As a mental health therapist, it is important to create an environment conducive to mindfulness.
My name is Katie Mac Jurado and I am a School Based Mental Health Therapist with an amazing nonprofit agency, Headway Emotional Health Services. Operating a practice within a school building has made me address the importance of creating a mindful space for my clients. Here are my Top 5 Tips to Creating an Interactive Mindful Space!
Connect with Nature
Research shows that being around and within nature, especially trees, has a positive impact on our biology. Regulating the nervous system is a necessary and targeted piece of processing trauma, managing anxiety, being in a “learning brain”, as well as for building trusting relationships. It only requires being exposed to images of trees and nature for 40 seconds, to begin to see a biological and calming response. The paper leaves on the bulletin boards not only serve as a theme in my space, but children are allowed to take one with them at the end of a session, providing a tangible conclusion to our time together. As I sat with a group of young girls who had been struggling with friendship issues, one girl looked around the room and said, “You know, Katie Mac, your room here is like a little oasis in the middle of the school,” and she smiled.
Incorporate of All 5 Senses
The more we integrate a child’s brain, the more effective they are at learning, re regulating after hard emotions, building healthy relationships, and understanding their own patterns of thinking and behaving. We have the power to support this process through the environment that we provide. An interactive and mindful space should include processes that target each of the 5 senses: Sight, Touch, Smell, Sound and Taste.
Sight: I have included a nature carpet, blue and green pillows, fake trees, as well as paper cut out leaves. Use images of trees and nature, and intentionally incorporating colors like blues, greens and natural tones will elicit this same biological response and support a mindful space!
Hearing: Almost constantly, there is mindful music of some sort playing within this space. At times I will play nature sounds, or classical music, drums or other rhythmic options. Children are allowed to explore these and chose which ones are most effective for them. (Check out one of my favorites on YouTube)
Touch: Different sensations offer new ways to experience the space, I have a leather couch, cotton pillows, soft carpets as well as a shag like carpet (that looks like grass), 8 different kinds of sand, as well as 5 different kinds of putty.
Smell: Essential oils, can be used to increase calming, focus, reduce anxiety, and lower someone’s heart rate. Learn more about Essential Oils here.
Taste : I will often offer a small snack or treat at the end of a designated time or may lead a mindful eating activity with a most delicious piece of chocolate (definitely a favorite for many children).
Comfortable, Casual, and Flexible Seating
When I first moved into my school based therapy office, there was a large metal teacher desk with chairs and tables from a classroom set up. I removed all the hard chairs and tables and replaced them with soft casual seating (couch, pillows, a wobble chair, a tall spinning chair, a soft bowl chair, and a variety of yoga mats). I purchased a small rug with a river and nature scene to incorporate nature as well! We can support not only their sensory needs and developmentally appropriate movement, but we support their emerging needs for self-direction, managing choices and personal responsibility.
Provide Opportunities for Move Mindfully®
Children learn through movement – so if we want them to be able to access and utilize our mindful spaces effectively, they need opportunities to explore these spaces and tools playfully. Within my space, I have included resources that can be used individually or with partners. Students love the Hoberman Sphere and the movements described in the Move Mindfully Poster Strips and the Move Mindfully Card Deck. Also, the space can be manipulated by children as well! The small table can be moved, pillows arranged and changed, and they have the freedom to explore!
Create Safety and Structure
Just as children need space to explore and play, they also need safety and structure. In order to allow as much child centered integration as possible, I also needed to implement a sense of control and boundary. This can be done through the Calm – Active – Calm cycle described in the Yoga Calm trainings. We first calm and focus our minds and bodies (often with a chime, the Hoberman Sphere, pulse counting, or belly breathing), then increase movement and activity, followed by a buffer at the end that reorganizes to calm (this can be a calming routine or another mindfulness practice). This way, children are practicing skills and prepared to emerge into new expectations as they leave the space.
How do you create a mindful environment? Which of these tips are you going to try? Leave a comment!
Contact Katie at Kathryn.Jurado@headway.org