more academic — you insert this meditation. Is there any moments when you’re inserting programs that you cater to the school — what they’re about?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I’d say all the time and we don’t go into schools — the cookie cutter programs. Like even our instructors go in with the toolbox. We go with the general idea of how we want our classes structured — some type of centering practice to get them in a room. Some movement, some breath work — maybe a discussion and then end with a meditation. But that combination we go a lot of different ways depending upon even like the school, which kids you’re working with in the school — like we could be working at a private school and we’re working with the — the genius kids there. I mean they’ve got a certain different stress level than the kids who may be on the soccer team. You know what I mean? Or like we’re at a public school and it’s the kids who have faced a lot of trauma versus the kids who are in the gifted and talented classes. You know I mean? So, it’s like different practices delivered in a little bit different way. But yeah just speaking to what the struggles that they’re going through. I think that’s the key to the practice is you got to look and see what they’re struggling with in their life externally and internally. And then give them practices that are going to help them ease that tension.

DAVID:
Yeah okay yeah.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Yeah, and I think even just giving them things that they’re interested in. I know one time Ali cater guided a meditation to a J.V. soccer team and you know in the guided visualization he made them experience being on a soccer field. And they had a game the next day and they saw the scoreboard. They saw themselves playing well — you know so making sure that it’s something they can relate to. I think that it engages the kids more and gets their buy in more because they’re excited like I’m about to play a game tomorrow. This is gonna help me play a game. All right, I’ll give it a try. You know where some of them might not have taken it as seriously if it wasn’t something that was part of their life and it meant something to them that I think that they took that practice and really bought into it because it’s something that resonated with them.

DAVID:
Yeah.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
And the coolest part about that story is the score that they saw on the scoreboard. They scored that many goals the next day.

DAVID:
Yeah, look at that.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
The coach was blown away. He was like — I can’t believe you would never guess the score.

DAVID:
He’s like please come back.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
They were like I love this mindfulness stuff man.

DAVID:
What’s the score the next game? All right, we’re Facebook friends so I’d check you out and I notice you guys been traveling a lot and I’m actually curious have you noticed anything about spreading the word of mindfulness — is there — is mindfulness accepted differently in different locations more like — whoa that’s weird. We’ll try it out like it. Or like no we don’t want that. But someone said we have to do it so we’re going to try it out. Like how is it seen in different cultures in different places that you go?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I mean I think that a can be received in a wide variety of fashions. I think that something that we do well as an organization is, we make it very simple and practical. So, no matter where we’re going people usually relate to it. You know we start with the breath and reminding people how to breathe the correct way and then it’s a tool that you have access to that’s always with you. I think no matter who you are or where you’re from when you start looking into that type of technique where like if I had this all the time and I can to slow my body down and they feel it and they experience it. I think it usually resonates with them. So, I think with our experience and that we’ve been doing this for such a long time we’re kind of prepared no matter what situation we go into. Like Ali said, it’s never cookie cutter. You know we read the audience. We make sure we’re providing techniques relatable to their lives and practical to their lives at that moment. This is my opinion. I just think that people are ready for this, you know there’s a lot going on outside in the world. And so, you have that external stimuli, you have your internal strife that you’re going through and a lot of people don’t know how to manage it. And when they can find it, I don’t need to go to an outside source to relieve what I’m going through that I can do it myself — you know and just be present I think it’s very powerful and people are hungry for it.

DAVID:
Yeah.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
And I also think that one thing that our teacher always stressed to us is not only to have a big tool belt but be able to speak to people in their own language. Like these practices are thousands of years old. We know they work not only because of what they said in the book and you know all that stuff, but through personal practice. So, it’s really about packaging it the right way. Like a lot of people have the misconception that these practices are associated with a religion. So, in certain places we won’t call it yoga or mindfulness. We’ll just call it stress reduction. Things to that extent. And as long as you know what words that could trigger people — you just stay away from. I know Mark Greenberg — our big brother — one of our mentors from Penn State University we had to put together a yoga curriculum — it was like 24 week physical education yoga curriculum. And he read it. He said it was beautiful. We had had a lot of information and insight. You know we were able to talk about the chakras and mudras and you know a lot of different things. And he was like all right, it’s a really insightful curriculum. But now you know it’s a yoga curriculum. Now take all the yoga out of it. We were like what? So, he really made us go through and take any controversial — like the mudras and mantras we took it out. We took out any Sanskrit words and we just understand that you know the practice is so powerful and it’s such a great tool that you don’t want to turn anyone off from it just because of your verbiage. So now we just are very, very mindful — whatever demographic we go into — to package it in the proper way.

