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Highlights from My Montessori Eco School this past term

The focus of this term’s Mindful Me lessons at My Montessori was Bee breathing or Brahmiri, mindful eating and a new affirming song: “I am Brave, I am Bold, My own spirit, I can hold” from Shakta Kalsa, a kundalini yoga teacher.

Bhramari Pranayama Stage-2The bee breathing was great fun and so good for the kids. We started out by first making the sound of the bee with our mouths open and with our teeth together and then we made the sound while holding our mouths closed.

The vibration that this practice sets up in your head and throat is very noticeable and the kids commented on it easily. We then blocked our ears and closed our eyes ( or tried to close our eyes) and made the humming sound again with a closed mouth a few times. Breathing in first and then humming on the out breath till our breath was finished and we had to breathe in again. I asked them if they noticed that even though they are making a noise with their outside voices if they noticed that they were quiet on the inside. The blocking of the ears and closing of the eyes and the humming vibration creates a kind of cocoon for the mind and it becomes completely calm and still. And as such so does the spirit.

We did some silent sitting then as we will always do in every Mindful Me session When-eating-eatfollowed by a mindful eating practice. I brought a different food item each week to keep it interesting and had the children use each of their senses with the item before they were allowed to put it into their mouths to first taste by rolling around their mouths, then chew, then swallow. What a wonderful experience. The first thing we did was dried cranberries – WOW – what flavour burst from them when at last we bit into them. I also made sure to ask the children if they noticed anything happening in their mouths when they smelled the item each week, and they noticed the subtle watering of the mouth and tasting of the item on their tongues. A Wonderful Wonderful mindful practice. One of the students actually began to practice mindful eating at home with his Dad I was told and a few of the teacher’s commented on how the practice had also affected their lives.

Then, after some state changers, we moved on to singing our song, I am Brave…. for the term before closing with Namaste. Magic

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Christel House takes the next step

So my latest news is that I had the privilege of taking my first group of school teachers through an “Introduction to Breathing, Meditation and Mindfulness” this past month. I currently teach 360 children there Yoga every week, but the founder of Christel House was recently introduced to the power of mindfulness to change behaviour and so the principal of the school invited me to do a one hour workshop on the topic.

I wanted to give the teachers a good understanding of:

  • what mindfulness is and how it differs from meditation
  • what mindfulness and meditation do for the brain
  • the benefits of breathing, meditation and mindfulness
  • a personal experience of practicing mindfulness
  • some practices that they could use in their classrooms with their students to invite more mindfulness
  • some mindfulness practices that the school could use on the whole

It was just an hour long session and we had a lot to get through in that time, but I believe the teachers’ walked away with both a deeper understanding of what these practices are and why we do them. (We will be completing a further three hour session together in the June/July holidays.)

Fundamental to achieving this was Ted Talk: “After watching this, your brain will not be the same” by Lara Boyd.

This video raised our awareness of the fact that it takes different people, different lengths of time to learn and that the practice of something over and over again is what is paving the way for new behaviour to unfold. So just like the butterfly 

butterfly-and-mewho has to push his wings against the  inside of the cocoon to escape and have the muscles he needs in his wings to fly, we must try, fail and try again to learn this new life skill called mindfulness. This is also why patience and compassion are so very important when teaching it. Some children will learn mindfulness and get the benefits of mindful behaviour earlier than others, so we as teachers also need to inspire practice and be the source for more and more practice, as much as we can. 

To help you with this, consider purchasing my first Mindful Me booklet for just R135 including postage and take some time every day as best you can, to just be with yourself in a non-judgemental way. Practicing a breathing technique or a meditation.

rasin-meditationWe also practiced mindful eating on the day and I had feedback from one of the teachers the next day to say that this had sparked interest in her and that she and her family had had a discussion about it that evening. The starting point for realising that we can be more mindful is of course realising that we are not mindful….with our food, our thoughts, our breath, our words, our actions…….and so we practice.

Here is a lovely poster from mindful.org.

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Now a couple of weeks later, with all the rain in Cape Town at long last, and exams happening in the hall, I am going to be using my yoga time with each class to introduce them to Mindful Me with the Teachers present so that they can see first hand how to invite the children to discover that peace is personal and available to us all the time, if only we know where to look.

We will practice 5 finger breathing, do a mindfulness of body and breath exercise, sit
in silent meditation for a short while and close with a sharing round about what we are most grateful for in our lives. This connecting to gratitude for what we do have goes a very long way to heal the hurt from what we don’t have. So I enjoy including it for the kids in all my sessions. 

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And who says you need to be a child to practice 5 finger breathing anyway!

 

Mindful Me video!

