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Mindfulness & Yoga August Summer Camp

Summer is the perfect time to hit “reset” and pause and relax into a slower pace and give your children the life-long skills they need to strengthen their focus, manage their emotions and detach from negative thoughts. Mindfulness thickens the front part of the brain — the Prefrontal Cortex — what I call, the “smarty pants” part of the brain.

The thicker wiring means that we use this part of the brain more habitually. Rather than slipping into reactivity, when we lose our favorite towel or have to wait for our brothe, we process our thoughts and feelings from this wise center, which manages emotions, solve problems, and houses our focus and concentration. (It really is the miracle spot!)

Children will learn yoga poses and simple mindfulness techniques in our August Summer Camp.

The August Summer Camp is for Kids in Grade 1 – 5 and runs from Monday, August 14 through Wednesday, August 16 from 9 – 11 am.

For a full camp description and to register online, click the registration link below:

More Mindfulness for Kids in Grades K – 6 with Experience in Mindfulness

Mindfulness & Yoga August Camp

For more information, please contact Mary Lea Crawley at marylea@mindfulkidsnj.com.

Madison Torey J Fifth Graders Benefit from Mindfulness Program

Read The Madison Eagle article

“Some of the days we had mindfulness, I would be in a better mood for the rest of the day,” said one Fifth Grader at Torey J. Sabatini elementary school in Madison.

Torey J.’s entire Fifth Grade participated in the eight-week Beginning Mindfulness course I taught last November and December, in 30-minute sessions.  During our classes, I taught the students how to manage big feelings, lower test and performance anxiety and strengthen their focus and concentration.

Some of my favorite comments:

  • I feel so relaxed.
  • I used this in my basketball game, when I was at the foul line. I was so nervous.
  • It helped me calm down when I was doing my homework.
  • I couldn’t fall asleep, and then I listened.  I went right off.
  • At my concert, I was really nervous, and I thought I’d mess up. But then I took three calm-down breaths.

Young people understand that mindfulness is a skill they can use in all kinds of moments:  “When I have something important happening in my life, I will use mindfulness,” reported one student on his course evaluation form.

 

 

 

Mindfulness for Kids & Teens Start Saturday, January 21!

Registration for Beginning Mindfulness for Kids

Registration for Beginning Mindfulness for Teens

Mindfulness is a kind of mental training that strengthens the “smart” parts of our brain:  it improves focus and concentration, emotional regulation, decision-making skills, and boosts our immunity. Research shows it benefits children by lowering stress and anxiety and improving social skills.

Beginning Mindfulness is an 8-week class* that teaches students basic mindfulness tools, which are easy to use anytime, in any place.

Class topics include: Directing Attention, “Calm Down” Breathing,  Meditation, Body Awareness, Cultivating Compassion, Fight-Flight Brain Basics, Managing Emotion, Mindful Thoughts, and Mindful Eating.

Classes include a healthy snack, games and at-home practice suggestions. Each student will receive a Mind Jar (for calming emotions and thoughts); a Mindful Schools workbook; and a colored handout, illustrating each lesson’s topic. Beginning Mindfulness meets at the Madison Community House at 25 Cook Avenue in downtown Madison, New Jersey.

*This 45-minute class is held at 10 am for 4 – 6 year-old children and at 11 am for kids in Grades 3 – 5. (A class for 1st & 2nd graders will be held at the Madison Area YMCA on Wednesday afternoons at 4 pm, starting Feb. 1 (www.madisonareaymca.org)) .

Mindfulness for Teens is held from 4 – 5 pm, at the Madison Community House, at the same dates listed below.

Classes start on Saturday, January 21 and end on March 25.  They will not meet on the following Saturdays:  February 18 and March 11. 

Registration for Beginning Mindfulness for Kids

Registration for Beginning Mindfulness for Teens

For more information, please contact Mary Lea Crawley at marylea@mindfulkidsnj.com.

