The Peaceful Ninjas: A Mindfulness Movement That Empowers Youth
The Peaceful Ninjas, a holistic education movement that empowers youth to create world peace by cultivating healthy bodies, clear minds and strong spirits, is quickly becoming a mindfulness festival favorite for organizers, vendors, parents and children alike.
The movement opens the path for youth ages four and up to learn ancient and indigenous ways through a game called Peace Sticks as well as yoga, mindfulness practices, health, nutrition and connection to nature, according to Zachariah Fisher who co-founded Peaceful Ninjas with Shine Rilling. “We seek to hold space to empower young people to live in harmony with nature and cultivate their life force energy to its highest potential for the creation of peace on earth,” Fisher said.
How a Mindfulness Game Led to a Movement
Fisher said he has always had a profound love of working with children and that in his early 20s he was hired as the youngest head of Lausd Elementary Sports Program at the time and ran camps, ranging from major sports to drumming, yoga and dance. “Having left that to pursue higher paying work, my love for working with children never fizzled. I would drive passed schools on way to my corporate sales job and tear up with a deep longing to return to this love.”
Meanwhile, Rilling, who had been traveling around to different festivals since 2010, was offering a very popular moving meditation game, called Peace Sticks, that he and his brother invented. One night, Rilling and Fisher got together and decided to put together an event for local kids that would build off of the core principles of Peace Sticks—Cooperation, Harmony, Community.
“My brother and I invented the Practice of Peace Sticks 10 years ago,” Rilling said. “As we learned from playing and teaching it to people, it revealed itself as an amazing way to fully engage in movement, energy, meditation and the zone.” Different than most other sports, the key to Peace Sticks is in helping each other.
“[Shine] had been playing around with the idea of expanding Peace Sticks into what he called the School of the Peaceful Ninja. We named the first event ‘The Initiation of the Peaceful Ninja’ and put a date on the calendar for October 2015.” The event drew a good crowd and it was a “smashing success.” It was that day that Peaceful Ninjas officially launched.
The two friends went on to put on more events and the word quickly spread. In a short period of time, the Peaceful Ninjas were getting invited to offer workshops or run entire family villages at large conscious transformation festivals, including Lightning in a Bottle, Hanuman Festival and Lucidity, among others. The big break came when the founder of Bhakti Fest asked Fisher to bus kids in from the inner city to Shakti Fest last May. “In many ways, that event was our coming out party and the momentum since then, just two short months, is exponential,” Fisher said.
Learning Through Three Pillars of Peace
Peaceful Ninjas is built on five literacies—physical, mental, emotional, social and global—of holistic learning, which are contained in three pillars: Inner peace, outer peace and world peace.
The Inner Peace pillar: Physical, Mental and Emotional literacies. “Peace starts within. We cultivate inner peace through self regulation and awareness,” Fisher said. The Peaceful Ninjas cultivate focus, cognitive flexibility, social emotional learning, meta-cognition and self reflection as well as promote deep relaxation, compassion, presence and expansive orientation. “We lay our foundation for these literacies by establishing stillness through focused breath, yoga, qigong and mindfulness.”
The Outer Peace pillar: Social literacy. “We connect with each other through the principles of cooperation, collaboration and mutual empowerment,” Fisher continued. “All of our activities are dedicated to creating harmony in relationship through peaceful language, the way of the circle and non-competitive games. We encourage the unwinding of negative concepts and beliefs through tools such as non-violent communication and a relating to one another with compassionate, non judgmental empathy.”
The World Peace pillar: Global literacy. The Peaceful Ninjas radiate the peace they have cultivated out into the world as ambassadors of Peace. They call forth a reverence for nature and all living beings through connection with the elements, animals, plants and seasons in addition to taking deep care to notice how our actions, individually and collectively, impact the environment as a whole.
“Both Peace Sticks and the Peaceful Ninjas are a paradigm shift from competition, and being against each other, to learning how to help each other and interact in balance and harmony,” Rilling said. “Our mission is to create a global curriculum founded on these principles that can be used in education, for children and beyond, as well as providing the highest quality teacher training.”
The Peaceful Ninjas: Coming to a Festival Near You!
The Peaceful Ninjas is based out of Ojai and Los Angeles, California. Upcoming Peaceful Ninjas programs will take place at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, Imagine Yoga Fest in Malibu, California, Unify Fest in New Mexico, Symbiosis in Woodward, California, One Love Fest in Ojai, California, and Tribal Family Gathering in Joshua Tree, California. They are also in the works of organizing a Teen Rites of Passage at the Ojai Foundation for later this year.
What does a typical Peaceful Ninja program at a festival look like? The learning begins immediately on the bus ride. “When we bus kids in, we do sharing circle that includes what seva and community means to them, we discuss the intention of the festival, the land and set intentions for the day,” Fisher said. “We then walk them through the festival, head over to our food vendors that sponsor the students with healthy food and then head over to our program.”
Activities at the festivals include breathwork, mindfulness, yoga, qi gong, drumming, intentional sharing circle, tribal markers and Peace Sticks. “We like to showcase musical artists as well as they offer songs to the students that are always conscious and uplifting,” Fisher said. “We close out with a World Peace Ceremony, sending all of our positive intentions to ourselves, our community and the world at large.”
Peaceful Ninjas also highly encourage parent participation. “In many kids activities, parents drop their kids off, or sit and talk or are on their phones. We encourage full parent participation, and we often have more adults than kids in our ceremonies,” Rilling said. “This has an incredibly powerful effect because the kids feel so supported, valued and loved by the full presence of their parents. This also creates a very deep bond between kids and parent and generations. It is is a living statement that our children are the infinitely valuable, and hold the keys to peace and a thriving planet earth.”
Home and After School Programs
Aside from traveling around to conscious festivals, Peaceful Ninjas offer home and after school programs that emphasize connecting children with nature. Starting up again in fall, Peaceful Ninjas will offer this program every other Tuesday in Topanga, California. Weekly emails are sent out to the group with new meetup locations to keep each adventure fresh and exciting.
“We go on nature walks, scavenger hunts, we learn about plants, trees, birds, insects and local animals,” Fisher said. “Jessica Quail is my amazing assistant for these excursions. She specializes in holistic nutrition and and nature connection through herbalism, nature art, dance and elemental awareness.”
Program Results and The Story of Joseph
The leaders of Peaceful Ninjas have seen the tremendous benefits of modalities such as yoga, qi gong, mindfulness in our personal lives and are committed to cultivating platforms for the children's love for these tools through fun and engaging, quest, activities and mission.
When asked what changes he has seen, Fisher said the first student that comes to mind is Joseph from After School All Stars. “Joseph is labeled as autistic (at Peaceful Ninjas we never label children) and, according to staff members that have seen him for years, he is anti-social and literally hides behind trees, bushes for all of their programs,” Fisher said. “At Shakti Fest it didn't take long for Joseph to come way out of his shell.” See video at the end of this blog post or click here.
Joseph was extremely attentive and engaged almost from the get go, playing drums on stage with Shine, playing with the staff’s dog, and smiling, laughing and overall having an amazing time. Fisher said that Joseph also went on camera quite willingly and spoke on community, peace and the importance of yoga. Joseph said that yoga should be offered to children all over the world and that we can bring peace to all if we just work together.
“This level of inspiration and wisdom from a child that has been labeled this, that and the other personifies what Peaceful Ninjas is all about,” Fisher said. “We create safe spaces and containers for the children's natural gifts and altruistic hearts to blossom. We encourage a true fostering of imagination and expression of whatever each individual child is inspired by.”
Fisher said he personally followed up with Joseph and other classmates shortly after the Shakti Fest Program by paying a visit to their middle school in Granada Hills, California. “We gave the group hats and peace sticks so they can continue to engage with one another in similar inspiring ways and doing our best to keep that momentum going,” he said. “We are all about nurturing those magical sparks that occur at our programs and have noticed that with just a little encouragement, that spark can turn into a wild fire of peace and harmony within communities.”
The Future of World Peace
Our youth can serve to be the way-showers and true ambassadors of world peace. “It is our duty as adults to nurture and help cultivate their brilliance by providing tools and safe spaces for their brilliance and organic inspiration to shine through,” Fisher said.
The content of the Peaceful Ninjas programs is becoming more and more driven by the spontaneous emergence and natural propensity of the children's innate desire to connect to their inner stillness and share that peace with their friends, Fisher said. “All of our activities are holistic and cooperation based as the competitive paradigm has done tremendous damage to friends, families, environment and the world at large. We are all about unification and the dissolving of unnatural divides. It is from the children's brilliance leading the way that we can collectively work together in harmony for the greater good of all.”
Peaceful Ninjas is also centered on the principle that we are all teachers, Rilling said. “Once you have learned one thing, you can teach that one thing; we are all continually teaching and learning together, which creates an exponential growth rate for all.”
Peaceful Ninjas just rolled out their new membership program, which includes discounted admission to general events, admission to exclusive members-only events, a customized holistic wellness routine for each member and more. For more information on the Peaceful Ninjas, to register for an upcoming program, or to become a member, visit www.peacefulninjas.org.