Sunday, June 26, 2016

Teaching English, Yoga, and Mindfulness in Indonesia (interview)

photo courtesy Alicia Brill

Alicia Brill is a mindfulness practitioner and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) educator from the United States. From September 2015-June 2016, she served as an English Language Fellow in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. In her free time, she likes to practice yoga, meditate, travel, and climb mountains.  She will participate in a 10-day silent meditation retreat before returning to the United States.

You introduced your ESOL students to yoga. How did you tie that in with their language learning? What advice would you give to other language teachers who might want to try yoga and/or mindfulness practices with their students?

I've practiced yoga off and on for around 10 years, but I had never made it a consistent practice. Over the New Year, I attended a yoga and meditation retreat on Lombok Island in Indonesia. The retreat reinvigorated my yoga practice, was my first introduction to meditation, and reenergized my life.

Shortly after the retreat concluded in January, I helped to co-facilitate a pre-service teacher training camp in West Sumatra, Indonesia. The facilitators were asked to lead an “American Moment” activity where we introduced the campers to a particular aspect of life in the United States. 

I decided to teach a yoga class. It was the students’ first experience trying yoga and my first experience teaching yoga. The students were engaged with it, asking a lot of questions (e.g., what is the history of yoga, what’s the meaning of Namaste). They seemed sponge-like in their desire to learn about yoga and Gumby-like in their ability to try unfamiliar poses!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Children's Author Emphasizes Mindfulness and Self-Acceptance

photo courtesy Sarah Kraftchuk

Toronto-based children’s book author Sarah Kraftchuk trained as a mindfulness facilitator with Mindfulness Without Borders and has an M.Sc. in the Neuroscience and Clinical Applications of Mindfulness from King’s College London. 

Teachers ordering books through can get a 15% discount using the code TEACHLOVE.

Your books Love to Be Me!, I Am. Magical Me!, and The Hue in You emphasize self-acceptance. What’s the connection between self-acceptance and mindfulness, and how do your books help kids learn to accept themselves and their moods?

Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention to the present moment in the spirit of kindness, curiosity and non-judgment. The practice of self-acceptance allows us to embrace our whole being and what makes us unique. 

Kids can learn how to explore their inner landscape and to feel all the feelings, as they are. Self-acceptance is an expression of self-love and compassion. 

As kids practice self-compassion and acceptance they may develop skills of mindfulness and compassion to connect with other people and the world around them. In order to accept we must first become aware, so these books provide a space to gently and playfully explore and discover inside.

Based on your studies of the neuroscience of mindfulness, what resources would you recommend that measure the effectiveness of mindfulness and show how mindfulness impacts the brain?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Great Children's Songs about Mindfulness, Self-Acceptance, and Gratitude

Phaitoon for

In the song lists about gratitude, etc., I always try to include at least one song that can be used with younger kids. However, most of the songs are geared more toward adolescents and adults.

So here's a whole list with only songs that are appropriate for children... although they can benefit the rest of us, as well.  (I know several adults who find it really helpful to belly breathe with Elmo!) 

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."