It’s taken some time, but here it is! The 20 minute overview of Mindful Me taking place with the 3 – 6 year olds of My Montessori Eco School. Our thanks go to the school for making this beautiful video available to us.

If once watching this you want to find out more about having Mindful Me lessons at your school email mindfulmecapetown@gmail.com

#peace #love #spirit #mindfulness

Two mindfulness lesson plans for My Montessori Eco School

The Mindful Me journey at My Montessori Eco School continues as we move comfortably into the 2nd lesson plan I created for the remaining weeks of the school term. I have changed the breathing technique and some of the exercises for the older classes, but was advised by one of the teachers that it was best to keep it all the same for the younger classes, as they were just getting the hang of the lesson’s activities at week 3 and she didn’t want to change it. So, now we have three classes of children primarily between the ages of 3 and 5 doing one lesson plan and two classes with children between the ages of 4 and 6 doing the other. It’s fine.

Every class still starts with coming to sitting – legs crossed, hands in chin mudra on the knees and three long deep breaths in and out, the “I love my heart” exercise and “shake out your hands and put them on your knees”. Then I have introduced Five Finger Breathing to the older classes and they all love it. One of the kids actually said to me today – “I love this one.”

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Easy to do and sensory as well as breathwork, it’s wonderful. My thanks go to childhood101.com for making it available online for us all to use.

We then move through our body awareness exercise, by placing our hands on the top of our heads, our faces, our shoulders and so on, stopping briefly at our bellies to feel them move up and down as we breathe in and out. This then leads into some silent meditation or sitting still silently. It’s hard for some of the kids to do this and simple for others. Some like it and some don’t want to do it and try to make a game of it by clicking their tongues or giggling. In time however, I am sure that this uncertainty will be replaced by a knowing and ultimately with meditation. Even if it is only for some children and even if it is many years from now. The seeds are being sown today.

Close-up of a Rose Quartz rockThen we have a new exercise for the older children – I have introduced a speaking stone. It’s a piece of rose quartz just the right size to fit into the palm of a child’s hand and whoever has the stone, means it’s their turn to share. We have done two sharing exercises, the first a round of what we are thankful for (explained as what we love or are happy to have in our lives), resulting in rounds of all 17 children in the class saying “my Mommy”. Bless. But over time other things have shown up such as Daddy, the dog(s), sisters or brothers, visits to the beach/park, Mommy taking me to a party, all of you and everyone.

The second sharing round exercise is an inquiry as to what kind of weather they are today? Are you stormy weather, or rainy weather or sunny weather or misty weather or flower weather or rainbow weather or snowy weather or cloudy weather? How do you feel? What kind of weather are you? We have had some children that are always the same kind of weather, one little boy is always mountain weather, and some children who are nonsensical weather such as “king” weather.article-2093450-118210E4000005DC-706_964x553

But again, most of them are relating their feelings to the kind of weather they are. And I explain to them that they can see that the weather changes all the time, just like our moods, one minute we can be sunny weather and the next we can be rainy weather or stormy weather. But that we can also change our weather or our feelings if we want to by changing what we doing (changing our state).  We can speak to an adult or colour in or talk to a friends or take a long deep breath in and out until we feel better or we can say our A…F…F…I…R…M…A…T…I…O…N…S!!

“I am happy – to be me” “I am happy – to be me” “I am happy – to be me”

4dbcf54ddf1cfa59006159268248e1bfI realised too while setting this all out in a lesson plan to send to the parents that we are working on developing all the following major areas with all the different exercises:

  • Self love and acceptance
  • Body awareness and settling into feeling
  • Mindful state changing
  • Breathwork
  • Silent Meditation
  • Mood and emotion mindfulness
  • Sharing our selves
  • Gratitude
  • Singing

We then close with a song and namaste. This lesson includes “I am the light, light, light, light of my soul” 

I am.

 

 

 

 

Teaching teenager’s mindful awareness

There is a school in which I have been asked to share the breathing, meditation and mindfulness techniques that Mindful Me offers, where the average age is 18.

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Colouring is a wonderful way to find stillness within.

These are students who have opted for a private and more personal way of matriculating and as a result their Principal and the teachers at the school are way ahead of the mainstream schooling in South Africa, in their attitude to mindfulness meditation. Infact, they sit alongside the students in the circle of chairs most mornings, with their eyes closed and their hands resting comfortably in their laps.

As always, I start each 30 minute session with a breathing technique. This has brought about some guffaws and giggles, but after a few tries of a new breathwork, I can see that the kids are feeling the benefits and enjoying the experience.

