I recently finished reading Redefining Realness, a powerful memoir by Janet Mock about her journey of self-discovery as a young trans woman. The book courageously documents all of the struggles of having a body in a world that often diminishes, questions, and disrupts anything that does not fit a stereotype or predetermined-role. The writing continuously brought Mock’s life experiences back to the experience of her physical body, never denying the important role that it plays. I was forced to recognize all of the ways in which my physical self can sometimes get separated from who I am, and how I sometimes treat my body as something separate, something non-existent from what I am experiencing in life. Janet Mock’s words reaffirmed for me that our physical bodies are so closely tied to who we are, at our core, that denying our bodies and how they feel disrupts our chance for empowerment, peace, and joy for not only ourselves, but for others in our lives. All that we experience we experience through our bodies, and to not take that seriously and care for our bodies with extreme love and compassion is to ignore a part of who we are. Our thoughts, our emotions, and our trauma lives in our bodies, no matter what that body looks like.
Trauma attaches to us, and we often try to ignore it to get the work done. We may feel like we don’t have the time to stop and notice what our bodies are feeling because there is too much to do. This way of being, as you can imagine, does not work indefinitely. There comes a time when the body is forced to the forefront of our attention, often through illness, and we have no choice but to pay attention and commit to a period of self-care.
What holiday breaks can afford us is a space to be present for our bodies, to listen to what our bodies have to say, if you choose to listen. We are starting a new year and it is the perfect opportunity to check in with your body and your current self-care habits. Do you pay attention to your body as much as your thoughts and emotions? Do you listen to your body as much as you listen to your loved ones? Do you take the time to take care of your body like you take care of your career? Try to take some time over break to commit acts of self-care that are purely for the body. Take a bath, exercise or try self-massage. Eat healing foods and relax! Your body carries everything you experience. It needs a chance to let go and move into a better state of being. Make it a goal to take the steps needed to pay attention to your body and listen carefully to what it needs. Not only will you feel better, this will have an impact on all aspects of your life.
Below is a tea recipe based in Avurvedic medicine that is a general detoxifying tea. This tea can help to remove excess toxins and mucus from the body, and it is a great tool to help your body along on this journey of letting go and reseting for the new year.
Honor your body this new year and listen to what it has to say. Please share any other self-care tips you may have!
In the Little Flower Yoga community The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson is revered as a treasure trove of insight for educators and parents, and rightfully so. Tricia Stevens explains some of the most poignant lessons she received from the book here. I would like to add that it’s also a handbook of strategies for helping our kids effectively understand, communicate, and regulate their emotions.
I’ve read this book twice and now am reading it again for the third time, as I bring it’s strategies directly to my students at Girls Prep Bronx. It has served as a foundation for a unit with 5th graders on the brain. The first two times I read The Whole Brain Child I absorbed several of the strategies, using them with my students, especially strategy #1 “connect and redirect”. Dan and Tina’s emphasis on “connect” has impacted my interactions with students the most. Siegel’s “connect” asks us to honor the full emotional experience of children before trying to bring them out of it through logic and reasoning. First, we acknowledge where they are. Through empathy, we go into the emotion more. Then, we give them tools for navigating an overwhelming emotional encounter.
During my second read I noticed the cartoons written for children at the end of each chapter. I realized that through these cartoons, there was a way the authors intended the strategies to be brought to children explicitly. The cartoons inspired me to write a unit of study on the brain for 5th graders, where we would directly identify the different purposes of the brain and dig into each strategy together. I found that my students appreciated knowing that I use the text as a tool for my interactions with them. They were extremely engaged in the conversation. Hint: if you come across resistance with students when doing this work, the brain is a useful way in.
We launched the unit with the accessible picture book Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by Joann Deak which outlines the idea of neuroplasticity in a student friendly way. Students become “neuro-sculptors” by trying new things, taking risks, and staying with a task. The seed was planted – the choices we make shape our brain. To date, in three subsequent lessons, I’ve utilized Dan and Tina’s simple terminology that makes brain science relatable. Students were asking questions left and right. I immediately discovered the brain is an excellent hook into the window of yoga and mindfulness strategies for kids. Here’s how I broke down the next four lessons:
Lesson 1: Our Left and Right Brain - Using the Name it to Tame It Strategy
Lesson 2: The Upstairs and Downstairs Brain – Using The Hand Model of the Brain Strategy
Lesson 3: Putting The Pieces of the Puzzle Together – Using Retelling the Story as a Strategy
Lesson 4: Mindsight: Choosing What You Think About
I can’t wait to follow up and teach the last lesson on Mindsight where Dan uses what he calls our Wheel of Awareness. Students learn to be an observer of the various parts of themselves- the athlete, the one who worries about a certain friendship, the poor test taker, the one is a talented musician. Rather than getting stuck in all of the details, and being more interested in what is referred to as the spokes of our wheel, students learn to rest awareness in the hub. They find their center.
As a culminating aspect of the unit, I envision students participating in a long-term project on this idea of Mindsight. The more intimate we become with where we are placing our awareness, the more we are in charge of it.
One of our main objectives with yoga and mindfulness curriculum is to give students ways they can regulate their emotions. It hadn’t occurred to me to invite my students to explore The Whole Brain Child with me, but when I did, the book became an entry way into a whole new conversation about empowerment. I’ve included some of their reflections throughout the blog as you will see. The advantage that Dan and Tina offer is the option of several strategies. This allows students to experiment and then choose which one works best for them as a mechanism for calming down when feeling overwhelmed.