By IRIS RIDDELL

The irony is not lost on me. Here I am, power-walking full tilt through the dark and stormy Auckland CBD, cursing public transport and anxiously checking the time on my phone. The reason I am so stressed out? I’m late to my first ever yoga class, with The Kindness Institute.

I am that person: mumbling apologies, stripping off rain-flecked winter layers before sheepishly unrolling a mat at the back of the room and watching the people in my peripheral vision to figure out what the hell I am supposed to be doing. Damp, red-cheeked and short of breath…not very zen-like.

That feeling doesn’t last, though. Seated at the front of the room is Kindness Institute founder and director, Kristina Cavit, guiding us through the first mindfulness exercise. This lady knows her stuff – she’s run stress reduction, yoga and mindfulness programmes in New Zealand and around the world. Another hat she wears is Director of Mindfulness for award-winning organisation, Nga Rangatahi Toa and she is the founder of NPH New Zealand, an organisation that supports almost 4,000 orphaned and abandoned children throughout Latin America.

By contrast, I’m quite good at social media.

Kristina was also a facilitator on Live the Dream, a social accelerator programme run by social change enterprise Inspiring Stories, which is how I stumbled across The Kindness Institute. One of her yoga and mindfulness coaches, Amelia McCombie, was also a participant on the programme.

Sitting on my rented yoga mat, the stitch in my side begins to ease and my heartbeat slows. I lock in on my breathing, becoming aware of how the air fills my lungs… hold… release. This, Kristina tells us, is called a stress breath, and is a great thing to do during the day at work. I make a mental note.

The Kindness Institute didn’t spring up overnight. It’s the sum of eight years of Kristina’s work with kids who regularly face abuse, trauma and adversity.

“I saw that one of the most effective tools to help these youths is mindfulness and yoga,” she says.

“Through being a workaholic and making myself stressed and sick, I discovered meditation, yoga and the work of Byron Katie. It had a huge impact on the way I approached life, my stress levels, my priorities.”

I paid a measly $15 for my place on the mat, but that’s not even the best part: Kristina and her team put the money right back into the venture, providing yoga and mindfulness classes to marginalised youth in South Auckland.

“The pilot programme at Onehunga High School has been incredible, it’s exceeded our expectations. Seeing the change in the kids from beginning to end, and the things they’ve connected to are surprising, like learning to respect their bodies. That’s not what we were teaching directly but that’s what’s come out of it for some.”

To support the social venture side of The Kindness Institute, Kristina has some corporate and one-on-one clients and there are exciting opportunities in the pipeline with Foundation North and the Mental Health Foundation, to develop a wellness programme for youth in alternative education.

“I’m also planning to go back to the Dominican Republican this year to do some work with the NPH staff, for them to teach wellness to their kids,” she says.

The class changes pace. Kristina starts taking us through some simple poses and stretches. Here is where my lack of flexibility and core strength make themselves known. I walk, cycle and dance on the regular, so I’m not in bad nick, but I’m identifying muscle groups I didn’t know existed. Kristina reminds us that there’s no judgment, that it’s not about how the person next to us is doing, but personal progress. Be kind. Breathe.

By the end of the session there is a light tremor in my limbs on the longer poses, but I’m getting the hang of the inhale/exhale rhythm on every movement. We cool down with a full body awareness scan, focusing in on any aches, niggles or tight muscles, and then the class is over.

When I go up to chat to Kristina afterwards, I surprise myself with the sound of my own voice: a dulcet tenor note has crept into my usual alto. I really am relaxed!

The Iris who left that room could not have been any different from the frenzied creature who entered it. I walk to the bus stop feeling awesome, humming Three Little Birds under my breath. I think it’s fair to say I’m a convert. Although perhaps next time I won’t leave my fate to be decided by Auckland’s public transport system…

 

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