Isabel Brooks Yoga

I was very excited when Isabel agreed to write a guest post for the website. Isabel is an ELSA and a Yoga teacher. She also teaches mindfulness. You can follow Isabel on Facebook where she has her own Yoga Page. (click to go to her page) Thank you so much Isabel for writing this piece. I am sure many ELSAs/TAs will find these activities very useful.

 

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Weekly Mindfulness sessions

In a mainstream first school

Appropriate for small groups of between 3 and 8 children.

I first started Mindfulness Sessions at the school I work in in Dorset in 2014.  “Mindfulness” had not yet become the buzz word that it currently enjoys! I was training to teach yoga and it became apparent from this and my own years of yoga practice and meditation techniques, that this was something that would help a few of the children that came my way in my capacity as an ELSA.  Fortunately my head teacher was on board from the start.  Let me say that it is not always easy or straight forward, as the children all have different needs and behaviours, but eventually it clicks!  I have needed to explain that this is not just another intervention that anyone can grab and go with, I do think that needed to be explained and that you need to buy in to the meditative therapy style.

I tell parents that their children will be joining me for Mindfulness sessions as part of the Emotional Literacy programme in school, just as with SEAL sessions. It was included in a series of workshops we ran in the evenings for parents to attend and it proved to be popular with those curious to know and experience more. Sometimes parents might be concerned that it involves a religious Hindu over tone, which it does not! I also check that they are alright with eating and drinking different foods.

I start each indoor session with sitting with crossed legs in a circle in a quiet space. In our school I can use the library.  Thinking about having a straight strong back and shoulders relaxed.

We check in with how we might be feeling, but don’t let them distract each other with too much news.  I then move on to the chosen activity, sometimes repeating something if it was successful. We finish with a relaxation. Lying down, with or without a cushion.  As in a yoga class. Choose your music carefully or you might inadvertently turn it into a more lively session than first anticipated!  I have a playlist, but the music from Zero7 has been a good standby.  I have yet to find ‘children’s music’ that is suitable without being prescriptive, with instructions, or cheesy.

Personal Weather Report – A good way to find out how we are all feeling or coping. What’s the weather like inside me today?  Children might be able to recognise that ‘I am not the pouring rain; I can see that it is raining, but I don’t have to be a scaredy cat.’  We can’t change the weather, and we can’t change our emotions, but we can change how we react.

Gratitude Practice – This is a fundamental component of teaching children mindfulness. Appreciating the abundance in their lives, instead of focussing on the things they don’t have.  We have had very rewarding reflections on what we enjoy every day, compared to a child living in a camp at Calais, for example. We had been collecting supplies in school for transportation to refugee camps in Europe so this was topical.

Breathing Buddies. –  Each child selects a small soft toy to use when lying down in final relaxation.  Placed on the abdomen or diaphragm to illustrate how this rises with the in breath like a balloon expanding and sinks to the floor as you exhale. We have breathing reminders at the start of each session.  Begin to count to 4 with each inhalation and let it out to the same count and breathing through the nose

Positive Self Talk – Praising ourselves and noticing our achievements.  Some children may need help with this where others are full of news of the awards they have for swimming etc.  Learning that although things night not seem perfect, they are probably much better than you think!

Throw them away! – The thoughts that creep in, just when you were forgetting and feeling really content and secure… In creeps a worry.  Write them down and put them physically in the bin!  Or write them onto a white board and wipe it clean. The point of this is to have a clear mind without confusing worries flying around to bother us.  The mindfulness edict of not needing constant control, because worrying about yesterday is pointless, it’s already in the past, or tomorrow as it’s not even happened yet, but just enjoying the moments  you have today. This moment today is the only certain thing, well that applies here.  Being in the present.

Tea light or candle – remember safety!  Gazing at the flame and studying how it flickers and shakes but is not extinguished, just as our own feelings might be. How you might feel angry or stressed, but essentially you can maintain your ‘flame’.

Mindful eating.  Choose sweet savoury or both!  I use a chocolate biscuit, dried and fresh fruit, cheese cracker. It needs to be appealing and not trigger allergies!   This demonstrates how, that if you can resist eating the thing you really want to eat, quickly, you can even control yourself and resist the urge to lose control of your emotions, temper or voice. Aim to take about 20 minutes arriving at the complete eating stage!

Employ each of the five senses in turn.

