Holistic Life Foundation: A Teacher’s Approach to Mindfulness in Baltimore Public Schools

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 is the second part of a three-part, on-site series featuring the work of Holistic Life Foundation (HLF)–this week we talk to HLF instructors Jamar Peete, Ra’mon Brown, and Deanna Martinez.

Holistic Life Foundation: A Teacher’s Approach to Mindfulness in Baltimore Public Schools

Mindful U had the chance to go on site in Baltimore for a follow-up conversation with the Holistic Life Foundation. While in Baltimore our own David DeVine had the pleasure to interview multiple people who were part of the Holistic Life Foundation programs, such as principals, teachers, and students. This three-part podcast is an investigation of how mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are helping inner city schools of Baltimore and beyond.

“You know, we’re doing this job dealing with people’s problems and not necessarily giving them advice, but just allowing them to tap into their own thoughts and weigh out their own options to create decisions. The more you hold on—you attach yourself to an outcome, then that becomes stressful and then it’s not genuine anymore. It’s also stressful on the other end of the person that is dealing with the actual problem. So just knowing that you may not see the results—but one thing I have noticed is the maturity that came from my students that I’ve interacted with—the same situation, but a different outcome of the consequence whenever you’re redirected.”

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
HLF-Teachers / Volunteers

[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 itÕs a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birth place 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 broadened the conversation with principals, teachers, kids and volunteers of their programs.

My conversations were so profound and enlightening. Here’s what I found.

This podcast series is number three of three with me interviewing the teachers, staff and kids of the Holistic Life Foundation program.

So, can you guys just do me a favor and just introduce yourself. Let me know who you are, what you do in the program.

JAMAR:
I’m Jamar Peete. Jamar Malcolm Peete. I got three first names. Everyone usually calls me “Pete.” I was a part of the first — or like the first program that started up back 18-ish years ago —

DAVID:
Wow, 18 years ago?

JAMAR:
Yeah, and we were like in fourth, fifth grade — maybe 18 and like 20-ish of us — all guys at the time. And it was — I’m not too sure what the school had planned when they invited the guys. Apparently, it was — they were supposed to be doing so many other different — different things — like football, like soccer or something — like enrichment activity, but they insisted on teaching them might you know stress reduction and you know like calming and just high intensity energy like level. Like just reduction of any kind of area of that — just to calm people down, instead of like fire them out with like you know aggressive sports. So, they insisted on doing — teaching a yoga — well, yoga and mindfulness.

I viewed it more as yoga because at the time I was just mainly just focused on yoga. So, I’m a yoga mindfulness instructor.

DAVID:
Ok, and how did you find your way to that position?

JAMAR:
Well, I mean you know after being introduced and like hanging out with the guys so often they started a workforce development program that Monty myself was involved in — where it was a bunch of a core group of guys who like stuck around and like volunteered even after like I guess our time had passed. And we end up like volunteering and then started up being able to get compensated for our work. So that’s pretty much how it brought us to here with all the training and stuff.

DAVID:
So, at the moment you’re a mindfulness instructor.

JAMAR:
Yes.

DAVID:
For the youth? Ok.

JAMAR:
I’m like a resource.

DAVID:
Yeah. Cool. It’s good to have you on the podcast.

And you, sir. So, introduce yourself. Tell us what you do.

RAÕMON:
My name — Ra’mon — (?) for short. I grew up in West Baltimore. I’m a Mindful Moments yoga instructor. We started out with people from the same neighborhood. Well it was at the peace group, but we started out with a bunch of us from the same neighborhood — terrorizing the neighborhood. We was in a gang — being bad. Just problem children. Seen these guys on a porch one day and they was like put your energy into something negative — how about you all come and do something positive. So, everybody was like we give it a shot. And it was crazy because our mothers at the time — you know our mother she just let us — she let us go for it. So, we all went down to the YMCA — packed the Andy Toyota Corolla like 12 deep. We got there. We started out — they didn’t say nothing about yoga at first. So, we got there — played basketball. Some of us went swimming. We did our homework — right after we did our sports activities. Then we went upstairs to the dance room. So, we — what are we in the dance room for? We get up there — Ali like yeah, we about to do some yoga. So, we started all looking at each other like — oh — this is yoga. We ain’t going to do no yoga. That’s for women. So, he was like – he broke down the science to us and how it can help us play sports, help us get better, help us breathe better, etc. So, we just fell for it and then got into it and it was great.

DAVID:
Nice, and what do you do at this moment with HLF?

RAÕMON:
So, at this moment at HLF — I’m a mindful moment yoga instructor.

JAMAR:
So, we pretty much like facilitate the Mindful Moment room and like different schools and also like afterschool programs — and we’re there like throughout the course of the entire day — school day. So just being like you know a resource or an outlet whenever you know a crisis happened with a child — just to like get him back into that comfortable state so they can go back and just maintain education instead of being sent home or you know sent away from the school or whatever. Just sort of you know so that they aren’t missing out on their education or learning itself.

