Lauren Maples is a model of conscious behavior.
The onetime ballet dancer and certified yogi happened naturally upon her interest in childhood education after years of nannying during college. Then, while teaching in independent and public schools, she became fascinated by what separates a successful and happy learning environment from a less functional one.
Ultimately, she founded Bija (which means “seed” in Sanskrit), the sum of all her passions: The progressive Brooklyn- and now Beacon-based, socially conscious preschool promotes creativity and fosters the learning of life skills for the future in open, minimal spaces.
Here, Maples explains why evolution is essential to continued progress:
Live The Process: What was your own early childhood experience like?
Lauren Maples: I had a pretty wonderful early childhood experience, and it has very much influenced my philosophy at Bija. My mother is an artist. I spent a lot of time working alongside her in her studio, in her garden and in her kitchen, cooking together on a daily basis. We lived in Chicago and went to art museums, the Children’s Museum and the aquarium on a regular basis. My parents exposed me to travel and great restaurants from a very early age. They always emphasized social graces and being independent. I was also seriously involved in ballet from a young age and the discipline, grace and focus required have been great tools for me as an innovator and educator. These experiences have all become integral to the Bija approach.
LTP: What led you to dance and yoga and then to combine that background with education?
LM: It was a very organic transition. I studied ballet from the age of 4 and began performing with professional companies at 10 years old. At 18, I was burnt out and decided to leave the profession. I moved to New York, enrolled in college and discovered my love for yoga. By the time I graduated, I had four years of nannying experience and was certified yoga teacher. Bija, in its earliest stages, was a culmination of my knowledge, passions and experience. We started off offering creative movement, yoga and tumbling classes. As I became more involved in social and food justice, cooking and sustainability, and developed into a passionate supporter of local artists, our offerings at Bija evolved. I see Bija's philosophy as an extension of my own way of living, so it continues to make sense to incorporate new ideas into what we do on a daily basis.
LTP: What sets Bija apart from other schools and why is this approach important?
LM: I started Bija eleven years ago, and we actually opened the weekend that I graduated from The New School. My original intent was to create a fun and meaningful place for children and families and to be in control of my own life’s design. I have always had high expectations for myself, and I thought that I would enjoy and be motivated enough to work for myself. The evolution isn’t something I could have predicted when I was 22, but Bija has really become my life’s work.
I think the school is unique for several reasons: While much of our philosophy is aligned with other progressive educational approaches, I believe that we are taking things to the next level. I am continuously re-evaluating our commitment to our ideals and working to get closer to them. For example, we support small local farmers for all of our food and material purchases, right down to the flour for our homemade playdough. When we model our beliefs on such a deep level, those ideas become part of a child's experience. They understand the value. That's powerful. It’s also really important to me that Bija never becomes dogmatic. We have ways that we do things, but, as the world evolves, so do we. I think this is a key component of progressivism.
LTP: In addition to dance and yoga, what wellness regimens do you practice to keep yourself feeling healthy and balanced?
LM: I think the best way that I stay healthy and balanced is by recognizing that life is meant to be lived. I spend time in nature every day. I travel, I meditate, I practice yoga and I cook. I love to host parties and believe laughter and celebration with friends is a very important part of my wellness routine. I get acupuncture every other week. I take baths. I play with my dogs. I have learned that these are the things that support my creativity. I make sure that my staff has access to wellness experiences too. At Bija, we encourage our teachers to travel and take time off and enjoy homemade meals together on a (somewhat) regular basis.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
LM: I think happiness changes over time. Mostly though, it’s being present with what is actually happening. The more I learn to accept life as it is and stop trying to control things, the more contentment I feel. Happiness is also the willingness to take risks and be true to your own needs, even when they aren’t conventional. After sixteen years in Brooklyn, I made the big leap to move to Beacon on my own. Many people said I was crazy, but I’m so glad I did it. Having nature in my backyard instantly improved my quality of life. And having wonderful, supportive, meaningful relationships is a very important part of being happy. I'm very grateful to have that in my life.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live the Process” and how can we all do that more every day?
LM: Living the Process is about getting to know who you really are and each day taking the (sometimes scary) steps of getting closer to that essence, that core. It’s not about being your perfect self, but about getting to know yourself as deeply as possible. From there, you can design a life that is fulfilling and has purpose.