Mindfulness Brings Confidence to the Penalty Kick

In the Third Grade class 3C, Daniel’s desk was in a corner of empty space. He was alone in his grouping:  all the other students in clusters of four or five around the room. On my first day of teaching mindfulness to his class, I began to understand why he might be there.

Daniel likes to test the boundaries in the room. His push against the rules probably extends from a deep desire to be seen and recognized. Like many of us, he wants a little bit of extra light thrown on his potential and smarts. Unlike many children, his need for attention overrides his ability to regulate his behavior.

Despite my good intentions, I found myself getting angry with Daniel, almost immediately. After I asked all the students to stand still in a mountain pose, eyes closed, arms out, Daniel began waving his hands and making funny noises. He looked straight at me. We were learning how to notice our emotions. A practice that begins with the question: “How am I feeling right now, in this moment?” And Daniel found it too uncomfortable to stand quietly and just be with himself.

But today in my seventh session with the class, when I asked the children how they had been using their mindfulness, Daniel raised his hand as high as he could. And when he began to speak, his voice slowed down, and he took his time: one breath of words carefully following another. Now, his desk was in a group with his classmates, and I felt comforted by this change in seating.

“You see, my soccer team was really worried because the other team was number one. And they didn’t think we could beat them. So I told them that we do this thing in my school called mindfulness. And we need to just go out there and do our best and put all these feelings of not being good enough aside. I told them that we can do this.” He smiled. And in his smile, I realized that he had found power in his ability to “put aside” all that distracted him from playing soccer, right then, in that moment.

Although Daniel didn’t say it like a mindfulness teacher, he was trying to encourage his teammates to focus on the here and now. The ball, the play, the goal: whatever was happening in the moment. But most importantly, Daniel told us that mindfulness had become a way of shifting experience for himself. He could see the fear in his teammates eyes and understand the feelings of doubt, but choose not to take them on. Instead, Daniel chose to approach the game with an air of confidence and focus. He would go out onto the field and play the very best soccer he could.

Every time I step into a group of students to teach mindfulness, I ask them how they have been using the tools they have learned, so far. “Have you practiced listening? Noticed your monkey thoughts? Taken calm-down breaths?” And every time I ask these questions, most of the kids in the class raise their hands, eager to share. The stories that tumble into the room include challenging moments with math, annoying siblings and, inevitably, high emotion surrounding athletics. Kids report feeling worried, scared, anxious and sad on their way to field hockey, soccer and football. The stress that rises when the ball comes to them or a penalty shot is theirs is palpable. Mindfulness provides the tools they need to slow their heart rates, regain focus and concentrate on the task at hand. I was able to calm down and just go out there and go after the ball, they often say.

Mindfulness bring students a greater awareness of their overall experience. And most importantly, it provides them with a way of taking control of their mindset and shifting it into a positive place. For Daniel, that meant knowing he could approach his game with an air of confidence and experience. He knew how to play soccer; he knew he had talent; and he could decide not to let the other team’s reputation degrade his performance.

At the end of our class, Daniel motioned me to come close, he had more to say. “At the end of the game, we were tied. And then we had a penalty kick.”  Daniel paused to slide back in his chair. “So I took three calm-down breaths and then asked my coach if I could do the kick. He said I could. So guess what?” Daniel smiled. “I made the goal, and we won.”

Mindfulness Smartens our Brains

When I gave the middle-school students the list of benefits mindfulness provides, they immediately stopped talking.

“Which one do you find most interesting?” I asked.

“Reduces anxiety – especially, test taking,” said Robert.

“Improves social skills.” Martha smiled at her classmates and tapped her foot.

“Strengthens focus and concentration,” Brittany paused. “I have ADD.”

Every time I describe the ways mindfulness boosts our brains’ executive functions – attention, decision-making, emotional regulation and impulse control – I feel a bit greedy, like the kids in the circle before me. I want some of that (social skills) and that (focus) and less anxiety, negative thinking and overwhelm.

