Presenter Spotlight: Ali Smith, Holistic Life Foundation

Ali Smith
Co-Founder
Holistic Life Foundation

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Ali Smith founded the Holistic Life Foundation along with his brother Atman and friend Andres Gonzalez, in 2001. The Holistic Life Foundation is a Baltimore-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. Through a comprehensive approach which helps children develop their inner lives through yoga, mindfulness, and self-care HLF demonstrates deep commitment to learning, community, and stewardship of the environment. HLF is also committed to developing high-quality evidence based programs and curriculum to improve community well-being.

Read our interview with Ali and join us at the National Kids Yoga Conference in September to hear more from him and HLF co-founders Atman and Andres! They will offer a keynote presentation entitled “Creating 24-7 Yogis.”

KYC: How long have you been working in the kids yoga field? What inspired you to get started?

Ali: I have been teaching yoga and meditation to kids for a little over 12 years. My inspiration to start was the change I saw in myself through my own personal practice. Looking at the youth in my neighborhood and around Baltimore City, I saw them dealing with stress, trauma, violence, a lack of love, and no connection to themselves or others. These kids had no outlet to identify or work through these problems, and were just suffering, and it was negatively impacting their happiness and quality of life. Teaching yoga and meditation to them was a way to help them identify their problems at a deeper level as well as work through them. Yoga and

meditation also empowered them with a skill they could use throughout their entire life to have a place to go within themselves when things in the outside world became too much to bear.

KYC: Tell us a bit more about your work. What does a typical day look like? Who is the community or population that you serve?

Ali: I love my typical work day at the Holistic Life Foundation because we get to touch so many lives throughout the day. We have yoga-based programs at 13 Baltimore City Schools. This includes classes at all 3 alternative/transitional schools, our Mindful Moment program (a school-wide yoga-based intervention program) that we piloted at Patterson High School this year, and our HolisticMe after school program at Robert W Coleman Elementary School. We also teach classes at adult drug treatment centers. I get to spend a big chunk of my day with my brother Atman and our brother from another mother Andres Gonzalez which is always a plus.

The Holistic Life Foundation focuses our work on underserved populations. There are many communities that could benefit from learning yoga and meditation that don’t have the resources or access to them, so the Holistic Life Foundation bridges that gap and provides these tools to those communities, where they are desperately needed.

KYC: Tell us about one pivotal experience–the class, the student or moment–that keeps you going even when your work gets challenging

Ali: The smiles and love I get from the kids at our after school program are what keep me coming back even though it gets difficult. Now matter how bad or how stressful my day was, those kids greet me at the door with smiles, hugs, and a lot of loving energy. The problems of my day just disappear when I get there. Also just knowing how much those kids need that positive energy in their lives, makes it so we can’t stay away.

The most inspiring part of my work with the Holistic Life Foundation is that we are creating teachers from former students. They saw what we did for them and how we empowered them with yoga and meditation, and they want to do it for others. We now even have elementary school students who say they want to be yoga teachers when they grow up so that they can help people.

KYC:What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Ali: The most rewarding part of my work is that I get to teach people how connect to their true selves. There are so many people on this planet that are suffering physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Yoga and meditation provide tools for helping to alleviate that suffering from within. People don’t have to go to an outside source for peace or love or happiness, they learn how to go inside and connect to their true selves to tap into it. Once they figure out how to get there, they can always go back.

KYC: What brings you the deepest joy in your own yoga practice and in sharing yoga with kids?

Ali: My meditation brings the most joy in my personal practice. It gives me a base to start my day from and a way to burn off all of the negative vibes of the day at night. It helps me to connect to myself and get a good look at the things I need to work on internally. It gives me my shield for blocking out the stress and negativity that I encounter daily. I feel real love, real peace, and real happiness when I meditate, something that I know I cannot find on the outside without finding inside myself first.

But most of all meditation just feels awesome. And it is great when you are working with a kid, teaching them to meditate, and they feel that inner peace and love for the first time and realize that it is something that no one can take away from them and they can be anywhere and tap into it.

KYC: What is your favorite yoga pose?

Ali: This may sounds weird, but my favorite yoga pose is the easy pose because I get the most use out of it. It’s the pose I meditate and practice pranayama in, so it is by far my favorite.

KYC: Describe your vision for the future of kids yoga

Ali: My vision for the future of kids yoga is that all children have access to yoga, pranayama, and meditation at such an early age that it becomes a life-long practice.

Ali Smith will be presenting at the first ever National Kids Yoga Conference in Washington, DC, on September 27. Click here to register for this groundbreaking event.

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