RAÕMON:
Just giving them tools that they need to prosper and be better in life. We do hold yoga classes too sometimes throughout the day.

DAVID:
You said you were the first program and then there was a second program? Can you explain that? Like what does that actually mean.

RAÕMON:
So basically, when they came back from college, they had a plan — they had a mission. And they wanted to achieve it. They lined up with Pete’s school and Pete I guess principal gave them some students that you know was going through some things and they started teaching yoga to them. So that was the first group. They did a second group — came out of nowhere. It was just a bunch of — a group of kids in the neighborhood that was like problem children — terrorizing the neighborhood and they wanted to change that. So, we we’re the second group.

JAMAR:
So, we were at — at our elementary school — so it was after school program. So, we were stationed at like the same school. And then there was like our first year program and then we like — I guess moved on until like middle school, grade six through eight. And we all kind of branched out instead of going to the same school — like that core group. So, they try to get — you know track down data just to see like all the stuff that they were you know presenting to us or like at least effective in our life or at least like would be beneficial to see if it worked. If they can continue it. They continued with the after school program, but they had to find a different location which was the YMCA. And then — so this was like I guess six through seven continuous following years and then they were getting all these like allegations in their neighborhood about what’s going on with the kids and everything and then they guy — Ra’mon and his group’s attention which was like two years younger than us — that generation who was like in the — like based out of their neighborhood and got them you know involved in the program where we were the — this was like I guess my eighth grade year. But then once we kind of went to high school my group I guess branched off even more and started getting involved in like extracurricular activities. So, then we started like volunteer — as in like just come back and like help out. Also be like you know a model of the practices with Monte’s group.

DAVID:
Yeah, because you we’re the first group. So essentially you were a model for Monte’s group?

JAMAR:
Yeah, like big brother —

DAVID:
And bringing kids in and helping them out and guiding — you’re just like the older brother.

RAÕMON:
But it was a big difference though in the groups just because their group was based on —

JAMAR:
Constructed. This was just like all right we need this — we’re going to go make something happen out of this. Yes, so we were just guys. My group was just guys and their group was like neighborhoods —

DAVID:
Guys and girls and just kind of like whoever was in the neighborhood.

JAMAR:
Exactly.

DAVID:
Interesting. So, you said you like walked by his patio and saw it? Right?

RAÕMON:
Yeah basically no — like with Pete group — what he mean by that like they branched out to different schools — it happened to us too. But the only thing that kept us together basically was we were in the same neighborhood as them. So, some of us — I don’t know how to school systems work in other cities, but in Baltimore where your elementary school — you know it’s trying to like send people in the neighborhood. But when go to middle school — its different. Middle school is in different neighborhood. So, you transfer it to whatever middle school your momma wants you go to or your closest zone school. So, some parents are like and say you know I want my kid to go to school because itÕs a good school, etc. So, with my group — all of us was based in the same neighborhood. So, we all lived together. And one day we was outside and one of my you know lost friends Taye I would say — he had a pit bull and this pit bull would chase around the neighborhood all the time. So, it would be jumping on people cause — you know just doing whatever we wanted to do. Like we had no kids. Nobody was watching us – we was free. Yeah, so the dog started chasing us one day and I don’t know somehow it led us straight to in front of 2008 — which is Ali, Atman and Andy’s old place or whatever.

So, there was a lady — Miss Marble — she was and older lady. We were jumping on her car trying to get away from the dog. So, she was like — you all jumping on my car — no, etc.

DAVID:
I’ve heard this story before, but not from you. LAUGHS

RAÕMON:
So, I won’t lie to you — I’m going to keep it humble — we was being disrespectful. We were like F you. OB get out of our face, etc. And mind you, we — you know 5th grade, some of us in 8th grade, etc. So, Atman and them come outside like you know they hear us cussing and disrespecting and we get on top of her car — that’s what you got to realize. We literally jumped on top of her car leaving dents…scratching on her car. Leaving scratches on the car and we were just like — we were care free I would say. So, we was just like — he was like hey, come on man stop doing that. Instead of putting all your energy into something negative how about you all do something positive. At first, we was like — we looked at him crazy, but like I don’t know why, but we just respected them —

JAMAR:
If I guess the way they present themselves like on a positive manner more like direction instead of like telling you down or anything.

DAVID:
Like join us. It’s an invitation.

RAÕMON:
Yeah, and see the difference — she was telling us like you all need to — and they was like listen this is not right. Just trying to explain to us this was not right.

DAVID:
I love that. Thank you for sharing.

So, what is your experience teaching mindfulness and yoga with the kids in the schools? How do you feel as a teacher — as like a mentor — as someone who’s showing someone how to do something? How does that show up for you?