Mindfulness not only improves cognitive skills, located primarily in the prefrontal cortex (the brain region behind our foreheads), but it lowers our stress levels. Indeed, the practice of mindfulness changes the very structures of our brains: we create thicker wiring (more mental activity) in the “smart” parts of our mind (the cortex) and reduce the gray matter in our fight-flight center (the limbic system, near our ears).

The children and teens I have worked with – in over a dozen in-school programs and ongoing community classes – report how powerful they find the practice of paying attention to the here and now. A light goes on inside of them and they understand, in their hearts and minds, that they can pause and choose their response, in any moment.

“I was so upset when my coach benched me,” said Sally, a Ninth Grader. “And normally I would have had a complete breakdown. But I took a breath,” she laughed. “Then I looked around the room and tried to find three circles.”

Counting shapes, colors or even letters in our environment engages the left (thinking) brain, cools down the right (emotional) brain and quickly pulls us back into this moment. With that intentional pause – here I am, in this gym, right now – we get that “space” Victor Frankl famously identified: “In that space is our power to choose.”

Sally understood that her response to being benched was her decision: she could cry uncontrollably and leave the game. Or she could sit still, bring her focus into the gym and allow the strong feelings to come and go, like a rain storm or large wave.

Students perform better, in all parts of their lives, when they access their own, internal pause buttons. Frankl wrote, “our growth and our freedom” are determined by our choices. Consider how quickly we lose our freedom and power, when we succumb to the I-Can’t-Handle-This! reaction.

“What would happen?”  I asked the middle-school students, “if I just started yelling at my friend for taking my work?  What happens when you let your anger take the driver’s seat?”

All of us want a chance to slow down, get perspective on our feelings and handle our challenging moments, more skillfully. We all benefit, enormously, from the calm that arises when our minds are in the here and now.

But the space that Frankl wrote about – and Stephen Covey popularized in the “Seven Habits” books – is something we have to decide to take. Our brains were designed, primarily, for our survival:  I fight you, I run from you, or I freeze. With mindfulness, we have the tools to reshape our minds, just like we tone our bodies through exercise. We practice pausing, placing our attention in the moment, and our brain thickens the connections made during that neural activity.

“I noticed that I was really annoyed that my cousin was following me all over the park,” said Abby, a nine-year old, who took my class last Summer. “So I just stopped walking, looked around at all the people, and then realized I could go ask my mom for help.”

Mindfulness helps students of all ages: the research touts its benefits for everyone, ages 3 to 99.  (Consider the four-year old who tried to help his dad, “This is the way you calm down. Breathe. Like this.”)

In college, I learned that if I studied hard, read a great deal and wrote out my notes, I would remember more information and feel smarter. With mindfulness, we can actually become smarter – cognitively and emotionally. We pause, make a choice and strengthen our neural wiring.

 

 

 

 

Yes, You Can Calm Down

“Are you kidding me?”  Sadie’s fists were clenched.  “The teacher can give us, like 20 pages in a review packet and then just expect us to do it?  Right then?”

“I was so mad.”

Sadie settled back in her seat and softened her fists. “So I took three breaths and then, I don’t know. I just was able to start.” She smiled. “I used my mindfulness.”

Like Fourth Grader Sadie, we all feel anger and panic blow through our beings. But do we have the power – like her – to shift our emotion and calm our feelings?  Do we know how to calm down?

Calming down is a life skill. Something that we all need. Desperately.

On the phone with the software help line, my face is hot and my neck is so tight it hurts. On the other end, the woman’s voice is insanely chirpy, and I want to beam through my Verizon connection and shake her.

Yes, she is saying, her company’s software does have a bit of a glitch, and it will, in fact, grab an old file and send it to a client list, by mistake, when I am going through the steps to send a new file. A current file. A file about the here and now.

What?! *@#!

I know I cannot race down the data channel that leads to all my clients and pull back the newsletter that is two months old and looks as icky as a trampled beach umbrella. But I need to. And I am desperate to make this woman understand how terribly big this small glitch has become.