We then do a short “Mindful Moment”, where we take our awareness through our bodies
from the tops of our heads down to the soles of our feet, just bringing gentle awareness to each part of our body. Its a relaxing and grounding way to enter into meditation no matter the practice. I believe that this Mindful Moment can actually be used to settle anxiety, bring us back to the present moment, get us out of our habitual thinking patterns (our heads) and create personal calm anywhere, anytime, by simply turning inward. This Mindful Moment could also be called a quick Body Scan Meditation.0f301485a9f0ce46eda070117beff7c6

Now that the kids are settled, either with their eyes closed or gazing downwards, we practice watching the breath, or watching our thoughts, followed by any one of the 14 different mindfulness practices that I have chosen to fill this curriculum. These include:

  • Loving Kindness meditation (Metta)

    buddhist2
    Metta Meditation: You start with May I… and then continue with May you… directing your thoughts to friends, family members, teachers and ultimately the whole universe and all living beings.
  • Reflection on a past event that made you feel proud
  • Visualisation of a future goal that you would like to achieve
  • Awareness of gratitude
  • Body scan for pain with allowing statement: “May I experience this pain without feeling bad or wrong”
  • Affirmation repetition

Some of them love it, some of them think I’m nuts.

But at the end of every session we talk about what we experienced, whether it’s helpful and whether we can see how it might impact our everyday lives.

The Mindfulness in Schools Project in their “Evidence  for  the  Impact   of  Mindfulness on Children  and Young  People” report states:  ” The  studies  (also)  show  that  adolescents  who  are  mindful,  either  through  their  character  or   through  learning,  tend  to  experience  greater  well-being,  and  that  being  more  mindful  tends   to  accompany  more  positive  emotion,  greater  popularity  and  having  more  friends,  and  less   negative  emotion  and  anxiety.”

quote7_lowres1Ultimately, what I hope to achieve by teaching teens mindful awareness, is to give them the freedom of choice that comes with that split second moment before we act – unconsciously and as a result of our conditioning. This moment alone can save hundreds of lives and change many many outcomes. Given a moment to consciously choose they may not act out in anger and whack that guy or take that toke when offered. They may think more carefully about their decisions and have more self compassion than we ever did. As a result they may learn to do what they love and love what they do through greater self awareness and not get stuck in a dead end desk job so that they can pay their bills. And they may even relate more deeply with the people in their lives than social media would have them do. Most of all they might find stillness and peacefulness in a stress filled life that seems to move faster and faster.

May it be so.

 

 

 

 

Weekly mindfulness lessons started at My Montessori Eco School

So I am two weeks into mindfulness lessons at My Montessori in the beautiful Hout Bay valley of Cape Town and it is with sheer pleasure that I look forward to the next lesson. The kids are sitting easily in circle and have already adopted the chin mudra and “a long deep breath in ….and ooouuutt.” with great enthusiasm. 🙂

Chin means consciousness in Sanskrit, and the purpose of this mudra is to remind the practitioner of the goal of yoga, the union of the individual soul with the supreme soul.
Mudra means seal, and it is essentially an energetic and spiritual gesture that controls the flow of energy within the body.

We start the lesson with alternate nostril breathing, but using just one “peter pointer finger” at a time to block the one nostril and then the other nostril. We do this for a good 3 minutes and you can just feel and see the calm being created.

Then we do affirmation and body holding: child-cpr-landing-page-image-picture-of-a-child-holding-hands-to-chest

“I love my heart” with your hands on your heart. “ I love my eyes” with your hands on your
eyes. “I love my ears” with your hands on your ears, “I love my mind” with your hands on your head, “I love me” with your hands on your heart again and finally “I love everybody” with your arms outstretched and hands open.

The children love it and happily repeat it with me. There are smiles and giggles and they lean into each  other in enjoyment and sharing.

We then move on to body awareness and focusing on a specific area. So like we do in adult orientated mindfulness, we place our awareness on the top of our heads, then our face, then our throats and so on, but I get the children to place their hands on these places of focus too, so that they can feel the place and focus on it more easily.a-breathing-exercise-to-help-kids-calm-down1

We move through the whole body all the way to the feet, with special attention paid to the belly. At the point where we reach the belly, I bring their attention to their belly moving up and down with every inhale and this-breathing-exercise-helps-kids-calm-downexhale. We notice and feel the belly expand and contract as we breathe in and out, and comment that it is like a balloon, big and round when we have taken a breath in and flat like a pancake when we have breathed out all our air.

At this point we place our hands in chin mudra again on our knees and sit in silent meditation for just a few minutes. It is said that the age of the child will tell you how long they can meditate for so I aim for between 3 and 5 minutes. What has helped with this has been the Silence Game that is well known by Montessori children. We are creating silence together!!!!! And I can call them back to creating silence when they get restless by whispering their name.

