I get it! Our integrated movement and mindfulness curriculum can feel overwhelming or even daunting for educators who have never participated in any form of intentional movement or meditative practice.
I used to think that response was because the Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum is so comprehensive – 30 weeks of lessons that include 7 integrated activities each is a lot. Then, I worked with a small group of highly skilled and experienced educator/trainers for 3 whole days recently. I saw that to actually embody the materials requires practicing mindful movement and meditation. For those with no background in these activities, to do so can often mean both a lifestyle and a paradigm shift.
We teach who we are, right? So to teach mindfulness, we have to practice mindfulness. To reap the benefits of active play, yoga, creative and intentional movement, we have to do these things. If you have never done them, then you’ll need to make the time to start. You’ll also need to justify that time as well spent. This is a lifestyle shift – and essential to being able to teach and integrate movement and mindfulness into your own way of doing things.
It’s the regular practice of intentional movement such as yoga that actually changes you. As you work with yourself from the inside out, you experience becoming more aware, less reactive, more fluid, less rigid, more present, less controlling, more curious, less judgmental. You start to understand in your body how movement and mindfulness resource you to not just feel better but also do better… as in be a better person. You feel organically motivated to organize your day around well-being rather than what you get done. This is a paradigm shift. It’s radical to prioritize your self-care and self-regulation because you know that being the person and teacher you want to be depends on it. You can’t go back to stressing or pushing through and you certainly don’t want to do that to your students.
It’s from this embodied understanding of movement and mindfulness that our curriculum and materials really make sense as a road map for addressing standards while nurturing physically fit, emotionally stable, socially intelligent, and learning able kids. I understand this now because it is our embodiment of these practices adapted for children that created the curriculum. Though we designed and encourage the resources to be used by anyone, with no additional training, which they are; I also want to acknowledge how challenging it can be for those with no previous experience.
That’s why we offer support any time you call or email and why we hope to inspire you with the variety of activities in the curriculum to start a mindful movement and meditation practice of your own. Practice is your best teacher – ever bringing you wisely and compassionately back to your optimal self.
What is self-care? The definition varies depending on who you’re asking, but essentially it means taking care of yourself physically and mentally. In recent years the concept of mental health has come to the forefront of societal conversation, so much so that May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month. Dedicating a month to awareness and support for those living with mental illness is a great step in the right direction, still, it is not enough. The stigma associated with mental health can still halt conversation and make people feel embarrassed for talking about their struggle.
How prevalent is mental illness? Over 45 million adults live with mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14. While these numbers are alarming, they shed insight into where more work can be done. The fact that mental illness often begins in childhood emphasizes the critical need for social-emotional education (SEL) to begin at a young age. As early as February 2011 research cited in the publication Child Development shows that when children are taught emotional intelligence, stress management, self-compassion, and empathy (all aspects of self-care), they demonstrate significantly improved resilience, affecting social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and an academic performance change that reflected an 11‐percentile‐point gain in achievement. (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x). “The findings add to the growing empirical evidence regarding the positive impact of SEL programs. Policy makers, educators, and the public can contribute to healthy development of children by supporting the incorporation of evidence‐based SEL programming into standard educational practice.” (Durlak, Weissberg) The positive impact imparted by the use of self-care skills carries on into adulthood and lays a foundation for not just happier adults, but also a healthier society.
Discuss and Educate
First things first, in order to have productive conversation and break stigma we must be better educated. What is mental health? This may seem like an obvious question, but ask yourself and ask your kids. You’ll be surprised by the different perspectives. By definition, mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health disorders are disturbingly common among children and adolescents and with the most familiar mental health issues being: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety, Depression, and Suicide.
Fortunately, many informative mental health materials can be found online. This is a great place to start to learn about mental-emotional health. Educate yourself first and then include the children in your life by modeling and sharing with them what you’ve learned and what you are doing as a result to better self-care mentally, emotionally and physically. Encourage them to be active, eat well, and talk about how they feel. Make sure they learn tools and techniques that support them in calming, managing, and focusing themselves in healthy ways when events in their life weigh so heavily that they, or you, fear they are tipping. Stress, fear, frustration, and the subsequent anger and anguish are real, regardless if from an outside perspective the emotions seem unwarranted. Get dug in, it’s important. Find out what your child’s school is doing to teach and support SEL. Organizations such as SEL4CA.org and CASEL.org can help you.
Starting a conversation with your kids about mental health is challenging, look for discussion guides, podcasts, and even comic books, that can give you questions to get the ball rolling, or at the least give you questions to ask your doctor about a child who may be at risk. These resources can also suggest activities that demonstrate to your child how their thoughts and emotions are linked and that can explain conditions in terms children will understand. Becoming more comfortable with these kinds of conversations will make kids and teens feel less isolated and will encourage them to share their true feelings.
It’s widely known that exercise is good for your physical health, but it’s also one of the best ways to improve your mental health. It’s a great outlet to reduce stress, exude excess energy, and even give yourself a healthy sense of well-being. Those who exercise are more likely to feel more energetic throughout the day, get a better night’s rest, relax and be more positive. Exercise has been known to aid in the treatment of depression, anxiety, stress, ADHD and trauma.
The best physical activities are ones that include friends and family. Whether it’s taking the dog for a walk every day, joining a kickball league or swimming in the pool, any chance to get out and get moving will have significant health effects. When you cannot get outside, play-along videos are a fun and bonding way to exercise inside at home or at school. From the many exercise videos there are to choose from, the one for young children, ages 3-9 years that we want to highlight is the, Movement & Mindfulness Bundle from Move with Me Yoga Adventures. It has 9 yoga videos that combine acting out stories with movement and learning discrete, specific health & self-regulation skills that can be reinforced during your daily life through the use of physical flash cards. The skills taught are not just for kids, they can be used by adults and children alike.
