Sunday, May 15, 2016

How Mindfulness Helps Teens and the Adults Who Care about Them

photo courtesy Sam Himelstein

Sam Himelstein, Ph.D., works as a Licensed Psychologist in the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center and is the founder and president of the Center for Adolescent Studies. Dr. Himelstein is the author of A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents and Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents.

How can mindfulness help kids reduce their use of drugs and alcohol?

Mindfulness as a skill can help youth learn to be less impulsive and more self-regulated, and to develop a stronger ability to choose in their lives. The idea is that we’re teaching young people to gain greater autonomy and choicefulness. 

This is an empowered approach, rather than the norm that adolescents meet; adults basically telling them what to do or what not to do: 
i.e., “Don’t do drugs. They’re bad!”
Trying to force youth to change or stop engaging in a behavior by punitive means simply doesn’t work. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Personal Triggers: Recognizing the Causes of Problematic Behavior

image courtesy Sam Himelstein

This activity is adapted from Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents, by Sam Himelstein and Stephen Saul. With the authors’ and publishers’ permission, it’s been expanded to apply to a wider audience. 

Most of us have some type of behavior that’s gotten us into trouble. It could be overeating, drinking too much, using drugs, or responding with anger and aggression. 
Think about what triggers (causes) you to engage in this behavior: 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents (recommended book)
"I ain't gonna lie.  I was supposed to hit the blunt [marijuana]... 'Cause my boy, when we got back to the house, he was out there rolling a blunt.  I ain't gonna lie, once I seen him in the wheelchair, I already knew I was gonna do something; drink, or something... I kinda looked at him, and I took a deep breath, and just calmed down, sat down, and I was like, 'Damn man, it's good to see you.'  But at the same time, I was really thinkin' about the blunt.  He was like, 'You gonna smoke?' I was like, 'Nah, I'm good.'  He was like, 'Fool, since when do you say no?'  I felt more me, doing me.  I'm like, 'Nah I'm good'."

Those are the words of a participant in Sam Himelstein and Stephen Saul's mindfulness-based substance abuse  program, describing how he used techniques from the program when seeing a friend who'd recently become paralyzed due to gun violence.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Eight Principles of Teaching Mindfulness Meditation to Adolescents

photo courtesy Sam Himelstein

These principles are adapted from a longer version in A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents by Sam Himelsteinand are published here with permission from Routledge.

1. Clear Goals
The goal of one session might be to relax, while the goal of another session might be awareness of how emotions manifest in the body.

2. Non-Attachment to Logistics
Closed eyes aren’t necessary to practice “correctly,” and may be resisted because of intense trauma or because of mistrusting other group members.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents (recommended book)

A fifteen-year-old contemplates the meaning of life as most of his friends are either incarcerated or killed. A sixteen-year-old drug dealer fights back tears as he thinks about how his mom would feel if he got shot.  

From the transcripts of client sessions, it’s clear that Sam Himelstein cares deeply about his young clients, and is able to reach kids with court-ordered therapy who  are "used to being pushed around by the system."  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Teaching Yoga and Mindfulness to Students Affected by Trauma and Violence

photo courtesy Danielle Ancin
Danielle Ancin has taught yoga in communities affected by violence in the U.S., Colombia, and Brazil. Danielle is now a lead trainer and curriculum developer with the Niroga Institute, where she teaches Dynamic Mindfulness and leadership development to children and adolescents.  The Niroga Institute is a non-profit organization which strives to foster health and well being for individuals, families, and communities through the practice of Mindful Yoga. 

What is trauma-informed yoga instruction, and why is it important when working with "at-risk" youth?

Trauma-informed yoga instruction starts with knowing the basics about trauma and how it can affect the body, brain, behavior, learning, and development. We often say in our trainings that we learn about trauma not so that we can diagnose or label our students, but rather so that we can grow our toolbox of responses to behaviors. We can pause and consider when trauma might be at the root of student challenges and respond with inquiry and compassion.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Sound of Gratitude 2: Songs for Reflection and Discussion

hyena reality;

Following up on the popular Sound of Gratitude song list, here are a dozen more songs about appreciating our circumstances and our loved ones, followed by questions for reflection and discussion.  

As usual, I've included a variety of musical styles, so hopefully there's something for everyone.  Teachers, I've included a snippet of the lyrics for each song to help you decide what might be appropriate for your class.

A Beautiful Day, india.arie
youtube video with lyrics

"I open up my heart and I’m gonna do my part and make this a positively beautiful day.  Life is a challenge not a competition. You can still smell the roses and be on a mission." 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Community Service Projects, Pre-K Through College

photostock for

How do you teach kids to be less self-involved and more involved in the community?

How do you choose a project that's age-appropriate?

How do you make volunteering a positive experience?

For answers to these and most other questions about volunteering with youth, here's a list of resources to help kids help their communities.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mindfulness and Compassion in West Africa (interview)

photo courtesy Emmanuel Ivorgba
Award-winning educator and peace activist Dr. Emmanuel Ande Ivorgba is the founder and Director of Creative Minds International Academy (CMIA), a values-based K-12 school in Rantya, Nigeria, which has partnered with Mindfulness Without Borders on youth leadership. Dr. Ivorgba is also Executive Director of New Era Educational & Charitable Support Foundation, West Africa Regional Coordinator of the United Religions Initiative, and Africa Program Director for Project Happiness.

Some Christians are concerned about mindfulness because many of the popular practices have roots in Buddhism. As a seminary-trained Catholic who has met with the Dalai Lama, what is your perspective on mindfulness and Christianity?

The conversation about mindfulness and Christian faith is a very significant one. 
Mindfulness is basically the practice of paying attention. It is noticing what we are doing, feeling, and thinking at the time we are actually doing, feeling and thinking it. For Christians, the term mindfulness has a variety of meanings and purposes, including meditation and compassion. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Downside of Righteous Indignation

stockimages for 
“Get away from her!  Don’t hurt her like that!”

We glanced around to see who the angry old woman was yelling at, but we couldn't spot anyone being hurt.  

My husband had no idea she was talking to him until she marched right up to us and urged me to leave the “abusive” man.  Huh?

We eventually figured out what happened: