Meet Sat Naam Yoga In Schools Teacher: Laura Riley

Laura Riley: Yoga Instructor/Lawyer & Social Justice Advocate

Laura came to Los Angeles seven years ago to attend law school at USC. Before pursuing her law degree she lived and studied yoga in New York City. When she isn’t teaching with Sat Naam, Laura works as a public interest attorney at the California Women’s Law Center.

“Transformational social change doesn’t just happen at the policy level,” she says. “For true change to take root it has to happen at a very personal level.” This is a belief that is mirrored in Laura’s personal practice and pursuit of yoga. She insists that studying and teaching yoga, in all its forms, compliments and bolsters her work as well as her personal pursuits.

Our entire lives can be yoga. For me, social justice work is another form of Karma Yoga.

What attracted you to teaching yoga to children in schools?
I took a yoga teaching workshop in New York from one of my teachers, Mona Anand, and always thought it would be wonderful to teach in the playful, open-hearted way that kids require of us. I also think that it's important to develop skills that yoga can provide, like mindfulness and intention setting, early on in life.

What is the greatest challenge you face in this kind of work? What is the greatest reward?
I think the greatest challenge is balancing discipline, which they (the students) need, with fun and freedom to explore the poses and breath. The greatest rewards are the descriptions of what the children see, hear, feel when they meditate. What they describe is truly magical.

Do you enjoy teaching a certain age group? If so, why?
They are all wonderful in different ways but I do love how unselfconscious the younger kids are, from Kindergarten until grade three.

Transformational social change doesn’t just happen at the policy level. For true change to take root it has to happen at a very personal level.

What have you learned from your students since you started teaching yoga in schools?
How important and fulfilling it is to stay open.


What advice do you have for others who are interested in this kind of work?
Stay open to the children's body language and verbal requests. Get creative with your approaches but reinforce poses and sequences they know to develop confidence.

How has your role as a teacher informed the other work/endeavors you are pursuing?
This role shows me so much joy from the students and in turn gives me so much joy. It is a weekly reminder that this type of exchange is possible and natural in all settings. It also helps me balance my work as an attorney, which by nature, can be antagonistic.

What We Learn From Our Students
Former Sat Naam Teacher Reflects

My name is Lily Landers and I taught yoga in schools with Sat Naam for five awesome years. It was an honor for me to guide students through classes where we would stretch, breathe, laugh, play and share our experiences together.

Lily practicing in her home studio.

Lily practicing in her home studio.

From South LA to the Valley, I met some spectacular kids. I spent the first year trying not to cry when students would tell me heart wrenching stories about their experiences from home, or describe beautiful images that they saw when they closed their eyes in Savasana. Their joy and appreciation for life often brought me to the brink of tears. But we definitely spent more time laughing than crying. 

One time I was teaching Spider Pose (Malasana Squat) to a second grade class. I instructed the students to reach one hand up to shoot a web. One of my students interrupted me to say, "Excuse me, Ms. Lily. Spiders shoot webs out of their butts." There is nothing like laughing with a room full of second graders.

After just a few months teaching at a school, kids would stop to hug me in the halls and I started to realize how much it meant to them that I showed up every week. In some schools with high teacher turnover, I was the constant presence in their academic lives and they appreciated me for it. And no matter what was going on in my life, they were always there for me. Teaching those kids forced me to be present, in the moment, and I would often leave school feeling a positive shift in my own energy.

That being said, the school system is not perfect. I also dealt with frustrating situations like having our yoga room taken away from us or canceling classes due to extra standardized testing, but the kids stayed connected to their vibrant spirits and I tried whenever possible to ride that wave with them. That's what is so great about working with kids--their love for life is contagious.

Lily leading a mixed age children's yoga class.

Lily leading a mixed age children's yoga class.

Some kids were certainly more challenging than others, but even those kids improved and gained something from their yoga classes. I remember talking to the mother of a particularly difficult student at the beginning of the new school year. She said she couldn't believe it but her son had spent the whole summer meditating in his room. Even my students who seemed like they didn't care about yoga learned something valuable from it.

Teaching yoga to kids deepened my own yoga practice in an off-the-mat kind of way. By learning to be patient with them, I learned to be patient with myself and other people and situations. By asserting myself in the classroom, I learned to stand up for myself in my own life. By being present with them, I learned to be present now. Thank you Seema and Sat Naam for helping me on my journey. I wish you all the best in the future!

