• Body of Emotions: A Mindfulness Practice to Explore Emotions with Teens

    Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.

    One of my favorite exercises to do with youth I teach in New York City explores our body and emotions. I often tell my students the body is home for our emotions and feelings. The body has a way to collect and store these feelings and sometimes the feelings can come up at random moments; when someone touches us by patting us on the shoulder, during a back rub, or while practicing yoga or other mindful (or random) movements.


    Emotions can arise unexpectedly through physical sensations and at times we might feel overwhelmed by them and not know what to do with them. Sometimes what comes up has nothing to do with how we were feeling the moment before. For example, we might have gone to a yoga class and felt pretty awesome practicing backbends until a physical sensation or an emotion comes up that changes the whole experience and our perspective on that moment. Sometimes we cannot locate exactly what it is we are feeling, what that emotion is talking about, or why that area of our body is contracting or tensing.


    The body is talking to us. It might be speaking to us about something we experienced in the past, or about something we didn’t realize affected us. Our body, at times, seems to be speaking an old language that seems familiar but we don’t fully recognize or remember.


    When I was young and I was practicing yoga I had no idea what these things were and why they were coming up. I felt overwhelmed by waves of rage or sadness without knowing how to channel them, harness them, safely explore them, and, finally, lovingly let go. That is, until the next time they resurfaced again.


    Because of this personal experience with my feelings, I make it a point in my teaching practice to explore this topic with my teenage students, even if it means breaking the taboo of not talking about how we feel. We explore  how to hold space for big emotions, loud emotions, difficult emotions— we welcome all of them. And as my students learn, I also learn—which is what a teacher is supposed to do anyway, right? It’s a win-win!


    To explore these ideas and emotions, one of the exercises we do in our mindfulness class is an art exercise called Body of Emotions. We dive into this activity after a body scan mediation where we explore physical sensation in the body.



    Materials needed for the exercise are color pencils (or crayons) and paper.


    First, I lead students thought a body scan. I then ask students to outline the shape of a person like a ginger bread man on a a piece of paper and to color, draw, outline any observations or findings they noticed during the body scan meditation. This could look a variety of ways and I usually don’t give too many instructions. Some students create an elaborate landscape of patterns and colors throughout their whole paper, each of them relating to sensations, feelings, or emotions. Some kids draw memories that the body scan brought up in their minds. Some others write about thoughts they had while focusing on the art exercise.


    I ask students to then create a key on top of the page that describes the patterns and colors on the body outline they drew. Both the art process and the writing part helps create together a vocabulary around the body sensations, as well as increase awareness on the body’s sensations.


    “In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”

    ~ Bessel A. van der Kolk,
    The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

    This exercise can be practiced multiple times throughout the course of a school year, and sometimes students request to do it as their comfort zone expands. Often kids will want to share something with the group about their drawings. I often ask the students if they noticed something new about their body, like a soreness or pain or other physical sensations that they were not aware of before. It’s really important for the kids to reflect because it takes some internal check-ins to notice how we are feeling. As we go about our mindfulness program their ability to self-reflect becomes increasingly second nature to students.


    Becoming emotionally aware of our internal landscape and befriending our body has many important upsides. When we know how our body feels, we are able to make more informed decisions about what our needs are. We learn to recognize when it’s time to pause, to listen, to speak up, to leave or to stay. We learn when to rest, when to engage, what is good for us, and what is not.


    Attuning to our own body also teaches us self-preservation and self-care—it’s a form of practicing non-violence towards ourselves and, on a larger scale, to practice non-violence towards others. We learn to respect and take care of the communities we operate in and engage with.


    When we are given the tools to take care of our deep self, it is only natural to feel compelled to extend this feeling to others. This might sound radical but it really isn’t. Students continually demonstrate this inward and outward care every time we practice this exercise and mindfulness.


    Bessel A. van der Kolk explains “mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.” This is what we do in our classes, we cultivate a sense of agency in self-care and self-inquiry by allowing the youth to explore, share and connect with others.  They learn how to have these important questions and begin to destigmatize the conversation around feelings. 


    It has been powerful to helps students create their own personal vocabulary around feelings and to support ways to talk about them. They develop a way to connect to their body. They become familiar to how their body talks to them about the way they are feeling. They can begin to consider why certain emotions are stored or felt in certain areas of the body. These tools and resources will serve them as they continue to learn about themselves and navigate their personal relationships. I encourage you to find ways to support your students in exploring the way emotions show up in their body.



    As a senior teacher, Daniela has delivered mindfulness-based programs in public schools, youth detention centers as well as homeless shelters. Daniela is a coach and mentor for LFY as well as part of the teaching team. Daniela leads professional development trainings on integrating mindfulness and inclusive, trauma-informed and cultural competent practices into classrooms and schools. Daniela is a program coordinator at Lineage Project as well as a mentor teacher and instructor. Daniela has over 15 years of experience teaching underserved and vulnerable children and youth in both Italy and US.