The rest of the lesson goes like this:

“Now, we are going to do affirmations. Do you know what affirmations are? They are words you say to yourself that make you feel good. So we are going to say “I am peaceful” with our hands on our hearts and “I am calm” with our hands on our knees in chin mudra. Can you do that? And we sing the affirmation together…..”I am peaceful”…..”I am calm”

So do you feel peaceful when you say the word? Expected answer “Yes!”

And do you feel calm when you say the word? Expected answer “Yes!”

Some agree and some disagree and have different perspectives on different days :).

“Now, who gets angry (put up your hand)? And who gets sad?”me-me-me-are-we-living-through-a-narcissism-epidemic-life-and-style-the-guardian-1456958264gn8k4

“So you can use your affirmation when you get angry or sad and change yourself from angry to peaceful and calm.” This is where I introduce the concept of being able to consciously change state/personal experience.  Choosing your reality vs being a victim of your thoughts or feelings. This is something that is a strong theme throughout the Mindful Me lessons in any age group. I introduce it to teens by inviting them to identify or see their thinking and feeling through mindfulness exercises such as “watching the breath”, “watching thoughts” or the “body scan”. For me, this is one of the most important benefits of mindfulness. Being able to be in control of what is in your awareness is a very special kind of freedom. You don’t have to believe that you are not good enough or not pretty enough or not clever enough. When you notice that you are telling yourself these things (which you begin to do with thought watching meditation), you can choose to believe that you are enough instead, and this puts self esteem and mental health in the your hands.flat800x800075f-u1

We will finish every lesson with a song we sing together. In this lesson we sing “May the longtime sun shine upon you…” and close the class with Namaste. Hands together at the heart centre.  We do each lesson plan three times before changing it, so that the repetition helps the children learn the techniques. And all lessons will have the fundamentals in it, such as the body awareness and belly breathing and meditation time.

I actually had one Mom stop me in the queue at Woolies the other day and ask me for advice around meltdowns. I recommended that they practice the “I am peaceful, I am calm” affirmation at the point of meltdown or when they can see it brewing and the child actually sat next to me in class this week and told me that she had practiced it with her Mom. That made me very happy!

It really is beautiful to see the calm being generated in these little beings and the hope is that they will take these practices into their lives and their parents lives and the lives of others they come into contact with.

Namaste

 

Mindful Me visited Khayalitsha in 2016

We were lucky enough to offer a Mindful Me lesson in partnership with The Earthchild Project in 2016 and look forward to that possibility again this year. It was during a holiday camp designed to give the kids in the township something to do while they were on a break from their school.

The Earthchild Project currently offers a weekly yoga class to students and so some breathwork, meditation and mindfulness wasn’t that strange for them.

We practiced alternate nostril breathing, some silent meditation and a mindfulness exercise where we imagined how it would feel to achieve something that they really wanted to achieve. The smiles that appeared on the faces of the children as they imagined achieving a dream and how it would feel told me that the exercise was working.

We then closed the session with some relaxation, ie: lying in savasana or corpse pose and completing a rotation of awareness of the whole body.

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#happinessis

Skull Shining Breath

This breathing technique is very good for strengthening your core muscles as well as fanning the digestive fire and helping to eliminate toxins. (Do not practice if you have high blood pressure.)

Start by sitting in a comfortable cross legged position, hands resting on the knees. Breathe in and then pull in your tummy muscles fast forcing the air from the belly. Just pull the navel toward the spine as far as you can. Then slowly breathe in whilst relaxing the tummy muscles, feel the lungs fill. And repeat. You will notice that the inhalation happens on it’s own. Repeat either 12, 24 or 36 more times depending on how you feel.

Relax afterwards and just gently notice the subtle sensations in the body.

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The benefits:

1. Effective in reducing weight by increasing the metabolic rate
2. Clears the nadis (subtle energy channels)
3. Stimulates abdominal organs and thus is extremely useful to those with diabetes
4. Improves blood circulation
5. Improves digestive tract functioning, absorption and assimilation of nutrients
6. Results in a taut and trimmed down belly
7. Energizes the nervous system and rejuvenates brain cells
8. Calms and uplifts the mind

Dandelion breathing technique

Dandelion breath is practiced by sitting in a comfortable cross legged position, taking a normal breath into the lungs and then blowing out the air in short puffs as if blowing the seeds from a dandelion.

Break up the exhalation into small puffs. Do not inhale after each puff. It is one exhalation that is broken into many puffs until the lungs are empty. When the lungs are empty inhale smoothly and repeat. It enhances breath control and helps to extend the exhalation.

You can repeat this 6 times before taking a break and breathing normally and then repeating the practice. Do not do this for more than 3 or 4 rounds at one sitting.

Benefits of Dandelion breath:

  • It helps to extend the length of the exhalation, making it deeper and bringing about a deeper sense of calm.
  • Control of the breath.