A teacher, producer and philanthropist, Tara Guber is the founder of Yoga Ed., a national organization that developed a comprehensive Yoga curriculum that is being integrated into K-12 schools across the country. Originally motivated to try Yoga by her movie producer husband, Peter Guber (Mandalay Entertainment), Tara has now been practicing for three decades and for the past 20 years has shared the benefits of Yoga with children. Leah Kalish, MA, is the founder of Yoga Playgrounds and program director of Yoga Ed®. In this interview they share how the movement of bringing Yoga into the public schools evolved and where they see this trend moving in the future.
Integral Yoga Magazine: How did you both begin working with children?
Tara Guber (TG): Alan Finger was my first Yoga teacher and in the 1980s we wrote Yoga Moves. I was an elementary schoolteacher and had minored in art. This led Alan to ask me to create an after-school class at his studio for children ages 7-12. When the children first came in from school, they were bouncing off the walls. So, I had them sit on the floor, gave them paper that was folded in half and asked them to draw a picture on one side of the paper. Then we did Yoga and after Yoga, I said let’s draw on the other side. Their before Yoga pictures had dark colors, ragged edges and were filled with tension. After Yoga, the drawings had bright primary colors, happy and rainbow-like colors. I saw the impact of Yoga and how it takes us from darkness to light.
Leah Kalish (LK): By practicing Yoga and using guided imagery and visualizations I was able to access entirely new levels of myself. I could see that, with so much television and external stimulation, kids were not developing their imaginations; they were losing these precious connections to their bodies and minds at any early age. I began designing products for preschoolers, but realized there was nothing for school-aged children, so I made two Yoga videos with Gaiam. They introduced me to Tara, who was funding Yoga classes at an inner city charter school in Los Angeles.
IYM: What motivated you to bring these type programs to inner city schools?
TG: I wanted to bring the decay of our educational system to public awareness. So, I co-founded Education First, a program where once a year, all the studios, all the networks and agencies participate in raising awareness through public service announcements, TV programs and a one-hour after school special on CBS. It was great and raised awareness, but I after awhile I got tired of telling people that our education system was in crisis. I wanted to do something more. So, 15 years ago, I helped create the Accelerated School in South Central Los Angeles, where we raised 50 million dollars to build the school and we put Yoga Ed. into the school as a pilot program. We were part of the physical education (PE) program. Half of the students went to Yoga and half to PE. Teachers soon saw that the best time to give a test was after Yoga. They also saw that Yoga started changing how the children treated each other. When we give children time to take time out, they can take time in—time to find peace and stillness—and to give them a feeling of focus and concentration so they can show up and be present.
LK: Tara and I shared the same mission so I was hired to write and develop a Yoga curriculum for the school, which I did over 2001 to 2002. The Yoga program became a core component of the school and was so successful that we figured it could work at any school. Of course, we needed data. After a year-long study, the evaluation showed that Yoga class participation improved students’ physical fitness, attitudes toward themselves, behavior and academic performance.
IYM: What else did you learn?
LK: Classroom teachers wanted their kids to be the way they were after Yoga class all the time: calm, receptive to information and more able to meet challenges and handle frustration. So we developed the “Tools for Teachers” program, which trains teachers how to integrate Yoga in 3-10 minutes blocks throughout the day. I think Yoga and mindfulness represent a renewed commitment to sustained well-being. The educational system has been prioritizing results over well-being—and this is simply not sustainable. If we focus on accomplishment, but never on nourishing ourselves we get out of balance. If my mind-body state is not aligned with the task at hand I create stress and lack of health. If I take the time to shift and nourish my state, prepare and align myself through slowing down, centering, stretching, breathing and visualization—I can flow and be productive. How you are being sources how you do something, and this produces what you end up having. People don’t remember what you accomplished, what they remember is how you were being. When you take on a practice like Yoga you are making a commitment to your well-being.
IYM: What is the mission of Yoga Ed.?
TG: To develop health and wellness programs and materials that utilize the psychological, emotional and educational benefits of Yoga and creative play, and to distribute them to children, teachers and parents through schools and communities nationwide. We now have hundreds of teachers trained to do Yoga Ed. We also have 15 teachers who can certify others to be Yoga Ed. trainers. The program is throughout the USA (including Puerto Rico), in Canada and soon will be in Japan and India. Corporate women are giving up careers and becoming Yoga Ed. trainers and teachers in order to have a positive impact on children in schools. The quality of people coming through in the past few years is amazing.
IYM: Would you tell us more about the program?