JAMAR:
In a way it gives you accountability, responsibility — and it’s like rewarding because you — I don’t know you’re slightly viewed as someone bigger than you may think you are by just like your presence of just walking around and life everyone’s like, oh hey, like you know super excited to see you and like even when they don’t want to see you it’s still like afterwards you know after all the confrontation it’s like the relief of like, oh yeah, thank you, you know like that connection — you definitely feel it. So that’s the biggest reward — is like eternally — it’s automatic — like automatically feel — everything you just put yourself into, but you really did nothing but tell them everything that — about themselves.

DAVID:
I mean did you do nothing because you’re holding space for kids to authentically showcase themselves. You know what I mean? And they’re like super thankful for that. And they’re showing that to you. And I think youÕre doing something.

JAMAR:
Yeah, I guess so — and a better way to re-word it — you’re showing them things that they have been doing — and then they’re capable of doing with you without any guidance — you know because a lot of the — the biggest thing is control. Self-control is like you can’t control yourself. You’re always going to need someone to control you. No one likes to be told what to do.

DAVID:
Sure. Yeah, you’re empowering them to make their own decisions that are good decisions.

JAMAR:
And that’s where it all started with the get off the car or how about you — you know do something positive instead of negative. So, like that invitation itself.

DAVID:
Oh, that sounds so good. What about you?

RAÕMON:
So, like for me just — I always wanted to give back. So, me give it back to — oh, I look at myself in all the children no matter what their gender is, size — whatever. I see myself in them and I try to put on the role that I’m not a teacher or I’m not a parent. Right? I’m somebody here that’s leading you to lead you and given you to tools that you know you could take and apply to your daily life, right. So, with that being said, it’s like I will put a hammer down and like you — you know how you teaching your parent — it’s like you don’t need a — I ride with it. Yeah that’s how — you know quality control.

DAVID:
Yeah, there’s a certain sort of ease with having the roles that you have and not being a parent — not being like a sibling. You have like a very special role that you can insert some like wisdom and some knowledge and some encouragement to these kids and let them know like you are capable of making good decisions.

RAÕMON:
And what’s unique about that is that we all come about in our own different way. So, it’s never the same. Even though we have a script to go by — it’s never the same.

DAVID:
Yeah show me the uniqueness of each of you — you know what I mean because it’s like I don’t want that like similar stuff. Leave that over there.

JAMAR:
No robots.

DAVID:
I feel like schools can be a little bit of robotic — so the fact that you’re bringing these mindfulness practices to kids — it helps them get away from that a little bit.

RAÕMON:
Just relieve some stress a little bit.

DAVID:
Yeah, and it sounds like they create community — like you two are friends and you were in the first session and you were in the second session, but within that you’ve become friends and there’s like a community that is growing of the mindful empowerment.

RAÕMON:
But it was different though because I see Pete as a friend. He was like a big brother — somebody that you know I looked up to because I love sports. So, I was a sports guy — he was just like a sports star. So, it was like — it’s more than just like a friend and you connect with somebody it’s like it goes deeper than. It’s like a role model that you can actually look up to and see doing the right thing — instead of sitting on a block trying to make money — a quick hustle.

DAVID:
Something different than jumping on people’s cars and scratching them up.

RAÕMON:
Because nobody cared — it was just like oh hey I’m free — do what you want to do.

DAVID:
No one is going to stop me.

So since teaching these practices — the mindfulness, the yoga and having like a cohort of kids that are teaching and learning with you — what have you notice shift within how they react, with how they interact and who they are becoming. What have you notice — it sounds like what I’m noticing with your conversation of taking the program is you’ve all had a transition — a shift within your hearts and your souls and your minds or just within the way you act? What do you notice within the kids that you teach?

JAMAR:
The main thing is you know we’re doing this job like dealing with people problems and you know not necessarily giving them advice, but just allowing them to tap into their own thoughts to see like you know, weigh out their own options and make decisions before they make them. The more you hold on — you attach yourself to an outcome then like that becomes stressful and then you’re not — it’s not genuine anymore. And then it’s also stressful on the other end of the person is dealing with the actual problem. So just knowing that you may not see the results — but one thing I have noticed is like the maturity that came from some of my students that I’ve interact with — just as simple — the same situation, but a different outcome of the consequence whenever you’re redirected. It may not be as like high volume and maybe like a little less or may not — may still be some unnecessary, you know causes but it’s not what we were working with. And we see that. And we also you know allow them to acknowledge that as well — like well know last time we had — you know this happened you threw a chair out the window and like well this time you know you just slammed your book onto the desk. Like itÕs — you know knowing that and you know allowing them to understand their triggers of like in the heat of the moment or like what’s causing that — so like catch you at six before you get ten.

DAVID:
Oh, what a tool — what a powerful tool. What about you — like — what do you notice in the kid’s behavior or actions, interactions with others that has shifted since starting the program — when you teach them?

RAÕMON:
So, remember in the beginning like we didn’t care — they starting to care now. So, they starting to feel, and they heard like — like you know this was wrong. I need to know step up and do something better. So, I had a student last week — she always over the top. So, you know I accept her for who she is because you understand — we coming from different backgrounds. Like you know people…be on their phone and social media all day or talking on the phone till they home. Like girl you know how many niggers — you know like I’m talking about how many people they been with and it’s like these real life things that they hand and they living it — you feeling me from what they hearing from their parents. So, it’s like they start to care more. They start to understand more. They start to — you know vibrate to you more I would say. Start to be a reflection image of who you are. So, if I walk this like this, I may get something different.

DAVID:
Yeah, like the growing of self-awareness is becoming more thicker. And becoming empowered to make your own decisions and realizing like your decisions affect others whether it be — affecting you in a month or two or it affects your — your family, your community or whatever — like your decisions have affects. And the fact that what it sounds like is how you said is stopping them at six instead of 10 — realizing the anger you are about to have or are sort of showing — will have an effect.

RAÕMON:
That’s all they been.

JAMAR:
And the biggest is because like you were saying like it has effect on others, but the biggest is always going to come back to you. So just how you said — you don’t want to deal with it feeling this way now. The more you add to it — imagine how you gonna feel when you get hit with. So, it’s —

DAVID:
So good.

JAMAR:
It’s always going to just come back to you.

DAVID:
Yeah.

JAMAR:
Might as well melt that snowball instead of roll it down a snowy hill and make a bigger ball.

DAVID:
So, what do you think the importance is with this work? Why do you think it’s important to empower kids with mindfulness and yoga practices? Why?

JAMAR:
Well it’s not just kids —

DAVID:
What’s the deal?

JAMAR:
It’s people period. You know if the world was more mindful — if we thought about before we act. If we you know thought about what we said or like how just the word respect is just you know to look again — like “re” is to do something again and “spect” is to see. So, like if we just had that all around like the world would be like so much different. I’m not saying which way it can go, but just follow the crises and like the adversity that people are you know encountering these days. And it always starts with you know our children because like as you see the world and — or I guess think it out if like 10 to 20 years from now and the way it’s going — possibly could be going — you can always stop at six before it gets to 10.

DAVID:
I love that analogy — it’s so good. Yeah. So, what is the importance of empowering kids with the mindfulness practices, mindfulness techniques, teaching them yoga — like why — why do they care? Why should they care? Why is it important?

RAÕMON:
Just because we know more about our cell phones — they know more about game systems. They know more about what’s coming out new on YouTube or the new fit — more than they know about their own body and how they can control that and make their own reality. So, they just get more of an understanding of what’s going on around them and how they can act and react to a situation.

DAVID:
But why is that important to know your own body?

RAÕMON:
Just so you can maintain health you know — so you can be a better person and you can live your life better than you know what you see on the streets or what you see on TV and you could just be an all around fit person. What I mean by fit I mean active — I mean just living your life right. Treating others right and being mindful of everything that’s around you and being mindful of yourself. If you don’t know yourself — you never going to be able to know anyone else. So, you always try to be an image of somebody else like oh my — no. No, we ain’t no robots over here.

DAVID:
Yeah, I mean if you don’t know who you are, you’re literally being someone else probably.

JAMAR:
Everyone else stays.

DAVID:
Yeah, I mean the only person you can be is yourself. So might as well dive deeper into that. Okay, cool. So, we talked about how it benefits the kidsÕ lives and all that. So, tell me how has it benefited your life? What has mindfulness done for you since the practice and application of yoga and mindfulness. And also, just like taking on a mentor role. Because I’m sure you were learning the program, you were doing the techniques, you were doing like really cool practices and then you’re like oh wow I feel really empowered and I feel this thing happening — I’m growing within. But then you started teaching. You started being a guidance. How has that benefited your life? How’s that shown up for you?

JAMAR:
Well I’m employed — you know that’s the biggest —

DAVID:
That’s a good start.

JAMAR:
…you know benefit that I’ve gained. I’m — I’ve gone through tons of trainings, met plenty of people, worked alongside of you know some great people. I’m also — you know did a little bit of traveling — going to Germany, Lebanon — which is pretty cool. And just you know a couple of other places you know around — around the US. Honestly, I don’t really think I would have done any of that stuff if I wasn’t doing this work and also like the knowledge of like myself. You know that’s like the biggest thing I’ve learned and from gaining experience of everything that this work has taught me. And also, I’ve noticed that like I can always learn more. Like I’ll never know enough. And that’s like along with like knowing myself like I don’t know because I’m still learning. So — and that’s the reward behind it.

DAVID:
Yeah, I like that idea that like you can never fill the cup up. Just keep it going. Bring it on. All right. You talked about the kids you worked with, but how is it shown up in your life? Why do you keep doing it?

RAÕMON:
I’m a super human.

DAVID:
You are, but why?

