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Becoming Mindful

Becoming Mindful

Published: 05/15/2014 by Cea Winter

» Health & Wellness

 Mindfullness is a way of being fully present in this moment. That is, when your complete at­tention and senses are focused, without judgment, on your inner and outer experience. It is being fully alert and present in your body, experiencing your environment through your senses and being in a state of generalized ‘aware­ness’ rather than immersed exclusively in your thoughts.

According to psychologist, Jean Twenge, of Case Western Reserve Uni­versity, average children ages 9-17 are more anxious today than those treat­ed for psychiatric disorders 50 years ago. Dr. R. Cohen-Sandler states that high school counselors, across the United States are reporting a sharp increase in psychological crises among students. This corroborates with my experience working with at-risk youth in drug treatment, as well as youth in mainstream and alternate high schools in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon. Youth experience stress due to dysfunctional family life, peer pressure, identity confusion, low self-esteem, insecurity, trauma, learn­ing difficulties and academic pressure, among numerous others (Cohen-Sandler, 2005).


As a teacher, mindfulness practitioner and mind body therapist, I have witnessed youth experience high levels of anxiety, depression, an­ger, violence, behavioral issues and slide downhill with the often further damaging coping strategies they use to try to alleviate this stress. I decided to create a workshop series that would bring the mindfulness experience to youth. This effort was co-sponsored by ArtStartsBC and the alternate education school, Twin Rivers Education Center, (TREC) in Kamloops. It was called Art Ex­plosion: Empowerment for Life.


I met with students ages 13 – 18 in groups as large as 18 and as small as five. Over the course of three months, I met with them 11 times and facilitated mindfulness while processing through art workshop series that culminated in The Urban Art show. Our sessions always began with a quick check in around the group, inviting each student to check in with what was going on internally. This was done with a 10-20 minute guided mind­fulness activity.


These activities ranged from basic relaxation exercises, single-pointed mind focus, to connecting with their essential self and getting an embod­ied sense of their inner resources. Then we would discuss what they had noticed once they had calmed and quieted their minds and bod­ies. Then they would take this a step further by using art making mate­rials like graphite, pastels, paint or clay to express what they had real­ized, making it more concrete, real and explicable. This was always a personal pro­cess, yet took place in a socially sup­portive circle environment, where each participating youth typically left in a much calmer, satisfied and optimistic mood.


In one experiment they would chart their physical sensations, emo­tions and thoughts in response to different words, after noticing their breath and turning their awareness inward. What they were able to real­ize, in a more tangible way, was how much their experience was in­fluenced by what they focused on. They found that even one word could markedly change their men­tal, emotional and physical experi­ence dramatically. They generalized their findings and realized they could have more control of over how they felt in any situation by choosing what they wanted to focus upon.


Students would sometimes come in pale and agitated and after the 15-20 minute mindfulness exercise would be breathing more deeply, be more relaxed and have more color in their cheeks. There was a noticeable shift in all three domains: the men­tal, the emotional, and the physical for most of the participants.


Student’s written comments re­flected this shift: “I felt relaxed and carefree,” “I liked having the guided visualizations before starting the projects so I felt inspired,” “I get that my thoughts are powerful and can change my mood,” “I think I would deal with stress/drama a little differently now by being mindful and relaxed,” and “I see and appreciate more of who I am like my inner peaceful person and my inner warrior ‘cause I am strong and a fighter.”


One thing to be aware of with trau­matized youth, is that they should be given the option of focusing on physical movement such as mindful walking or holding a pose with their body such as a yoga pose rather than strictly sitting and focusing on their breath. They need the safety and support of a counselor, teacher or yoga instructor there be­side them because there has been a loss of a sense of safety within.


I believe that if the re­sources are easily and readily avail­able, many more students in schools across Canada could be developing mindfulness skills and reaping these benefits — more self- regulation, more calm, more focus, more academic success, more resil­iency.


So I did two things, first, I put my workshop series online with all of the visuals, audios, videos and lesson plans needed for any teacher or counselor with the interest to be able to facilitate the Youth Empower­ment For Life workshops themselves.


Secondly, I devel­oped the Mind Focus Connection guided mindfulness audio and vid­eo series. These are a series of more than 30 guided mindfulness and yoga activi­ties youth can plug into anytime to calm, focus, re-energize, build ‘men­tal muscle’ and connect with their core self and inner resources. The yoga is ‘trauma sensitive’ and all ac­tivities can be done at a desk.


Although it isn’t easy, it is possible, and indeed, critical that we equip youth with healthy coping skills to develop secure positive identities and manage the increased stress of our modern environment. Statistics and our own eyes and hearts tell us that more and more, youth are not managing and we owe it to them to provide them with coping strategies that will work.


Reprinted with permission from Adminfo, June 2013