Supporting Military Families with Movement & Mindfulness

Supporting Military Families with Movement & Mindfulness

Written by: Wendy Piret, Program Director, Move with Me Yoga Adventures

Last April, Janine Harper, Director of the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) for the Army Community Service (ACS) Center in Yongsan, South Korea, a province of Seoul, contacted us regarding resources and training. She wanted MwMYA to come out and work with the staff and family members of the U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Yongsan. For myself, with 13 military moves (7 with children) in 24 years of active duty service, including 8 years of active duty myself and 16 more as a spouse, it was an incredible opportunity. Intimately familiar with the stress that multiple moves puts on children, coupled with what can often be tough assignments which include family separation, I can think of few communities who can appreciate and benefit from the stabilizing and centering effects of playful movement and creatively incorporated mindfulness and self-regulation skills.

We readily agreed to come out and last week, August 21-24th, 2017, I traveled to Seoul to train the staff and community members at USAG Yongsan. I worked with social workers, OTs, PTs, Speech Therapists, preschool and early elementary teachers, soldiers, and parents. Twenty (20) dedicated professionals attended the full 2 day 16-hour Certification Training for the Movement and Mindfulness curriculum, and 25 more received our 4-hour Introductory to Mindfulness and Self-Regulation Skills for Focused, Fit, and Healthy kids at home and in the classroom. In hindsight, after reading the mission of ACS, we should not have been surprised by the call:

“To assist commands in maintaining the readiness of individuals, families, and communities by providing a world of education, opportunity and discovery to promote self-reliance, resilience, and stability.”

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to interact with the family members who attended our workshops, and to be able to train the staff of the ACS Center to support them with concrete, accessible skills from simple breathing techniques to the easily achieved brain activating and stress reducing movements we call Adventures Skills. The level of professionalism and forward thinking I witnessed among the staff members was the highlight of the trip. There is no shortage of crisis situations, heartache, and strife when it comes to juggling the challenges that living overseas, working full time, and raising a family. To hold the space for soldiers, sailors, airmen and their families takes an incredible amount of personal resilience, dedication, and commitment.

ACS Yongsan you are the rugged soldiers, realistic, grounded, and unafraid to do whatever you need to do to achieve the best results possible for your families. Janine Harper and the staff of the Yongsan ACS, we sincerely thank you for the opportunity to serve your community.

From Janine Harper, Family Advocacy Program Manager, Army Community Service

“The Family Advocacy Program Manager for USAG-Yongsan, recently hosted a Move with Me Yoga Adventures workshop for both professionals and community members. The Family Advocacy Program focus on healthy ways to decrease child abuse and domestic violence by increasing opportunities for military families to come together. Providing our community training in movement and mindfulness fulfills so many of the goals we are trying to achieve in our community. Many of our families are looking for new healthy ways to share time with their families, and this meets that mission.

Over the last few days both our military professionals (social workers, occupational therapist, teachers, child care professional and counselors) and community members received invaluable training. This training provided a great balance between understanding the science and learning practical skills for implementation. We have already incorporated it in our Back to School Bash and are excited about educating the larger audience with our upcoming events.”


How Honest Are We?

How Honest Are We?

I just found out that last Saturday, April 30, has been declared National Honesty Day.  On one hand, that’s laughable, given our current political climate in which truth and facts are considered malleable as well as debatable.  On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly why it’s so important for each of us to take some time to personally explore our own honesty.

Is being truthful with yourself and others an important value to you….to our society?  I know we all seem to agree that honesty, and the trust it builds, is the foundation of our relationships and culture but it that just lip-service? I’m asking because I read an article by Hiyaguha Cohen in the Baseline of Health Foundation blog that sites some pretty shocking statistics such as:

In conversation, we’re most likely to lie to our parents (86 percent of the subjects did so), and then to our friends (75 percent).

Mostly, we lie about trivial things that make us look better or that spare the feelings of others.  Sure, we’ve all done that.  What’s really surprising is how much we do that.

The typical person can’t converse more than 10 minutes without telling a lie.  Additionally, the average person lies not just once, but three times every 10 minutes!