RAÕMON:
I don’t think — it’s deeper than me just saying that I’m a super human. So, I be on a spiritual journey and like you know I be like getting spiritual enlightments. So, I’m starting to learn things and open my mind up to a whole universe of information. So, it’s not just what I seen on my block or what someone can tell me — I do my own studying and I learn new thing. Because see like I can pinpoint some things like when I was running track, I would do the breath of 5 before I go to a track meet. Right? And it would basically expand my lungs and filter my blood up. So, I would go out there and I would kick ass. So, I sit and chant — I got to wreck it still, etc. You feel me so — it helped me out on that note. Plus, it was just — it just gave you a sense you don’t have to be what you see on TV or you don’t have to be what’s on your block — you can be your own person. You can create your own reality. So that’s what I would say helped me out — creating my own reality.

DAVID:
I really like that. Thank you. All right, this question is sort of like a curveball, but I’m just curious how do you define mindfulness? And what does it mean to you because it’s like this word that keeps being said, but what does that actually mean? You know we can look in the dictionary and look at what that means, but what does it mean to you?

RAÕMON:
Basically, mindfulness to me is being aware of yourself, your surroundings and how you treat others — that’s the main key because you know the golden rule always meant treat others how you would want to treat yourself. So, I would say mindfulness to me is just be aware of yourself, be aware of your surroundings and be aware of how you treat others and just knowing that there is more out here — you know.

JAMAR:
You know summed it up — I’m going to be — I guess a little short cut. Mindfulness to me is — you know just being where your feet are. Where a lot of people talk about what they used to do in the past. You know like — but we’ve already gone past that and if you keep looking back you can run into something or what you about to do in the future. Oh yeah, I’m about to do that procrastinating. You keep looking for it — you’re going to trip over something. So, like keeping your eyes on your feet and just being aware of you know what’s going on in the present moment.

DAVID:
Yeah, I really resonate with both of those.

JAMAR:
So yeah that’s — altogether.

DAVID:
You know what —

RAÕMON:
That’s what make us one.

DAVID:
I think that should be the dictionary definition right there. I really like that though like where your feet are because a lot of people are thinking about oh, I’m doing mindfulness it’ll help me in the future. I’m doing mindfulness — I should have done this in the past, but it’s like doing mindfulness for this present moment. And I love how you highlighted that because it’s crucial, you know.

RAÕMON:
My right brain just keeps going, keep going, keep going. It never stops. So, you got to stop your brain before you open your mouth.

DAVID:
And we are the owners of our thoughts and the quality of our thoughts. And so, it’s when we learn how to regulate what is happening in our mind. And if we get a thought, we don’t like we’re just like nah — get out of here. Like you ain’t welcome —

RAÕMON:
Don’t go to the conviction. Let it go.

JAMAR:
So, like speaking about that — like the biggest thing is when a student comes up to and be like hey, what was going on? What happened and you’re like just that person stepped on my shoe and it made me hit him. I was like oh, the person jumped in your body and made you hit him. Or like that person had strings above you and you just — and you’re like no and they didn’t realize like oh, I did that and like so that control of like mind, body — like yoga, union, mind, body — that thing right there and it’s just like allowing you know kids because they’re super advanced, but it’s you know what they bring their awareness to back to like the mindfulness. And you know it’s just like where I’m out to buy a new camera — the Cannon 500. Once I looked at all the gadgets and features on that camera now, I’m starting to see that camera everywhere — commercials, on like shows or wherever — you know that’s because my awareness is on to that certain thing. So, bringing that awareness to your breath it’s just you know — your life begins with your first breath and it ends with your last — the ultimate life force. It’s just like you know we’ve been told to use our breath all the time — you go to the doctors — get your vitals and your heart rate — they put the device on your chest — tell you to breathe.

DAVID:
The breath is the longest relationship you will ever have.

JAMAR:
With anything.

DAVID:
With anything. It’s crazy. All right. So, I got one —

JAMAR:
I’m going to use that. I’m going to use that.

DAVID:
You can have it. It’s yours. That was a freestyle.

So, I got one more question and then were good, but this is fun. I’m really enjoying it.

RAÕMON:
Yeah, me too, me too.

DAIVD:
OK. So my last question is do you have any advice from everything that you’ve been doing with the teaching and the mentoring and like going through the program yourselves and now like you’re in this like different position like leading, helping people — do you have any advice — like what is a rule that you like to tell kids.

JAMAR:
Personal practice is like the biggest. Where like just because you teach it all the time does not necessarily mean you’re getting that same dose of you know fuel at every start that you’re — you also need cause you know like all teachers always say like you can’t just keep giving — giving, giving, giving — you’ve got to reward yourself or you gonna drain, you know. And also like with practice — practice makes progress not perfect because you can practice all the time and still be bad. So, like you know — but you can practice and progressively get a little better. Personal practice is like biggest I can give anyone.

DAVID:
The more you practice the less you suck. You might not be better but you’re going to suck less. All right, what kind of advice do you give us?