I get up from my computer screen, find a chair near the window and take three slow breaths. Reason seeps into my brain. My neck loosens. The woman’s voice on the other end becomes a voice that is connected to an actual human being, one with a beating heart and family. It occurs to me that she is not intentionally trying to ruin my life.

“OK. So what’s my next step?” I do not feel like being calm, but my nervous system has slowed and the fury has vanished. I am connected to the part of me that knows I have to move forward.

This kind of me-turn or U-turn, as writer Tara Brach would say, is mindfulness at work.  It’s a moment of intention that allows me to re-connect with the smart part of my brain, the part that helps me manage my emotions and unplug my sky-is-falling reactivity.

Below are the steps you can take to use this mindfulness tool and “calm down” your big feelings.

Using the “Calm Down” Breath

  1. Breathe in slowly through your nose, like you’re smelling a flower.

If you’re helping a child, you can demonstrate by holding your index finger up to your nose and breathing in with them.

  1. Breathe out slowly – even more slowly than you breathed in – like you are blowing out birthday candles.

With a child, continue to demonstrate by lowering your index finger and breathing out with them.

  1. Repeat three times.

The “Calm Down” Breath soothes the nervous system, releasing the heat that’s been kindling your body’s emotion. It stops the flow of adrenaline and lowers your heart rate.

If you are a parent or teacher working with kids, take the “Calm Down” Breath with them. This helps for two reasons:  their nervous systems will attune to your slower, calmer system as you take these breaths. And your demonstration gives them a clear model to follow: they will breathe with you.

After learning and practicing the “Calm Down” Breath, you can remember it by silently saying these phrases, as you breathe in and out:

Breathing in:  “I can calm “

Breathing out: “my whole body and mind”

Students use the “Calm Down” Breath when they are sitting on the bench, at a soccer game, upset that they have been asked to leave the field. They use it before auditioning for plays, before tests, before finding a seat at the lunch table.

I use it whenever I am in that dark, smothered place of overwhelm. I am in the dentist’s chair and panic is filling my throat. I am late, again, for pick up.

What I love most about the “Calm Down” Breath is that I can do it as often as I want, whenever I want.  It’s like the air we breathe: life-giving and always there.

Whose Hair are We Fixing?

We’re driving through the stone gates of my son’s college, and I know that if I could just reach over and smooth the front of his hair, well, everything would be perfect.  His sophomore year will be perfect.

I sit on my hands and take one slow breath.

I had wanted my boy to wear a polo shirt and khaki shorts. I had wanted him to take extra time with his hair.  But he did not see that picture inside my head (the one that pops up like an online ad, offering the “perfect way to look” for sophomore year.)  Earlier, he had put on a black T-Shirt and jeans and walked past the brush on the counter.  He had stopped to pat down his hair, before getting in the car.  “I’m ready.”

I take another breath.

In the front passenger seat my son is smiling and pointing, and there is light pouring out of him.  A light of eagerness and promise and I-can’t-wait-to-start.  I wonder if he will mind much, if I were to just smooth back that patch of hair near his forehead.  I wonder if I could get away with just that.

My Mama Tiger, inside me, is pacing faster: she wants to say and do and control, just a little more.  She can fix it – and, in turn, fix the next nine months – if she’s allowed just one little pat.

Sound familiar?

In these brand new days of back-to-school and the start-of-something-important, we often see right past the very people we’re nurturing.  Is it Hanna Anderson, Lands End or Vineyard Vines flashing through our heads?  We all have imaginary pictures, in mythical wallets, of who our kids should be, of who we need them to be.

Short moments of awareness help us see these thoughts and pictures.  Returning to our breath, the feeling of our feet on the ground, bring us back into our own bodies.  The thoughts aren’t helpful; the pictures aren’t real.

In the parking lot, I step out of the car and savor the spread of green lawn, the gorgeous sky. There is a white tent by the side; Resident Advisors hold room keys and forms.  I want to go and meet the RA, help fill out the forms.  My boy says, “I’ve got this.”  I keep my feet on the asphalt and enjoy the warmth of the sun.  Lay down Mama Tiger.  This is his beginning, his new year