The freeEmbodied Mindfulness Video by Wellness Through Movement is an 8-minute animated story (see below for video), designed to be presented to children in 4 two-minute sections. It shows how two children who get in trouble for not listening come to understand what happened for them and how they can use a centering breath technique called, Home, to develop their ability to be mindful and to better direct their attention so that they can listen.
The program is the culmination of 30 years of work and research with children by co-creator, Catherine Rosasco Mitchell. She sent it to me recently after testing it for thirteen years in elementary schools. I was impressed with the simplicity, clarity, and accessibility of the video and with her accompanying User and Teacher Guides. I enthusiastically recommend the program to anyone working with children. What I love about this resource is that it’s free – thank you Catherine! – and that it directly addresses the fact that children are 90% more in their bodies than in their minds.
Children are full of energy, emotion, and sensation inside so they feel more than they think. To develop self-regulation, parents and teachers need to understand that children have to become aware of and understand what happens inside them when they don’t or can’t, hear, think, or pay attention in order to manage it better. They also need both encouragement to self-reflect and time to practice sensory – somatic tools or techniques to reset. When this process is offered and even modeled by their teachers and parents, kids can learn to work with themselves brilliantly. As Catherine explains eloquently: It is only by using the feelings of the body that you can truly help children access and understand their own perception, character, and relationship to others.
In addition to her scientifically designed sequences of movements and proprioception to increase self- awareness and support the development of both internal and external attention, I also admire Catherine’s advocacy for embodied education. She not only understands the vital role of embodiment in development, she also creates lesson plans that integrate sensory self-awareness and shows educators as well as professionals in the psychology, development, and neuroscience how to teach it. Check out her Teaching Embodiment is Crucial Poster presented at conferences on health and movement including the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and American Association of Health, Physical Education and Dance (AAPERD).
To access and utilize this awesome free resource click here.
Recently, 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!
In a recent Movement and Mindfulness™ Curriculum Certification, our trainer, Leah Kalish, MA, taught us about “being in the Vertical versus Horizontal.” She was speaking to the idea of self-care. That it behooves every teacher or parent or caregiver to make taking care of oneself a priority, even before attending to our children. Just like those oxygen masks in airplanes!
This concept was a revelation for me. I realized that in my own parenting I was constantly in horizontal mode; trying valiantly to make things happen for my kids. “Here, let me teach you about how this works” or “Let me help with you that.” Which left me feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and exhausted. There was always so much to do. In horizontal mode we are thinking outside ourselves, multi-tasking, and anywhere but centered in our own spot. We appear to be getting a lot accomplished, but the energy we use to do everything is unsustainable and we are left feeling depleted, scattered.
Then, I consciously switched to vertical mode. I hung back and let my kids tell me what they knew about any given subject, giving answers only when questions were asked. I gave them autonomy to dress, bathe, get food for themselves (at age 6 and 10 they were both developmentally capable, but I had stayed in the habit from when they were toddlers). I stopped trying “to do”, and let others do for me. Most remarkably, I had more time and space for myself: to write, do yoga, daydream (if I dared) and any other things that fed my soul.
In vertical mode we are aligned with our intentions and rooted in the motivations that drive all we do. Vertically, we are constantly being replenished and re-energized simply by not overdoing, but by being receptive, letting things come to us as opposed to always trying to make things happen. We are present and centered, in the vertical we are balanced.
In the vertical state one can revisit and reflect: what is my overall intention (in raising my family/or teaching students/or being a member of this human race)? Who do I want to be and how do I want to feel?
When you make time to name it, you can see it, and when you see it, you can be it. The ingenious thing is that when others see it, they can be it, too. In taking care of yourself, you have full access to your coping mechanisms, you’re not running on fumes or giving from an empty place. You become a model for those around you on how to do the same.
I left feeling my whole mind, body, and spirit nourished. I’m excited about sharing this transformative information with my students, other teachers, and especially families. Leah really walks the talk and is such an inspiration to me. I wish every parent and educator could take her course!
In exploring how to have family fun playing with being vertical, I adapted old and new material into what I call: Family Freeze Dance. Turn on your favorite tunes, just before dinner or after. Take turns pausing the song, and instead of freeze-ing (which often makes bodies stiff and breathing tight) try dropping into Mountain Pose (standing tall, rooted into the earth yet receptive & soft around the eyes and shoulders). Mountain is such a great pose to practice experiencing being in the vertical with strength AND ease. At the end of the game, use a Humming Breath to calm bodies and bring energy down for the next activity: reading time, dinner time, bed time. Take in 3 more breaths here, while enjoying the view from standing strong and easeful in who you are.
April Cantor has been teaching yoga fulltime since 1999; first to adults in studios and corporate centers, and now currently with children. Her former life as a theater arts educator with Stages of Learning in NYC public schools set her on course to working with children in ways that get them out of their desks and feeling at home in their bodies. She founded SoulShine Life Yoga for Kids and Families to bring yoga programs into Brooklyn & NY preschools, and to help families integrate yoga into their busy lives. April finds much inspiration from her two boys, and occasionally facilitates Partner Yoga workshops with her husband, dance educator/choreographer, Barry Blumenfeld.