RAÕMON:
The best advice I would say is just not believe in yourself. I’m talking — literally believe in yourself. So, you can go to the gym and if you put in your mind that oh, I can’t shoot that basketball right. You’re not gonna ever be able to shoot a basketball right. But if you go to the gym every day and say you know what I’m going to get this. I believe in myself then you going to be able to get better and get better and get better. So just believe in yourself and then follow your practice and you’ll be good.

DAVID:
Yeah, and like personal progress too. It’s like you’re not going to change everything in one day.

RAÕMON:
Yeah.

DAVID:
Time takes time sometimes.

JAMAR:
Pile your individuality.

DAVID:
Yes! Oh. All right, so that is our session. I really appreciate you guys speaking with me. It was such a pleasure. I talked to these guys like a year ago and I’ve heard some of these stories, but in a different light. A different perspective. And then it’s just really cool to kind of round it off and talk to some of the people who are mentoring the kids and who have a position in a leadership role. It’s just really cool. I’m like feeling this program right now. And I see why it’s so beneficial for the school and the kids and you’re just giving them things that like there isn’t out there especially in an educational facility. They’re not teaching them how to love themselves — they’re teaching them math, you know, and I mean? And you guys are teaching them something that they may never forget. And I don’t think you should forget that. You know that’s super powerful. And, I just really appreciate the work you do. So, thank you so much.

RAÕMON:
Thank you.

JAMAR:
Thank you for having us.

RAÕMON:
…teaching them how to survive in the real world. They don’t teach you at all. So —

DAVID:
It’s having compassion for oneself is a good mechanism to survive. You know?

RAÕMON:
Yeah, that’s the one.

DAVID:
But people don’t think that — they’re like nah I just got to like cut you down first.

RAÕMON:
No, that ain’t the way to go. Because it going to come back to you. Remember that. ItÕs going to come back to you. Thank you too for having us. And you know I pray peace, blessings, prosperity and you know everything come your way.

DAVID:
Awesome.

JAMAR:
Namaste.

RAÕMON:
Mic drop.

****
DAVID:
Welcome to the podcast.

DEANNA:
Thank you.

DAVID:
It’s good to speak with you. So, tell us your name and tell us your position and how long have you been teaching with the program?

DEANNA:
Ok, so my name is Deanna Martinez and I’ve been with Holistic Life Foundation for about two years now. I am a yoga instructor.

DAVID:
You’re a yoga — do you just do yoga? You don’t do the meditation or anything like that?

DEANNA:
Well, I think it’s all incorporated.

DAVID:
Okay.

DEANNA:
Just yoga — so it’s just yoga and mindfulness — all of it. So, I’ll usually primarily work with Mindful Moments here at Patterson High School.

DAVID:
Ok, and mindful moments is what the program is called, right?

DEANNA:
So, you have holistic and they have like a few branches and one is their mindful moments, which is basically in the school system. And then they have other ones like holistic — me, which is after school programs and the summer camp. So Mindful Moments is usually I believe in the school system during — the school day.

DAVID:
And right now, we are in the Mindful Moment room?

DEANNA:
Yes, we are.

DAVID:
So, we’re — we’re being mindful in the moment.

DEANNA:
Yes.

DAVID:
Cool. How did you get involved with HLF? Where did you hear from — how did you get to the business in your at?

DEANNA:
So, I was into mindfulness maybe in my early 20s and I — my old mentor actually she is someone who was like hey, this is a really cool opportunity. I had just given birth to my son. I wasn’t working for a whole year. Well we had some coffee and she was like, oh this is a really good retreat. You should look into and at this time I wasn’t able to go to the retreat. And she said hey you should sign up for this. And I remember looking it up and the age limit was 24 and I was 23 — about to be 24. I’m like oh I don’t know if I could join. I hope I can. So, I reached out to them and they’re like, yeah, it’s totally cool. You can sign up — join the workforce development program. That’s what it was. So, it was a summer program. Yeah, so that’s how I got involved.

DAVID:
Do you teach your kid mindfulness?

DEANNA:
Yes, I do.

DAVID:
Or like yoga — little baby yoga?

DEANNA:
Yes, I do. And actually, during the mornings we are trying to implement like meditation just to get him mindful. And I know when he has tantrums, I use it — I’m like just breathe in, breathe out, just breathe. So, I really try to you know just get back on track with him.

DAVID:
I like that. Ok, I just had to ask — I was curious. I’m like you have this practice — you’re going to teach my little boo boo now.

DEANNA:
Right, yes.

DAVID:
What is it like teaching mindfulness and practicing this in the schools — other than teaching yoga at a yoga studio? You’re having people come in that kind of want to be there and are paying for it, but then in the schools you’re having kids come to you because they’re needing a moment or something like that. How does that show up for you?

DEANNA:
I love being able to — if I had a choice to teach at a yoga studio or to teach you know in a school system, I would definitely choose the school system especially the city — here in Baltimore — especially in Baltimore City. Yes, because we do need it. And I think that’s the goal of Holistic Life Foundation is to provide these services to underserved communities.

