This week, we caught up with the amazing Karen Gastiaburo - Harlem resident, yogi, teacher, and a lead yoga mentor to our students under our Grow-Move-Create curriculum programming. Read on to meet Karen and learn more about her experience.
Seed Street: What was the first thing that stood out to you when you began teaching our young yogis?
Karen: What stood out to me was that the kids just wanted to be HEARD. Teaching them to reflect, to go inside and listen, to have respect for themselves and for one another when speaking. I had to remember that they are children, but children are wise beyond their years and respect was a central part of our dialogue throughout.
Seed Street: Beyond yoga as a form of movement, meditation and inner-awareness were central tenants you introduced into practice from day 1.
Karen: I have experienced a lot of growth in my personal life through the process of self-inquiry.
Meditation is about contemplation, clearing the mind of chatter in order to create the space and time for learning and making clear decisions.
Our girls would come to class with various stress inducers like School, tests, friends, home life – It was so important for them to take that quiet meditative time to breathe and let the stress go out with the breath and breathe in new air, new light and a renewed sense of self-confidence - simply let go! The response to being handed these tools was immediate.
Seed Street: Tell us more about your own history as a yogi and background with teaching yoga.
Karen: I started practicing yoga somewhere around the year 2000, but a trip to India in 2002 is what really catapulted me into a deeper practice.
Then, about 8 years ago things really shifted for me. I found a teacher / mentor in [NYC-based yogi] Jackie Prete. She shared ideas and practices that resonated with me. And I continued my journey into teaching yoga.
I primarily study and teach Anusara Yoga and teach classes at the World Yoga Center on the UWS (72nd Street) on a regular basis, along with volunteering to teach their community classes. I continue to enjoy teaching all walks of life and welcome the opportunity to experience and grow in new ways. Self-inquiry is key to that process and that process manifests into asana practice.
But, something was missing ...I always imagined working with kids in some capacity. I am at that point in my life where I feel really blessed and grateful and it was now time to give back. All the things I’ve learned so far I hope to impart on the children of our future. Seed Street was such a sweet introduction....to do something I love and share this with the students.
Seed Street: How long have you been a resident of Harlem?
Karen: 7 years, which by some NY standards is a long time.....I've made friends with neighbors, I'm engaged in the community and I participate...., and by Harlem standards makes me a newcomer!...Harlem is a neighborhood steeped in history with families that have lived here for generations and I have a lot of respect for that. I feel fortunate to be welcomed here and to be able to share my talents and passions with kids that are growing up here.
Seed Street: What is the most important thing you hope to impart to these young yogis through the process of introducing them to yoga?
Karen: I am a person who is always looking to grow and learn, to stay very curious. For me, teaching yoga is about the self-inquiry, what makes somebody tick, understanding them, their personal obstacles and how to help them grow and to overcome those obstacles.
We are all creatures of habit, sometimes to a fault. And, we learn from the people around us. But then, we have the power to make new choices, new decisions "is this working for me, or is it not?" those choices, those decisions can change the course of your life.
Do we repeat a pattern or do we change a pattern? We alone have control over that. If I can impart that message to these young minds, that you are in control, that things can be different and you can shape that narrative, that is a powerful thing, that is the message I hope to leave them with. "Take care of yourself".
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from The Bhagavad Gita -
"On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort towards spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear."