Trauma Informed Mindfulness Practices

We believe mindfulness practices meet the needs of every body. Our trauma informed approach is rooted in choice.

People sometimes ask: Is mindfulness suited for all children? What about children who have experienced trauma or have mental health needs?

Here is how the dictionary defines mindfulness:

Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Our Move Mindfully®  sessions allow present moment awareness to create a place where restoration and rest is possible.

Here is how mindfulness, and choice, are woven into each stage of a Move Mindfully session:

  1. Breathing

We always begin with simple breathwork, most commonly  belly breathing, to prepare to heart, mind and body.  Students act as leaders and choose number of breaths, usually between 5-10. Instructors can also offer breathing techniques to meet various emotional states, such as a releasing breath like Yoga Calm®‘s woodchopper or pinwheel breathing. Bringing attention to breath is the best way to foster present moment awareness.

 

  1. Movement

Our instructors use the Move Mindfully Card Deck to guide students through a variety of body positions. Introducing accessible movements first, like starting in a chair or seated is a great way to encourage all ability levels to join. Next, movements like forward folds and balancing positions help regulate the body and foster a sense of safety and stability. Offering variations for more challenging movements builds in the element of choice. For example, Eagle can be accessed on the floor (pictured), in a chair or using just arms. The language that we use to cue the movement continually reinforces the social emotional objectives and brings students to the present moment, like “I am strong”. Through this process we are deliberately activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest functions, and preparing the body for the final relaxation/integration.  

  1. Final Relaxation

After moving the body, relaxation integrates physical, emotional and cognitive experiences. However, this can be the hardest component of the practice. Stillness and quiet can be challenging, especially for students dealing with trauma. Therefore, a relaxed state can look different for every body. We use sensory cues, such as hearing the sounds in the room or feeling the ground, to make being still and quite a bit more comfortable. Students can choose to leave eyes open, which may feel safer, and take in the visual stimuli.

We often start with progressive relaxation, tensing one part of the body at a time and then releasing it. This helps students experience relaxation while still feeling a sense of control and staying present. Also, offering different body positions (pictured) or various activities such as mindful eating, walking, music, art or storytelling can make the experience comfortable for everyone.

Part of teaching through a trauma-informed lens means that instructors must be constantly watching/observing  how each student is responding to the practice. Mindfulness simply anchors us to the here and now. Getting out of the trappings of past depression and the anxieties of the future, students can experience the present moment where ultimate learning can occur. We help students find ways to connect these strategies outside of class and into their everyday lives. Learn more and go deeper with Kathy Flaminio and Lynea Gillen’s Transforming Childhood Trauma Online Course.

When working with youth that have experienced trauma, we emphasize that while we don’t always have control over what is happening around us, we do have choice in how we respond. This is why mindfulness instruction is important for all students, especially those that have experienced trauma. Choosing our response is where our freedom resides.

Have you had a positive experience with mindfulness and trauma informed practices? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly and the 1000 Petals Team

Lockdown Drills and Move Mindfully

“Teachers, please secure the door to your classroom.”

The classroom teacher heads over to the lightswitch as she hears the announcement. Lights off. Blinds closed. With a finger over her lips she points to the corner of the room where all the students scurry and huddle together.

School safety is on everyone’s mind. From the Oval Office to the principal’s office, the topic unfortunately is trending. Lockdown drills are now commonplace mandates that serve as a cornerstone for safety protocols. But… what impact do these drills have on our children? Let’s look at it from a scientific perspective.

We  Cannot Reason With the Amygdala

We know it’s a drill.  A drill means practice. We are just practicing in case a dangerous person were to come into the school.  There isn’t really someone posing a threat to our safety, it is just the building secretary checking to make sure the teacher locked the door.

However, when that door handle rattles, students will undoubtedly react. Even though students know in their cognitive minds that lockdown drills are just practice, the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for survival, does not know. The protective part of the brain goes into action before our frontal lobe has a chance to explain the lack of threat. However much we prepare our children, we cannot reason with the amygdala.

