A few years ago, my school district was chasing a super, competitive grant that afforded us seed money to travel and gather data. If you've never worked in a school setting, the idea of traveling can feel like a first class ticket to anywhere. It's rare we have time for a bathroom break or can actually fetch lunch outside the building.
This was special.
We set our sights on The Holistic Life Foundation, a non-profit agency in Maryland.
In my previous post, I shared a video about these guys from Baltimore claiming they were lowing suspension and expulsion rates using meditation and yoga practices. I was so taken by this. Not only was it unheard of, it was in a largely underserved area of inner- city Baltimore. If you watch that video, I love when the principal of the elementary school states towards the end,
" . . . I've never seen three young men so dedicated."
Well, I'm here to tell you first hand, she is more than right.
In November of 2017, my colleagues and I attended a weekend retreat with Ali, Atman and Andy. It for "people who help people." School counselors, teachers, therapists, doctors, and more attended. For three days, we learned by doing. From meditation to yoga, or mindful movement, we spent time practicing, processing and learning how to implement in our respective professions. For me, I already established a mediation practice and was knee deep into using MyLife: Stop Breathe Think with my students. But, this weekend was something special that I will always remember. Not only was it empowering to share such a space with my colleagues, but I continue to use what we learned that weekend three years later.
Here are some moments from that weekend
The eight of us school counselors left that weekend changed people. We collaborated how we could start implementing these practices in our respective schools with our respective age groups. Three years later, I still hold true to the tenants of that weekend:
Start with yourself before you help others.
This is a practice. You are not trying to achieve perfection/mastery.
Your breath is the first and last thing you do in life, so use your breath. It's powerful.
This work is backed by science. Know it.
We use these practices to get better at life, not at these practices.
Side Note: I am the type of person who when told, "Feel free to reach out to me any time" I take full advantage of it. So I did.
I continued to stay in touch with the doings of HLF. I shared with others who were curious, and our admin team engaged in some professional development with the guys.
I also hosted Andy on the podcast I keep at school.
Here is a link to that podcast. It's chalked FULL of great information about mindfulness.
I have to say, when we were in Baltimore for the weekend, I remember thinking how grounded, attentive and authentic Ali, Atman and Andy were. These guys were all over social media, collaborating with Sharon Salzberg, Tim Ryan and in the national news. Yet, they were the most genuine people I'd been around in a long, long time. It taught me the impact of being a good listener, having patience, and the importance of "now."
Here is a piece from NBC Nightly News
Recently, I reached out to Andy Gonzales, Co-Founder. Andy is a guy who when he says, "Reach out to me any time." He really means, "Reach out to me any time!" Genuine. Authentic. Real.
It had been awhile since we corresponded, so when I saw their new online platform to help families with children during this pandemic, I had a few questions:
Q: With so much attention on racial unrest these days, how is HLF responding?
A: HLF is just sticking to what we have been doing from the beginning. We feel like our mission has been speaking to the racial injustice that is extremely evident in our world since our inception.
Q: Has the mission of HLF changed from when you three first started?
A: Not really. We still focus on showing the disconnectedness with people and the environment. We always believed that healthier people will create a healthier environment and a healthier environment will will create healthier people. As we have grown we have had to make some adjustments to ensure that we can keep doing our work but the overall mission has stayed the same.
Q: What new ventures/services is HLF providing these days? A Besides our online platform (BAM) we are beginning two Satellite programs which will be located in the SoFlo area and up north in Akwesasne.
Q: What do you love about your job?
A: I love sharing what I have learned and being a reminder to everyone as to their true potential.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking up meditation or yoga but is unsure?
A: Just do it. It will change your life and let you see and experience your self and the world in a whole new light!
Q: Where do you see HLF 10-20 years from now? A: Our programs will be in every school, in every city, all over the world!
I can't say enough about these guys and the services they provide. They are superhero fanatics and in my mind
real life superheroes.
Find your comma, Take a Pause