Saturday, October 18, 2014

Q&A with author Lauren Rubenstein

Lauren Rubenstein is the author of the children's book Visiting Feelings. A licensed clinical psychologist, she is also a yoga and mindfulness teacher. Rubenstein, who is based in Bethesda, Maryland, has traveled frequently to Haiti to work with children there. 

Q: Why did you decide to write Visiting Feelings, and what is the importance of mindfulness for children?

A: The first lines of Visiting Feelings “visited” me while I was in savasana (relaxation) at the end of a yoga class. I was inspired by Rumi’s “Guest House” poem (which I couldn’t convince my editor to include in the book):

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks

Richard Miller’s practice of Integrative Restoration, or iRest, also inspired me. A form of yoga nidra or “yogic sleep,” it is a beautiful guided meditation practice that takes Rumi one step further, asking us to experience feelings with all of our senses, using the non-judgmental observation skills that are at the heart of mindfulness. So we invite a feeling in for a “play date,” in children’s terms.

Finally, learning how to process feelings is a skill I wish I had been taught as a child. Many adults are still working on the ability to experience a feeling, engage with it, explore where it lives in the body -- all while knowing it is there for a visit but will not take up permanent residence.

I hope children learn to appreciate that when strong feelings visit, they are only a part of their experience, not their whole experience. Just like when we tell a child his behavior was “bad” but he is not bad, we can feel sadness but not be defined or consumed by it. This can help us meet any situation or set of feelings with greater equanimity. 

We are always admonishing children, “Calm down!” “Relax!” “Don’t worry!” “Stop being upset!” – but we don’t always give them the tools to process difficult emotions. And, as a culture, we tend to label the positive emotions as Good and the negative emotions as Bad, which makes us a bit phobic about feelings like rage or envy.

But all emotions are passing sensations, and they are all part of the human experience. Just like the old story about going on a bear hunt, we can’t go over them, can’t go under them – we have to go through our emotions. Mindfulness can help children (as well as adults) experience and process emotions rather than suppress or flee from them, which is often ineffective.

Q: What can adults do to help kids learn mindfulness techniques?

A: It is so helpful for parents, teachers, and other adults who work with children to learn mindfulness practices for themselves. If the adults use it as a “technique” it is much less effective than if they embrace it as a practice.

In other words, “Teach what you know.” There are enough different forms and flavors of mindfulness practice that everyone can find one that resonates. Translating adult mindfulness to children’s practices can be a fun exercise in creativity, as the explosion of resources suggests.

Q: How did you first get involved in working with kids in Haiti?

A: Following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, some of the board members of Go Give Yoga (named YogaKids Bridge of Diamond at that time) travelled to Haiti and set up a yoga program for children at Partners in Development, a non-profit serving people living in extreme poverty.

On their return they sent an e-mail blast with the story of their trip, and asked for yoga teachers who might be interested in volunteering. I was the first to respond! This type of adventure was totally out of character for me, and I had no doubt it would be a one-time thing – but the universe apparently had other plans, as I look forward to my seventh trip….

Q: How was illustrator Shelley Hehenberger selected to work on your book?

A: My publisher, American Psychological Association’s Magination Press, directed me to the websites of a handful of illustrators. The minute I saw Shelley’s work I knew she was The One. The editor contacted her and reported back to me that she was too expensive – which was so disappointing!

Fortunately, Shelley got back to the editor and said she liked the book so much that she was willing to negotiate.

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: Two books are “visiting” me. Visiting Thoughts teaches children how to work with thoughts; Shelley is eagerly anticipating a draft to begin illustrating.  

The second project is a breath and yoga book for children inspired by Pat Gerbarg and Dick Brown’s Breath~Body~Mind work (

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: There are lots of suggested exercises at the back of the book.  Please also visit the website,, for a blog post on more fun exercises to accompany the book – and I encourage readers to let me know what creative ideas they come up with for visiting emotions.

Finally, readers can exchange ideas and learn new mindfulness activities by following Visiting Feelings on Facebook.

Thank you for Visiting!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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