Trauma Resides in the Nervous System

So what happens when in that moment when the door handle shakes? The amygdala fires and sends out an SOS.  In order to survive, our bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Huddled together, holding their breath, students don’t have the option to fight or flee, so they are left with freeze as the only means of survival. Adrenaline and cortisol are frozen in the nervous system.

“Freeze” is Detrimental

Trauma counselors will tell us that the freeze response has the most detrimental long-term impact on the nervous system. When the amygdala is activated, it is crucial for the body discharges the influx of survival energy. When fight or flee are not options (as in the case of lockdown drills),  the nervous system is left with excess. Repeated activation of the amygdala without allowing for completion of the cycle will leave adverse effects on the mind, body, and heart.

Bringing Move Mindfully ™  into your Lockdown Drill

So, what can we do? Lockdown drills are our reality. The lights off, huddle and hide routine is now commonplace. However, integrating three Move Mindfully ™ strategies into your lockdown drill will mitigate some of the potentially negative lasting impacts.

Step 1: The Huddle

When students assume the huddle position, cue them into Child’s Pose. With head below the heart and a curved spine, this position naturally relaxes the body. Take long, deep breaths to activate the relaxation response. Another benefit to this pose is the elimination of the visual stimuli that can cause hyper-vigilance (i.e. waiting for the door handle to shake, sounds in the hallway). Blog Bonus- Download Child’s Pose from our Move Mindfully Card Deck for suggested language. Please note: We want to practice these skills when the body and mind are calm so that we can easily access them during high stress times, like lockdown drills.

Step 2: Release

It is absolutely critical that students are given an opportunity to release after a lockdown drill. Our best option is to tap into the “flight” response and run a lap around the school. If that is not possible, shaking, jumping or tapping are viable options. The body uses these movements as a way to discharge the stress hormones released during the lockdown drill.

Step 3: Re-Integrate

Finally, returning to a relaxed-activated state culminates the drill. Cue students into 2-3 Forward Folds, which helps the body tap into a calming response. To transition back to learning, use the breathing ball and take 10 belly breaths.

As long as lockdown drills are a reality for our schools, we can support our students with the science and practice of Mindful Movement. What have you tried during lockdown drills? Leave a comment.

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Beyond the Classroom: Yoga Calm in Juvenile Detention Centers & Other Settings

This approach makes Yoga Calm an especially good fit for the sites of some of our our newest implementations: juvenile detention and probation programs in the Twin Cities area.

Thank You to Jim and Lynea Gillen of Yoga Calm for writing this article about our president and founder, Kathy Flaminio. You can view the original post on their website.

Through the years, we have been blessed to work with so many amazing teachers, counselors, social workers, therapists, and other helping professionals who dedicate themselves to helping children and families thrive in an ever more challenging world.

Kathy FlaminioOne of those is Kathy Flaminio, who we first met 10 years ago when she and a colleague were looking into how yoga was being integrated into school systems. Today, she’s our National Director of Training Development who has brought Yoga Calm into roughly 500 schools in 17 districts.

She’s also been a key figure in taking Yoga Calm beyond the classroom to youth in other institutional settings, such as hospitals and mental health facilities. Among the current projects she and her team are working on?

  • Expansion into an additional hospital, providing direct instruction on adolescent, adult, and geriatric mental health units.
  • Partnerships with new school districts, including district-wide training and implementation of Moving and Learning Residencies.
  • Bringing Residencies into early education and ECSE environments, integrating Yoga Calm into pre-K, Head Start, and preschool/daycare settings.
  • Development of two new products to be used as tools to support this work in both therapeutic and educational settings.

If you’ve taken one of our courses in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, you’ve likely met Kathy and have seen firsthand the passion that drives her work and fuels her expertise.

“The body is the access point to my work,” she says. “Nervous system regulation is the foundation, for when the body is regulated, heart rate lowered and the mind brought to the present moment, the brain is at its optimal learning state. This is where my work begins.”

