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Jennifer Ford, co-founder of Bent on Learning, an organization that introduces yoga into New York City public schools, tells Rachel Goldstein why yoga should be accessible for all children—during the school day.

Rachel Goldstein: Why is mindfulness important for urban kids?

Jennifer Ford: Today's kids are faced with more stress than ever before, especially in an urban environment. At the same time, schools are increasingly unable to offer an outlet for kids to express themselves and deal with negative emotions.  Programs that develop the whole child, such as arts, music, and even recess, are being removed from their everyday routines. Through yoga, Bent On Learning brings mindfulness and movement into the classroom as an accessible tool; yoga is unique in its ability to quickly reduce stress, increase focus, and address a child's attitude about their physical and mental wellness.

RG: How does Bent on Learning implement yoga throughout New York City schools?

JF: What's most essential to our program is that we teach during the school day, making yoga an integral part of the school's curriculum and culture. We make yoga accessible to all students: by moving the desks to the side of the room and providing mats and instruction, the classroom is transformed into a yoga space, a place for fun physical activity and a haven for peace and relaxation.

We offer yoga for pre-k to 12th grades as a gym class or elective, and students learn basic poses and breathing exercises appropriate for their age and ability in a supportive, non-competitive environment. We have amazing school partners who integrate these practices into their classrooms as an everyday tool for learning.

RG: What kind of differences have you seen in the kids you have taught? Emotional? Physical?

JF: This is our 13th year in NYC schools, and we’ve seen our schools and students transform during this time. Yoga provides kids with a chance to move, breathe deeply and focus more fully, developing strength, flexibility, balance, mental clarity and emotional intelligence. Students are bringing the principles of yoga with them when they leave the classroom: 96% of middle and high school students reported that they are kinder toward their friends, families, teachers and others after yoga, and 88% reported that they have a more positive attitude about themselves.

RG: What gaps does Bent on Learning bridge when it comes to childhood education and personal development?

JF: Bent On Learning has a very simple philosophy: Kids have everything they need within themselves. When they understand their power to release stress and calm their emotions, they have the confidence and ability to think creatively, solve problems and make healthier choices. We focus on the message that kids are able to use their own bodies, minds and breath to tap into their greatest potential and be more prepared for learning—a tool they can carry with them throughout their lives.

RG: How do you get schools and parents to participate?

JF: We currently have a waiting list of schools that are seeking to bring BOL to their students. As a small program, we are always striving to expand our capacity through fundraising and teacher trainings, and we strive to reach the 1.1 million students in New York City schools—and beyond.

We believe it is essential to form a strong partnership with the staff and administration of our schools to ensure that we support each other. We work directly with schools to deliver our message and approach to parents so that the entire community is involved in the yoga program.

RG: How do you define the word love?

JF: For us, love is all about being confident in and expressing who you are. We’ve all been changed deeply by our personal yoga practices and strive to instill a love of yoga and learning in our students.

RG: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process"? 

JF: At Bent On Learning, we are continually looking for ways to increase our impact; to reach more students and spread our message of yoga as a simple and essential tool for learning. It’s inspiring to work with dedicated, passionate and amazing individuals who are all collectively pursuing this goal—living our work and helping to make schools a more peaceful place for our students.

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