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I Am Strong...

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"I am strong, I am bold...
my own power, I can hold." -- Bent on Learning Student Mantra In keeping with our series inspired by the Kennedy Forum's Mental Health State of the Union, this week we focus on prevention. Recently, we attended a gala to benefit Bent on Learning, a nonprofit that brings yoga classes to thousands of New York City public school students each week. Organizations like Bent on Learning are at the forefront of prevention, equipping students with skills that help them maintain good holistic health.


Being a young person these days can be tough -- from navigating the academic pressures to succeed in a competitive environment to managing healthy social relationships both online and off -- growing up can be full of stressors, especially when you're a student in a large and hectic city like New York."The pressure we're putting on young people is debilitating," remarked Stephanie Ruhle, anchor and managing editor of Bloomberg Television, and the emcee of the event.

At the Flawless Foundation, we are always pleased to celebrate the work of our long-time colleagues at this incredible organization, which prioritizes mental wellness and holistic health and promotes the healing gift of yoga to young people. Yoga is transformative, and we were moved to see its impact that night with a live demonstration.

Student-teachers, who had benefited from the classes themselves, led a group of younger children in a short yoga session -- and the audience watched as the kids were encouraged to hold poses, take in deep breaths, and reflect on how they were feeling. One student-teacher, having brought the kids into Warrior II pose, instructed them to repeat after her: "I am strong, I am bold, my own power, I can hold." This mantra -- specific to Bent on Learning's yoga classes -- was chanted with each new pose and each new breath.


For Bent on Learning Yoga's co-founder Jennifer Ford, when a student is given a fair shot, they can achieve anything. During her opening remarks, she shared with the audience her own mantra: "Your body, your breath, your mind are all you need to succeed."


Confidence, gratitude, perspective are some of the many skills that yoga can teach, and are a central focus of Bent on Learning's programs. But sometimes, in order to understand the impact a practice like yoga can have, you have to join in yourself. Therefore -- after giving remarks celebrating the remarkable life-long work of Dr. Richard Ash in promoting wellness and healing in everyday life -- Gopi Kallayil, the chief evangelist of brand marketing at Google and a devoted yoga practitioner, led the entire gala in a short yoga practice.



Everyone stood up, and what followed was unlike anything I had ever witnessed, with hundreds of attendees, dressed in suits and stilettos, practicing variations on sun salutations, monitoring their breath, and meditating en masse. The yoga session ended with a resounding "Om," which rippled throughout the venue and sent chills down my spine. Here's what we can create when we work together, the Om reminded me; we are one, we are not alone.

Earlier, Gopi Kallayil had said, "Gratitude is one of the most honored of yoga practices," and in this moment, that connection between yoga, togetherness, and gratitude resonated with everyone. Gratitude, like self-reflection, calm, and self-awareness is a skill that can be taught. To be in the presence of proactive change-makers who believe in teaching young people these skills, was to be reminded of hope -- and for that I was grateful.

The night yielded another gift when I gave Gopi a Flawless tattoo, and he insisted on wearing it on his forehead to promote the notion, loudly and proudly, that we are all flawless. He even commented that he hoped the tattoo would stay on as he traveled back to Google the next day. We call that bicoastal #FlawlessLove!


Yoga is a practice, ultimately, which can teach us skills necessary for a balanced, healthy life. It was inspiring to hear from students who have been a part of Bent on Learning's yoga programs for many years. There was one story after another of how these skills could apply to their lives inside and outside of the classroom.

One student spoke about how, when he's feeling angry or stressed, he remembers what he's learned in class, takes a breath, takes a moment, and reassesses his emotions. Another student recounted how yoga classes have helped him become more positive and able to overcome difficulties in his life, particularly academic obstacles, like his Latin and Trigonometry classes. And yet another student spoke about how yoga has enabled her to let go and be more comfortable with her peers. When she's feeling stressed, she remembers her yoga practice: "I breathe and think about the consequences."


At the Flawless Foundation, our focus is on prevention and how important it is to integrate mindfulness and social and emotional learning into our schools in order to help kids build sustainable skills to be their best, healthiest selves. Everyday we read news of low test scores, dismal graduation rates, and negative cultures of bullying and, in some cases, violence. For years, this remarkable program has been helping to change all that -- they have been lighting up NYC public schools with hope.

On a national level, things are getting brighter and the tide has started to turn. Patrick Kennedy recently emphasized prevention in his Mental Health State of the Union address in front of policy makers, politicians, and leaders in many sectors. And Bent on Learning is leading the way: Here's hoping that someday every child in the United States will feel strong and bold -- that every child will know their own flawless power and true potential.