To me, the mindfulness movement has wonderfully enhanced our learning how to self-care, self-regulate, and be responsible for our own well-being and mental health. Because it encourages us to rest back, widen out, and notice without judgment, it also invites us to move out of a pathology paradigm and participate in a health paradigm. It doesn’t focus on what’s wrong. It strengthens our ability to be with what is and motivates us with science validated reminders that enjoying its benefits takes practice. Regular practice slows us down, expands our consciousness, and reconnects us to our greatest asset – our health system.
When I say your health system, I am talking about the bigger forces that literally created you and are continually monitoring, metabolizing, eliminating, maintaining, integrating, and renewing you. You are a metabolic miracle, truly. Your pursuit of mindfulness is a doorway to greater access to your innate health and healing power. Every time you meditate, move into greater awareness, or relax deeply, you allow and support this system to process, balance, and re-calibrate you. The more you practice, the more space and fluidity in your system, and the greater ease and well-being you experience.
My point is that each of our systems is infinitely intelligent and always moving us toward greater health based on the present circumstances and consciousness. Just as after eating a big meal, you don’t go running because you know your body needs time to digest; in our busy, demanding lives, we can’t just go-go-go. We need to give ourselves time to metabolize the stressors and reset our nervous systems to maintain health. Like a hot bath, mindfulness supports our greater health intelligence to work with and metabolize for us.
As you make lifestyle changes and explore how to bring more mindfulness and wellness into your homes and classrooms, where are you coming from? Are you focused on what’s wrong and how to fix it or stop it, which often creates more constriction and diminishes flow and health? Or are you making time and space for your and your students’ systems to function optimally? Can you stop seeing something wrong with you or them, and instead allow, feel, and attend to what is expressed? When seen through the lens of health, everything that arises is for greater health. Can you embrace and be responsive such that what arises can be seen, heard, and processed in the service of greater health?
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.
Stress and traumas, large and small, are a part of daily life in our new digital age. Online, we and our children witness regular devastation from crime and weather, wars and refugees, terrorism, teen suicide, cyber humiliation, addiction, abuse of all kinds, and mass shootings, sometimes in schools. In light of this constant media exposure to the dark side of humanity, we owe it to our children to make concerted efforts to connect to each other, nurture and acknowledge our light, goodness, love, and heroism, and most importantly, to teach and practice emotional resilience. Having emotional resilience is essential to long-term health. It means that we can process the impact of hurtful, harmful, and even traumatic events and, in doing so, grow the power of our hearts. It means that we know how to use what we don’t want as compost for cultivating what we do want. It means developing the ability to self-care such that we can benefit from our own experience and shine more brightly, compassionately, and authentically. Self-regulation and emotional resilience lay the foundation for being empowered and wanting to be of service
How equipped are our children are to deal with stress or the traumas they see if not experience personally? Anonymous media commentators spout off about everything from gun laws to bad parenting, to mental illness and bullying. But if you stop and really listen to what our kids are saying, you’d know that arguing about the above topics is not part of the solution. Instead, look at teen social media accounts. You will hear the voices of a children who are confused, overwhelmed, and often in despair. Their ability to cope with the normal downturns that life presents is obviously compromised. Their school environments are toxic with competition, boredom, and dis-empowerment. They post 12 selfies a day and rate their own self- worth based on the number of “likes” their precocious pose lands them. They rate each other with a sense of arrogance and shallowness that dismisses and invalidates virtues such as kindness, compassion, and acceptance.
A recent article in The Atlantic about sexting tells the story of a Virginia county that was shocked after an investigation revealed that it is THE NORM for our teens to send nude or inappropriate photos to their boyfriends/girlfriends. Authority’s had to come to terms with the fact that if they enforced the law, hundreds of teens would have been facing felony charges of child pornography.
The digital age has desensitized our children. Exposure to sex and violence through media and video games has made fantasy and reality difficult for the developing teen brain to differentiate. The convenience of instant communication behind the veil of a screen allows them to verbally accost each other with no inhibition. Monitoring their digital interactions can be a full time job for any parent, already pushed to the edge by their own stress. We are drowning.
Our educational system uses catch phrases like, “No child left behind”, and focuses on Common Core Standards to grasp on to any last hopes that America remain a super power and produce “educated go-getters” and “tomorrow’s leaders”. Meanwhile, Suzie is posting her selfie sporting a precocious pose waiting for Tommy to give her the thumbs up so she can feel a modicum of self- worth for the next 5 minutes, but Tommy is too busy playing a game of Call of Duty to notice.
We cannot go back. We have entered the digital age. The media and video game developers are not going to develop a conscience overnight. Parents are not going to always be able to be at home engaging kids in other activities. Our children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week in school. It is time to use a few of those hours to teach our children how to both engage safely and respectfully with each other and to cope with the lives WE have created for them. It is time to give them the tools they need to navigate the landscape of the digital age without losing connection to their innate humanity and greater communities. It is time to make emotional resilience and self-regulation the main topic when deciding how we will teach, support, guide, and resource our children for the future.
Become a Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum Teacher!
“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