DAVID:
OK.

DEANNA:
So, I love teaching. I love making connections with the kids. I love — just give them tools they need in life to succeed. When I was here like I said I graduated from Patterson High School back in 2009. This wasn’t an option for me, and I wish I had this. And now it’s available. I really — you know tell them like your principal Vance and your teacher — whoever the class is, they’re giving you this opportunity. They’re providing you with these resources that are not free to everyone. So, we should really take advantage — even like take advantage of the 30 minutes — you’re in here, you’re in a safe spot. And, all you gotta do is just lay down, listen and meditate. Just relax. Because a lot of them have a lot going on. They don’t have — they sometimes do not feel safe in school. They don’t have — they go home, they don’t feel safe. They don’t have a quiet space. Things like that. So, I’m like take advantage of this moment.

DAIVD:
Wow. Okay. Yeah.

DEANNA:
Maybe that was like a little long and not to the point, but…

DAVID:
No, I like it. It’s all good. Since teaching this have you noticed any shifts with the people that you’re working with? What are any stories that come up where someone’s like wow I’m really noticing this practice is helping me in my schoolwork — it’s helping me with my family interactions? Has there been anything that you’ve noticed while working with kids over time?

DEANNA:
Yes, I have! So, I’ve been here at Patterson for about two years and I had a couple of studentsÕ names pop in my head. One of them a Stanyah (sp?). She was one of our — kind of golden child I would say after. She always had — you know some kids have an assistant or is to have someone with them — like kind of like aid with them. Not really sure the proper name. She would come in. She was known for just fighting all the time. And she would — every time she would be suspended. And then we got to sit down with her and really get personal with her. After a couple months actually, it wasn’t even instantly because she was so resistant at first. And then she didn’t have the best home life. Like a lot of our kids do not. She didn’t really have an outlet to let all that frustration out. So little by little she would actually request after she was an argument or actually in a fight — she would come here. Actually, her counselor would bring her here. Like hey, I can’t — I don’t know what to do with her right now. Can I drop her off here and we would you know talk to her and give her space and then we would lead her through some breathing exercises — a meditation as well. And you know she actually enjoyed the asana yoga poses. And she ended up being one of our — our ambassadors. Yes, which we did have that program last year.

DAVID:
What does an ambassador do?

DEANNA:
So, ambassador — they would come in during their lunch period and they would just kind of like train with us. So, they would just learn breathing exercises, yoga poses, meditating. And we will also give them some time to eat their lunch because it was during their lunch period — they would come in. So, during second period they have the announcements. So, someone would come over the intercom and we will lead them through mindful moments. And all of our ambassadors they would be in their second period and they would lead their class. So that’s initially what an ambassador — ambassador did. They would lead their class — whatever their second period is — was.

DAVID:
OK. Fun.

DEANNA:
Yeah!

DAVID:
So why do you think it is important to empower kids with mindfulness? Like what is it about it? Why do you feel drawn to this work? Why is it important to you and why do you think it’s important to the kids to understand this?

DEANNA:
I think it’s important — well I was drawn to this work because I — it really helped me after I gave birth to my son.

DAVID:
So, you found it after you had birth?

DEANNA:
So, I practiced before — maybe like a couple — when I was 20 that’s when I got into yoga, meditation, crystals — all of that. Being just hearing it and all of that, yes, so I kind of completely change my life — because before that — and it was also my environment — who I surrounded myself with. But before that you know I was just going out all the time like — and I was so young, and you know young people we are kind of like it’s ok to do that. Correct? So, I — I got to all of this in my early 20s. And then after I had my son I was in a kind of like a rough spot. I — I believe I was going through postpartum depression. I was actually — my whole environment changed — actually my son’s father he actually went through kind of like a mental breakdown as well. And it was just so much going on and I was just a new mom. And I’m like oh how am I gonna survive this? How am I going to do this? So, I actually incorporated everything I have to learn and then kept learning. So, it really helped me out during a rough time in my life. And I want to teach those tools to kids — when they need to go through that rough time. And it’s not going to be once or twice throughout their lifetime. It’s going to be — all this time we are always learning lessons. So, I’m just having that tool was very — just crucial, you know to my uplifting.

DAVID:
OK yeah, it definitely has that quality to make you feel better. And also, you know not just make you feel better but make you understand the situation that you are in because you’re not like oh I’m in a crappy situation. I want to feel better — of course you want to feel better. But you’re able to make better decisions while you’re in a situation that isn’t easy to make decisions in.

What are some of the stories the kids tell you? Is there — has anyone come up to you and said like, oh my God you’ll never guess what happened. I used mindfulness and it worked!

