After the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where I teach, and losing my students and colleagues, I was not sure I could even step on my mat again, let alone ask the students to meditate or do yoga. It was my students that begged me to hold yoga classes, to help them breathe, to overcome with the practice I had taught them, that they knew worked. My yoga students brought their friends and families to classes and I watched in awe as this practice that had healed my own soul so many times, brought peace and healing to our entire community. I felt the overwhelming sense after the shooting to give back, but not only to give back, to create the ripple effect. I wanted to empower my students to teach yoga and meditation. I created a non-profit Yoga4MSD to raise money to send students on yoga retreats, provide scholarships for Yoga Teacher Training, and to help bring yoga to more schools nationwide. By pouring myself into the students and Yoga4MSD, I was able to help and heal others while helping to heal myself and ultimately help the larger community by sending these new yoga teachers off to college to teach on their campuses.
I had the pleasure to interview Amy Kenny. Amy is the full-time yoga teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland Florida, where she teaches yoga and meditation to over 300 students a day. Amy is the mother of two; her daughter will graduate from Douglas in 2018, and her son is also a Douglas teacher. She is fully ensconced in the local community and shares her love of yoga and mindfulness by teaching at several local yoga studios, through her foundation YOGA4MSD and by volunteering through Parkland Buddy Sports where she leads Yoga Buddies, a program for children with special needs.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was an English teacher in a middle school, turned 40, and was about to be divorced. I began training for my first triathlon. Not only was my body in need of some stretching and TLC, I needed some solace mentally and spiritually too. I didn’t know at the time when I took my first yoga class that I would be transformed in every way as a result of the practice. I am so grateful that I found yoga. Or rather, yoga found me.
The moment I stepped on the mat for the first time I felt a sense of peace and calm like I have never felt. I had always been an athlete, running, cycling, or swimming nearly every day, but the yoga practice was something I never experienced in any form of exercise. I was able to completely shut off my thoughts and get a total body workout.
I fell in love with yoga and its benefits. I wish I would have been introduced to this ancient practice when I was younger. I knew as a teacher I had to bring this to kids. I was encouraged to take yoga teacher training and embarked on the journey of a lifetime.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I had to convince a high school principal, that I never met before, not only to hire me, but also to allow me to introduce a yoga program to his school. At the time, there was no high school in Broward County, Florida and only one other in the state of Florida with a full-time yoga program. I was tenacious and he could feel my passion. I became certified for PE even before I was hired. He hired me for English with the promise he would try to get a yoga class on the schedule. When I got to the school, I taught yoga to anyone that would try it. The teachers, my English students, the sports teams, and the parents. I held community classes and continued to share my passion of yoga, knowing that the yoga would do its healing magic through me.
Finally, I was given a chance with two classes. The students responded so well, and I just kept moving forward spreading joy, it was infectious. The next year I had 300 students sign up for yoga class with a waiting list. The success has continued and there is a waiting list to get into the yoga class on campus now!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
After the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where I teach, and losing my students and colleagues, I was not sure I could even step on my mat again, let alone ask the students to meditate or do yoga. It was my students that begged me to hold yoga classes, to help them breathe, to overcome with the practice I had taught them, that they knew worked. My yoga students brought their friends and families to classes and I watched in awe as this practice that had healed my own soul so many times, brought peace and healing to our entire community.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success?
I felt the overwhelming sense after the shooting to give back, but not only to give back, to create the ripple effect. I wanted to empower my students to teach yoga and meditation. I created a non-profit Yoga4MSD to raise money to send students on yoga retreats, provide scholarships for Yoga Teacher Training, and to help bring yoga to more schools nationwide.
By pouring myself into the students and Yoga4MSD, I was able to help and heal others while helping to heal myself and ultimately help the larger community by sending these new yoga teachers off to college to teach on their campuses.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
I am still at MSD, working with over 300 students and planning the next retreat. We are raising money through several fundraising events to offer more opportunities for scholarships and to create an outdoor yoga space at the high school, and send even more students on healing retreats.
The events are :
2.14.19 — A Day of Hope & Healing — On the anniversary of the shooting we are inviting yoga studios nationwide to hold donation classes and asking the studios to send the proceeds to Yoga4MSD through our go fund me link.
MSD Heroes Challenge– a family obstacle run and yoga event on 2/23/19 at the Equestrian Center in Parkland
Yogafest– An all day Yoga Festival in Fort Lauderdale, FL on 2/13/19
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have made many mistakes along the way, but my vision is honest and pure and for the good of the world, so I believe there is grace and reward for that. Perhaps the one mistake I made was asking a student to create my website. I wanted to empower him, but this did not work out. The same was when I was trying to get the legal services done by a lawyer friend. They were not specialized for non-profit work, so I ultimately ended up have to outsource both the web design and the legal. Someone once told me “free is sometimes more expensive in the end.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are working with teens in high school to help them reduce stress and learn lifelong skills that they can take with them and also teach to others…paying it forward. We are the only high school in our county and only two in the state of Florida with this type of program. I have a student that was certified who now teaches a donation-only class every Wednesday for students and families. Not only is she using the skills she learned in teacher training, but now she is able to help others heal.
There is another former MSD student certified yoga teacher that is offering beach yoga classes for donation on her college campus. This is a way to share yoga with the college students in an non threatening way; meeting students where they are, and offering some peace into their busy lives.
The more yoga teachers we create, then the more people can benefit from the effect of yoga. The ripple effect is happening.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Keep yourself surrounded with positive people that share your passion and goals. Ask for help when you need it and especially ask for help when you think you don’t need any help!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful to my dear friends, Wendy Zipes Hunter, Jodi Friedman,and Yoli Chaviano for helping me in every way possible to watch my dreams become reality. Wendy has put me in touch with many people, specifically the international musical artist, Michael Franti, to help him facilitate a video for his song “The Flower” that speaks out against gun violence and bullying. Also, Wendy connected me with the March For Our Lives students to help them with their stress and anxiety during the March. Yoli helped create my website and gave me the moral and emotional support when I felt like I wanted to quit. Jodi assisted me in having world renowned street artist, Kelsey Montague come to our school and create a healing art mural titled “ Growing a Meadow” #whatliftsyou and was and is basically the bones of yoga4MSD, Jodi just makes everything work!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Yoga4MSD is empowering teens to make the world a better place, one breath at a time…but it has been challenging.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I wish someone told me:
1. People will say they will help you, but often they do not. After the shooting so many people offered to help me get Yoga4MSD up and running but ultimately didn’t. I reached out to so many people and everyone had an excuse. There were very few people I could actually count on.
2. Everything takes more time and costs more money than you think.
3. There are always a lot of events going on and it is harder than you think to make yours stand out of of the crowd and to get people to commit and support yours.
4. There will be very discouraging days when you feel like quitting, that all the hard work is not worth it.
5. There will be days that are amazing, and you know in your soul that all the hard work is worth it. That day for me was when my yoga students team taught their first yoga class as yoga teachers. I cried tears of joy through the whole practice.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to think that I have started a movement with 2.14.19 — A Day for Hope and Healing, which is a movement to raise the vibrations on the Anniversary and bring more peace, love and light to the world.
Also, Yoga4MSD is really a movement to send more students out into the world as yoga teachers to share how to breathe and create peace in our souls.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
IG & FB: @openairyogi