Susan Verde is an accomplished author on a mission giving children the tools to tap into joy and strength through the practice of mindfulness. Susan, now a mother of 3, grew up in a brownstone home filled with books and music. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Master’s in reading remediation, Susan became certified to teach yoga and mindfulness to kids of all ages. Her passion for travel, writing, storytelling, and self-care brought her I am “wellness” series to life. The series began as an effort to help children capture the feelings of empowerment and expansiveness, and through this I am Yoga was born. Soon after came I am Peace; helping children to create space between their emotions and the choices they make through mindfulness. I am Human aims to teach children about empathy and connectivity. And now her next series, I am Love, will be coming in September. Susan’s self-care strategy is simple; in order for us to be there for others as a parent, a friend, a person, we need to take care of ourselves first. As a parent, modeling this practice and teaching your kids the importance of mindfulness and self-care at a young age is invaluable.
MINI MAVEN: Do you have some advice for our readers on the importance of empathy, yoga, peace, and self-care practices at home?
The I Am “wellness” series began with I Am Yoga. As a yogi myself, and a teacher of yoga and mindfulness for kids I wanted to write a book that captured the way yoga can make us feel. Kids (of all ages) need support and tools to manage what life throws at them. They have as many stressors as adults and often lack the skills to process and manage the things they feel. That is where the I Am series began. I wanted the first book to be more about feelings than techniques and tried to capture the feelings of empowerment and expansiveness yoga creates. When describing tree pose in the story (my favorite pose) the text reads “I am so tall I can touch the sky.” It’s all about how feeling and knowing how amazing you are.
SUSAN VERDE: Mindfulness was a natural extension of yoga and is what inspired I Am Peace. My hope is that readers can take what feels like an esoteric idea and learn that it is in fact very simple to practice and be present in the moment. “I can feel my breath fill my whole body. I tune into me.” It’s that easy. As a parent, I find that mindfulness helps me to create some space between my emotions and my choices. It doesn’t mean I don’t ever get upset or frustrated, but it helps not to get lost in what I feel and project that onto my kids. My kids are mostly able to do the same, to create a bit of distance and not get lost in heavy emotions. Mindfulness can be as simple as breathing through your nose and anchoring your mind to your breath. As long as you are not judging your experience but instead noticing it and being fully present with it you are practicing mindfulness.
In thinking about what might come next in this series, and in a conversation with my incredible illustrator Peter H Reynolds it occurred to us that people seemed to be forgetting how to communicate and forgive and listen. Lately, it’s felt like there has been a lack of empathy and understanding that we are all connected because we are human. That is where I Am Human was born. I wanted to talk about the things that connect us all…not just the things we are good at but also the fact that we make mistakes but as humans, we can learn and move forward. I think my favorite passage is “Because I am human, I can make choices. I can move forward.” It is a reminder that we are all capable of showing great kindness to each other.
MM: How can kids learn?
SV: Self-care practices that cultivate mindfulness and empathy are incredibly important and easy to practice at home. It’s like on an airplane when they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping someone else. It’s the same with these practices. In order to be there for others as a parent, a friend, a person we need to care for ourselves first. Parents have a great opportunity to model this self-care. When your kids see you being good to yourself, they are learning the importance of self-love and self-care. When they see you taking a breath or saying no when you need to or meditating or getting a weekly pedicure or taking some time to read and do what fills you, they are learning. Formally practicing mindfulness is very simple. Have your kids place a hand on their belly and breathe through their noses noticing their bellies rising and falling. Take a walk and look at nature. Listen to the sounds around you and then within you. These simple exercises strengthen an ability to focus and find your center in times of stress. The benefits of practicing mindfulness and self-care are not only a greater sense of calm and a toolbox for stressful times, but they also strengthen neural pathways responsible for compassion and empathy and problem-solving and much more.
MM: As a mom, how have you taught your kids, any tricks to the trade?
SV: As a mom, I have tried to share all of these practices with my own kids through modeling and mindfulness exercises. Now that they are teenagers what I have noticed is that they often reach for these tools when they are overwhelmed or anxious. The one thing they all seem to gravitate toward is deep slow breathing in through their noses. I see them doing this when they have tests or big decisions or when they need to relax. It is amazing to see them going to these practices on their own. Remember though, these are “practices” so there is no perfect there is only doing your best. I still lose it sometimes and so do my kids, but we are human and that is enough. In the back of each of the books in this series, I Am Yoga, I Am Peace and I Am Human there are examples of simple meditations and exercises you can do with your kids to support their journey. I hope you enjoy these books and take care of yourselves and look for the next in the series coming in September, I Am Love.