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.
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.
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.
Building focus requires practice in settling one’s nervous system, in strengthening one’s eye muscles, and in mylenating the neural pathways in one’s brain. To help children build the ability to focus, we must give them opportunities, through playful, meaningful activities, to explore and master the skills needed to do so.
#1 WATER DRAWING BOARD
If sustaining focus is a challenge for your children or students, don’t get frustrated or feel like a failure. The ability to focus is a mind-body integration pattern that must be experienced, named, and reinforced for kids to actually understand what you want from them and how to do it. Don’t assume they know how. Instead, help them learn through the following steps and then practice, just like you would any other muscle:
Identify what they need to do in their mind-body to focus
Play with and practice how to move into a focused state from other states
Reinforce the self-regulation steps or activities that work for them to focus
For # A, I use a water drawing board (aka: Buddha Board) because it offers a fun and compelling experience that requires focus. After you draw on the board with water, children watch the drawing change as the water dries. They organically become very focused, like cats with a mouse hole, as they watch the lines very slowly disappear.
Once they are focused, I ask them to identify how they feel in their bodies by noticing …
How are you breathing?
What’s your “inner speed” or how fast do you feel you are going inside?
How does your body feel?
What’s going on in your head?
What words would you use to describe how you are being right now?
I explain that the way they are being – is called: Focused. This “state” is what your parents and teachers are asking for when they say: focus and stay on task. I love seeing the “ah-ha” in their eyes when they connect focus as an action they can do in their bodies.
For #B and #C, I leave the board nearby and invite children to watch it again any time they feel scattered and want to re-focus themselves. The water board becomes a structure that kids can use to practice the skill of focusing when they lose focus. Giving children a way to build this skill, without shame or judgment, empowers them to discover what works best for them, to reinforce as needed, and to develop confidence in their own self-regulation!
#2 Drink Water
Humans are 60% – 75% water. Hydration is essential to the health of every function of our body and for conducting the mind’s millions of electrochemical messages. You would think that we would naturally prioritize drinking water throughout the day so we can feel, think, and do well. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
So, this is an important reminder. Just drinking more water will have a powerful positive effect on your health and your child’s ability to focus. Think about it, for little or no expense, and minimal effort, you and your whole family could think more clearly, digest better, move more easily, feel less stressed, get sick less often, experience fewer headaches, have more energy, improve your memory , and enjoy life more. So why not START.
The layman’s rule of thumb is basically half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 100 lbs, you should be drinking 50 ounces of water. That’s a little over 6 cups – so figure a glass of water 6 times throughout the day. Ideally, however, the best way to consume the water is by sipping every 20- 30 minutes. The body can better absorb it when taken in frequent small amounts. Also, be advised, other fluids do not count. Water is water. It is irreplaceable in the body for the following reasons.
Energy. Water generates electrical and magnetic energy within every cell and so will significantly reduce fatigue.
Digestion. Water is the body’s essential solvent and transportation system. It delivers oxygen, supports digestion, and enhances the absorption of nutrients.
Detoxification. Water is the body’s main vehicle for eliminating toxins and metabolic waste in the blood, liver, kidneys, bladder, bowels, skin and lungs.
Heart & Circulation. Healthy blood, which is 85 – 95 % water can efficiently remove toxins and fatty deposits in arteries to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Dehydrated blood is thick and prone to clots and poor circulation.
Immune System. Drinking water daily improves immunity by supporting the healthy function of the colon, intestines, blood, and bone marrow.
Joints. Water cushions and lubricates the joints and spine while removing acid waste that can cause inflammation and pain.
Eyes & Skin. Hydration supports healthy skin and eyes.
Hormones. Water helps regulate hormone the production to prevent menstrual discomfort as well as loss of libido and impotence.
Sleep and Mood. Research shows that drinking plenty of water can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and decrease anxiety and depression.
# 3 Practice Proper Posture
Alignment matters. Practicing proper posture means that you pay attention to the alignment of not just your spine but also your head, neck, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis, knees, ankles, feet, and toes. How you hold yourself, send your weight through your joints, and move any part of your body has impact overtime – not just your physical health but also your mental, emotional, social, and professional health. If you are not properly aligned, if you have poor posture, or knocked knees, or hunched shoulders, you’ll pay for the misalignment with an injury, an illness, sluggish energy, less enjoyment, maybe even loss of a job. How we perceive and are perceived by others is directly related to the non-verbal messages given by posture. How you stand and move communicates who you are and influences how people feel about and with you.