Meet Sat Naam Yoga Teacher Jess Hoffman

Jess Hoffman: Yoga Instructor/Massage Therapist


Jess' fascination with yoga and meditation started early on as a child in Western New York. She realized at a young age that there was more to people, life, and the universe than what met the eye. Jess loves to explore the subtle and energetic elements of her practices and teachings. 

She started practicing yoga as a college student at Boston University while studying philosophy and religion. She considers herself very much a student of life and has a deep passion for learning and teaching. Her life path led her around the world and through a varied exploration of career choices. 

When the dust finally settled, she realized that it was her passion for yoga, healing, and relationships that led her to teaching and using yoga, bodywork, and energy-work as her modalities of choice.

What attracted you to teaching yoga to children in schools? I had worked in schools for several years before becoming a yoga teacher and massage therapist. I taught art to elementary-aged children at an after school program. I was a substitute teacher, as well as a math and English tutor at a high school in inner city Boston. It had been several years since I worked with kids when I realized that I missed it and the rewarding nature of the work. I had left education because I wasn't pursuing my passions - like yoga - so I thought why not integrate my love for yoga with my love for working with children? 

I am so fortunate to have a career that I am passionate about that I have chosen with complete confidence.

What is the greatest challenge you face in this kind of work? What is the greatest reward? One of my greatest challenges is to make sure that all of the students are involved and participating in the practice. I think that realizing that the class is not going to look exactly how I want it to is part of this. We are working with some challenging students who are not necessarily going to be able to sit still or be quiet for most of the class. But I think at the end of the day this is fine as long as they've engaged to the best of their abilities in the practice. As for the greatest reward, on the first day of my training, I witnessed an entire first grade class, sitting in sukhasana, with their hands in gyan mudra, their eyes closed breathing deeply together and it was such a beautiful image that will be forever burned into my memory. 

Do you enjoy teaching a certain age group? If so, why? I think that first and second graders are my favorite because they are, for the most part, a little more grounded and conscious of their space than kindergarteners. Meanwhile, the third and fourth graders can think that they are a little bit "too cool" for school. Many students in first and second grade look at you with magical eyes, and they are still so innocent, honest, and imaginative. So many of them are smiley and love practicing yoga.

...If you have a passion for yoga, and teaching kids, it’s incredibly fun and rewarding. I am very honored and proud to be doing this work.

What have you learned from your students since you started teaching yoga in schools? Just keep going. Some days or classes can be particularly challenging, but no two days or classes will ever be the same. So keep teaching because everything will be different the next go around.

What advice do you have for others who are interested in this kind of work? It's definitely not for everyone. However, if you have a passion for yoga and teaching kids it's incredibly fun and rewarding. I am very honored and proud to be doing this work. 

How has your role as a teacher informed the other work/endeavors you are pursuing? I definitely am much more attuned to the language that I use not only in my classes, but in my life. Using language that is clear can be incredibly difficult. It's very important to know your audience. And while language is important, not everyone learns best through auditory cues. So, body language, movement, participation, and speech are all equally important when it comes to communication and learning. Sat Naam is helping me transition to a full-time career in the healing arts with yoga and massage therapy. I am thrilled that I am aligning my career plans and goals to the very essence of my being. I am so fortunate to have a career that I am passionate about that I have chosen with complete confidence. 

Who is Sat Naam? Getting to Know Our Teachers

In cities like Los Angeles, where yoga studios are about as abundant as Starbucks, we tend to think of yoga as a primarily physical practice enjoyed by mostly white, middle and upper class people (also predominantly female). However, there is a growing effort to teach more varied forms of yoga to a still more diverse population. Teaching yoga to children and youth is one aspect of this shift and has become a popular business model for many a yoga teacher.

But teaching yoga in a school setting, particularly to children who come from different socio-economic backgrounds, is still finding its footing. Sat Naam is one of the organizations in LA and across the country attempting to make yoga in low-income schools a more regular occurrence. Over the past eight years, Sat Naam has sought out and trained dozens of yogis (some certified teachers and others not) to visit classrooms from Compton to Sun Valley and teach a curriculum that brings breath, mindfulness, and movement into the lives of young people. 

