Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Snatam: Jai, I attended some of the kids' program with you at Sat Nam Fest East last year and was so impressed by what was happening. The kids were completely engaged in the activities being provided and there was this sense that you were engaging more then meets the eye... a kind of soul presence had been established. I am really grateful that you will be joining us for our retreat in Costa Rica (Song Of the Self Retreat) and at Sat Nam Fest West. I wanted to ask you a few questions about how you design your programs and how you work with children so that perhaps people can get an idea of how special these programs will be. Can you tell me what you think about when you are designing a program for children? What are your goals with the program?
Jai: My first intention in working with children is always to create an environment where they feel physically and emotionally safe. Another goal of mine is to empower the children I work with. There are many fun ways of doing this—through leadership activities, trust-building skills, and non-competitive games, we can expand the consciousness from the individual to the group.
I like to find fun ways to teach the children something meaningful, and often spiritual—to provide a space for them to deepen their connection to their own intuition and spirit. Our daily yoga and meditation-time sets the foundation for this, and then we carry that energy though the day, tying it into the crafting projects, games, and activities, which help bring the teaching to an experiential level for them.
Snatam: I noticed in the program that I attended with you that the kids were so motivated to participate in the activities that you had planned. It blew me away! How do you plan the activities? Where do you get all of these great ideas from?
Jai: I have been working with children literally my whole life. My mother has been running a childcare center since I was a baby, and I have learned much from her. I've also been running a summer camp for many years. I formed my bag of tricks all along the way, and am continually adding to it. I am lucky to have many friends who have served as incredible resources in this area—professional children's entertainers, outdoor educators, experiential educators, ropes-course directors etc., as well as ideas from books. I find working with the children ages 5 and up to be especially stimulating. It is here that I can really get creative with games and activities, which this age group is able to participate in. I have a lot of experience with low- and high-ropes course initiatives, and team-building skills.
I get so much joy when I see children experiencing that expansive consciousness one gets while learning what it means to be a part of a group. Weather it be as an empowered yet humble leader, or in finding a place amongst everyone as an active listener helping to create cohesion and harmony, every child can lend their energy to the group. When I am able to be a part of providing the ground-work for this magical experience to unfold with a group of children, and they are having so much fun all the while, I feel a great joy and know in the moment that my purpose is fulfilled.
Snatam: You have done a lot of work with children in performance art. Can you tell us a little about what you have planned?
Jai: Working with children to open to the abundance of their creative, radiant selves and the joy that can come from sharing this with an audience is one of my favorite things. For both the Song of The Self retreat, as well as the Sat Nam Fest, we plan to have a little performance opportunity for the children on our last day. Due to the short time we'll be spending together, we will need to be a bit spontaneous in our planning for the show. We will draw on several of the activities that will be a natural part of our day.
One such class I will offer will be Creative Movement, where we can explore many different traditional and non-traditional ways of dancing and moving our bodies to music. I have extensive experience in ballet both as a dancer and as the assistant director of a ballet school. I have also been trained in both modern and jazz dance, and currently teach West African dance to our community and in several area colleges. The show will be a collaboration with the children, highlighting their talents and interests, and will also include expressive demonstrations of the meditations we will learn during our morning yoga classes.
Snatam: Have you ever had an idea that just flopped? How do you recover when that happens?
Jai: I can't think of a great story to illustrate this experience, but I certainly know what it's like to be working according to a structure and have to let go of expectations when I see that things are not unfolding according to my plan. I have learned that adaptability is a great asset when working with children.
When I am managing the energy of a group of children I play the role of the leader with a strong projection to draw the children into the activity. Simultaneously, I am the nurturer who is flexible, creative, and spontaneous, with the ability to change gears in response to the children's needs.
Each day that I work as a caregiver to children, I am given many opportunities to learn from them. Every child is unique, and every group brings something new, so I continue to expand and grow alongside them.
Snatam: What do you do when you have a child that is shy or doesn't want to participate?
Jai: I take the child aside and connect with them by asking them questions, and sharing about the fun things we have planned. Often by just taking a few minutes with them they open up to me, and they begin to trust that I am a friend and so they are willing to join the group by my side. The conversation we have can also give me insights into why they are feeling shy or not interested in doing what the group is doing. Although I do my best to help each child feel safe and welcomed, if they prefer to just observe for awhile I let them know this is fine as well.
For some, the idea of being my “special helper” really empowers them to leave their parents' orbit. Or I may offer them some choices of alternate activities to do, which might spark their interest and help them transition after a bit. If they still remain shy or hesitant, I will give them some space and then follow up and check in with them every so often.
My husband Parmatma (who will be working with the children in Costa Rica as well) has the gift of comedy, and he can often help break the ice with the children through laughter. When we're lucky we even get a magic trick or two out of him. These are always a big hit for all!
Snatam: Why have you chosen to work with children?
Jai: My life has been surrounded by children since I was born, as if it's in my destiny to serve and provide for them. When I was young, I was very responsible, but was also very connected to my inner child. This combination lent itself very well to being a care-giver for children in many different settings, whether it was working alongside my mother in her holistic daycare, or working as a nanny or a babysitter. Later in life, as I've evolved, my relationship to working with children has changed as well. I now am in a position to take on the management of large groups of children, and find much joy in creatively planning these programs.
Snatam: How do you help children get in touch with their spirits?
Jai: Children are inherently spiritual and excited about life. Yet right from an early age, most children in our culture are immersed in media and and toys and games that are so entertaining and immediately gratifying, that the children begin to prefer their artificial stimulation over their basic sensory experience as human beings. I feel it is my job, as a child's caretaker, to help ground their energy and give them a form in which they can express themselves with clarity, confidence and a connection to what's really important in life—you know, the basic things: love and respect for self and others, connection to one's breath, and an understanding of the power of our thoughts, words and deeds.
Part if this understanding is developed simply by providing the child with an “unplugged” environment, with a lot of time spent outdoors. I've noticed that in response to a child spending more time in nature, their energy will begin to become balanced within themselves. This adds harmony to their relationships and their surroundings, as they return to their natural rhythms.
Yoga and meditation are also very effective ways of reminding us all of who we really are and why we are here on this earth. As a group we always begin every day with some yoga and meditation so that this energy can be carried with us throughout our day's activities and play.
Snatam: With every child that comes to attend the program with you in Costa Rica or at Sat Nam Fest West, what do you hope that they walk away with?
• A new group of loving friends they will carry with them in their hearts.
• Learning something new about the beautiful outdoors!
• Having had at least one experience of completing a challenge through use of cooperation and group consciousness.
• A strong confidence in themselves.
• A growing appreciation for yoga and meditation, and how they as children can use these tools to connect with the peace and harmony within themselves.
• The joyful experience of sharing and self-expression that validates each child as an individual and as a part of the whole.
• A deepening understanding and love for their unique individual strengths and gifts.
Snatam: Thank you Jai for taking the time to answer all of my questions. I feel totally blessed that you will be with us, and know that all of the children that have the opportunity to be in one of your programs will have a very special experience. I hope that this has in some way given encouragement to parents who are considering bringing their children to either the Song of the Self Retreat or Spirit Fest West.
Children's Program Director:
* Song of the Self Retreat with Snatam & family
March 10-17 in Costa Rica
* Sat Nam Fest West: Kundalini Yoga and Music in the Desert
April 12-15, 2012 in Joshua Tree, CA.