This approach makes Yoga Calm an especially good fit for the sites of some of our our newest implementations: juvenile detention and probation programs in the Twin Cities area.

Trauma & the Power in Healing

Just this past January, Kathy and her team trained more than 60 staff members at the Dakota County Juvenile Detention Center, where the program is referred to not as “yoga” classes but “self-regulation” classes.

We prepared staff for the implementation of these self-regulation groups by exploring the impact of trauma and how it’s held in the body. When looking through the lens of trauma, we get a deeper understanding of “behavior.” So, for instance, we defined the importance of understanding the “fight, flight, and freeze” mechanism and how this is expressed.

It was helpful for the staff to understand the mind/body connection and the scientific underpinnings of mindfulness and yoga based movement. It was important to understand that we were doing much more than “just yoga.”

We felt it was imperative that we included all staff in the first training, from program directors on down. When training is opt-in, a lot of people won’t attend because they don’t know what it is and how it can help both staff and the youth they’re working with.

Here, everyone knows what we’re doing, and this benefits the residents immensely. And now that they’re beginning to see the changes in the youth – wow! To see the power in healing from these practices is amazing.

Teaching as Loving Care & Kindness

The self-regulation classes use both mindfulness and movement, and they’re provided twice a week by instructors from 1000 Petals, Kathy’s wellness company. Along with the consistency and structure that come with practicing yoga-based movement, one of the most important things that the instructors bring with them is authenticity.

“We laugh with them,” Kathy explains. “We joke. And we’re real with them. The youth don’t want to be known just by their past behavior or how the system has labeled them. They just want to be loved.”

Teaching them – which includes sometimes simply listening – is one sign of love.

We don’t need to know why they’re there. We just need to be with them in the here and now. We need to be with the person who is in front of us. And when we approach them in this way, they can more readily learn how to apply what we’re doing in their everyday lives: ‘Where do you feel stressed?’ ‘How’s your sleep?’ ‘Do you want to improve your cardio and focus so you can do better on the basketball court?’

The idea is to identify their needs, not impose what we think they need.

That, too, is a sign of loving care and kindness.

So we’re constantly nudging them: When will you use this in your day? How does this apply or connect to your real life? And as they apply it, they not only see or think but completely experience the reality that you can change how you think and feel. That’s a new concept for most.

The youth in juvenile detention know firsthand how little control they have over the circumstances that surround them on a daily basis. We’re teaching them that the one thing they always can control is how they respond to a situation. Using breathing, mindfulness, and movement, we empower them to change how they feel in any given moment by pausing and checking in with their mind, body, and heart.

Individualizing in this way also helps when it comes to reinforcing the idea that the tools and skills they learn in class are things that they can put to work at home – or anywhere inside or outside the institutional setting. It’s not just stuff for “yoga time” but strategies and tools they can use anytime, anywhere they need to.

Bringing Families into the Picture (& Practice)

To take this even further, Kathy and her team are looking forward to introducing mindfulness and yoga-based movement to families by participating in family events in therapeutic settings and schools alike, as well as expanding their school programming across the upper Midwest.

When whole families understand and practice the skills their children have been learning, all benefit.

“As we say,” notes Kathy, “the real yoga begins when we take it off the mat and into our lives.”

Do you have experience teaching Mindful Movement in therapeutic settings? Leave a comment!

Our “Why” and Explaining the Brain

“All of this yoga stuff- my students will never take it seriously.”

Does this sound like a self-doubt you have faced when considering implementing Mindful Movement?

As we begin the journey of teaching body work infused with social emotional learning, ensuring buy-in can seem like a daunting task. There is a fear that students won’t take the work seriously, and instead act silly, leaving the teacher to feel helplessly embarrassed. This fear is real. For many teachers, knowing how to begin the conversation and create a classroom culture ready for this work, can be the biggest hurdle.

We recommend beginning with the facts. Begin with the brain science. Once students (and teachers) understand the “why” behind these techniques, the buy-in is almost automatic.

Model of the Brain

Even small children can benefit from this simple, interactive model of the brain from Daniel Siegel.  Begin by having everyone show a fist (thumb inside). This model serves as a visual for parts of the brain we want students to understand.

  1. Brain Stem (wrist)

The brainstem is what attaches the head to the spine. It is the first part of our brain to develop.

  1. Hippocampus (inside the palm)

The hippocampus is responsible for memory. What is the latin name for butterfly? What is the capital of Georgia? What is 4 x 6? Students rely on the hippocampus for academic success throughout the school day.

  1. Amygdala (thumb)

The Amygdala is the part of the brain that interprets the world through the five senses and constantly analyzes situations to ensure our safety. Someone drops a glass in the hallway and it shatters. The sound triggers the flight response as you atomically jump in your chair.

  1. Prefrontal Cortex (fingernails)

This is the part of the brain that does the thinking and reasoning. It processes the memories, the sensory inputs and makes logical decisions based on past experiences.

When students feel calm, the amygdala passes information to the prefrontal cortex, which passes to the hippocampus. All of the parts are working well together. However, we have all heard the phrase, “blow your top”. At this point, students shoot their four fingers up into the air, exposing the thumb (amygdala).

This metaphor perfectly illustrates what happens when the amygdala senses danger. It stops communicating with the prefrontal cortex and the brain is now in “survival mode”. Survival mode is great when… well, we need to survive. However, we run into problems when our amygdala interprets something like- getting budged in line, as a survival situation.

This brings us back to our “why”. Through Mindful Movement we are using breath and movement in specific, meaningful patterns to sooth the amygdala, and the stress responses. To know that you have control over your mind and body is the ultimate power. Once students have this realization and experience it for themselves,  they often want to return to this relaxed/alert state. The work sells itself.

Have you explained the brain to your students as a justification for Mindful Movement? What has worked for you? Leave a Comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Relaxation and New Beginnings

The day after Labor Day. For so many children and families, this Tuesday brings a flurry of new beginnings. New clothes and haircut, new routines and friends, new joys and anxieties. As September unfolds, it is important to remember the incredible amount of new information that has to be integrated.

We know, from brain and behavior science, that integration can only fully happen when there is an opportunity for relaxation. As teachers, we must remember to build in moments of silence throughout the day. With all of the transitions and micro-expectations, students need time to quietly reflect and download the material. As parents, we must remember that children will come home feeling mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Schedule downtime.

Here are our 5 tips for integrating relaxation:

1. Music 

During quiet work or rest time in the classroom, try playing music that is relaxing and energizing, but not dysregulating. The Anjali CD is a great mix of instrumental music (no words) that has a calm feel without being overly sleep inducing. This is also great for the car ride home when you are all out of words!

2. Lavender Oil

Essential oils can be a fantastic classroom tool. Try using our lavender spray on a washcloth to enhance a relaxed state.

3. Guided Relaxation

Guided relaxations are a way to keep students engaged, but also provide a break from learning new routines. Ready, Set, Relax has scripts for you to read focused on various objectives, from following directions to focusing for a test. Another idea is to write your own incorporating new learnings from the school day . Better yet, have your students write them! These stories can also be used at bedtime as a great transition to sleep.

4. Non-Verbal Physical Touch

We know the importance of human connection. Sometimes, when our brain is on overload, connecting physically without having to verbally communicate can offer restorative benefits. Try back drawing as part of your morning meeting in the classroom. At home, simply holding hands with a loved one can have a huge impact.

5. Twists

Twists are wonderful for dealing with anxiety. They open the chest, shoulders and back, which sends a relaxation reflex to the rest of the body. Twists also allow fresh blood to flow in the body, stimulating circulation and producing a refreshing effect. Try using them as during difficult transitions, such as after recess or lunch.


As you embark on new beginnings, remember to carve out time for relaxation and integration. How do you build relaxation into your day? What have you tried with your students or your children? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Self Care for Teachers

I challenge you to stand in your power and connect to your inner strength. You are the intervention.

