Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mindfulness, Creativity, and the Five Senses (interview)

photo courtesy Sarah Lessire

Sarah Lessire is a singer, songwriter, composer, voice teacher, and music producer, as well as the author of The Scent of Dreams, an illustrated book for children and adults.

Your goal with The Scent of Dreams is to encourage “trust in one’s own journey” and “ease a lot of the angst that both kids and grownups feel around the idea of following their passion.” Some people worry that it's selfish to follow their dreams. How do you integrate your personal passion for your work with compassion for others and contributing to the world?

I believe that how we “serve” can be expressed in a lot of different ways. Yes, activists and volunteers serve in a very direct way, but to me, contributing to the world also means treating everyone I meet with kindness and respect, having a heart open to bounty and eyes open to beauty. And I am not of any service to anyone when I bypass what makes me come alive; when I don’t write, sing or compose, I become a bad friend and a cranky wife!

But when I take care of my inner fire and let myself answer my inner callings, I become someone who is more present to others outside of my work, and I am
better able to take life in and give back. I find myself to be more kind, thoughtful and willing to help. I see my passion as the center of my life, from which everything else grows.

In your opinion, why is it important to encourage creativity in young people?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

8 Principles of Trauma-Informed Yoga and Mindfulness Teaching

arztsamui for
The following is a guest post by Robyn Hussa Farrell, MFA, E-RYT. 

These principles are excerpted from an online course for educators who wish to learn how to teach mindfulness in the classroom setting. For details or more information, please feel free to email the author at rfarrell[at]mentalfitnessinc[dot]org.

Because of recent research like The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, creating a trauma-aware environment is becoming more the norm in the education community. It’s particularly important when teaching yoga and mindfulness, as there are many potential triggers when students are meditating or when they’re engaged in certain physical postures and movements.

Here are eight strategies for safely implementing yoga and mindfulness exercises from a trauma-aware perspective.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

How to Responsibly Teach Yoga and Mindfulness to Adults and Children (interview)

photo courtesy Robyn Hussa Farrell
Robyn Hussa Farrell, MFA, is an award-winning New York City theatre producer as well as an E-RYT Certified Yoga Teacher and an accredited Continuing Education Provider through Yoga Alliance. She is the creator of NOURISH Recovery Yoga, and founder and CEO of Mental Fitness-- an award-winning nonprofit organization that collaborates with national researchers in developmental psychology, resilience and neuroscience to create and deliver evidence-based arts and mindfulness programs to K-12 schools.

You’ve taught yoga and meditation to people with addictions and eating disorders.  How does this help in their recovery process, and how do you integrate it with other aspects of their treatment program?

Mindfulness is at the root of many evidence-based treatment interventions for individuals struggling with mental health disorders and substance use disorders.  For example, CBT, DBT, TF-CBT, etc. all share mindfulness (deep breathing, meditation, gentle movement) as their core.  To highlight the mindfulness work separately, then, is assistive for those in recovery in that it helps individuals build the protective factors that mitigate risk for some of their symptoms.  

Mindfulness exercises like deep breathing (called pranayama in yoga), for example, have shown to calm anxiety and depressive disorders, while improving the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.  Other mindfulness activities such as journal writing help an individual to share their feelings and regulate emotion – skills that have been shown to improve resilience and support the recovery process.  

When I work in a treatment setting (or in a support group setting for those in recovery), I integrate the mindfulness techniques in practical and engaging ways so the participants have a toolkit of resources to take home and use with them that evening.  For example, I will teach them a series of evidence-based breathing or journal writing techniques that they can choose to use when they are having difficulty sleeping late at night.  In this way, the work is extremely practical and useful – and something that can engage an entire family into the process of mindful living.

What are some potential challenges or dangers that can arise when working with people with addictions and eating disorders? What type of training should teachers have before trying yoga and/or meditation with these populations?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

How Christians Can Benefit from Mindfulness Practice (interview)

photo courtesy Irene Kraegel
Dr. Irene Kraegel is director of the student counseling center at Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has 13 years of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist, and her current work includes mindfulness training for students at Calvin. Dr. Kraegel shares her experiences and thoughts related to the integration of Christian faith and mindfulness practice at her website,

Many conservative Christians object to their children being taught mindfulness in public schools. How can teachers respect the needs of religious families in the context of a secular mindfulness program?

Mindfulness is a wonderful gift to give children in the classroom. Teaching mindfulness provides children with a tool for calming uncomfortable emotions and focusing attention. However, the historical and cultural associations of mindfulness can serve as barriers for some families in accessing this tool. Because of this, it is helpful to approach mindfulness teaching with a readiness to talk openly with such families about their concerns.

For many conservative Christians, mindfulness meditation will raise no concerns. Parents will be eager for their children to learn this tool to assist them with emotional regulation at home and at school (or will be neutral on the subject). For others, there may be a significant fear of mindfulness meditation that is rooted in a suspicion of “new age” practices or Buddhist influences. 

