Mindfulness practices meet the needs of every body. Our trauma responsive 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:
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 releasing breathing techniques like pinwheel breathing. Bringing attention to breath is the best way to foster present moment awareness.
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. 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.
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. 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. Youth can move out of past depression and the anxieties of the future. 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. Choosing our response is where our freedom resides.
Have you had a positive experience with mindfulness and trauma responsive practices? Leave a comment!
Stephanie Kennelly and the 1000 Petals Team