Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2018 issue.
With the chime of a bell, Kathryn Samaltanos calls her class of 6 to 12-year-olds to order, and the kids fall silent. They come into a comfortable seat on their mats, close down their eyelids and start to breathe mindfully. “Miss Kathryn,” as they call her, guides them through a few yoga poses and then a few minutes of meditation. You read that right: imagine a 6-year-old meditating.
Sure, they squirm, says Samaltanos, co-owner of Durango’s Seed Studio, but, with a bit of practice (and maybe a gold-star sticker incentive), these kids progress from sitting still for three minutes to nearly 30 minutes. Do they even know what they’re doing?
“In meditation, you just sit, and, in yoga, you do poses,” says 9-year-old student, Charlee Bourdon. “Yoga is a way to get your energy out. Meditation is, like, a way to calm me down and get ready to do art.”
This simple practice lays the groundwork for the Seed Studio concept, which is rooted in the idea of planting “seeds of creativity and mindfulness through art, yoga, meditation and play, while fostering an awareness of the importance of living in balance with nature.”
Charlee has been attending the Seed Studio’s program, Lotus Girls, for eight weeks. Raised in Alaska by two rad parents from New Mexico, Charlee is pretty hip for a 9-year-old. She’s already experienced #vanlife and is a budding artist, yogi and vegetarian of her own choosing.
“[The Seed Studio is] important because it’s a place to be safe and be yourself,” says Charlee. “It’s full of inspiration.”
Her mom, Sarah, was drawn to the art aspect of the Seed Studio for Charlee and, on a practical note, loves that the studio is reasonably priced, has a student-to-teacher ratio of 8:1 and holds hours until 5 p.m. during school holidays and on teacher workdays. Since Charlee started going, Sarah is now equally sold on the yoga and meditation pieces of the program, thanks in large part to the down-to-earth approachability of the Studio’s two owners, Samaltanos and Heidi Craw.
The Seed Studio was founded in 2011 by these two laidback, art-loving, yoga-practicing moms. When Samaltanos was 6-years-old, she remembers dressing up in her “workout” outfit of leotard tights and joining her mom for a yoga class. It was the 1970s, so yoga was just becoming a part of the fitness industry. For Samaltanos and her little sister, yoga became a source for party tricks to share at the neighborhood pool, as in, “let’s get in lotus pose and swim across the pool.”
“It was just a seed being planted,” says Samaltanos of those early yoga memories.
After a 20-year hiatus, Samaltanos came back to her mat as a college student at the University of Georgia in Athens. Yoga shifted her world during this time, she says, and she’s spent the last few decades growing as a certified yoga and meditation instructor, holistic body worker and sound therapist.
Meanwhile, Craw hasn’t stopped drawing since she could hold a crayon. Born and raised in Colorado, the smiling artist rolled straight from earning a Fine Arts degree from Fort Lewis College into teaching art to kids.
“Art is a release,” says Craw. “It allows you to express your shadow side without being weird or scared.”
When Craw met Samaltanos, Craw had a 5-year-old daughter and Samaltanos, a 5-year-old son. The moms were both teaching art and yoga respectively at a local school. It was apparent to them that yoga and art were promising seeds when planted into youngsters lives, so they made the bold move to step out on their own to start the Seed Studio.
Seven years later, they’ve grown the homespun project to include workshops, summer camps and programs managed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. While most programs welcome ages six to 12, their Seedlings program is tailored to 4- and 5-year-olds. On the other end of the spectrum, middle- and high-school-aged kids serve as mentors or Leaders in Training.
The art portion of the Seed Studio isn’t just a free-range, follow-your-heart teaching style. Rather, students are introduced to art methods and techniques using oil pastels, liquid watercolors, acrylic paints and heavyweight paper. They’re taught responsibility in how to use and clean these tools properly. Whenever possible, the teachers incorporate reusable recycling materials, cultivating an awareness that old things can be up-cycled instead of throwing them away because, as Craw points out, “there is no ‘away.'”
While some after-school Seed Studio programs focus on shorter projects, weeklong summer camps have them woven throughout the days, with students working on “process art” that culminates with an art show at the end of the week. The teachers guide the classes to use the same media, but each kid comes up with their own concept, so that a papier mache creation could end up being a unicorn, eyeball or a dragon.
“Nature isn’t ‘instant gratification,’ so the kids explore ‘process art,'” says Craw. “It’s a beautiful unfolding.”
The yin to Durango’s yang, the Seed Studio provides a healthy balance to our hyperactive community of mountain bikers, skiers, runners and doers. Kids are exposed to plenty of competitive opportunities, so it’s important for them to also tap into their breath, their self-expression, their “shadow side,” as Craw calls it.
“Is there a rule book that says we have to be so serious, so competitive?” asks Craw. “Who makes up the rules? We — adults — make them up. Throw them away. Lighten up. Choose to be happy. It’s never too late to start yoga or do an art class. And, if you’re having problems figuring it out, spend some time outside in the dirt under a tree, and it’ll come to you.”
While it’s wildly encouraging to hear that kid-centric programs like the Seed Studio are popping up across our fertile mountain-towns, there’s definitely a demand coming from adults, with parents almost jealously dropping their kids off for a day of yoga, art and playtime outside. Why can’t we go to summer camp and spend our days meditating and coloring?
In our most bitter moments, we might sigh, remembering George Bernard Shaw’s sentiment that “youth is the most beautiful thing in this world — and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!” But the challenge should be to repeat Teddy Roosevelt’s mantra that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
We should celebrate that kids and their inherent openness are getting exposed to these seeds of self-expression and mindfulness. Imagine what the world would be like if we’d had this kind of option growing up, if we’d entered middle school feeling okay with our emotions and surging hormones.
“We’re trying to get these tools in now before they hit that individuation,” says Craw. “If we do that, then we’ve done something good.”
The Seed Studio offers half-day, full-day and week-long programs throughout the year. For more information on how to enroll your kid into an upcoming Seed Studio program, check out their website at www.seedstudiokids.org.
Photos by Kathryn Samaltanos.