How did you first get interested in yoga? I had just graduated college and moved from Miami (South Beach) to Boston. I was looking to make a lifestyle change as well as heal a back injury and came upon some Rodney Yee videos. Then I began teaching in a preschool and one of the parents was a yoga teacher and she invited me to come to her classes. I was hooked.
What change has yoga made in your life? I have just become more aware. More aware of myself, myself to others, of the beauty and sadness around me, of how small we are on this big earth, but what a huge impact just one of us can make. I became more interested on what was going inside me then what was going on on the outside. I developed an awareness of my body and all of what it was holding onto. I will never forget doing a very deep hip opener in a class taught by Sharon Gannon at a yoga conference and just bursting into tears. It was an awakening.
How did you get the idea for Full of Joy Yoga? I had been teaching first grade in Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY and it was so challenging. These kids came from very stressful and chaotic home lives and I had to take care of them while also trying teach them to read, write and do math. I decided to start doing yoga with them — I thought something had to help focus these kids. It really made a difference. I got my 200 hr certification at Nosara Yoga Institute and then my children’s certification with Next Generation Yoga. I moved to SF with my then boyfriend Chris and decided that teaching yoga to kids in schools full time was what I wanted to do. One day while Chris and I were having dinner, I was wearing a Be Present shirt that said “Full of Joy” on the front. Chris suggested that would make a great name for my business. And there it began.
How would you describe your teaching style? Very kid centered. I listen, I let them dictate what the class becomes. I facilitate and have an idea what I want to teach, but let it flow from them. Kids want to be heard and I give them the space. We laugh a lot but yet I cultivate peace and stillness when necessary. I have teachers ask me all the time “How on earth did you get them to lie there still and quiet!?” They always ask if I can come back at nap time. I respect kids and they respect me.
What are the biggest benefits that children get from practicing yoga? I think it’s the awareness. Kids are so self-centered. Yoga teaches them to look outside themselves at the big picture. Just what I had to learn as someone in my 20’s. Kids are getting this lesson so much earlier and I just hope that we will have a generation of kids grow up to be peaceful & empathetic adults.
You are currently trying to raise money to travel to Nairobi, Kenya and teach children there as part of the Africa Yoga Project. Can you tell us more about this project and what you hope to accomplish? I kept in touch with Jodi Komitor from Next Generation Yoga who trained me in kids yoga almost 10 years ago. She has become a friend and mentor through the years. When I saw that she posted on Facebook that she was bringing a team of kids yoga teachers to Nairobi to work as ambassadors to the Africa Yoga Project, I knew I had to do this.
The mission of the Africa Yoga Project is to “use the transformative power of yoga to empower communities and change lives.” Presently, they have over 72 teachers, between the ages of 16-30, who have studied with and been trained by the well-regarded master yoga teacher: Baron Baptiste. AYP Teachers teach over 200 free yoga classes per week in communities, and reach 5,000+ disadvantaged Kenyans in the slums of Nairobi. Amazingly, AYP Teachers now share their passion and purpose and earn an income teaching yoga because of fundraised money.
AYP Teachers presently share yoga with the children of the slums, orphanages, and schools, yet they have no formal training for how to teach yoga to kids. This is where I will help Jodi lead the change. I feel honored and privileged to be a part of Team Next Generation Yoga for the Africa Yoga Project.
Can you tell us a little about the fair-trade, organic coffee from Africa available on your website? My husband is a coffee roaster for Bean & Leaf coffee in New London, CT. We decided it would make a great fundraiser for me! He came up with this African blend, I made my own labels and have now been selling it for about 6 months. We hope to continue to sell it long after I get back and continue to donate money to AYP through the sales of the coffee.
How important do you think it is to make choices to eat organic food and buy organic clothing and household goods when possible? Now that I have a child I think it’s even more important. It has gotten to a point where eating out is very challenging! I only want to eat meat from farmer’s I know or from where I know the animals have been treated humanely. I think about the animals and the life they lived and really believe that their energy becomes a part of us when we eat them. Organic meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables have become so important to my lifestyle, I can’t even imagine putting anything but that into my body. We sell our coffee at farmer’s markets so that is where we shop all year round – we are very lucky. It makes such a difference in taste and we get to support our local farmers. When I don’t eat well, my body tells me instantly. I don’t buy all organic clothing but I like supporting companies who are local and try to buy American made as much as I can. I try to support local as much as I can! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect but I try to be as conscious as possible.
What was the most memorable experience you’ve had as a yoga teacher? Every single day that I teach I feel it deeply. When parents tell me their child sings “Om Shanti Shanti Peace” at home all the time, or teachers tell me that kids were pretending to be me in the play area, I know I’ve done my job. One of the most memorable though was on our honeymoon in SE Asia at a orphanage in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, I taught some kids yoga and they taught me their sweet little dance style.
What advice would you give to parents who might be thinking about introducing their children to yoga? Do it!! I actually love teaching family yoga- which I’ve been doing monthly. It is an incredible way to connect with your family on a Sat or Sun morning. It’s beautiful and powerful. We are all so busy running around every day — yoga helps us to just stop & breathe and give kids the tools to deal with the stresses in their lives. I look forward to seeing how this generation of yogi’s can change things up a bit.
Lani Rosen-Gallagher is the founder of Full of Joy Yoga. Make sure to like their Facebook page. You can also help support the Africa Yoga Project by making a donation or purchasing African Yogi Blend organic coffee.