“Teaching is not what it used to be,” says a 40-year veteran teacher. It’s hard to pin point exactly what the changes are or where they are coming from. However, I think most teachers can agree that things are increasingly more… stressful.

Passing other staff in the hallway, an appropriate greeting now consists of a grunt or at best, “It’s Friday.” Conversations in the staff lounge center around the uncertainties and anxiety facing our teaching profession from the greater political cultural climate. While technology and innovation have considerable benefits, the new skills and information we are expected to personally process and then apply to our instruction, has teachers feeling like hamsters on a wheel. Not to mention the data! Teacher performance is being continually monitored and tracked by standardized testing.

As I sit at my back table, administering a reading test, I look up and see the little girl sitting in front of me. Except, I see her-seeing me. Hunched shoulders. Furrowed brows. Clenched jaw. My body communicates what my brain can’t fully comprehend. I am stressed. Much to my surprise and horror… her body language was matching mine. She was mirroring me.

This realization hit me hard. I noticed students all around exhibiting stress signals. Hiding under tables. Making excuses to leave the classroom and wander the halls. Destroying classroom supplies. These behaviors were symptoms of emotional turmoil, and it was standing in the way of students achieving their academic potential.

Now, I know that many of these issues are complex and multilayered. I am by no means blaming teachers for all behavioral problems. However, the first step to an emotionally regulated classroom is to be emotionally regulated yourself.

YOU are the intervention

The good news is, even if your brain is not yet convinced, you can begin with your body.

Here are three tips to get started.

1. Set an intention for yourself and your classroom

Before you get out of bed, think about how you want to show up today. Words like- strong, healthy, at ease, organized, or peaceful. Imagine what it looks like and feels like. Now imagine the one thing that would make your classroom great today. This intention could be, “students working well together in pairs” or “the excitement for a new project.” Visualize these intentions then write them down. I have found that writing an intention down and visualizing the outcome takes less than a minute. However, most days, this fortune actually comes to fruition. A worthy time investment.

2. Take a breathing break

Teachers never stop. Heck, we usually don’t even slow down. I have seen teachers eating their lunch while walking down the hallway! During your prep, your lunch, transitions between classes… intentionally take 5–10 breaths. Inhale for 2 counts and exhale for 4 counts. I even like to close my eyes and bring back my intention from the morning.

3. Unwind your nervous system

Good ol’ fight or flight. Your body doesn’t know if you are running away from a hungry predator or if you are preparing to be observed by your principal. All it knows, is it’s time to send in the stress hormones! Your frontal cortex can’t talk its way out of this response. “Body, I am not being chased by a predator, it’s just my annual observation.” However, there are key trigger points in the body that activate when the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This means, if we can release the body, the brain will believe that everything is okay.

Jaw:

Inhale breath and when you exhale stick out your tongue. For added effect add a nice long “hah” sound. I even like to massage the opening that is created next to my ears while my jaw is open.

Eyes:

Rub your hands together to create heat and place them on your eyes. And/or gently smooth out the brow line from center to outer eye, say to yourself “soft eyes”. (Yes, unfurrow that teacher brow.)

Shoulders:

Interlace fingers behind your back for a chest expansion and take three slow deep breaths. Teachers spend a great deal of time hunched over students, and simply opening the shoulders can be a total mood changer.

Hip Flexors:

Lunge back with right foot and left foot forward in a bent knee lunge, take a few breaths, then switch sides. Your hip flexors and psoas are your flight muscles, so release them!

I began to realize that same little girl, mirroring my furrowed brow and hunched shoulders, began to mirror my deep breathing. When doing a backbend stretch during a transition she commented, “It feels good to stretch, doesn’t it?” Yes. It does.

When we release the tension and anxiety held in the body, we are able to be present. The present moment has no stress. This intervention for your body is an important first step for creating a peaceful classroom for your students.

