Today I got to speak with Ms. Whitney Stewart. She’s trekked in a Himalayan snowstorm with Sir Edmund Hillary, interviewed the Dalai Lama in India, and visited Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. She’s worked as a puppeteer and salad chef in France, and she’s dug in former WWII battlefields in Poland. She is the author of travel stories, multiple children’s books, and mindfulness activity cards, Mindful Kids. When she is not writing or traveling, she teaches mindfulness and meditation to children and adults.
Please tell us a little about yourself, what drew you to mindful education, and your personal mission. Where did you get certified on mindfulness? And why do you write books about it?
When I was a child, I faced family difficulties. Because of that I wasn’t always happy and calm. I was an athlete, but when I was fifteen I had to stop competitive sports because of a knee problem. I was upset about this because I loved sports. My solution was to start swimming and doing yoga. This was a time in the USA when few people knew about yoga and meditation. But I loved it. I discovered a way to feel peace in my heart.
I began writing articles and books for children 30 years ago. My first book was a children’s biography of the Dalai Lama, who is a great man of peace. I asked him how to teach kindness and compassion to children, and he said children must FEEL genuine kindness from someone in order to know it and show it to others. I also asked him how to teach children to meditate, and he said to teach them to draw with their mind.
I started meditating when I was 15, and then in my twenties and thirties, I traveled to Tibet, Nepal, India, and Japan where I took teachings from meditation masters. This was at about the same time I started writing books for children, so I decided to write about meditation for kids. (I also wrote, and still write, about other subjects.) I have been teaching meditation in schools for decades, but recently, I was certified by the Stressed Teens program and by the Prison Mindfulness Institute’s Path of Freedom course.
I love Meditation is an Open Sky. (I also loved Who is Walt Disney, and didn’t even know you wrote it until I saw it on your website!). Wuf Shanti has 7 books now (6 fiction and 1 nonfiction). I wrote and illustrated the first one, but then we had to get someone else to illustrate the others because I have so much homework. Do you tour schools with your books? Or teach classes on mindfulness to kids? How can people get you to come visit their school?
Thank you for your kind words about my books, and for asking me these questions. It’s nice to connect. Yes, I visit schools with my books. I have a publicist who helps me organize my book and mindfulness events. People can contact me through my website: http://whitneystewart.com/contact-whitney/. You will also see the contact information for my literary agent and my publicist.
How can we get all the companies with similar missions to understand that we will make more positive change in this world for the next generation if we work together? What ideas do you have to scale up to get these programs in all schools in the country?
I agree that our similar work would be stronger if we form alliances. And I see much of that happening. In fact, I have been reaching out to others in my community who teach mindfulness and meditation to children. That said, sometimes people have different schedules and time constraints. They may also have financial restraints on their programs. That might be a challenge to work through. But collaboration can be done. I see more schools adding mindfulness to their programs. Sometimes they are sending teachers to be trained. Other times, schools will bring in speakers like us.
If you had to pick one mental exercise for parents and kids in early learning, middle school, and high school to learn, what would it be and why?
That’s a tough question. I use different exercises for different situations. I always start with mindful breathing. Sometimes I teach a simple technique of feeling the breath come in through the nostrils and paying attention to the gap, or pause, at the end of each out breath. Other times I teach alternate nostril breathing or counting the breaths. But sometimes kids need more than breath meditation, and that’s when I add exercises that use the senses or visualization practices.
What advice do you have for teachers, administrators, healthcare practitioners, and especially parents as it relates to mindful learning?
I would suggest they begin a mindfulness practice for themselves to understand the changes that can happen in their heart and mind. Once they deepen a connection to their wisdom mind, they will know how to teach the practices to children.
Thank you Ms. Whitney Stewart for speaking with me as part of our Partners for Peace series. Everyone go check out her books, do the activities with your kids. The future of our world may depend on it.
Mindful Me: Mindfulness and Meditation for Kids(Albert Whitman & Co.)
Mindful Me Activity Book (Albert Whitman & Co.)
Mindful Kids: 50 Mindfulness Activities for Kindness, Focus, & Calm (Barefoot Books)
Meditation is an Open Sky: Mindfulness and Meditations for Kids (Albert Whitman & Co.)
To learn more about Wuf Shanti: https://wufshanti.com/2018/05/about-wuf-shanti/