Sharon sits down with Ali Smith, Andy Gonzalez and Atman Smith of the Holistic Life Foundation at the JCC Manhattan to talk about their work bringing mindfulness and yoga to inner city youth in their hometown of Baltimore, MD.
The Holistic Life Foundation has been serving Baltimore’s underserved communities since 2001 with high quality programming focusing on yoga, holistic health, environmental advocacy and education, sustainability, oneness, and interconnectedness. In this episode of The Metta Hour, Sharon talks with the HLF about how they began this inspiring work, and it’s expansion in their community after 15 years.
00:55 – Sharon jokes about feeling like her life is kind of like “mercury in retrograde” at the moment. She welcomes her audience and introduces her guests Ali Smith, Andy Gonzalez and Atman Smith, founders of the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF).
3:50 – Ali tells about their struggles growing up in the streets of Baltimore. The Smith brothers were raised vegan with yogas and mindfulness. This created a unique dichotomy that the two worked to keep secret from those who would shun them for it. Their practice faded into their teenage years, but was reignited in college where they meet co-founder Andres Gonzalez. After college the three spent their time reading on spiritual practice, meditating, and working on personal growth.
14:53 – Atman shares the story of HLF and their first group of “problem children”. How introducing those kids to the same practices they learned had a dramatic effect. The project grew beyond expectation. Growing from 25 to over 125 kids in one school the program has continued to expand in scope reaching over 5000 students in 15 schools.
19:30 – Beyond reaching out to inner city youth, HLF works with all underserved communities in Baltimore. HLF goes to drug rehab, mental health facilities, and elderly homes to bring them mindfulness practices to help deal with their situation.
21:00 – In schools HLF developed an alternative suspension program called the “Mindful Moment”. A room where kids are sent to calm down and reflect on their actions. They practice breath-work, stretch, and are given time to meditate and reflect. They come out of the room calm and ready to work.
28:00 – Sharon asks the brothers about the trauma that they are helping others overcome. The topic of undiagnosed PTSD in their community is discussed. How they learned to address the trauma affecting their students. Their own experiences on the streets and witnessing the hardship of others.
37:30 – How does love figure into changing things in such harsh circumstances? Atman and Ali return home in the heart of the Baltimore riots and lead their neighbors in meditation and rally them through the clean up effort. Reminding everyone that spreading the love and compassion can make the difference.
49:30 – Sharon turns the floor over to her audience who ask about HLF’s relationship with local churches, spreading HLF throughout the country, maintaining a personal practice, and more
1:17:00 – Atman leads a two minute guided meditation. This breathing meditation is a favorite of his kids because it gives them enough space to to relax, but enough guidance to keep their minds from wandering.