As I began implementing these daily routines, I noticed other things around me begin to shift. I realized that being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing. I changed my focus and redefined what was important.

Have you tried any self interventions? What has worked? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Student Testimonials

This isn’t one more thing… it is the thing.

This week, our team has turned the tables and asked our youth to write testimonials. Here are the words of third graders. Enjoy!

Mindfulness is important for many things, especially school. When you’re listening to directions you have to focus on who is talking. One way I practice mindfulness is through focusing on yoga poses. In order to be present you have to be mindful of what you are doing. I stay calm. I can appreciate the world around me. Have you ever watched a snowflake fall to the ground? – Magnus

In our class we practice yoga, use the breathing ball and relaxation station. First, yoga helps me focus on what I am trying to do. My favorite yoga pose is the tree pose because it helps me calm down and listen. Using the breathing ball helps me stay grounded after moments of craziness. I like to visit the relaxation station at times when I feel off. I get to put on headphones, use the breathing ball, look at rocks and lay down with blankets and pillows. It is a gift to have such focus and calmness together. Find your power, your rhythm and your worries disappear! – Rory

Yoga has helped me be a calmer person. For example if I get frustrated I will take five deep breaths and feel better. Being mindful when you eat can be quite interesting. It is amazing how being calm can make you see things in a different way. When I’m grounded my feet are flat on the floor and my hands get heavy. Being grounded can help me stay focused and relaxed. For example if there is a big test or something big coming up that I would get nervous for, being grounded takes away that nervousness. – Mackenzie

In our class we have worked on mindfulness activities. Our minds should be on what we’re doing, not what we are going to do or what we did. Keep your mind in the present. Forward folds helped me stay positive. I use forward fold when I feel like the whole world is depending on me. I know that everybody could use this one little thing. – Ashley

This isn’t one more thing… it is THE thing. We owe it to our children. Do you have a short anecdote to share? Please leave a comment.
Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Essential Oils and Classroom Environment

The sense of smell is such a powerful part of limbic system that often gets forgotten.

When planning your work with children, do you ever consider sense of smell? I know I would begin by considering my materials visually and then plan for my auditory instruction. If I was having a really good day, I’d throw in a “hands on” component for the sense of touch. However, I think I was missing the mark by not considering sense of smell.

The olfactory bulb, which operates the sense of smell, transmits information directly to the amygdala. We know that the “downstairs” brain controls the emotions we are working to regulate. Whether you are trying to reduce anxiety or increase focus, essential oils can help!

My journey into essential oils began when I purchased lavender and made a spray for our relaxation station. The students responded so well to the spray that it made me eager to learn more.

Note: It is important to know that essential oils are 100% pure plant extract. Fragrance oils are usually synthetic products and therefore do not possess the natural healing properties of essential oils and contain chemicals and other impurities. When purchasing, especially for use around children, please make sure to do research about oil purity.

Next, I experimented with orange, peppermint and lemon in a diffuser. I began by introducing each scent and letting the students smell the oil from the bottle. It was fun to have them close their eyes and try to guess the scent!


I think my personal favorite was wild orange. I found it mild and versatile.

I combined the orange with peppermint for standardized testing. I know… it sounds like an odd combination, but it was lovely! It is said to increase focus and clarity.

To end the week, I combined lemon and orange for a citrus blast. Students noticed the scent as soon as they walked in the door. One of my most anxious students said, “Can I sit here at the back table so I can be near the diffuser”? There were meandering paths past the diffuser throughout the day and audible “ahh”s after a long inhale.

Plus, at a time of year when the kids smell like a combination of mud and pre-adolescent sweat, the citrus aroma is a refreshing boost to the classroom environment.

However, essential oils are not just for good smells. Diffusing can eliminate airborne pathogens. A bonus this time of year when we are all trying to stay healthy.