It is important to demonstrate empathy and understanding when it comes to these types of suspicions. Practicing curiosity and openness about parental reactions to mindfulness (without defensiveness) will provide you with useful information about the nature of their concerns, and will also serve as a calming influence on parents. If parents feel deeply listened to and respected by you, they are more likely to receive your responses.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

9 Simple but Powerful Gratitude Practices to Share with Your Students

The following is a guest post by Erin Sharaf of Mindfulness + Magic.
Jomphong for

Emerging research on gratitude shows many benefits for teachers and students. Positive outcomes include:
  • Fewer emotional and physical symptoms
  • Stronger relationships and communities
  • Happier (by up to 25%)
  • More alert, enthusiastic, attentive
  • Promotes altruistic behavior and self-esteem
  • Less importance on material goods
  • More positive attitudes towards school & life

Here are a few ways you can start sharing gratitude practices with your class.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Mindfulness Benefits Physical and Emotional Health (interview)

photo courtesy Erin Sharaf
Erin Sharaf spent many years as a primary care provider and university professor, has a master’s degree in Integrative Medicine and is passionate about helping others find true wellness. She leads mindfulness groups, virtually and in person, joyfully coaches those interested in shedding limiting beliefs, and believes that inner transformation is the key to global transformation.

What are some of your favorite mindful eating practices?

For me, mindful eating means staying as conscious and awake as I can for every step of the process of nourishing myself, starting with buying the food. I ask myself questions like:

  • Was there cruelty and suffering involved with this? If so, I don’t want to contribute to that or put it into my body. 
  • Is it loaded with artificial ingredients and extra sugar or is it close to the earth? 
  • Is it genetically modified? 
  • Sprayed with pesticides? 
  • Treated with hormones? 
  • How far did it have to travel to reach me? 
  • Was a virgin rainforest cut down and many animals displaced for this to reach my plate (as often happens with palm oil)? 
  • Is this food or industry contributing to global warming (as with the beef industry)? 
I do all this with great love so it doesn’t feel complicated or burdensome. By the time I’m actually eating, I can stay present with my food and be grateful for it bite by bite, because I know I made the highest and best choice I could make for my individual body and for my planet.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Building Narratives of Inclusion

Mitigating Implicit and Explicit Bias in Our Own Stories 

The following activity was created by Brandi Lust of Learning Lab Consulting and will appear in her upcoming book which explores practices of mindfulness, gratitude, growth, and connection as tools to enhance our humanity. 

Note to teachers: This activity is intended for adults, but may also be appropriate for mature teens. 

“…most often people who have power turn their stories into a wall keeping out somebody else’s truth…” 
James Hannaham, Delicious Foods (the following activity was inspired by this quote)

We all have power. In addition, we all have the desire to see ourselves positively, as worthy of love. Sometimes, in order to protect our own value and worthiness, we avoid seeing the ways in which we exclude others through either conscious choice or implicit bias. None of us are exempt from these human conditions: the desire to be worthy of love; the urge to protect our self image; the ability to be exclusionary in thoughts, actions, and community choices. 

This practice is an exploration of the ways we as individuals act out our human condition. Using personal narrative as a tool, the goal is to closely examine our own experiences in order to see the ways we may have been blinded by circumstance or choice to those who represent “otherness,” a term which means something different for every single person. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Mindfulness Increases Creativity, Spirituality, and Connection (interview)

photo courtesy Brandi Lust
Brandi Lust is the founder of Learning Lab Consulting, which was created as a tool to improve the quality of life and performance of organizations and individuals seeking to grow in a more mindful, creative and connected manner.  She is also a writing consultant certified by the National Writing Project and is writing a book about her experience with mindfulness in her own life and her professional work.  It will include reflections and practices to increase mindfulness, gratitude, growth, and connection to others

Your work incorporates ‘mindful creativity.  What types of activities do you include, and how does mindfulness assist in the creative process?

Creativity is an inherent aspect of the human condition. However, our mindsets, beliefs and self-talk can create obstacles to accessing it.  Mindfulness cultivates ways of thinking and being that can counteract these obstacles.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mindfulness and Self-Care for Caregivers

My family is very private, so I won't go into too much detail. But I will say this:

My mom died of a brain tumor a few months ago. Prior to her illness she was a professor and a renowned scholar in her field. I'll leave it at that, but I'm sure you get the picture.

Since she was diagnosed after I started Mindful Teachers, I've sometimes felt like I've been living in an intense personalized mindfulness retreat. I've learned an incredible amount about the mind, and the brain, and myself, and mindfulness, and compassion, and teaching.

That journey has indirectly affected much of what I've written on other topics, but I wanted to devote an entire post specifically to caregiving. If you're a caregiver (carer), whether professionally or for a family member, I wish you all the best and hope the following advice and links give you some comfort and strength.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

3 Essential Tips for Working with Non-Native Speakers (guest post)

stockimages for
This week, I had the opportunity to share some of my experiences with refugees and international students in a guest post at the Center for Adolescent Studies blog hosted by Dr. Sam Himelstein.

In "3 Essential Tips for Working with Limited English Proficiency Youth," I explain common sources of confusion and miscommunication when talking with non-native speakers of English, and suggest a mindfulness practice that can help during frustrating encounters.  (The tips are equally valid if you work with adults rather than adolescents, or if you work with non-native speakers of a language other than English.)

Here's the intro:
During a meeting at a refugee assistance organization, a psychologist described a problem she was having with one of her clients. 
 “I think he must be lying about how he got to the U.S.” she said.  “I mean, given the rest of his story, how could he possibly have been in Iceland?”