Last spring, I led an after-school yoga and mindfulness program with children who were hurricane refugees from Puerto Rico. The elementary school where they landed was working hard to support these kids, and the principal called me and asked if I’d come work with them.
Many of the children had been living in poverty before the storm destroyed their homes. Some spoke little to no English, a few were completely shut down, all were traumatized to some extent. (I wrote a few earlier blog posts about it, find them on this page.) During our six weeks together, we talked a lot about the choices we have even when things are rough, and how there’s a space between something that happens and our response to it. We practiced (and practiced) pausing to breathe, to help us choose our response instead of simply reacting. We also used breathing and other exercises to practice letting go of stress and anxiety that aren’t doing us any good.
There are so many struggles children have that we can’t fix, as much as we want to. Children dealing with trauma, anxiety and stress desperately need to be taught positive coping strategies like simple mindfulness. Not only will it help them self-regulate and release some of the stress and fear they’re carrying, but it will help them avoid a sea of negative ways of coping.
At the end of the program, I performed at their school, and I brought my “afterschool kids” up on stage with me—they were so proud to lead their classmates in simple yoga and mindfulness. I know three of the kids have moved back to Puerto Rico, and I hope they’ll remember at least some of what we learned together.
The school also asked Emmy-winning Maciek Albrecht of MaGiKWorld—(he’s the animator who created “Community") to create a short film, telling the story of one Puerto Rican family who found a temporary safe haven in the US after their home was destroyed by the hurricane. The project was intended to help children process the incredible trauma they’d been through. Maciek worked with elementary school students to create the characters and animate the film, based on my song “How to be a Cloud.” (The extra footage at the end is of the students who created the film’s characters, and it’s set to my Kindness Mantra.)
Watch it here: