Illustration Courtesy of Jennifer Miller
A 14-Year-Old Teaches Mindfulness to Kids across the Globe
In an online video, a group of little kids is practicing yoga. They wobble in tree pose on brightly colored yoga mats as they sing, “If you’re happy and you know it, be a tree!” In the middle of this unlikely group is their instructor, a smiling dog—that is, a person wearing a dog costume. This is Wuf Shanti.
“When we wake up every morning and do some stretching and breathing, we set ourselves up to have a good day,” Wuf Shanti tells the kids as they uncoil their little legs and look up at him.
The video is part of series to teach kids the importance of yoga and
mindfulness—and the producer would know. He’s fourteen. Adam Avin is a high school freshman from Fort Lauderdale—and one of the youngest certified yoga instructors for youth in Florida. He’s passionate and clearly precocious, and he spends his time outside of school using Wuf Shanti to teach kids the practice of yoga. Avin says Wuf gives children a fun way to learn mindfulness so they can “deal with stress and emotions better.”
“With everything going on in the world—violence, bullying, and kids isolating themselves—it’s important for everyone to take five minutes every day to meditate and focus on your breath,” says Avin.
Avin learned all this from his great-grandfather Jack, “a yogi at heart,” who passed many valuable mantras down to his great-grandson, including “Think well to be well” and “Smile and the world will smile with you.” When Jack passed away, Avin wanted to carry on what he had learned from Jack, so he started drawing a floppy-eared dog sitting cross-legged in meditation, paws to heart, and writing his great-grandpa’s mantras underneath. He named the sketch Wuf Shanti.
Wuf quickly started to grow off the page: Avin next incorporated him into a school project, then a book, and then a mindfulness curriculum.
That was five years ago. To date, Avin has produced seven books, an expanded mindfulness curriculum, and an app for iPhone and Android, all based around Wuf. There’s also the video series broadcast on local PBS and the Children’s TV network in children’s hospitals. And Avin and his alter ego travel to hospitals and schools across the country to give kids in-person mindfulness lessons.
“When Wuf walks into the room, all the kids’ faces light up,” he says. (Avin used to put on the dog costume, but he’s too tall now. His mother, Marni, or a fellow yoga instructor wears it.)
Today, Avin is focused on his latest wellness endeavor—the Mindful Kids Peace Summit. A five-day online educational program running this February, the summit—which he cofounded with educational expert Helen Maffini—is Avin’s largest project to date. He’s including everything you’d look for at a mindfulness event, from breathwork lessons to diversity talks to social emotional learning workshops. There will be panels, interviews, lessons, and motivational speeches from practitioners, athletes, and celebrities. And since it will be online and accessible from anywhere, Avin is trying to get the word out to teachers around the country and world to entice them to play the program for their students.
“We really want to get middle schools and high schools to watch it all on the same day, at the same time,” he says.
Stretched over a school week, the summit will dive deep into various themes, including diversity, inclusion, and communication; kindness and anti-bullying; de-stressing and coping tools; bettering the world; and emotional learning and mindfulness.
It’s a huge project, and Avin still has a lot of work to do. He also has to produce new mindfulness videos, play on the high school golf team, study for tests, and find time to be a teen. But Avin isn’t overwhelmed; in fact—and true to his mindfulness practice—he’s grateful. He “focuses on what’s happening now” and spends his energy on his own goals, no matter how lofty. “We want to make the world a better place,” he says.
The Mindful Kids Peace Summit will take place online, February 11 to 15, 2019. To learn more, visit here.