Essential oils can also be an important component for teacher self care. Having the diffuser near my workspace helped me stay calm, focused and in an overall good mood. One day, I was suffering from a horrible headache due to seasonal allergies. I didn’t have any aspirin at school, so I used a drop of peppermint and rubbed it behind each ear. At first, the sensation was pretty overwhelming. However, after a minute, I felt my “fog” lift! The instantaneous result was amazing.

Check out our website to learn more about using essential oils and home and with children.

Have you tried essential oils? Which oils have children responded to? Leave a comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

5 Daily Happiness Practices

If you could articulate in one sentence or even one word, what you hope for your child, what would it be?

In other words, what do you most want for your precious little one(s)? What’s the end goal? Is it straight A’s? Making the volleyball team? Getting accepted into fashion school? Passing the state test?

Not having children of my own, I was very curious about the answer. After asking hundreds of parents, I was shocked at the overwhelming amount of similar responses. The answer was crystal clear- HAPPINESS. Parents deeply want their children to be happy.


Sounds simple. But, the reality is every day as a school counselor, I was noticing so much stress permeating the hallways and classroom and seeping into students and staff daily lives. I thought, “Why aren’t we teaching ways to cope with stress, anger, sadness and anxiety? Also, why aren’t we teaching the habits that have been proven to increase happiness?” After all, we now know that happiness is a skill and with the latest research in neuroscience, we know that we can train our brains for happiness.

Research also shows us that being in a state of happiness triples creativity, increases productivity and promotes health. Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher who studies happiness, states, “the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain.” My experience is that children and adults desire happiness. So, what can we do to intentionally teach these skills?

Good news- there are five simple daily practices that you can start practicing today. Below is a list of the Happiness Habits from Shawn Achor’s research, along with a daily assignment:

Gratitude:

People who regularly practice gratitude experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.

We know that 90% of happiness comes from how our brain perceives life. When we practice gratitude, we’re training our brains to look for the “good” and in turn by seeing the good, it increases our happiness.

Daily practice: Take time to notice the positives. Write or draw 3 things you’re grateful for daily.

The Doubler:

Journaling or talking about a positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours “doubles” the serotonin released into your body. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between the experience happening or you talking/writing about the experience,

It’s important to train our brains, just like we workout our bodies.

Daily practice: Tell someone one positive thing that happened within the past 24 hours.

Exercise:

Exercise changes your Tetris effect. The brain says, “I’ve been successful in one domain. I bet I can be successful in another domain.” Also, movement releases physical and emotional energy, develops concentration and self-confidence and increases serotonin and changes emotional states.

Daily practice: Yoga, cycling, walking or any exercise for 20 minutes.

Stillness:

Taking 5 minutes to sit in a stillness promotes inner peace, feeling grounded, and gets us set for the day by focusing on an intention. Meditation allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD of doing it all and allows our brain to focus.

Daily practice: Sit in stillness for at least 5 minutes.

Acts of Kindness:

When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to three degrees of separation.

Being kind causes elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”

Daily practice: Choose one intentional act of kindness. Send a former teacher an email, help your mom organize the kitchen or give a co-worker a compliment.

As you can see, these simple practices don’t take much time at all. Hope you enjoy doing these activities with your kiddos. It might be easier to start with one practice and try it out for a few weeks before adding another one. Isn’t it exciting to know that we have the power to wire our brains for happiness?

Here is one of our Happiness videos where we highlight one of the skills listed above.

Thank you for teaching your children about happiness, which will make this world a “happier” place. After all, a peaceful world begins with a peaceful mind. Keep shining!

Lyndsay Morris, M.Ed, RYT-200 is a whole child education advocate, the founder of Generation Wellness, the host of the Wellness Warrior Show and author of The Mindful Student. Lyndsay believes that connection is at the heart of learning and inspires students and staff to live a life of less stress and more success through “teaching peace” and “choosing happy”.

For more info, click here: https://www.generation-wellness.com/

 

Yoga Calm and Early Childhood

Can Early Childhood students participate in Mindful Movement? Absolutely.

