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
1. Physical coordination precedes and lays the foundation for cognitive coordination.
In other words, if you want to develop the mind, you must develop the body. That means multiple sessions daily of movement, play, and exercise. Per Marcia’s testimonial as a parent and a pediatric OT, it was doing the yoga story DVDs twice daily that enabled her son to build the motor skills, focus, and self-control needed for kindergarten. My point here is that regardless of your child’s challenges or strengths, if s/he is difficult, stressed, crabby, withdrawn, anxious, etc., s/he probably needs more physical play. Fun movement is the biologically built-in developer of body-mind-feelings awareness and management. At school, make sure students enjoy 90 to 120 minutes of supervised, instructional gross motor activity as well as outside time. At home, my recommendation is 20-30 minutes minimum every day – just you and your child, one-on-one, whatever s/he wants to do.
2. Mindfulness is a sensory-motor skill.
Impulse control, emotional intelligence, self-regulation and executive function develop as children become aware of and understand what happens inside their own bodies. It is through interactive activity such as exercise instruction and pretend play that they build the inner sensory-emotional awareness necessary for self-control. Per the work of Catherine Rosasco Mitchell and others in embodied, sensory-motor education, we know that children can only access and understand their own perception, character, and relationships by using the feelings/sensations of the body. Play and intentional movement help them grow mindful as well as socially – emotionally competent.
3. To get the benefits, you have to do the practice.
Exercise is a natural mind-body regulator and integrator. Active play causes kids to be less impulsive and more primed to learn by literally building brain cells, turning on the attention system, and firing up the executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention. To realize these effects means you’ve got to actually prioritize and spend more time playing and exercising and less time sitting and on screens. Why? Because intentional movement and playful instructional exercise promote and improve:
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.
Encouraging young children to practice proper posture and to engage in core strengthening activity is vital to laying a foundation for not just physical health but also for mental-emotional strength. Spinal health is the basis of balance and stability not just in our bodies, but in our minds and feelings.
Being and feeling strong inside is the fuel kids need to build confidence in exploring the world and overcoming obstacles. How they are able to count on and control their bodies has everything to do with their capacity to manage their focus, feelings, and behavior. When children learn to stand up straight and walk tall, they feel strong and think clearly. Why?
The spine is the central support of the body and nervous system. It connects and organizes all our systems while enabling us to stand upright, perform complex movement, and connect to each other. And though we are all born with perfect posture – just watch a 1 year old walking – there are many factors that inhibit healthy functioning, such as physical accidents, emotional trauma, family habits, nutrition, furniture, sedentary activities, long hours of sitting during growth spurts, etc. Current statistics indicate that poor posture is a serious problem.
80% of back and neck pain is a result of bad posture.
56% of teenage spines are out of alignment or deformed due to chronic slumping.
Children entering preschool are less developed in physical coordination, and, as a result, cognitive coordination
Childhood anxiety has been found to be correlated to inability to balance
Slumping kills off innate vitality and derails the development of confidence and capability. When kids slouch, skeletal alignment is compromised, muscles and ligaments struggle to keep balance, and positive chemical messengers which regulate thoughts and feelings are repressed. This leads to lack of core strength, poor balance, less memory, hindered eyesight, headaches, and an overall sense of weakness. For children, physical weakness translates into vulnerability, anxiety, fear, and frustration. Good posture and physical strength, on the other hand, empower them to be calmer, more relaxed, and more mentally and emotionally stable.
You can help kids build the self-confidence and resilience that comes with good posture and plenty of physical activity, aerobic and slow, intentional, by:
Having them checked out by a pediatric chiropractor or osteopath.
Noticing how they move and relate to the world? Are they open and receptive, competent and curious, or withdrawn and worried, closed and careful? Understand that however they are is a mind-body-emotional state, not just a physical habit. Support them in activities that grow a sense of strength and competence.
Model good posture. Discuss good posture and why it’s important. Notice other people’s posture and invite your kids to mimic them so they can experience how different postures feel and make them feel.
In the video below, Rafe Kelley, founder of Evolve Move Play, presents a valuable distinction between that which fills our attention and feeds our monkey minds and that which nourishes our humanity and fuels our personal development. It’s a valuable lens through which to assess our own lives.
How is the stimulation of a plugged in life affecting me?
How do I spend my time? Am I filling my life with fluff or with meaning?
Are my choices aligned with my values? Do I feel full and enriched or empty and depleted?
Are there parts of me that are starving… for connection, expression, integration?
Am I so busy that I’ve disconnected from myself, my health, my relationships, my dreams? Are my passions being replaced with addictions?
What am I modeling for my children? What are my rules around technology for them?
As an educator and a parent, I believe distinguishing stimulation from nourishment is an essential lens through which to assess the lives and development of our children. Given the technologizing of childhood, it’s imperative that we protect the growing brain from the proven negative consequences of over-stimulation and inappropriate stimulation. We need to understand what is truly nourishing for the whole child or we risk a generation of kids who are dysregulated, out of synch with their own natures, and regulating through consumption.
In his TED Talk, Media and Children, pediatrician and researcher Dr. Dimitri Christakis, explains how over-stimulation from fast-paced and/or violent TV watching or other screen time actually damages the developing brain’s ability to pay attention and learn. He advocates for the nourishment of cognitive stimulation in early childhood instead. Cognitive stimulation comes from whole child engaging activities such as block play, reading, singing, dancing, cooking, etc. with parents and care-givers. Children who spend plenty of time getting nourished in these ways have very few attention or self-regulation issues later in life. Conversely, children, especially those under the age of 3, who watch lots of non-educational, inappropriately paced TV, have much higher rates of attention, regulation, and learning issues.
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