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Yoga in Schools Really Works: This is How One Program Helps Students Decompress

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Founders of the nonprofit Konscious Youth Development and Service (KYDS) New Jersey share how their mindfulness program in schools and meditation and open mic events in Ashbury Park are bringing positive change to a community.

Learn how a nonprofit organization in New Jersey brings yoga and mindfulness programs into elementary, middle, and high school classrooms and empowers kids and adults.

In December 2014, yoga teachers Mychal Mills and Rodney Salomon began leading monthly open mic nights at Kula Cafe in central Asbury Park, New Jersey. Salomon, a youth development specialist, and Mills, who was then working at a local food bank, wanted to bring together all generations of their inner-city community. At their first event, 15 people performed for 70 of their neighbors, sharing poetry, music, and other creative forms of spoken word. “The theme of empowerment kept arising,” Mills says. “Open mic is a platform for openness, vulnerability, and healing—connecting all walks of life from 6 to 70 years old.”

Encouraged by the success of the open mics, Mills and Salomon founded the nonprofit Konscious Youth Development & Service (KYDS) to reach more kids. That summer, they hosted a free eight-week youth series called Journey Summer Program for elementary and middle schoolers. It included yoga and mindfulness practices, talks about healthy eating, and art workshops. The goal: to help kids better manage their emotions and give them a solid foundation to become mindful leaders of tomorrow. Then in 2016, Salomon and Mills added meditation and sound-healing events at the café.

See also How to become a leader in yoga service work

The following year, KYDS received a contract to be in the Asbury Park School District full time. KYDS now offers three tiers of programs, all of which are available at elementary, middle, and high schools. All teachers receive Konscious Classroom training to develop their own mindfulness practice and to learn how to bring those techniques to students. The second tier is a Mindful Moment room where children can meet with KYDS staff if they are stressed or anxious. The room is designed to help students decompress through relaxing sights (positive quotes, a Himalayan salt lamp), sounds (water and beach noises), and the smell of lavender from a diffuser. Lastly, KYDS offers an Alternative Learning Lab for students facing challenges in or out of school and those with a history of suspensions. The lab works with the kids twice a week to help increase their self and social awareness. Students journal, paint, or write poems using guided prompts and participate in group activities, such as building bridges, which help them shift from “me, me, me” thinking to “we” thinking, Mills explains.

On top of these school programs, KYDS still holds a free meditation every Monday, free yoga twice a month, and an open-mic night once a month. “Although we focus on kids, we realize it can’t just be the youth, because they are going home to their parents,” Mills says. “We find it more effective when adults are learning the same techniques and tools to embody change.” 

See also 3 Truths About Anxiety That Will Help You Feel Better, Fast

KYDS

Founders: Mychal Mills & Rodney Salomon

Website: konscious.org

At a Glance:

  • 3,000+ youths reached in the 2017-2018 school year
  • 13 school districts served in 2017-2018



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Take a Look Inside The Rady Children's Hospital Yoga Program

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A volunteer yoga program at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego is bettering the lives of its oncology kids.

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How Yoga Helped One Child with Cancer Recovery

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Learn more about Julia’s story.

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How to Avoid Social Media Blues

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Yacht parties and bikini bodies got you down? Here’s how to get out of the funk.

I photoshopped a picture of myself once. Okay, maybe more than once.

I’m not talking about adding filters or erasing stains from my shirt. I’m talking vacuuming away parts of my stomach, arms, and even a little thigh. When I gave my husband a virtual tummy tuck, he finally forced me to check myself.

“You can’t talk about self-love and authenticity and then use photoshop!” He was horrified. And then I was, too.

I whole-heartedly believe we’re each put on this earth in our own unique bodies to express our true Selves. And through platforms such as teaching yoga, writing, and using social media, part of my job is to help people realize this. I teach the self-acceptance and body positivity—but I wasn’t always practicing it.

What the bleep was I doing erasing a few pounds with the swipe of my finger?

For the honest answer, we must take a little trip back in time.

I have been dieting since I was 9 years old. Even now, while I may no longer count calories or weigh my broccoli, I still watch every morsel I put in my mouth. I was a child of the early nineties—the era of the supermodel. Pictures of Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford lined the walls of my room. My mum modeled, too (along with her many other careers), and I coveted her air-brushed headshots, just as I did every single page of Vogue.

I wish I looked like that.

Wow, she’s so beautiful.