People are often surprised when I tell them that I teach breathing, mindfulness and movement to children as young as one year old on a weekly basis. Even Early Educators have a hard time imagining how these techniques translate into Pre-K environments. My experience has been that these practices really resonate with young children and that the nature of body work is quite easy for them to master due to limited need for language and explanation.

Here are some tips and tricks that help when teaching breathing, mindfulness and movement with children five and under.

Routine, Routine, Routine:
No matter what age group we are teaching, routine and structure always create a feeling of safety and competency. Start with a breathing technique – breathing with the hoberman sphere; Volcano Breaths; Smell the Flower, Blow out the Candle (breathing in through nose while pretending to smell a flower, breathing out through mouth pretending to blow out a candle). Incorporate a mindfulness activity, like ringing the chime for everyone to listen to or just asking children to sit for a moment to listen for all the sounds that they hear. Then pick the movement that you use – have go to yoga poses that the children enjoy (Down Dog, Tree, Child’s Pose) and end with some more breathing and a brief story to tie it all together.

Less is More:
We all have a tendency to want to teach a wide variety of practices and poses. The variety comes from what we are emphasizing in the poses. We might practice Tree Pose almost every time we work with a toddler group. But some days we focus on keeping our Trees strong and tall. On other days, we try to find stillness in Tree. Sometimes we hold hands to feel what it is like to give and receive support to our friends. For more ideas on each pose, check out our Move Mindfully Card Deck. Just like keeping a routine, using the same poses day to day help children feel competent and confident. Typically, when starting out, we want a lesson for Early Ed to be no longer than 15-20 minutes in duration.


Embrace and Adapt:
We might come into a group of preschoolers with a well-laid out lesson plan focused on balance poses (Tree, Eagle) but are welcomed by a group of high energy, busy bodies. Our job is to meet children where they are at on any given day. We might have to start with more movement and then ease our way into more focused activities. It’s not always best to start with calming breaths. Sometimes we need to start with Arm Swings, Wood Chopper or Active Volcano before we can move into breathing with the hoberman sphere. Sometimes the best lessons we teach are the ones we are led to by the children.


Be OK with Behavior:
No matter what age we are teaching, behaviors like being unable to sit still, talking or giggling, or even not participating at all, can be indicators that children are uncomfortable with quiet and stillness. This oftentimes is not bad behavior, but actually a defense mechanism for self-protection. The more we allow children to have space to stay in the lesson (as long as they are not disrupting others) the more we allow children to move from uncomfortableness into a new way of being. A child might come in and out of participation over and over again until they finally stay engaged for the duration. Just like in our adult practices, the student knows better than the teacher about what works for them. Honoring children’s ability to show up to the best of their ability on any given day should always be our goal. If a child is being disruptive to others, having a teacher sit with them and offer encouragement can help them stay in the lesson. Other times, we may simply offer for them to sit on their mat or rest in Child’s Pose until they are ready to participate.

Compliment the Good:
We all know how great it feels to be told we are doing a good job. Call out all good behavior – especially for the children that are having a more challenging time. Encourage children to compliment each other by using student leaders and asking for peer compliments each time they lead. Not only will this build class community but more importantly it reinforces positive self-concept and self-talk.

Have Fun!
The best part of teaching this age group is that it is FUN! Be playful, laugh and listen – some of the best teaching and insights will come from the children.

One final note on this age group – always end with a final relaxation. Even if it is only 2-3 minutes long, get the children lying down and place a beanie baby on their belly. They can breathe deeply into their belly and watch their animal rise and fall with their breath. You can also try using a puppet to demonstrate deep, relaxing breathing. Read or tell a story that fits with the lesson from that day. This time for reflection at the end of the lesson will become the children’s favorite part of your time together. Children are constantly asking “When is final story?’ because it feels so good to take that time for rest.

Check out this video to see a lesson in action!

We hope you enjoy bringing these practices to our littlest friends! Please share a comment about what you are doing in your Early Ed environments with this work – we’d love to hear from you!

 

Be Well, 

Chrissy Mignogna