Given the world we live in, proper posture is something you really have to work at – learn about, perfect, and practice. It’s not going to happen naturally because so many aspects of our lives work against it starting with birth trauma which can remain unresolved in the body constricting alignment. Then there’s the fact that unconsciously, your posture habits develop from the images you see in your family. That’s why kids stand the way their parents do. Other negative influences on proper posture are fast food nutrition, furniture, cars, sedentary activities and long hours of sitting during growth spurts. And finally, there are our mobile devices, which keep us rounded forward, looking down for way too much time a day. It’s no wonder that slumping is an epidemic – killing off focus, fun, connection, and vitality. When we are stooped or slouched, our muscles and ligaments struggle to keep balanced. This then leads to fatigue, back pain, headaches and lots of other problems. On the other hand, when you stand up straight and walk tall, you actually think, focus, and feel better. Practicing proper posture actually helps you feel calmer, more relaxed, and more physically and mentally able and stable.
Spinal health is the basis of balance and stability not just in our bodies, but in our minds and feelings, too. So, how do we help our children practice proper posture and in so doing, lay a foundation for wellness and the unfolding of their full potential.
Have your child checked out by a pediatric chiropractor or osteopath.
Notice how your child moves and relates to the world physically? Are they open and receptive, competent and curious, or withdrawn and worried, closed and careful? Understand that movement and posture are not just physical, they represent one’s mental-emotional state as well.
Support them in activities that help them feel strong and capable in their bodies, which then translate to feeling confidence in themselves as learners and contributors in the world.
Model good posture. Discuss good alignment in all the joints of the body and why it’s important. Notice other people’s posture and invite your kids to mimic them to play with how different postures feel and make them feel.
Why? Because the cross-crawl movement diffuses stress, energizes the body, balances the brain, and stimulates positive chemical and neurotropic messengers; and the slow, intentional movement grounds the body, resets the nervous system for alert receptivity, and focuses the brain.
This is not magic or rocket science, it is simple physiology. While you rhythmically shift weight from one foot to the other, you are using your core muscles and lighting up your neo-cortex, which controls movement. You are also activating your spine, and your vestibular and proprioceptive systems, which forces brain and body to both integrate and coordinate. While you touch opposite arm and leg, you stimulate the two hemispheres of the brain to work together for whole brain thinking. And finally, with slow, mindful movement, you ground and center all that energy for optimal brain – body function.
Impulse control refers to the ability to think before acting and to forgo an immediate desire to wait for a later reward. For children, impulse control means developing social skills such as managing to wait politely for food to be prepared; learning to take turns and to share; knowing how to ask and to thank; remembering not to hit, yell, or bite when angry or frustrated. Impulse control is also associated with delayed gratification, which means that you can resist a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. A growing body of literature has linked the ability to delay gratification, and therefore, make thoughtful, long-term choices, to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.
How can we help children develop impulse control?
Helping our children learn to control impulses is essential to social-emotional and academic competence. To do so well, we need to provide them with three things:
Compassion – being calm & caring ourselves
Accurate Mirroring – stating what is happening without interpretation, judgment, guilt, shaming
Something TO DO to soothe, support, ground themselves – giving them an activity which helps them slow down and shift themselves
In other words, in addition to staying regulated ourselves, so we can hold a safe emotional space, we need to use our words to help them develop self-awareness and to give them tools to help them develop self-control and thus, self-confidence. Breathing exercises offer kids effective tools with which to redirect impulses and down-regulate their nervous systems out of fight or flight into reason, communication, and connection.
Example: Your son is just home from school. Impulse control is an issue. He wants his video game which he is allowed for a limited time once a day, usually after dinner. You can see that he’s tired and stressed by his long day. You know the video game now will only dysregulate him further and make the evening more challenging. You have a conference call in 5 minutes so you cannot play something quiet with him yourself. You need to tell him no on the video but you don’t want him to lose control with his upset, which often happens. So you:
Have compassion for him and yourself:I can see that you want to do something fun after a long day at school. And I wish I could do something fun with you right now but I have a call in 5 minutes and will be busy for a half-hour. After that, I would love to have some special time with you. In the meantime, while you’re waiting for me, you can – play catch with the dog, listen to music or an audio-story, or do a puzzle or leggos.
He insists emphatically that he needs his video game time now!
AccurateMirroring:I hear that you really want to do the video game now instead of after dinner. But video time is after dinner and you can pick another option now or I’ll pick it for you.
He starts to escalate.
Give him a self-regulating tool or activity:I can see your feelings of disappointment getting stronger. Since you are working on not doing mean behaviors when you are upset or angry, I’ve got a new breathing exercise for you. You can use it to blow off steam rather than blow up at me. It’s called Hissing Breath. Try it and see if it helps you calm your feelings about playing after dinner instead of now.
Breathe in your nose a long, deep inhale. Now, breathe out your mouth making a small hiiiissssssssssssssing sound – like a balloon slowly losing air. Go super slow and try to make the hiss last a long time. I’ll count….. good… you hissed for a long time. Your face and body look more relaxed. Try it one more time, breathing in and then slowing hissing out all the air and any upset or anger. If it feels good, you can do it again or as many times as you need. You’ll know when you’re done.
All done? What do you notice about how you feel now?
How did the Hissing Breath help you? It helped me feel slower and softer.
Thank you for trying it. I hope you’ll use it whenever you want to help yourself calm down.
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!
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