Amy Zambrano, independent yoga instructor, Long Branch Schools
“I am an independent yoga instructor contracted with the Long Branch public schools.
I have been doing yoga since I was a kid, where I would do yoga when I went with my mom to the gym. As an adult I always liked working with kids, especially special needs children, and I realized that I could fuse the two together. I took my 95-hour teacher training course to do yoga with kids, plus what I learned in the yoga studio that I frequented (The Laughing Lotus in New York City), and I developed my own program for the students that I work with.
Every time I teach, it is a new experience, because even as much as I plan for the day, you never know what is going to happen, because you teach to who shows up. I am all about honoring the energy of who shows up. For example, sometimes I will have 40 three and four year olds, or it could be an assembly of 800 kids doing yoga.
I work with special needs students as well from pre-school to high school. It is amazing to see that with consistency, how yoga helps them. I like to create a safe space for them. Not all of them want to do the poses, and that is ok. It is not about the perfect pose, but about helping them to regulate their breathing, to learn how to interact with others. By them paying attention to their breath, it helps them to think through how they are going to respond to situations that come up in life. It helps them to slow down and ask themselves, ‘How am I going to react to this situation?’ I will give them a word to focus on while they are breathing, like breathing in ‘Love,’ breathing out, ‘Peace.’ Emotions are big, and whatever type of special need they have, knowing how to focus on breathing is the foundation of everything else. Breathing really is a learned life skill.
A couple of years ago I had one student that came every week to yoga, but he never wanted to take off his shoes. And I was totally ok with it. He would just do his thing, and that was fine. Some teachers would expect everyone to do downward dog when they called out ‘Downward dog,’ but for me, as a teacher, for some of my students a downward dog may be simply rolling around on the floor, and that is perfectly fine. I don’t force it. So this child came every week, never took off his shoes, and just kind of ran around. The last week of camp though, he came in, took off his shoes, began breathing, and did his yoga. That’s why I always believe they still learn, no matter what they are doing. You may not think they are getting it, but they are.
It is not necessarily just about movement for me, but about mindfulness. I have things like the singing bowl (pictured), where I give it a ding, and they listen to the sound, which strengthens their hearing, and it also has a calming effect on the body. The vibration connects to everyone’s heart.
We also do yoga ‘heart work,’ which is the artwork that represents our heart. We made what I call ‘Positive Power’ bookmarks where the students write something inspirational and laminated them, and put some mala Beads on the top. The whole process was about mindfulness in itself, and we were able to donate them to the Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen and the Ronald McDonald House. It teaches the kids to realize it is not just about ourselves, but also about serving others. I actually got the whole Long Branch district involved. We wound up making 300 of the bookmarks to share kindness to others. It all starts with that first breath, where you are in connection with yourself. That breath centers you, and grounds you, and you learn that you can be the best you can be, and you can make a difference with others.”
Interview by Gregory Andrus. To see more of his work, please check out www.portraitsofthejerseyshore.com
You can get in touch with Amy Zambrano at Amy’s Yogabilities LLC here:
Social Media: @amyzambranoyoga