TG: I think Yoga Ed. should be in every school. Yoga Ed. philosophy is personal awareness. How can we teach students math, social studies and science and yet not teach them emotional intelligence—how to be nonjudgmental, to use nonviolent communication, to really listen—how to be conscious and aware? Yoga Ed. curriculums consist of time-in (includes meditation), discussions on anatomy, postures, partner poses, visualizations, relaxation and homework. In approaching schools, we share with them studies that have been conducted on how Yoga enhances performance, helps at-risk children and children with learning differences. Yoga Ed. also offers a two-day “Tools for Teachers” workshop bringing 5-15 minutes of Yoga into the classroom by teaching children visualization, meditation, postures at their desks and talking circles regarding their feelings to aid emotional healing. One tool is to teach children how to take a breath and do an affirmation before a test, “I know how to do my work. I am relaxed and am going to do the best I can do on this test. I trust myself.” Yoga is not just an exercise, but a way of life.
Fritz Perls said that boredom is a lack of attention. Once we are present, we are more interested. Once we show up in our body and have more awareness, we make better choices in our lives. We eat better, we cultivate healthier relationships to food, to our families and to ourselves. When we show up in our body, we have more awareness and make smarter choices in our diet. We teach nutrition, how to cultivate a healthy relationship to food, to our families, to ourselves, to everything. In our high school curriculum we teach students about the inner advisor—that they can ask for help with any issue that concerns them. We teach them that breath and Yoga are one. Without breathing, there’s no Yoga.
IYM: Leah, you also created Yoga Playgrounds. What is that?
LK: Yoga Playgrounds is about consciously exploring how to conceive and construct fun playgrounds for learning that engage kids and support their whole development. I spend a lot of time on what it means to have a yogic classroom. How we conduct our classroom directly effects how our class unfolds. Teachers have time to explore the idea that they are the ones holding the space and bringing in the structures through which kids can learn.
Burnout happens when we give too much without regard for our own health and happiness; health cannot be postponed to later or the weekends. Most of us have learned to power through the day and we stress out. The Yoga Playground Training holds up a mirror and helps teachers align their lives, goals, passions, creativity and work in a new way. How you go about your day is how you go about your relationship with life. Yoga asks us to slow down and to savor our relationship with life. This is the paradigm shift.
IYM: Yoga seems to be effective for so many people.
TG: Yoga is an inside job. It’s not what is out there, it’s what is in here that will put us into a place of peace and wellness. Due to all the external stimuli assaulting us at every moment, we are being driven to take better care of ourselves. Yoga gives us focus and concentration, posture alignment, strength, flexibility, flow, grace and balance and helps us lead a more peaceful, less stressed life. It really gives us a better life. Meditation is not the same as running or working in the garden. It’s wonderful to do those things, but meditation is time in. Meditation is sitting still and being in a state of quiet and non-doing. It stills the mind. There is no doubt, when you run you still the mind, when you garden you still the mind. But meditation is just being and that is probably the hardest thing—to just be with ourselves and then to go beyond to just being. The expression “we are all one” is right on. Meditation takes us into the oneness. We could be in the darkest place, but if we have that tool, if we know how to open our crown chakra, like the lotus opens its petals—to open to that collective consciousness where the light shines through, that’s the way. Just as Gurudev (Swami Satchidananda) said: “Truth is one, paths are many.”
IYM: Tara, you hosted several talks for Gurudev at your studio, Yoga House. What was that like?
TG: To be in the presence of Gurudev is to be in the presence of love. He just emanated kindness and love. I always found that his inner child was always present. He really gave us permission to be that. We live in a world where we don’t have permission, we protect ourselves, we isolate and he brought us to the moment of presence. Just wonderful! Joseph Campbell said that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. And yet we don’t know who we are. I remember talking to Deepak Chopra about this, and he remarked, “Isn’t it strange that the essence of who we are is hard to find and yet it’s who we are!” I think the most beautiful gift in life is the gift to be yourself. Yoga is one of the most powerful tools to bring us to that possibility.
About Tara Guber and Leah Kalish, MA
Tara Guber is co-founder of Education First! a media based, education advocacy non-profit organization, a Points of Light Foundation board member and a founding board member of the Accelerated School, named “Elementary School of the Year” in 2001 by TIME magazine. She has authored two books, Yoga Moves with Alan Finger and Contact: The Yoga of Relationship. For more information please visit: contactyoga.com
Leah Kalish, MA has been involved in many projects that bring Yoga to children including the creation of the Yoga Kit for Kids, Empowerment Pack and the Pretzel and Planet Yoga Decks. She also wrote and stars in Gaiam’s Yoga Fitness for Kids videos. She leads workshops throughout the country. For more information on her trainings on Yoga in education please visit the website: Yogaplaygrounds.
For more information about YogaEd, please visit the website.