Sensory Integration with Move Mindfully

Occupational Therapists are the heroes that encourage and support our youth to fully participate in actives required for daily life and learning.

Although this blog post is directed towards sensory integration goals written and performed by Occupational Therapists, the information is helpful for all adults working with a wide variety of youth.

Sensory integration exposes children to sensory stimulation in a structured, repetitive way. Here we break down how the poses in our Move Mindfully Card Deck can be utilized in this process. As a Blog Bonus, we are offering a free download of three poses from the Move Mindfully Card Deck to get you started with a simple routine.  Read on to learn more about each pose and how it relates to your Occupational Therapy goals.

Belly Breathing

Getting into the Pose:

Belly Breathing is often taught with the Hoberman Sphere. The brightly colored, collapsible tool offers a visual tracking point to feel the diaphragm expand and contract. However, hands can simply be placed at heart and belly when teaching belly breathing as well. To start, we recommend a seated position in a chair, for back support. As a modification, this pose can also be completed laying on the floor. In this position, try a small object or toy placed on the belly for extra visualization of the up and down movement.

Therapy Resource:

Belly breathing is a great way to work on postural stability while maintaining an upright position without a collapsed trunk or slouched shoulders. This pose also taps into interoception and body awareness as breathing is tracked.

More on Belly Breathing

Tree Pose

Getting Into the Pose:

Tree Pose is an introductory balancing pose that all body abilities can enjoy. We start by cueing the heel to touch the ankle. As balancing progresses, the foot can be placed on the calf or thigh. However, make sure to avoid any pressure on the knee joint. The hands press together at midline, palm to palm, providing additional input.

Therapy Resource:

Like belly breathing, this pose works postural stability through core activation in a static hold. It also works on bilateral coordination as hands and feet press towards midline while maintaining balance and focus. The stacking of joints over the anchored foot (ankles, hips, wrists) taps into the proprioceptive system. If you need additional proprioceptive input in this pose, try stamping feet before attempting to hold static. Activate the vestibular system by experimenting with the foot and hand placement.. Also, try small movement, such as swaying, within the pose. Work on vision by providing various focal points experimenting with gaze up, out, down and even eyes closed. If you see the MORO Reflex in this pose, return to Belly Breathing.

More on Tree Pose

Child’s Pose

Getting Into the Pose:

Child’s pose is often used at the beginning or the end of a session. However, it can be used whenever there is a need to decrease overstimulation. It can be completed on the floor or at a table.

Therapy Resource:

As you cue stacked fists, you are working on bilateral coordination and proprioception as joints are stacked together at midline. On the floor, there is the additional tactile input from the legs and arms on the Earth. Seekers may need to rock, or add extra movement to the pose, while avoiders may have to stay more upright. Offer a vestibular system modification of seating in a chair, hands stacked on forehead and chin slightly tucked.

More on Child’s Pose

Have you used the poses from the Move Mindfully Card Deck into your work with sensory integration? Leave a Comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Special thanks to Johanna and Katie from Ka’Hanna Health and Wellness for their collaboration. Ka’Hanna Health and Wellness is a company providing resources for occupational therapy, physical therapy, mental health practitioners, classroom teachers, yoga teachers, professionals, parents, and others in the community to use with individuals who can be found seeking and/or avoiding yoga activities.

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!

Accepting Blog Submissions

We will be posting our blog twice a month and would love to hear what you are doing in relation to mindfulness and movement with youth.

​We would love ​to have you collaborate on the 1000-Petals Blog. Please fill out the following form with your idea to share. You can fill out multiple forms if you have more than one topic. Don’t worry about writing quality or quantity at this point. We will revisit once we have assigned you a publish date.