DEANNA:
Oh. So, I have some kids that actually teach their — before we end the sessions. We encourage them — like, hey I want you to go teach at least one person. You know go back home and teach your mom — your — whoever it is — whoever you live with. And I remember one of my students — she was so excited she taught her mom how to meditate. And — not meditate but breathe properly. And I feel like doing this work you find out a lot of people think their breathing properly — they really don’t — do not focus on their breathing. I didn’t focus on my breathing, but just —

DAVID:
Yeah it just automatically happens. I don’t have to focus.

DEANNA:
Right, exactly. So just being aware of the present moment — just being in the present moment and its how Holistic Life trains us to teach — by breathing. So, you inhale and just use your imagination. And your belly rises and when you exhale your belly falls flat. So, kind of just like repeating that and I remember after I took my training with Holistic Life Foundation — before that I actually wasn’t breathing properly. It took me about — I actually timed it out. It took me five months for me to breathe properly — just on my own without — subconsciously, I guess.

DAVID:
Well and what’s crazy about that is you would’ve never known unless you somehow were integrating yourself into a process that showed you how to breathe. You know you would just never would have thought like I’m breathing wrong or I’m not breathing fully. Ok. Breathing is one of those weird things where just — you’re like I’m doing it — don’t worry about it. Feels so automatic, but when you are able to take control of it and to be mindful of the moment of breathing — I think that’s the biggest part of mindfulness is coming back to the breath — because it’s something you do continuously no matter what. And you need to do it. And breath is like such a good regulator for well-being.

DEANNA:
Right.

DAVID:
OK. I feel like you’ve sort of spoke to this a little bit, but how has the practice of mindfulness and or yoga benefited your life?

DEANNA:
Yeah, like I said it helped me through like a rough stage my life. And also, just being aware and being in the present moment — especially with my son. You know people tell you —

DAVID:
Oh cute.

DEANNA:
…oh, it’s going to fly by. And it really does fly by. Like he’s three years old now. It feels like I just had him. And just being in the present moment it’s like oh you are three years old right now. You are doing this and just being aware and just watching him instead of falling into like a daily ritual. Like we wake up. We do this and keep going on our day. I actually just sit down and I’m in the moment with him and I’m happy because I’m like, wow, I’m like — I’m really here — like him and I here. We’re connecting at this second. LAUGHS. And just, yeah, just being aware.

DAVID:
Yeah, I kind of feel like having a little boo boo next to you is like such a good practice of being present because that kid is nothing but present.

DEANNA:
Exactly.

DAVID:
You know?

DEANNA:
Yes.

DAVID:
That seems kind of crazy.

DEANNA:
And that goes into any relationship — just like yeah with my parents — any relationship being present. I think that’s the main thing for me.

DAVID:
Yep, there is never a moment where being authentically present will harm you.

DEANNA:
Correct.

DAVID:
Why not develop this skill and move forward with that? So, it’s very cool. How do you define mindfulness? What does it mean to you?

DEANNA:
How do I define it?

DAVID:
I always love everyone’s different perspective on it.

DEANNA:
I feel like mindfulness is — ultimately goes back to just being present. Just being in the present moment. Just being mindful of what you’re doing. What’s — not worrying about the past or focusing on the future. Just being present, you know it’s just easier said than done I feel like — especially in today’s society.

DAVID:
Yeah, we’re super easily distracted. We have many different ways to be distracted. And even our emotions can be distracting.

DEANNA:
Mm hmm.

DAVID:
And the fact that they’re triggered by like devices or things being said but being able to have a tool to regulate your emotions is really a good thing to have.

DEANNA:
Yes.

DAVID:
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the HLF program?

DEANNA:
LAUGHS

DAVID:
That’s an extra credit question, I would say.

DEANNA:
Do I get one point?

DAVID:
I will give you two points.

DEANNA:
I would say Holistic Life Foundation, they have — going through their training, through their workforce development it really did help me — just being more — having kind of like hands on because before that it was kind of like bookwork or online research.

DAVID:
Like self-study.

DEANNA:
Yes, or I would like join their one free trial of yoga, you know at the yoga studios. So Holistic Life Foundation — it kind of was like my hands on — and just working with the kids at the camp with Holistic Me camp. It was kind of hands on and it really — I was kind of halfway there — just you know doing my research, but once I got — surrounded myself with all the kids. And just all the positivity they brought into my life. I’m like ok I’m here to say this is what I want to do. I want to help. This is my purpose in life.

DAVID:
Cool. All right.

DEANNA:
So yes, incorporating everything and —

DAVID:
Awesome, well that’s our time. And I really appreciate you speaking with me. It’s always fun to get a unique perspective and it’s just — oh it just sounds really good of how mindfulness has benefited you. And it just sounds like it’s going to keep benefiting you and plus you’ve taken on a teacher volunteer role in where you’re teaching others — empowering them and it’s just — it’s just the goodness just keep spreading. And I just really appreciate you for that. So, thank you for speaking with me.

DEANNA:
Thank you.

[MUSIC]

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.

[MUSIC]

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