Many of Sat Naam's teachers are former educators, artists, or yoga enthusiasts who have experienced first hand the benefits and joys of the various branches of yoga. Many are also former or current residents of the areas in which they teach. In the coming weeks we will be sharing stories and insights from the teachers who represent Sat Naam. These profiles and tidbits are our way of putting a face on the sometimes abstract or romanticized work done by people who are trying to better their communities. 

Make no mistake, this work is not easy, but it can be immensely rewarding. Sat Naam teachers are equipping future generations with the tools they need to operate in an increasingly complex world while also learning a great deal about themselves and the city they call home. If you are a certified yoga instructor and would like to learn more about a part time or substitute teaching position with Sat naam visit: and

Learning Focus & Concentration: Playing The Bell Game

Helping students find stillness and focus can be one of the more challenging aspects of teaching -- especially if your students are 4 to 14 years old. However, there are many tips and tricks that can get even the most distracted and energetic children to concentrate. One of these methods is a game. A very simple, easy to play, game. We call it The Bell Game. Here's how you play:

Have students sit in a circle in Sukhasana (criss cross apple sauce) with their hands in Giyan Mudra (thumb and pointer finger together). Encourage them to sit up nice and tall with their eyes closed. Remind them to continue their long slow breaths and to imagine that they are inside a "yoga bubble" where nothing and no one can distract or bother them. 

Once students are quiet and calm begin to wander inside the circle ringing the bell as slowly or quickly as you like. Explain that you are trying to distract the students and get them to come out of their bubbles. Their goal is to remain focused and quiet. The student who looks the most calm, quiet, and who is breathing and sitting tall with their eyes closed will be the next to ring the bell. 

When you find this student, gently tap them on the shoulder and hand them the bell. Encourage them to walk around the circle as you did, ringing the bell however they wish (they may not touch other students or get in their personal space). Often the instruction, "Choose someone who looks as calm as you felt" works well as it gets students to acknowledge their senses and be aware of others. 

This student will pick the next bell ringer and return to their seat to rejoin the game. The bell is passed between students for several rounds or until you feel the class has maintained a long enough period of quiet and focus. Ideally, students will not know who is ringing the bell or who has been chosen as their eyes will be closed. Remind them not to peek or fidget. Also, feel free to point out (silently) to the bell ringer any students who have been doing a very good job but have not been chosen. 

This is a great exercise for the beginning of a rowdy class or to introduce during the middle or end of a class that is struggling to settle down. 

Note: The Bell Games is adapted by Cecilia Ussher from the "Bell Game" in Yoga for Children by Mary Stewart.

The Sat Naam Service Network:
Special Fundraiser with Be A Light L.A.

On December 5th, 2014 we gathered with friends and community members at Yoga Works Tarzana for a donation based yoga class to rally support for the Sat Naam Yoga In Schools Program. This event brought in some 30 participants and raised over $800 in donations to expand and extend Sat Naam's programs in schools across Los Angeles.  

Be A Light L.A. is the brainchild of yoga teacher Dania Alisa. Her desire to take yoga beyond personal practice and encourage others to be of service to their community spoke directly to our mission. Dania, who learned about Sat Naam several years ago while seeking out opportunities to teach in the community, offered to host this special event. We were, of course, thrilled to participate.


Also involved were Dania's family, her coworkers at Yoga Works, and her own teacher Lainie Devina who led the special donation based asana class. We are so grateful for their generosity of spirit and the opportunity to share our work and vision with new members of our community.

If you would like to host an event or fundraiser with Sat Naam please contact us directly.

What our breath looks like...

As teachers we are regularly reminding students to breathe - to be mindful of how they take in life - whether they are walking into the classroom, practicing asana (yoga poses), or maneuvering in their lives beyond school. It's a good reminder for us teachers too...

Share your love of yoga with others! Teachers wanted!

Sat Naam's Apprenticeship program offers the possibility of work that transforms the lives of children throughout LA. Certified yoga teachers please send us an inbox message for more details. 

Sat Naam is a nonprofit organization looking for motivated children’s yoga instructors to participate in our Yoga In Schools Apprenticeship Program, working with at-risk youth from disadvantaged segments of the city. Find out more on Sat Naam's Facebook page