Embrace the Arts
Having a creative outlet is another essential component of self- care. There are instances in which words do not suffice, or perhaps they’re too hard to say. Finding a creative way to express feelings is a healthy alternative to keeping them internalized. Painting, drawing, or coloring are great ways to depict feelings through colors and portraying scenes. Writing, playing, and listening to music is another outlet. Finding music that relates to the way you’re feeling can be a release of emotion. Music can also translate into a feeling of camaraderie. When people are expressing the same feelings you feel, you’re more likely to open up.
For you and your children’s mental health, it’s essential to stop the cycle of stress and the accompanying emotions of helplessness and anger. It is time to start prioritizing your well-being by taking time throughout the day to self-care. When you take the time to learn the skills you need, that intention and action translates to positive growth for your family as well. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
How you hold your parents matters. When you judge, disrespect, or reject one or both of them, you are doing the same to yourself. Since you are literally of them and from them, it’s vital to your well-being and inner peace to accept them as they are, even if only in your heart.
This truth was highlighted for me recently by my teacher, Mark Wolynn. He cited a Harvard Medical School study that showed surprising correlations between the quality of one’s parental relationships and the quality of one’s health later in life.
In the 1950s, researchers asked 21-year-old students to describe their relationship with their parents using the scale: “very close,” “warm and friendly,” “tolerant,” or “strained and cold.” Thirty-five years later, those same students, now 56 years-old, were asked about their health.
91% of participants who stated that their relationship with their mother was “tolerant” or “strained and cold” had been diagnosed with a significant health issue such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, alcoholism, etc.
45% of participants who reported that their relationship with their mother was “warm and friendly” or “very close” had been diagnosed with a serious health challenge.
82% of participants who stated that their relationship with their father was “tolerant” or “strained and cold” had been diagnosed with a significant health issue.
50% of participants who stated that their relationship with their father was “warm and friendly” or “very close” had been diagnosed with a serious health challenge.
100% of participants who stated that their relationship with both parents was “tolerant” or “strained and cold” had been diagnosed with a significant health issue.
We all know from personal experience that our family relationships have a big impact on our childhood development. These statistics point to the fact that that impact actually lasts a lifetime. Implicit, as well, is the life enhancing value of compassionate completion with our parents at any age.
When I say compassionate completion, I mean that you realize that whatever you blame them for was not personal. You are able to see your parents as flawed, traumatized humans, like yourself, who did the best they could with what they received from their parents and life events. You accept that they cannot give what they didn’t get and that you got enough. You don’t try to change what was, you simply decide to change how you hold it. Your parents aren’t going to be any different, but when you change how you hold them, your relationship with them will too.
Maybe they are available and healthy enough for you, in person, to let them off the hook, thank them for all they did do for you, and enjoy a transformed relationship. Maybe they are passed, or mentally ill, or unsafe to be near physically and you can, in your own mind and heart, complete with them by understanding what they went through and why they behaved as they did. Changing your inner image of them, shifts how you hold them. Having compassion for what happened to them and caring about what they went through will enable you to acknowledge that what they did wasn’t about you, it was about them. When you no longer take what happened personally, you can leave their suffering with them and free yourself from perpetuating unhealthy and unloving dynamics.
I used to hold my mother as selfish and uncaring. Growing up, I could feel she was not seeing me. I took it personally and, as a result, judged and rejected her. We had a polite, superficial relationship at best. Then, through the Family Constellation work, I came to a new understanding of what was behind her behavior. Now, I see her as the one who cared the most. We share a sweet, warm, fun bond that feels like a miracle in my life.
My mother had an older sister who died the same day she was born. The death of their first child, after a seemingly normal, healthy pregnancy, was so painful for my grandparents that they never talked about nor told their later children of their older sibling. Because they couldn’t bear to be with the trauma of her passing, they also couldn’t look at and include her as part of the family. So, my mother looked instead, which is why she couldn’t see me. Understanding that my mother was unconsciously identified with her excluded sibling made so much of what I went through with her suddenly make sense. (Learn more about systemic dynamics and exclusion)
In changing how I hold my mother, I dramatically changed how I feel inside my own life. Opening to the bigger picture allowed me to open my heart to her. With that came a floodgate of love, growth, and healing for me in all my relationships.
Marcia Washington, OTR/L, has been practicing pediatric occupational therapy for 20 years. In 2009, in her hometown of Pontotoc, MS, she launched KidSense, a clinic that specializes in pediatric therapy, includes a sensory motor gym, and serves clients from over a 70 mile radius.
Marcia and her husband, David, have 2 biological daughters, Mattie – 14 and Ella – 10. In 2014, they adopted a 2 year old boy from Poland. Marcia helped Gehrig improve his language and overall motor skills using Rhythmic Movement, Integrated Listening, NeuroNet Learning program and the Alert Program “How Does Your Engine Run.” Yet core strength, posture control and unintegrated reflexes persisted to the point of causing inattentive/impulsive behavior in preschool.
That’s when she started to use Move With Me Yoga Adventure DVDs and flash cards daily. She was so impressed with the results that she wrote us a thank you note. We were so touched that we invited her to speak about her experience so we could share it with all of you.
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.
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“Your training always took us back to self-regulation and coherence in ourselves, which enabled me to feel both personally inspired and professionally confident to share the Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum program with children!"-Erin McFarland, Teacher, CA