DAVID:
What is it that scares people with Sanskrit words or using the word yoga? Are they just not used to that? Like what have you noticed when people are hesitant.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
It seems like anything different can be seen as scary — like if you’re not open. I mean like seeing a person that doesn’t look like you or go into a new place or hearing words that you’re not used to — I think it just scares some people and they’re just kind of closed off to new experiences and new people. Like Atman was just saying if it’s anywhere closely associated to anything religious, I think that scares people even more. I mean people are religious, people are spiritual, and they believe in what they believe. They don’t want anything that’s going to kind of contradict their connection with God or the creator or the spirit or whatever they call it. But I mean it’s just all those things combined kind of scare people away from the practice when it’s talked about in certain terms.

DAVID:
Yeah, okay. So, I was like scrolling through your website before I came down here and I noticed you have multiple programs and I’m curious can you let us know what programs you have in what each one does because I know you have like a mentor program. You have like an in school meditation thing and then you also sound like you have these like digital downloads for teachers to access for the class, so you don’t necessarily have to be on site. Can you just let us know which ones you have?

ATMAN:
Okay, as far as programs we have our Holistic Me after school program where five days a week after school, we pick the kids up. It’s like 166 kids in that program. We have group leaders. There is an academic hour that doesn’t have anything to do with their homework. Then we have an hour of mindfulness and yoga, snack and then an enrichment activity. The enrichment activities can be anywhere from robotics, urban gardening, steel drumming, martial arts — just a lot of different things that the kids weren’t getting in school that we noticed that you know Ali and I went to friend’s school — an independent school where the enrichment activities flowed like a waterfall. You know what I mean? And it kind of made you kind of look at the world in a bigger scope that it’s more than just your block out there and we noticed that a lot of our friends in our neighborhood didn’t have those enrichment activities. So, their school was a little smaller. So, we wanted to make sure that you know we brought these enrichment activities to kind of increased their scope. And you know that’s the main concept with that program.

We also have our mentoring program, holistic roots — where kids that graduate out of Robert W. Coleman from our Holistic me program — when they’re in middle school and high school we provide tutoring, other enrichment activities, field trips, martial arts, wellness training, personal training and just honestly just trying to keep that bond going with these kids because you know in Baltimore a lot of kids don’t really have that support system that will make them strive at a high level and you know one thing that Ali and Andy and I noticed is that these kids can still thrive at a high level as long as they have somebody that holds them accountable.

And I guess that’s what the mentoring program aims to do is to give these kids another support system and somebody that will hold them accountable when you know a lot of different things in life — whether it’s school, personally you know whatever. That’s the mentoring program. And then we have like the BAM program, which is the teaching tool with the animation and the audio content that teachers have access to that’s online. And that’s being piloted in four schools. Oh, and then we have our mindful moment program where the principal gives us 15 minutes at the beginning of the day, 15 minutes the end of the day to play a mindfulness practice over a loudspeaker. Where it starts off with a centering breath, then slight movement, then specific breathing practices and then a meditation on the breath or silent reflection on the breath. And then along with that 15 minute practice we also created the Mindful Moment Room which is the alternative to suspension room where kids are in crisis — they can come down — they can either self refer or the teacher can refer them to come down to our room where our staff greets them — you know it’s protocol where the kids come in, sit down and do breathing until our staff can help the student. Then our staff — we’re not counselors so you know we don’t really counsel the students when they come in there. So, we do the practice of mirroring just to kind of like empower the students and active listening as well. And then after we do that, we’ll sit the kids down, do some breathing practices, do a meditation, give them some tea and send them back to class. They have like a 15 minute time limit to be in there. And then you know at Robert W. Coleman you know it’s been getting a lot of buzz on social media for that program for having zero suspensions in the past four years. And honestly that program is being modeled all over the nation and all over the world at this point. You know am humbled that you know the program is going so well in Baltimore and going so well around the world. And then we also have yoga and mindfulness classes in a variety of different ways in a lot of different schools in Baltimore City and the surrounding counties.

