• Mindful Mondays: Movement as a Pathway to Mindfulness

    HOW CAN MOVEMENT SUPPORT MINDFULNESS?

    Movement is one of the most fundamental and important functions of our body. We usually don’t notice our body at work because it is so wonderfully engineered to move. As a result, we often lack a strong mind-body connection. While some of us might pay a lot of attention to how our body looks, in our everyday experience must of us often ignore the messages from our body until it’s telling us something very urgent. We tend to only pay attention to our body when we are hungry, sleepy, have to relieve ourselves, or, worse, when we break a bone or have the flu—and sometimes we ignore even those messages.  Bringing mindful awareness to movement can strengthen our mind and body connection.

    It’s also common knowledge that exercise is good for us because it supports a healthy and strong body and heart. But the benefits of exercise go beyond that. Dr. John J. Ratey, in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, explains “the science of how exercise cues the building blocks of learning in the brain; how it affects mood, anxiety, and attention; how it guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain….” He offers case studies and research to clearly show the importance of aerobic exercise to support peak brain performance. He describes a revolutionary physical education program in Naperville, Illinois, where students are “graded on how much time they spend in their target heart rate zones during any given activity.” This revolutionary approach helped children in this district be far more fit than the national average of children their age, and their GPAs and standardized test scores were also above average.  

    This information should motivate all of us to get more exercise, and it should also influence our interactions with the youth we work with. We can’t all have heart-rate monitors or exercise with our students, but we can strategically insert mindful movement breaks for our students to support their physical and mental well-being and to help them have a greater mind-body connection. This Atlantic article offers helpful links to research and describes how “schools that have sought to integrate more movement and free play, such as short 15-minute recess periods throughout the day, have seen gains in student attention span and instructional time.” These findings are especially important today, when physical education classes and recess are cut shorter—and our kids (as well as adults) are sitting for longer periods of time—making it harder to teach children. Lack of movement is also exacerbating health problems like childhood obesity.  

    In addition, in order for us and our children to really thrive, we need to have a strong mind-body connection—in other words, a sense of embodiment. Embodiment is important for all of us because it supports us in trusting ourselves as we learn to listen to the messages our body is giving us. We can then base our choices on what will be most supportive to our well-being. In this way, we can begin to have a deep knowing of ourselves as we move through the world, which will support us in making skillful choices.
    In order to be embodied, our children have to be present to what their body is experiencing in the moment. And that’s where mindfulness and movement come in. We can help bring mindful awareness to their body as they move through their day. By asking children to pause and check in on their breath, the bottoms of their feet, or the sensations in their belly or chest when they’re walking from the classroom to the cafeteria, for example, we can begin strengthening their mind-body connection.  
    For more information on how our brains and brain work together, research on mindful movement and skilled attention, and how “mindful practice of movement can yield improvements in cognitive and attentional skills...and similarly improve functioning in ‘anomalous’ development, as with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD],” click here.  

    Little Flower Yoga uses yoga activities as a way to explore mindfulness of the body. But mindful movement doesn’t have to be yoga, and not all yoga is practiced mindfully. There are many ways you can explore mindful movement, such as synching breath to movement or bringing awareness to parts of our body as we move.  


    Being mindful while walking is one of the simplest ways to integrate mindful movement into our day. Click on this link for a helpful resource with tips and written instructions to get started.

    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZALEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  • Mindful Mondays: How Can Our Breath Be A Resource?

    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    Click on the image above for a guided 5-minute mindful breathing practice from mindful.org

    Our breath is a wonderful resource because we always have it with us. If we bring kind and curious awareness to our breath, we can get clear information on how we’re feeling. When we bring awareness to our breath, we connect with our autonomous nervous system, which in turn can help us find balance—even when we’re facing challenges or stressful situations.  

    This New York Times article cites Richard P. Brown, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath, as saying, “When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response.... When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated.” When we bring awareness to our breath we attune inward and can see if our nervous system is in sympathetic (fight or flight) or parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. In addition, with time, the breath can shift and activate your parasympathetic response. 
                                                                                                                          
    Moreover, mindfulness research  suggests that “mindful breathing may help to reduce reactivity to repetitive thoughts” and “may offer psychological benefits above and beyond other credible brief stress-management exercises.” In other words, mindfulness of breath can also help reduce knee-jerk responses to rumination and help decrease stress.  

    The wonderful thing about mindfulness of breath is that it can be practiced in a fairly straightforward way. In the aforementioned research study, participants were “guided to become aware of physical sensations—especially those associated with the process of breathing—and to observe them without the intention of altering them.” Participants were simply asked to bring attention to the sensations of the breath without doing anything to change or manipulate the breath. Yet bringing awareness to the breath in this simple way deeply supports healthy nervous system regulation as well as our ability to focus and manage stress.

    Little Flower Yoga introduces mindfulness of breath to adults and students early on in our classes. As part of our opening routine, we ask participants to bring one hand to their chest and one hand to their belly to support their awareness of the breath as it moves through the body. We get students into the habit of bringing awareness to their breath whenever someone says something thought provoking, when there is an abundance or a lack of energy, if students seem confused, or if challenging conversations arise in class. We find that it helps to insert this kind of pause and that it supports everyone’s ability to respond to a situation more skillfully.  

     

     
    Credit: Andrew Rae
     

    Other ways we encourage exploration of the breath is by asking our students to bring curious attention to how they breathe:

    We ask:

        •      Are you breathing primarily through your nose or your mouth?  

        •      Are you breathing quickly or slowly?

        •      Is it a shallow breath or a full breath?

        •      Is there a pattern to your breathing?  

        •      Are you feeling a sensation or emotion in connection with your breath?


    We also ask students to explore long, slow exhalations. In this way, they explore how their breath communicates with them, and they learn to use their breath as a resource to anchor their attention and to soothe their nervous system when they’re feeling unduly stressed or anxious.  


    General Guidelines for Mindfulness of Breath

    • The breath can be a powerful tool to support self awareness and self-regulation. Consider these guidelines when introducing mindfulness of breath activities.
    • Encourage being kind and curious when bringing awareness to the breath. 
    • Using visuals like this video or your hands, or a manipulative like a Hoberman sphere, can be a great scaffold when introducing mindfulness of breath.
    • Remember that the physiology of a child is not the same as that of an adult, so if you’re guiding students, take into account that their lung capacity is probably less than yours.
    • In addition to helping students bring awareness to the breath, encourage slow nasal breathing to help soothe their nervous system.
    • If a child ever feels discomfort or anxiety during a breathing exercise, stop!
    • Avoid breath retention and extremely forceful breathing.
    • If students struggle with sitting still when bringing awareness to their breath, consider aligning the breathing practice with simple movement (for example, inhale and raise an arm, then exhale and lower the arm, then repeat, switching arms).

    Bringing awareness to the breath in the moment can give students insight into how they’re feeling and help them attune to what they need to meet each moment with kindness and curiosity.

     


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


     

    ABOUT ARGOS GONZALEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY.
    For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

    Read More


    Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports an Attitude of Gratitude
    Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports Our Ability to Focus
    Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports Rest and Relaxation
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Little Flower Yoga is based in New York and provides classes in all five boroughs of New York City and Westchester County.

Tel: (212) 634-7890
Email: info@littlefloweryoga.com