Sarah is an author, poet and yogi from New York. She has been a passionate reader/writer all her life and is a graduate of New York University's English and Creative Writing Programs. This dynamic and inspiring yogini has published several books, teaches yoga to adults as well as children at public schools, gives teacher trainings and has taught/mentored teen girl writers in the NYC public school system through Girls Write Now. We met with Sarah and are delighted to share her passion with you!
What brought you onto the yoga path?
In some ways it is completely surprising that I found the yoga path and in other ways completely inevitable! When I look back I see I had seeds of the yoga path in me early on (I remember reading about chakras and yogic philosophy in middle school, became a vegetarian for ‘ahimsa” reasons at 15 though I didn’t know the words). I began investigating Buddhist meditation in college. However, I did not discover the asana, or pose, practice until my 20s, after college. My roommate at the time and I decided to try a free yoga class in Manhattan. We accidentally took an intermediate level though we were very much beginners! The class was filled with laughter on our part, and challenge and fun and I remember feeling amazing in mind, body and spirit afterwards. I saw how this practice could link up to my sitting meditation practice and be a moving meditation. A year later I traveled to Japan to teach English and upon my return faced a difficult time and blank-slate: I was going through a difficult breakup, I was unsure of what I would do for work and was apartment-hunting. A friend recommended I go to yoga during that time, and this is when I really began a steady practice. I went very regularly and slowly many of the dilemmas in my life began to work themsevles out, from the inside-out, it felt. I fell in love with yoga. Yoga has been endlessly teaching me ever since and I’m honored to be able to share it with young people in the hopes of enriching their lives and giving them tools I wish I’d had earlier on.
In the past you were teaching 25 classes a week to children. That is really impressive! You must have a limitless source of creativity. Where do you find the energy, inspiration and motivation?
Yoga! Do I sound like a broken record? (ha ha) I had the amazing opportunity to teach yoga full time in an all-girls public elementary school in Manhattan for several years. During that time, I developed a full curriculum and taught 5-7 yoga classes a day for children ages 4-12. Though I was often drained at the end of the teaching day I almost always went to yoga. Yoga re-fills my well, helps me shed what I don’t need, get centered again. I actually love to practice yoga before I write because it clears my head and makes me feel connected. I like to write from that connected place. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take breaks from asana practice if you need to…balance is important in everything…but for me having a practice both grounds me and inspires me. Other than yoga, I get inspired from travel and meeting all kinds of people.
In your experience, how does practicing yoga benefit children? What qualities have you seen children develop?
I find it amazing to be able to share yoga with children, I’m really honored to do so. From my experience, most children are natural yogis. They are using their bodies and senses to explore their place in the world, what they think, how they want to be. Learning tools of yoga hopefully plants seeds to keep that joyful, open exploration going into young adult and adulthood. I’ve seen yoga help develop calm and focus, even in children struggling with ADHD and other challenges. Kids yoga often involves a lot more partner and group poses than adult, and in that way children are encouraged to work together peacefully, and learn what teamwork means in the yogic sense. I love watching kids confidence develop through yoga. Yoga seems to help every child because anyone who can breathe can do some kind of yoga, there are variations galore, and yoga is balancing. So if a child is overactive, yoga will calm her. If a child is sluggish, yoga can motivate and inspire. I’ve also seen test scores go up in schools with yoga since yoga helps kids learn how to focus, how to work with their minds.
Do you believe it is possible to introduce yoga at schools worldwide? How do you envision this happening?
Education! I so strongly believe in incorporating yoga and mindfulness into schools everywhere and feel very much like an advocate in this. I believe education is key…sharing with people how yoga helps children and schools as a whole. I often find myself explaining more of what yoga is to parents and school administrators. I love to have parents, teachers and principals come to my yoga classes to see what happens. I think once people realize how yoga helps kids feel calm and happy, learn to regulate their emotions, and gain strength, flexibily, and seeds of health for life there’s not much to argue with. Sometimes there are concerns about yoga being closely tied to religion, but yoga is a practice for all humans, regardless of religion. I always strive to teach in a way that is respectful to the children and to the culture and environment I’m in, and I think yoga can be adapted to many settings to serve.
With the steady depletion of our earth’s natural resources, sustainability is becoming a necessity for the new generation. As someone who works with children, how would you teach them the importance of being more eco-friendly aware?
I actually find many kids are naturally very environmentally aware and concerned. For example, in one of the schools where I was teaching a 2nd grader started a petition to get the cafeteria to change from styrofoam to recycled cardboard plates, and succeeded! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen kids saving bugs on playgrounds or studying flowers, trees, even weeds. I think encouraging their curiosity and educating without being dogmatic, and being a good example yourself, is key. Getting kids to carry this attention to detain and curiosity and respect for nature into their older lives, as they get busier, is the challenge. But the more we educate and offer an eco-aware perspective, the better.
What is your main focus in your teacher training programs?
I love empowering other adults to teach kids, tween and teen yoga. I’ve had classroom teachers, yoga teachers, therapists, moms and dads take my course. I focus on giving participants a full tool kit for teaching kids yoga, as well as putting all the tools together in lesson plans and curriculum. I teach in a pretty structured and complete way since schools raised me in this. My philosophy is you can always loosen up your plan a bit for a yoga birthday party or more casual studio class, but it’s much harder to add structure to a loose lesson. We focus a lot on combining classroom management with yoga, which is key in kid yoga land. If you don’t have a good hold on your space your lesson won’t get apart. We learn to teach poses but also meditation, breathwork, philosophy and asana art to kids. I believe in trying to reach all styles of learners and developmental stages, too. I also like to provide a lot of practice teaching time for new teachers and strive to build a community of peers.
Besides yogi, you are also a poet and creative writer, you have been featured in Zinks magazine in “Next Generation of Creative Minds” and in Oprah’s O magazine as “Up and Coming Poet”. In addition, you recently launched your first poetry book. What more can we expect from such a creative writing yogi as yourself in the future?
More writing, I hope! Writing is a deep love. I’m currently working on a Young Adult novel, a collection of short-stories and also a nonfiction book for teen girls on yoga, meditation and creative arts.
Do you have a message which you would like to share with our readers?
I’d love to share something that’s been shared with me through experience time and time again: the importance of intuition. For me, I practice listening to my intuition a lot in yoga….I believe its a muscle you can strengthen too! From my experience, the times when I listened to my gut, or that small voice within, amazing things happened….and the times I tried to ignore it, challenges occured, big and small. I try to offer this idea to kids, too. Even with the little ones, we play an “intuition” game. For I believe the true Guru, or teacher, lives within us.