DAVID:
That’s why I had asked because there’s just so many of them — it’s not just like one program that you have. And you just spring that program to every school — you have multiple programs after school, in school, not school. Thank you for sharing all that. Next question is what is the importance of learning mindfulness practice at a young age compared to an older age? Like is there more of a quality that sets in being — addressing these practices at an early age? Or is it just fine if you start learning it at 15, at 24 — you know 30 — does it matter compared to if you started in second grade when you’re like 10 or something or eight?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Ideally you learn them as early as possible. I feel like the earlier you can get these skills and tools the better your life will be for a lot of different reasons. I mean just dealing with stress as you get older — stress becomes a lot more prominent in your life. Life doesn’t get easier as you get older — it gets harder and it gets more stressful. So, if you can learn these skills early you can deal with stress throughout your entire lifetime. I mean, but whenever you can get them — you get them. Like if you get him at 90 — you know what I mean. At least you’re learning them at some point, but ideally you get them as early as possible. I think the only — the biggest difference is that the younger you can catch a kid to teach them the more open they are. Like the older they get the more you have to kind of sell the practice. But if you walk into a room full of kindergartners like you could teach him anything. If you make it fun — they’re cheering, they’re learning — like they’re open to it, but as they get older they become a little more closed and a little more guarded and a little more jaded about things and it takes a little more coercion — a little more — just a little more effort to get them engaged and a little more selling of the practice and why it’s good for them so — but whenever ideally as early as possible.

DAVID:
OK, do you ever have anything where you have kids and parents come practice together?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I know for a long time we tried to invite the parents out to do like parent night yoga with their kids and stuff like that, but that never turned out — our numbers were always low even though we provided like a great spread of food, refreshments and stuff like that. I think one thing that we learned this year or last year was to pair up parent yoga night with a showcase. So, like you know showcasing all the different things that our kids are learning in the after school program — whether there’s a dance or a fashion show or steel drumming and you know every parent loves to see their kids shine. So, we kind of pair that up with doing some yoga with our students as well. So — and then also you know we have that reciprocal teaching model where our students actually are teachers as well. So, when they see their parents coming in the house with stress written on their face — you know they do sit their parents down and like teach them the practices that they know can help distressed them and calm them down. It’s been countless times where we’ve heard parents come up to us and say you know I had no idea you know what you all were doing with this yoga mindfulness stuff. But I came in the house and you know the stress was probably written on my face and you know my kids sat me down and said mom we’ll teach you how to breathe and you know they would be amazed at just the simple practice of learning how to take a deep breath.

DAVID:
Like literally young mentors over there.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Yeah, totally.

DAVID:
That’s cool. All right, so it sounds like you guys have such an awesome little fun journey that the HLF is taking you on and through that journey you’ve met a lot of friends — you’ve met a lot of friends in the mindfulness world. You met a lot of friends around the world. I’m curious has the information that these friends now have and have given you how has that shaped your practice and or direction on where you’re going with the mindfulness world? You know like when you’re meeting someone who is a neuroscientist and he’s dropping knowledge bombs on you of like how mindfulness biologically and chemically works — does that shift your practice?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Not really. I mean it may make our practice more informed. You know I mean like we’ll know what’s physiologically and neurologically going on inside of us. I don’t think it’s just the way we practice. I feel like even if we had no clue what was going on physically with us from the — we know how we feel from the practice and we see how our interactions with ourselves and with others are from the practice. So, I think that’s what’s going to keep us going. But I mean it just makes the practice more informed. I don’t think it changes what we’re doing or how we’re doing it. It’s just we have more knowledge of what is going on at all levels.

DAVID:
Yeah, I guess it wouldn’t change so much, but it’s more of a — you know what’s happening and it’s like really cool or you talk to other people who are just like really steeped in it and they’re like yeah, this practice is really good and you’re like, yeah, we know. But it almost reiterates how beneficial it is.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Yeah, I mean we were always big proponents of like the eyeball test. You know I mean like you look in and that’s how you judge. So, like when Mark Greenberg — I mentioned him earlier — he came to us and was like you guys need to do a study to prove that your programs work. And we’re like we don’t need to do a study to prove that. Like we can look at our students and see if the programs work — like if September they’re kicking the crap out of each other. And then by like say Christmas everybody’s in here, everybody is meditating, they’re breaking up fights. They’re helping each other out. Like we see if there is a change and the only thing that’s been added to their life is having their own personal practice — like we know that it works. We see them becoming leaders in the neighborhood. We see them becoming more compassionate, empathetic, loving people. We can see that happen. So, it’s like we get that we need to start collecting data and measuring things and some people that’s not going to work for them. So, like if we walk into a room some people are gonna want to hear research. Some people are going to want anatomy and physiology. Some people are going to want data and others you can sit them down and lead them through a few belly breaths and they’re sold from that. They’re like I’ve never felt this calm in my whole life. Like I want more of this so different strokes for different folks.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
That’s a great question — it’s amazing to reflect. And if I think about it — I still — my personal practice is still the same practices that we were doing 20 years ago. I mean I’ve learned all sorts of new things, but the ones that I still make sure that I do all the time is like it’s the same exact practice. I haven’t changed them at all. They work. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it right?

DAVID:
Yeah.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I think the coolest thing is just to reiterate what Andy was saying — you know I think all of us — all of our practices, you know when we get deep down into it — pretty much haven’t changed through time. I think one thing that has changed is finding ways to kind of incorporate our practices into our lives and finding you know opportunities to be able to practice Bhakti yoga or you know like — it’s a fun journey once you get into the mat practice, but then you know after you can kind of like incorporate these practices off the mat that’s where the true work starts.

DAVID:
Yeah, it’s with all the friends that you’re meeting they’re confirming what you already know — it makes you understand it on a deeper level. You’re like ok, yeah, I get it, but you get to understand it in like a scientific level or emotional response reaction level. So that’s really cool.

Here’s a fun question — what are you excited about? Like whether it be in your life or programs or what’s going on? Like is there anything funny you’d like to share?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
New Avengers movie is going to be coming out soon.

DAVID:
All right. When’s that coming out?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
What’s the date? You all usually know the date.

Oh, I thought it was May.

In April this year.

DAVID:
If you all haven’t noticed they’re like super huge comic book fans. And I love how you use like the comic book characters as representations of mindfulness practice characters almost.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
That’s the first thing that popped in my head, so I had to say it.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I mean I’m honestly really excited about this expansion program. It’s something that we did a couple of years ago in Charlottesville that was very successful, but we saw some pitfalls on you know ways that we could have kind of made it more sustainable. You know in these couple sites that we have identified — I’m really excited to launch this program and really sustain — you know help community help themselves. You know create jobs for people that might not have jobs or narrowly create community, create empathy and just leave and have that be a self-sustaining community and program thriving. That’s one thing I’m excited about is the expansion.

DAVID:
Yeah, is there any sort of audio endeavors you’re engaging in? Are you starting a podcast?

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Yeah, actually we are starting a podcast with this cool guy that we met from Boulder. He does podcast at Naropa.

DAVID:
Wait a minute.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
We clicked with him like almost instantly. So, we were like we need to do something else so —

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
And he’s also like a Dj-ing ninja. So —

DAVID:
I know there’s a guy.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
He’s a pretty cool cat and so we launched a podcast with him. We’ve recorded one episode so far. We got a few more in the works and we’re going to crank it out and get it out that everybody.

DAVID:
Yeah. So just so everyone knows the four people that are speaking on this microphone at this moment are the ones starting the podcast. And like you said it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you guys and your reach and your platform and the information and your practices have allowed you to come to a place to where you want to speak out, you want to talk about these things that are arising and it’s just another way of getting the information out and I’m just happy to be a part of this audio engagement. And I’m excited for what it’s going to become and I’m just really excited that we got to like have round two. This is the first time of my podcast at Naropa that I’ve been able to do this and feels like a really big treat. You guys — like taking me in. You’ve shown me around Baltimore — we’ve hung out, we’ve had all the talks and we’ve had all the good times and it’s just such a pleasure to round it off and just start like something new with you. And I just really appreciate you all being on my podcast and just developing a friendship. And I feel like a brotherhood is happening and it just feels really tight and I just like have mad love for you all. So, thank you so much.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
Definitely man. You’re definitely on our zombie apocalypse team.

DAVID:
We’ve talked about that, yeah.

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION
I love you so much man. Thank you so much for having us on.

DAVID:
All right. Take care.

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On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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