Peaceful Ninjas At Bhakti Fest
By Ashley Shires
It was hot and sunny, almost 100 degrees at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California, when a bright yellow school bus arrived from Los Angeles with 60 children from inner city neighborhoods. It was Saturday, September 10, 2016, and the nation’s largest yoga and mindfulness festival was in full swing. The children emerged from the bus to a huge welcome at the Hanuman Stage, where they were led in yoga, music and collaborative games by the Peaceful Ninjas, a holistic education movement led by Zachariah Fisher and Shine Rilling.
Zachariah and Shine are charismatic leaders, passionate about empowering children to “co-create inner peace, that leads to outer peace, and ultimately can inspire world peace.” Zachariah was the youngest PE coach in the LA Unified School District from 2003-2007, and he has led camps serving over 1,500 kids in yoga, dance and drumming. Shine, a yogi musician and surfer, has established the World Peace Center in Nicaragua, where he developed Peace Sticks, a collaborative juggling game with sticks cut from branches of fast-growing trees in Nicaragua, sanded and painted by local children.
At Bhakti Fest, Peace Sticks were part of the planned activities, and the children were guided into two long lines, facing each other, while live music pulsed from the stage. My daughters, 8 and 11, Boulder, Colorado kids, were excited to join the lineup and partnered with L.A. kids, a seamless and natural integration. Zachariah and Shine instructed the children to gently toss the sticks to each other. “Throw it in an arc,” Shine instructed, “like a rainbow.” All of the kids were engaged and focused as they tossed two peace sticks back and forth, one in each hand, keeping the movement going, even if they dropped one. It was great exercise, a fun collaborative game, and the kids were all laughing and having a great time.
After several more activities and a full-out dance party with incredible live music, the children were led in a parade through the festival, picking up more Bhakti kids along the way. They eventually landed in a shady spot where an 11-year old girl, Pickles Kinneman, gave a presentation on healthy emotional expression. She told the story of Joe, a balloon with a face drawn on it, who stuffed down his anger in unhealthy ways. The kids were rapt as she tied Joe, the balloon, to a bicycle pump. She asked the kids to share stories about when they had felt angry, and she pumped more air into the balloon with each one. When the balloon popped, Pickles divided the kids into groups and where they could practice healthy expression, from art to story telling to music. Pickles said, “I want to help others express their emotions, too, so they feel better.”
Peaceful Ninjas is doing amazing work, empowering kids in holistic peace education, and their message will continue to spread after Bhakti Fest: they have been asked to spearhead a Mindfulness Outreach Program for the After School All Stars in Los Angeles. They are also offering a new after school program on Wednesdays at Santa Monica’s Bhakti Yoga Shala. Check out their website, www.peacefulninjas.org, to learn how to donate or get involved.
To learn more about Bhakti Fest visit www.bhaktifest.com and check out this video from Bhakti Fest 2016.