    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 Mindfulness Of Everyday Movement Support Well-Being And Stress Management?

    There are many ways mindfulness of movement supports our well-being.

    Mindfulness of movement supports readiness to learn and a sense of embodiment benefits both students and teachers. In this edition, we'll look more closely at the ways mindfulness of everyday movement can encourage us to move more, helping us release stress and tension, and how it can be a wonderful way to insert more moments of mindfulness into our lives.


    Most of us know how important movement is for our physical well-being. Physicians encourage lots of exercise to maintain a healthy body and mind. Many of us, however, have a hard time being active and sticking to our exercise regimen. The New York Times article, This Year, Make Your Fitness Resolution Stick encourages folks to maintain their fitness goals by explaining, “studies have shown that increasing the amount you move every day, by using a standing desk, walking your dog or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.” The study cited in the article itself concludes, "Both the total volume of sedentary time and its accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts are associated with… mortality, suggesting that physical activity guidelines should target reducing and interrupting sedentary time to reduce risk for death” in U.S. middle-aged and older adults.

    Clearly movement is important and yet many struggle to maintain their exercise and movement goals.  

    The article cites the abysmal statistics of people who actually keep their exercise resolutions two months after starting them (37% for folks in their 20’s and 16% for folks over 50). It also states that although "150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise like speed walking or swimming, or 75 minutes per week of intense exercise, like H.I.I.T. (High-Intensity Interval Training) or jogging, is the minimum amount of exercise needed to achieve maximum medical benefit…. The most effective form of exercise is the type that someone will consistently perform.” 


    Being consistent and sticking to an exercise program is the most important thing. It can be extremely difficult, however, to include movement and physical activity into our daily life or even for our students in the classroom. Most of us spend too much time sitting and so do our kids. Many students sit throughout the day and get minimal recess or physical education. This can make it extremely difficult for them to focus and learn but also creates sedentary habits that can have damaging effects on our children’s long-term health.


    This is where mindfulness of movement can support us. By inserting mindfulness into the movement we do every day in our lives and in the classroom, we can strengthen our mind and body connection and begin to recognize when our bodies (and our kids’ bodies) need more exercise or movement.


    There are countless movements we repeat throughout the day without noticing. We walk around our classrooms or workplaces, sit and stand, open doors, wash hands or dishes or fold laundry, but we’re not always fully present. We ignore (and fail to teach our students in a visceral way) the intricacies and truly ingenious ways our body is communicating with itself and interacting with its surroundings when performing even the simplest of movements. 


    If we bring more awareness to these everyday movements, we will be regularly inserting mindful moments into our and our children’s lives. It can motivate us to do more movement throughout our day or to take mindful movement breaks with our kids. We can then feel and sense for ourselves (and share with our students) the benefit of, for example, getting up  to stretch after sitting at the computer or desk for hours or going for a mindful walk before starting our work or school day. Next time you stand from your desk, walk around the room, or go wash your dishes notice the sensations in your body with kindness and curiosity. Ask yourself if there is something you can offer your body right now to support your health and well-being.


    Consider inserting mindful movement breaks for your kids as well and encourage your students as they walk in the hallways to simply feel the bottoms of their feet or to notice how their breath and body feels after they come back from recess or phys ed class. If we can bring mindful awareness to the way we move through the world, we will surely strengthen our mind-body connection and bring awareness to what parts of our body need support.


    Mindfulness, Movement, and Stress

    There are countless studies that explore the relationship between stress and both mindfulness and exercise.

    A Harvard Health Blog describes a study that suggests "that it may not require much physical activity to provide lasting emotional resilience.” Another NY Times article talks about resiliency in the face of stress: "exercise can channel your stress response into something constructive... [and] appears to be a form of stress inoculation….Exercise doesn’t eliminate stress, but it does give your body the physical conditioning it needs to recover from it." A lot of these findings extend to anxiety as well. You can read more on how exercise helps with anxiety here and here.


    Stanford lecturer and program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Dr. Kelly McGonigal offers another perspective. In her book The Upside of Stress, she explains that not all stress is bad. After all, it is our body's stress response that energizes us and keeps us safe when we are in dangerous situations or wakes us up when we hear the alarm ring in the morning. To be clear, McGonigal is not saying that chronic stress is good for you, but suggests there is reason to believe that changing the way you look at stress and perhaps even embracing the energy it releases can help us manage it more skillfully.


    In her Ted talk she explains, “people who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.” 


    This suggests we bring mindful awareness to stressful situations, to pause and observe how the stress is impacting us. After this pause we can attempt to reframe our experience, gain perspective, and make a choice that can better support us during the stressful moment.


    Perhaps we’ll decide that taking a mindful movement break like walking or stretching is the best thing we can do. Harnessing both the power and benefits of mindful movement can have a tremendous impact on our practice and the way we handle stress.


    If you’re interested in more, read about the nine ways mindfulness reduces stress and listen to a recorded audio practice from Mindful magazine.

    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!


    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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