“I strongly believe the tools of mindfulness are very useful and essential, for both parents and children,” said Hiba Stancofski. “Any time. Not just in pandemic times. I know personally it has helped me immensely through very challenging times in my life.”

Hiba is no stranger to challenges. As a young woman, she emigrated to the USA to escape civil war in Lebanon and began a career in biology research. She discovered yoga in forties and now teaches beach yoga and mindfulness. (If you’re headed to Lewes, DE this summer, you should definitely take her class!) Yoga and mindfulness practices helped her overcome childhood trauma — and now Hiba is using them to help families thrive during the chaos of the pandemic.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND FAMILY

I grew up in Lebanon, a beautiful country on the Mediterranean, but left in my early twenties to start a new life in the States after 13 long years of raging civil war. I got my Bachelors degree in Biology from the American University of Beirut, followed by my Masters in Biology from American University, Washington, DC. I then worked in research at Georgetown University, until I moved to Baltimore with my husband, Erik. I worked at the University of MD for a while, then taught French at a preschool after our first daughter Romy was born, while Erik was doing his surgical residency. (I wish I had known about (cool) progeny then!)

After five years in Baltimore, Erik completed his surgical residency program and we moved to Lewes, DE, for his job. While it was supposed to be a two-year position, we fell in love with Lewes and are still here 23 years later.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO YOGA? OR, DID YOGA FIND YOU?

I got into yoga when I was forty. I am an avid runner and I had injured my foot, so I couldn’t run any more for a while. I tried a gentle yoga class because I needed to move, and did what I could in that class.. The transformation and emotional healing, along with the physical benefit, were simply amazing. Having gone through a lot of trauma in my childhood, I found the practice to be incredibly therapeutic, and a few sessions later, I was hooked.

From practicing often, my curiosity peaked even more and I wanted to learn more about the philosophy and practice of yoga. Fast forward to 13 years later, I am a 500-hour certified teacher, certified in Vinyasa yoga, yoga for cancer, restorative yoga, yoga for trauma level 1, Reiki level 1 and 2, and mindfulness… with still so much more to learn!! We are all constantly learning and evolving, aren’t we? The growth opportunities are out there for us, we just have to be aware of them and to have enough courage to step outside our comfort zone to learn and grow. That’s the beauty and the challenge of the journey.

I always tell my kids that everything happens for a reason; to live their lives and edit their story as needed, that it is never too late to change course in life. The journey is about finding what, and who, makes us happy, and to surround our lives with that. Nothing else matters much.

I believe that foot injury 13 years led me to where I am today … and I am still a runner.

YOU RECENTLY WROTE A CHILDREN’S BOOK ABOUT MINDFULNESS. WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO WRITE THE BOOK?

The idea of writing an illustrated children’s book is not new. It came about 3 years ago. Here is how it came about…

I had been teaching yoga, working with adults at the cancer community center, at yoga studios and gyms, and with teenagers at the local high school since I got certified to teach. A few years ago, I was asked to teach yoga at our local elementary school. I knew the younger kids would have trouble staying focused if I taught them a regular class for 40 minutes, so I created an engaging act-along story that we acted out in yoga.

It was amazing to watch! Kindergarteners through 3rd graders were so focused and into it for 40 minutes! I came home like I won the lottery that afternoon, just watching those kids doing yoga as best as they could, so in tune with the story. What a gift for kids to be introduced to yoga and its benefits at a younger age, and to see them enjoy class to the extent they did, I thought! I told my husband about my day, and he said I should actually make it into a book. While the idea was very exciting, of course life happens and it sat on my desk for 3 years until the pandemic happened.

Fast forward to a day when I decided to clean my desk because there was nothing to do and nowhere to go… I came across the story. Perfect timing, I thought, to work on this now. I knew the theme would be totally different though. It would have to be something I, my husband, my children, our family and friends were all experiencing at the moment. Something we could relate to. I couldn’t wait to start working on this new creative, healing project in the ways I knew best (yoga and mindfulness). “I Feel Better Now” is available to help other families, too.

AS FAMILIES START TO EMERGE AFTER QUARANTINE, THERE IS STILL A LOT OF STRESS AND ANGST WITH YOUNG CHILDREN BECAUSE THEY AREN’T ELIGIBLE TO BE VACCINATED YET. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR PARENTS WHO ARE COPING WITH THIS AT HOME? HOW MIGHT PRACTICING MINDFULNESS HELP?

There is so much angst, fear, and anger brewing yes, amongst children and adults. Everyone is suffering in these are very unsettling times. It’s like we are on this emotional roller coaster and we can’t find our bearing most days. Parents now more than ever need to be patient, loving, and reassuring with their little ones.

It can be so challenging with younger kids who don’t understand what is really happening and why they can’t see their grandma or play with their friends. The practices of mindfulness are extremely helpful to learn how to deal with life’s struggles, both emotional and mental, especially now more than ever of course, with all the vaccination issues, as we are slowly coming back to the new “normal.” A mindfulness practice can definitely ease that transition and all the unknowns that come with it. We have tools within us, such as breath for example, that can help us tremendously, to notice, manage, what is going on in our heart and mind, tools that help us be less impulsive, that help us focus more, etc. (I could go on forever with the benefits of mindfulness!).

Simply put, when we practice mindfulness, it helps us find a bit more equanimity, a bit more ease to handle our struggles, and a little bit more clarity when we are so mentally overwhelmed that everything seems so foggy and we can’t think straight anymore. Someone once said our brain can be a brilliant master or a terrible servant. It is so true. A mindfulness practice helps us notice things, it is an awareness practice, that helps “de-clutter” our brain and heart.

When I explain it to kids, I tell them just like we shower to clean our bodies every day, a mindfulness practice helps us clean our mind and heart. As human beings, we hold on to so many unnecessary negative thoughts as it is. Now everything is understandably magnified with the pandemic and all the unknowns that come with it moving forward. But what if could train our minds to notice more, to think differently? Mindfulness allows us to do just that. This can be very easily done through informal fun practices with kids, outdoors, indoors, anywhere really. And they don’t have to be long. You can start with a 3-minute simple activity and then add progressively.

There are so many fun activities children can participate in to help them train their attention. As long as we approach it with playfulness, curiosity and especially no judgment, no right or wrong, no labelling, it’s a start. And just like everything else, the more we practice, the more we are re-wiring our brain to think differently.

There is an old saying that says “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” When I was teaching mindfulness to middle schoolers, the teachers participated in all the activities with their students and later incorporated a couple of activities in their daily school routines to keep the practices going long after we were done with the curriculum. The students were more open to everything because their teachers were as well. The parents’ willingness to participate wholeheartedly in mindfulness activities is just as crucial. Kids look up and copy their parents in so many ways, whether they realize tor not. That’s what they know, see, and hear.

I strongly believe the tools of mindfulness are very useful and essential, for both parents and children. Any time. Not just in pandemic times. I know personally it has helped me immensely through very challenging times in my life.