Why am I so ugly?

These were the lyrics that played on repeat in my head. Not exactly the anthems we want for our children.

The pressure of perfection is a force so strong it can flatten us, if we let it. Literally. It will drain out our color, wash away our texture, and suck us down to some sort of washed-out, skeletal, carbon copy of a Barbie doll.

Under ever photoshopped picture is a human being. A real person, who’s every pore, every wrinkle, every scar, every pound, tells a unique story.

Unfortunately, these are the stories the media does not want us to hear. If we did, we might never buy another beauty product again. Instead, corporate interest spins a golden yarn of the unattainable: the “perfect” woman, the “perfect” man. And the messaging is so loud and pervasive that we absorb it without even trying. Like a top 20 hit you’ve somehow memorized without ever intentionally listening to the song.

See also 5 Poses to Inspire More Self-Love, Less Self Smack-Talk

One day, you find yourself looking at a picture you just took, and instead of seeing the glory in your unique story, you see all your perceived flaws. So, you download an app on your phone that allows you to become a sliver of that “perfect” ideal with the click of your thumb. And like magic, all of the insecurities, the negativity, erase from the screen. That was easy!

But to truly love ourselves in a world that tells us we are not enough is not easy. It takes great courage. It is a rebellious act. It means ignoring the toxic messages and beauty ideals and accept ourselves as we are in this moment. It means looking yourself in the eye in the mirror saying—and really believing—“You are beautiful.” Not because we are thin or tan or have poreless skin. You are beautiful because there is no one in the entire universe that is like you! And nor will there ever be again.

So, the next time you take a picture that you are going to share to the world, I dare you to not add a filter. I dare you to not adjust or alter the image in any way. To share your story in all of its glorious detail. You do not have to be afraid, for I will stand with you. Or hands held, our faces clear, and our soul’s bright.

See also  5 Ways to Radically Love Yourself Today

Here are some tools to help you avoid the perfection trap:

1. When you take a picture, look at the whole picture. 

How often do we take a picture and immediately zoom in to inspect ourselves? Think about group pictures: What is the first thing people do when they look at one? They focus on themselves and their flaws. But it is our imperfections that make us beautifully who we are. I’m a sucker for a big nose and a crooked smile. As Leonard Cohen says in his song “Anthem,” There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in. When you take a photo, try to see the entire image—the complete scene. Remember where you were, who you were with, and how you felt. Pictures should capture memories not project fantasies.

2. Delete image-editing apps from of your phone. Remove the temptation! 

When I am not being mindful, my desire for perfection can border on obsession. Couple that with social media addiction and it’s a recipe for disaster. At one point, I had 10 different apps on my phone for altering images. 10 different apps! In the same way it is helpful to not have alcohol in the house when you are on a cleanse, removing the apps relieves the temptation. Instead, fill your phone with apps that help you grow creatively. Try learning a new language, playing brain games, and listening to interesting podcasts. Take more pictures of your dog.

3. Unfollow people who trigger you. 

I stopped buying fashion magazines a long time ago because of how bad they made me feel. Even though I knew the images were altered, I could not help comparing myself to supermodels’ stick figures. Nowadays, these types of images pervade social media, and because they appear in someone’s personal feed rather than a magazine, we think they’re real. It’s much harder to deciphering what is fake. If you find yourself constantly feeling bad from looking at someone’s posts, it might be time to stop following them. Instead, find people to follow who leave you feeling empowered and inspired.

4. Get off social media and into the real world. 

One of my favorite things about teaching yoga is looking around the room and seeing all of the different body types. If we all looked or practiced the same, life would be so boring! When I look up from my phone and back out into the world, I find myself in awe of how beautiful everything is, from an 85-year-old walking with their 10-year-old grandchild, to a couple smooching on a park bench. Look around to see just how varied and unique and interesting we all are. Life is beautiful!

5. The next time you take a picture, look for one thing you love. 

As mentioned above, we have a tendency to home in on what we think are flaws. We zoom in, looking for something wrong. The next time you take a picture, instead of looking for what to fix, look for what you love. If you cannot find anything at first, look at the bigger picture. What did you love about that outfit? That location? Who you were with? Start to train your brain to see the beauty. This can (and should) start in the mirror. One of my favorite self-love practices is to say one thing I love about myself every day. It doesn’t have to be physical, either! The more we learn to love ourselves, the more love we have to give others. 



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