Don’t panic.  Another study, with 110 participants aged 18 to 71 for a period of 10 weeks, found the average number of lies per person per week was only 11.  That still sounds like a lot, right.  And what’s so wrong with telling little white lies or exaggerations or strategic omissions that don’t hurt anybody?  Turns out, they are bad for your health.  Why?  Because when we lie, we are withholding from others and distancing from ourselves.  The unspoken message is: I’m not safe to be myself.  Lying also implies that whomever you’re lying to is also unsafe.  Living in an unsafe environment is always stressful and when we lie, we literally reinforce that lack of safety and rob ourselves of the opportunity to experience emotional safety in our relationships.

The prevalence of lying reveals how fearful, manipulative, and defended we are.  A 2014 study from the Berkeley Haas School of Business tells us that the impulse to lie in order to protect or gain personal advantage is embedded in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex region of the brain.  So, when it comes to honesty, we are a bit at odds.  We’re wired to lie while simultaneously programmed for the love and closeness that grows from authentic connections.  The lie response, lying to avoid confrontation, will kick in first unless we consciously override it.

The good news is that, per the American Psychological Association study:

When participants in the no-lie group told three fewer lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced on average about four fewer mental-health complaints, such as feeling tense or melancholy, and about three fewer physical complaints, such as sore throats and headaches. And as an added bonus, subjects also reported reducing the lies improved relationships all around.

Being ourselves requires vulnerability.  Being vulnerable is scary.  You risk being hurt, misunderstood, humiliated, or hurting someone else, feeling guilty, being rejected.  Being vulnerable is also, per Brene Brown, the birthplace of everything we are hungry for.  

Now I’m really curious to pay attention to how much I lie.  I will be watching for my impulse to fudge the truth in order to smooth things over.  I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be real.  I want to learn how to be honest in ways that inspire everyone around me to feel safe to be authentic as well.

The article also affirms the importance of creating an environment in which children feel safe enough not to lie and are not shamed when they do.  What they need is our help in understanding why they felt the impulse to lie.  Once they can see and name what happened and why they were afraid, they can start to see the larger consequences and create other options.  Honesty can only be built on a foundation of self-esteem.  We cannot judge dishonesty and make the child who lies bad.  Instead, we need to support them in noticing the impulse and feeling safe enough not to.  For children to to build both emotional intelligence and healthy attachments, it’s up to us to become mindful about our own lying such that we can help kids navigate theirs.



Good Health Starts with Self-Regulation

Good Health Starts with Self-Regulation

Good Health Starts with Self-RegulationRecently, my teacher sent me this article by Gabor Maté: How to Build a Culture of Good Health.  Read it!  It beautifully explains the holistic, relational, developmental nature of health that I think we’ve all experienced at some level but never had words for:

Ultimately, healing flows from within. The word itself originates from “wholeness.”    To be whole is much more than to experience the absence of disease. It is the full and optimal functioning of the human organism, according to its nature-gifted possibilities. By such standards, we live in a culture that leaves us far short of health.

I’ve been studying biodynamic craniosacral therapy and meditating 30-60 minutes a day for over a year now.  In the process, I’ve come to embody a new level of self-trust, presence, and health.  It has strengthened my ability to be neutral and allowed the deeper forces that created and sustain me to build potency.  In Dr. Mate’s words, I’ve been doing this:

Give yourself, as best you can, what your parents would have loved to grant you but probably could not: full-hearted attention, full-minded awareness, and compassion. Make gifting yourself with these qualities your daily practice.

Now, instead of gripping to protective identifications, I am being moved toward greater fluidity, resilience, awareness, and metabolism.  It’s not always pleasant.  I’m resolving long held imprints.  I cry almost every time.  But my tears are cleansing; they do not reinforce any victimhood.  Instead, they dissolve old fears that no longer make sense.  My personality is less rigid.  My window of tolerance is widening.  I can see others more clearly.  I am able to sustain my own coherence more powerfully.  And I can resource myself more effectively.

As educators and parents, we are often at a loss as to how to help our children.  More and more, we see how trauma and dysregulation impact them negatively.  We try to soothe, cajole, convince, manipulate, force, explain, etc.  We want them to feel alright and know that everything will be okay.  But resolving trauma and truly embodying self-regulation is an inside job.  To teach children how to meet their fears and feelings in a healthy way, we must be regulated and model metabolizing our own experiences.  To connect them to their inner health forces, we must meet them, as we meet ourselves, with authentic presence and love.  

Adults need to know, even if their physicians often do not, that their health issues are rarely isolated manifestations. Any symptom, any illness is also an opportunity to consider where our lives may be out of balance, where our childhood coping patterns have become maladaptive, exacting costs on our physical well-being.  When we take on too much stress, whether at work or in our personal lives, when we are not able to say no, inevitably our bodies will say it for us. We need to be very honest with ourselves, very compassionate, but very thorough in considering how our childhood programming still runs our lives, to our detriment.

To take advantage of the metabolic forces of our own health system, we need to grant ourselves the time and the space to process our own mental-emotional-energetic experiences and make conscious choices that serve our higher intentions.  To prevent chronic stress from making us sick, we must stop valuing accomplishment over well-being.  And yes, I know that’s challenging inside of …  A materialistic culture (that) teaches its members that their value depends on what they produce, achieve, or consume rather than on their human beingness. Many of us believe that we must continually prove and justify our worthiness, that we must keep having and doing to justify our existence.

Choose to re-prioritize.  Put your health first and your do-list second.  Spend time being, processing, loving yourself. Give yourself the gift of meditation this holiday and open the door to expanding your consciousness, embodying self-regulation, and accessing the intelligence of your own system.  Your children will thank you!


Keep Fighting for More Play!

Keep Fighting for More Play!

The Damage Being Done by the Focus on Early Academic Instruction

biological factFor all of you still having to “fight” for more active play/yoga/mindfulness/nature time with early learners, research funded by the Alliance for Childhood and Defending the Early Years Foundation confirms that “young children learn best through meaningful, play experiences.”      Unfortunately, though most early childhood educators would recommend whole child engaging activities, a la programs like the Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum, they are being forced to abide by new requirements that focus on academics.  Current statistics show that long-term damage is being done by this shift to developmentally inappropriate practices for young kids. The less play-based experiences preschool – kindergarten children engage in, the more sensory issues they have.  

Preschool years are not only optimal for children to learn through play, but also a critical developmental period. If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor, and cognitive issues pop up more and more  in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.

Peter Gray, PhD, research professor at Boston College, and author of Free to Learn (Basic Books, 2013) offers a synopsis of the research of the negative effects of academic preschools and kindergartens in his article in Psychology Today:  Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm.  The biological fact is that children are born with instinctive drives to educate themselves through play and exploration.  When we interfere or try to impose rather than support those innate impulses, we stop the natural learning process and damage the child’s confidence, ease, joy, and creative, critical thinking.  What makes this so frustrating and infuriating is that this research has been around for decades!  

In a well-controlled experiment, begun by David Weikart and his colleagues in 1967, sixty eight high-poverty children living in Ypsilanti, Michigan, were assigned to one of three types of nursery schools:  Traditional (play-based), High/Scope (which was like the traditional but involved more adult guidance), and Direct Instruction (where the focus was on teaching reading, writing, and math, using worksheets and tests). The initial results of this experiment were similar to those of other such studies.  Those in the direct-instruction group showed early academic gains, which soon vanished.  This study, however, also included follow-up research when the participants were 15 years old and again when they were 23 years old.  At these ages there were no significant differences among the groups in academic achievement, but large, significant differences in social and emotional characteristics.

Thankfully, in Germany, they paid attention to the research and adapted their early learning programs accordingly:

A study with similar outcomes was done in Germany where play-based kindergartens were being transformed into early learning centers in the 1970s. The study compared 50 kindergarten classes using each of the two approaches. The children were followed through grade four, and those from the play-based programs excelled over the others on all 17 measures, including being more advanced in reading and mathematics and being better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. As a result the German kindergartens again became play based.

With ample proof that an academic focus in early learning is detrimental, it’s mind boggling how direct instruction for math and reading continues to proliferate?!  Defending the Early Years, and Alliance for Childhood ask the same question in their article: Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain, Much to Lose.  In it, they reveal that, on the committees that wrote and reviewed the new Common Core School Standards (CCSS), there is not one K-3rd grade teacher or an early childhood professional.  Nor is there any actual evidence that the standards are based on research.

I can’t explain this total disregard for valid research but I do know it means we need to continue to push back – harder.  If you, as parent, teacher, therapist, need support for fighting this battle, reach out to us and feel free to use any resources from our website!

To summarize, here’s what the EXPERTS say and encourage you to be doing:

Children learn best when they are engaged in activities geared to their developmental levels, prior experiences, and current needs.  As they construct their ideas through play and hands-on activities that make sense to them, children’s knowledge builds in a gradual progression that is solid and unshakable. They build a foundation of meaning that provides the basis for understanding concepts in language, literacy, math, science and the arts. In active learning, their capacities for language development, social and emotional awareness, problem solving, self-regulation, creativity, and original thinking develop, transforming them into effective learners.


A Great New Way to Engage Parents

A Great New Way to Engage Parents

vroomI just discovered a new organization that you will all want to know about: Vroom!

Vroom provides parents with support and specifics (in English and Spanish) on how to stimulate their child’s brain during every day activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, and playing.  They have a beautiful and encouraging 2 minute video directed to parents called: “Everyone has what it takes”.   Watch it, you might even well up a little.  I did!

Access to the Vroom website and information is totally free.  Their program and commitment to encouraging and showing parents how to be “brain builders” in all their interactions with their children deeply warmed my heart.  They do for parents what we at Move with Me ™ are working to provide for educators – and in a truly fun and mindful way.

Because the brain grows to 92% of its adult size in the first 5 years of life, it is the family that has the most influence in any child’s development.  While genes make up the brain’s blueprint, experiences and interactions with care-givers are the building blocks of its architecture.  With this in mind, the Vroom approach is based on three principles that apply just as much at home as at school:

Positive adult-child interactions lay the foundation for strong, resilient brains and are essential to healthy, optimal development, which can only happen within caring, consistent, supportive relationships.

Extended and stimulating adult-child interactions that go back and forth multiple times like a conversation, involve sustained eye contact, observations, questions and explorations inspire complex thinking and build the brain’s capacity to learn.

Modeling of life skills and reinforcement of executive functions, which can be integrated into daily activities and grow a child’s ability to focus, self-regulate, and manage impulses.

Their five basic brain builders include what all early childhood educators do to engage and support learning:

  • Make eye contact – be present and responsive
  • Chat – name and discuss what is happening in a developmentally appropriate way
  • Follow – pick up on what the child offers and ask questions
  • Stretch – build on and extend what the child says and does
  • Take Turns – go back and forth playfully with words, sounds, movements, etc.
Make Friends with TIME

Make Friends with TIME

What if your new mantra was: I have plenty of time?
Say it to yourself a few times …. let it sink in to your body and mind as fact.  Let yourself feel that you have plenty of time.
Notice your internal response. Did you soften, widen, slow down, take a deep breath? Did the outside world seem to slow down, too?

Notice you shifted your state with a shift in your thinking.

When TIME is your friend, and you appreciate her, she’s spacious and accommodating. When TIME is not your friend, and you belittle her, she is constricting and stress producing. TIME is a creation of your perception. How you hold her is how she appears in your world.

Last year, in order to shift the level of stress I felt in my life, my new year’s resolution was to align with specific qualities I wanted to feel – EASE being at the top of the list. In the process of cultivating ease, I realize now that I also re-created my experience of TIME. I could not feel ease and rush, or worry. I had to slow down and reorganize.   And what a revelation… I learned that being busy all the time does not increase productivity; it is instead a recipe for misery by taking the enjoyment out of everything.

If you feel caught in some version of “rat race”, you are stuck in a round room. When you think, speak, and act as though there’s not enough time, your experience will reinforce that concept and continue to generate debilitating stress in a race of your own creation that you can never win.

Meditation, mindfulness practices, and yoga are wonderful ways to re-invent your concept of and relationship to TIME. Build in time for a practice or a class that resonates with you and stick to it. As with any practice, it is the cumulative effect of regularity over time that is essential for transformation.

Even if you spent just 20 minutes a day, 10 in the am and 10 in the pm, repeating the mantra: I have plenty of time, you would start to embody a slower inner speed, and a shift in consciousness that translates to less stress and more enjoyment. With plenty of TIME, you have the space to more deeply experience and appreciate the moments that make up your life.

The ability to slow down is available to everyone. It can feel uncomfortable at first because we are not mirroring the outside world but if we are willing to move through the discomfort, it feels more natural overtime until it actually begins to feel pleasurable to sit with our feelings. We become aware of the many different parts of a feeling we label with only one word. For example, we say I feel stress but when we slow down, we see stress is a representation of feeling tired, bored, anxious, irritated, inadequate and under-appreciated all at once. This deepening changes our relationship with time. Everything eventually slows down to a manageable pace when we allow our relationship with this moment to matter.

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