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Yoga teacher works with students to help stop bullying

By her own admission, Tina LeMar has ADHD. Yet she has two master’s degrees – one in art education from University of the Arts (she graduated with honors) and an MBA from Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. She has served as Executive Director of Philomel Baroque and the American Entomological Society, has run her own yoga business and magazine for 15 years and recently started a non-profit organization, Sheltered Yoga.

LeMar was also a victim of bullying. Rather than let disabilities impede her, she is teaching others how to build self-esteem and say no to bullying. LeMar will be leading Calm & Confident Yoga – Bullying Prevention for All Ages at the Walk2Stop Bullying Saturday, June 13, 10:30 a.m., at Educational Testing Service 660 Rosedale Road, Princeton.

The event is organized by KidsBridge Teaching Tolerance Museum in Ewing.

LeMar has worked with kids as young as 2, teaching them yoga asanas (postures), breathing and meditation which, she says, empower them, build their self-esteem and help them have tolerance for others. 

Both bullies and their victims suffer from low self-esteem. “We divide the population into three groups,” says KidsBridge Executive Director Lynne Azarchi. “Thirteen percent are bullies; 11 percent are victims, or targets. The remaining group is bystanders. At the museum, our goal is to teach empathy to bullies.” 

Before students enter the museum, they are given a survey designed by the psychology department at The College of New Jersey. “The survey looks for attitudinal differences before and after they visit,” says Azarchi. “When the data is analyzed, it shows a statistical difference in empathy, moral reasoning, empowerment and tolerance of diversity.”

Azarchi says that even with the success of the numbers showing the students being reached, she was most touched when she received a letter from a student saying “I didn’t realize I was a bully. I will try to be nicer.”

“The most challenging part is that we are a bystander society: in the classroom, in the lunch room, even as adults,” continues Azarchi, who sees it as her mission to convert bystanders to upstanders. To be an upstander – one who stands up to bullies – “you have to feel empathy and empowered to show the bully you can take action and get others to follow. You can get a friend or a teacher to help. As an upstander, you are a leader and influence people to join in your actions.” 

The word “upstander,” says Azarchi, comes from Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.”  

When Azarchi learned about LeMar’s organization, Sheltered Yoga, and her work with at-risk youth, she brought her into the Kidsbridge Teaching Tolerance Museum to show students how to breathe, calm down, and take a moment to think about how to resolve conflict.

“The language of bullying changes among communities,” says LeMar. “Yoga works across all languages and brings everyone together in a compassionate way.”

In a typical lesson, there may be a discussion of negative comments. “Negative comments raise the anxiety level, and your body has to deal with it. We talk about how yoga postures can make you feel comfortable or not, and how having your breathing compromised – say, in a twisted position – compromises your strength.”

LeMar has evidence that the kids she works with have reduced their anger. She assesses the increase in happiness and peacefulness using “emotional thermometers.” The youngest are given a plastic egg to drop in bucket with an emoji that corresponds to their feelings. “A majority of the time they are tired or upset at the start. Then, after stretching, they change to peaceful, happy, excited,” says LeMar.  

How do you get very young kids facing poverty and other traumas to meditate? “You have to make it fun,” says LeMar. “You have to build trust. We give them healthy snacks and juices. Now, when I walk in door, they run and give us big hugs. They hold on to our clothes and hands the whole time we’re there.”

Part of LeMar’s success with the students comes from her personal experiences with being bullied. Her best friend tormented her for 15 years for being too tall, too athletic, having parents who were too strict, and for not fitting in. Because of her ADHD, at that time poorly understood, LeMar felt others perceived her as stupid. She would read a paragraph 15 times “and nothing would sink in because I was so distracted.” The taunting fed LeMar’s low self-esteem and led her to continue seeking friends who reinforced that image. By high school, she was having panic attacks. 

“Yoga was the only thing that got me to a place I felt strong and self-confident,” LeMar recounts. “Meditation allows the brain to calm down so you can think in a more linear way. The ADHD brain is like a tornado, and yoga makes the tornado stop spinning.” 

Azarchi, who has been with KidsBridge since 2002, says she was never bullied. 

“Was I called names? Was I made fun of for being Jewish, and excluded and not invited? Sure, but that’s not the classic definition.  Bullying is having power over someone else over time. A bully is targeting you, either online or face to face, and there is a relationship in which the bully has power over the victim.” 

The single most important message Azarchi would like to get out about how to stop bullying is that one person can make a difference. With the yoga sessions run by LeMar, each participant learns of the power they have. What makes her so effective, says Azarchi, is that she’s “very personable and full of empathy – kids are mesmerized by her. She’s walking in their shoes.”

The June 13 Walk2Stop Bullying yoga event is open to any participants in the walk. Bring a yoga mat, towel, or lay on the grass. 

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The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

 

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