Sunday, July 23, 2017

Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreat for Counselors and Teachers

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The following is a guest post by Jennifer Howd, adapted from her book Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk: How I Survived a Silent Meditation Retreat, and published here with permission from Parallax Press.  For more information about home retreats, including a list of suggested home retreat itineraries, visit

In the midst of trying to meet the seemingly endless needs of our students or clients, teachers and therapists often feel there’s no time to breathe or to reflect, let alone to focus on our own, personal needs. A silent meditation retreat can be a life-changing experience because we intentionally let go of our commitments and distractions and come face-to-face with ourselves. And, even though retreats can prove to be quite challenging—I assure you they’re worth it.

If you’d like to get a taste of what it might be like before committing to a longer silent retreat experience, and/or it’s not possible for you to attend a residential retreat right now—you can start by creating a mini-retreat at home. All you need is a clear intention and some self-discipline.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sit. Walk. Don't Talk: How I Survived a Silent Meditation Retreat (recommended book)

Day 1: “I just want to jump up and run the hell out of here.  I have no idea how I’m going to make it through the week.”

Day 6: “I knew all the happiness I was feeling wasn’t going to last.  This is all such a load of bullshit!... I can’t believe I have three more effing days of this.”

Day 9: “Tears of gratitude, joy, and relief rolling down my cheeks.  I did it.  I made it through.”

In Sit. Walk. Don't Talk, mindfulness facilitator Jennifer Howd takes us inside her mind during her first 9-day Vipassana (Insight) meditation retreat.  

Sharing her journal entries, notes to and from teachers, and interactions with fellow retreatants, Howd gives a no-holds-barred account of her ups and downs throughout the week.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Training Compassionate Educators to Respond to Childhood Trauma

'Mock House' Hands-On Training Facility
photo courtesy Child Protection Training Center

The following is a guest post by Dr. Jennifer Parker, Program Director of the Child Protection Training Center at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, SC, which provides evidence-based education and training to professionals who work with children.

The Child Protection Training Center focuses on child abuse prevention and earlier detection. One of our primary aims is to reduce the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in our community and schools through education and experiential training. In 2016, the CPTC launched a Compassionate Schools initiative, based on a flexible framework originally developed in Massachusetts and Washington State.  An overall goal of Compassionate Schools is to provide  some form of this training for all school personnel.

We offer the following guidelines for other communities hoping to cultivate a trauma-sensitive learning environment.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mindfulness and Yoga for Young Children: Tips, Books, Apps, and Activities

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Are you interested in teaching mindfulness and/or yoga to younger kids but not sure where to start?  Or perhaps you've been teaching for a while and are looking for some new resources?  The following books, apps, training programs and activities are recommended by experienced teachers.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

All About the Breath: Songs for Reflection and Discussion

Here's the latest in the popular series of song playlists for teachers.  This time the focus is on breath-based meditation, breathing through strong emotions, and 'the moments that take your breath away'.  

I've included a description or a snippet of the lyrics to help you decide what might be appropriate for your class.  Scroll to the bottom of the list for questions to prompt reflection and discussion.

All About the Breath, Mind with Heart  (parody of 'All About That Bass' by Meghan Trainor)
This is a cute youtube video explaining the benefits of mindfulness meditation.  (It might not be appropriate for more conservative contexts due to one potentially-offensive word, and due to the clothing of many of the teen participants.)

Belly Breathe, Common and Colbie Caillat 
A very agitated Elmo learns how to calm himself down when he's upset.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mindfulness, Compassion, and Buddhism (interview)

photo courtesy Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is a mindfulness consultant and coach based in Oakland, California who spent two years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand.  He’s the creator of and offers an online mindfulness teacher training program.

As a former monk, what’s your perspective on the ongoing debate (especially in public schools) about whether secular mindfulness teaching is really Buddhism in disguise?

Most secular mindfulness teachers (including myself) define mindfulness as “non-judgmental, present moment awareness of one’s experience”, which is comparable to how the Buddha defines mindfulness. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Add a Culturally-Aware Lens to Your Trauma-Informed Toolkit (guest post)

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This week, I had the opportunity to share my perspective at the Center for Adolescent Studies blog hosted by Dr. Sam Himelstein.

Here's a summary of the post:
When working with youth whose background is different from ours, it’s important to ask ourselves what might be happening from their point of view.  
For example, sometimes adults become even angrier when kids respond to a reprimand by giggling, smiling, or not making eye contact. Depending on the youth’s country of origin, these could all actually be signs of respect toward a person in authority.
And for a youth who’s simultaneously dealing with trauma and culture shock, even something as seemingly innocuous as raising your voice may be perceived as far more aggressive than you intend it to. 
The following questions can help you figure out how cultural issues may be impacting your students or clients. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Very Brief Introduction to How Trauma Affects the Brain

image courtesy Sam Himelstein

The following post is adapted from the second module of the online course Trauma-Informed Care for Professionals Working with Youth, and is used here with permission from Dr. Sam Himelstein and the Center for Adolescent Studies

The brain can be simply categorized into three layers, all with distinct functions relevant to the processing of danger and trauma:
  • Hindbrain: Also known as the reptilian brain, the hindbrain deals with all of the essential functions like breathing (i.e., processes you don’t need to think about).
  • Midbrain: Also known as the emotional brain, this part of the brain contains the limbic system and assesses danger. 
  • Forebrain: Also known as the logical brain, this part of the brain controls functions such as thinking and abstract reasoning. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mindfulness and Happiness: Quotations for Reflection and Discussion

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Does mindfulness lead to happiness?  And what do we mean by 'happiness,' anyway?  Here are a variety of perspectives on appreciating the present moment, letting go of attachments, embracing moderation, and finding meaning.

Scroll to the bottom of the post for questions that can be used for personal reflection or as prompts for discussion and writing.

Book titles link to Amazon, just in case you'd like to know more about the sources of these quotes. receives no financial benefit from books ordered through links from this site.

Appreciating the Present Moment

Mary Oliver, "Sometimes," from Red Bird:
"Instructions for Living a Life: 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it."

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April:
"The simple happiness of complete harmony with her surroundings, the happiness that asks for nothing, that just accepts, just breathes, just is."

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Children's Book Helps Kids Cope with and Grow from Failure (interview)

photo courtesy Tamara Levitt
Tamara Levitt is an author, producer, speaker, and mindfulness educator based in Toronto, Canada. She works as Head of Content at Calm, the mindfulness meditation app, and is also founder of Begin Within Productions, where she produces mindfulness based multi-media content. Ms. Levitt is the author of Happiness Doesn’t Come from Headstands, a children’s book that explores the themes of acceptance, resilience, and self-compassion and offers the message that just because we may experience a failure does not mean that we are a failure. 

You wrote Happiness Doesn’t Come from Headstands as a counterpoint to the classic children’s book The Little Engine That Could, which emphasizes that success requires hard work and determination. How do the two books complement each other?