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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. 

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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?

There is an increasing amount of published research, utilizing real time brain-imaging techniques to explore mindfulness and how it may impact the brain. 

For example, a study led by Dr. Sara Lazar at Massachusetts General Hospital showed "Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress."

"Neuroscientist Sara Lazar's amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress." (TEDX Cambridge)

While all these tools are not readily available in our own daily practice, we have an advantage in that we are both subject and researcher of our own experience. Journaling and creating an open dialogue about our practice is a great opportunity to reflect upon our transformation. 

My intention in writing books for children is to create a space for parents, teachers and children to explore and dialogue about their thoughts, feelings and emotions and how they may transform over time.

As part of your master’s program, you conducted research on the connection between mindfulness and music. What type of research did you do, and what did you discover?

We used qualitative thematic analysis to examine participants’ written reflections on the interplay of music and mindfulness following a two-hour live performance hosted by the Barbican.  The research revealed that listening to music supported a deepening of practice and insight. 

The study helped me understand the benefits of different ways of practicing mindful awareness: in addition to seated meditation and mindful movement, we can practice deep listening and creative arts, to name a few.

Keeping an open mind and exploring what resonates with you may allow for a deeper connection with your practice and yourself.

image courtesy Sarah Kraftchuk

You’ve also trained as a holistic nutritionist. Do you have any favorite mindful eating practices?

One of my favorite mindful eating practices is to pause and take a moment to connect to the journey of my food from the earth to plate. This practice is a great opportunity to recognize and express gratitude to all the people and environmental elements that made the meal possible. 

Connecting to the food and taking a moment to pause allows my body and mind to slow down and rest. I am able to shift away from stressors pulling for my attention and truly be with my food in a restful space that supports ease of digestion and absorption.

photo courtesy Sarah Kraftchuk

What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

‘Mindful teaching’ means a commitment to your own practice. Teachers could try, for example, to take a moment before class to connect to their thoughts, feelings and emotions and set an intention for how they will enter the class. 

A lot of teaching is well planned out and designed, but it is so important to also be able to go with the flow of the class and pick up on spontaneous ‘teachable moments’; this requires being in tune with students and their needs. I believe this creates space for moments of shared learning and joy. 

It's important to embrace each moment with an open mind and nurture an environment where students feel safe to explore their learning. Establishing a personal practice and exploring deep listening will help teachers to become aware of and connect with their students' diverse and changing needs.

image courtesy Sarah Kraftchuk

What do you do in your own personal mindfulness practice, and how does it help you with your work?

In my own personal practice I enjoy a quite “Sarah” period each day. I take a moment to connect with what would be most nourishing; this may include a seated meditation, journaling, mindful walking, movement, eating or listening. 

I often find myself in thought, so it's important for me to take time to connect to my body and sensory experience of being. I also like to incorporate a 3-minute breathing space a few times throughout the day to ground myself in the moment and in my body. 

Taking time to create a safe and nurturing space for self-awareness and compassion inspires my holistic nutrition coaching and writing.


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