  1. Looking at the food, observing the texture, the shine, the colours, lumps and bumps etc.
  2. With hands first, what does it feel like, rough smooth etc. Rub it on your cheek maybe.
  3. Smell it, what does that smell remind you of? Do you like it?
  4. Listen to it. Hold to your ear and try to hear it. Biscuits if rubbed should make a scratching noise, apricots and raisins will make a definite squish when squeezed enough!
  5. Put the food on to our lip first, and slowly take a tiny nibble. Swish it around in your mouth, tasting and feeling with your tongue. Then a bite. Slowly increasing your enjoyment. Then, finally, take bigger bites and eat very slowly but normally.

Discuss how much more they have enjoyed this way of eating.

Breathing wand. This is a craft activity.  Make a tube to breathe through with lots of feathers and floaty bits hanging off the end (that you do not put to your mouth when breathing out.)

I used coloured card, A4 lengthways, and cheap stickers for speed.  If you want to use them in the same session glitter and glue won’t dry.  Then add your floaty materials at one end, to show how your breath blows.

Use them to ‘dance out stress’?  The song People by Sean Escoffrey was a favourite for this!  Give them the words to read as a poem.  I do this often as many songs work as poetry with a good message.

Mindful Walking  Taking off shoes and socks and feeling the different surfaces around school. Carpets, plastic, wood, grass, mud, playground.  Obviously being careful of sharp things and dirt.  Is it cold, warm, soft or hard?  This can be quite liberating and you can pick up many different sensations through the soles of your feet.  Walking slowly and deliberately.  You may need to make sure that feet are clean before shoes go back on!

5 Senses Walk – Best left for a sunny dry day.  Walking around outside, employing one sense at a time. What can be heard, smelled, felt, tasted, and seen? Shutting off each sense as a new one is used. Maybe have blindfolds so that other senses are more intense.  I collect twigs or feathers for them to hold and describe. Take your time and finish with a back to back belly breathing exercise sitting on blankets. If you have a big field you can always go to the farthest reaches for seclusion.

Pebbles in a Tank – Have a collection of appealing pebbles, one for each child and a tank of water, such as a small disused fish tank or bucket.  As each pebble represents a worry and the children drop into the water watch the how the water closes over it and the ripples return to normal.  Equate that with how our own worries can be calmed.

Snow Globe or Mind Jar– make a very large snow globe. I used a 2 litre water bottle. Fill nearly to the top with water and sprinkle in enough glitter of different colours to achieve a pretty effect!  Make a real storm by shaking it and them watch how the ‘temper’ calms its self down…just as we can let our thoughts and emotions settle down.

Colouring Mandalas –  These are traditionally round.  Find mandala pictures on the internet or from the adult style colouring books.  Taking time to work out a pattern and concentrating on intricate designs requires focus and relaxation.

Lists of hope for a new year – write a list in January with hopes for the world. Try to encourage the children to think about helping other people, and to be less self-centred. Look outwards at other people’s needs.

Quotations to inspire – plenty of quotations and inspirational sayings on google!  Choose a few and make them child friendly. ie.  “If you want others to be happy practice compassion” (may be use the word kindness) If you want to be happy practice kindness to yourself.”   “Hating never goes away by hating, it only goes away with love.”  Give each child a quotation on a nice piece of paper, to reflect on and then ask them to give feedback. You will probably have to explain.

Muscles!  Learning to isolate different parts of the body does not always come easily. By naming body parts and realising that one by one we can let go you can become very relaxed and stay in control too.

Mindful Disco – not strictly a disco!  Choose a song with meaningful words.  My favourite is People by Shaun Escoffrey and I can supply words.  Let it Go (Disney’s Frozen) is a popular one too!  But it’s important to choose appropriate songs for your group of children. Read the words like a poem without letting them know that they are really listening to, or reading along to, a song.  When they seem to have some understanding of the words, play the song and ask them to join in, in any way they choose!  It’s perfectly ok to get silly sometimes!  Mine took this into the school hall for a mad dance session. Completely of their own volition!

Only one You ( Book by Linda Kranz) – work through this book either all in one session or by taking one page at a time.  I found that by sheer good luck each member of my group had a particular suitability for keeping a particular message on a page close. So I copied the pages out and gave them away to take home.

A Handful of Quiet- (Book by Thich Nhat Hanh) Happiness in four pebbles. This book is by a published and well known Buddist, but don’t be put off.  I adapted the book and made our own Pebble Meditation Mats. It’s a delightful little book and concentrates on using pebbles to aid breathing, calm and the important activity of visualisation.

Wishes for you – (Book by Adele Geras) this book would be good if you are struggling with creating your own final relaxation for children.  The words are beautiful and restful.

The Key Jar – google this FANTASTIC  resource.  Essentially you make a jar filled with tickets on which are printed points to consider and answer such as;  When is it hard being a friend?,  What’s the smartest thing you heard somebody say today?  If you could create one law for everybody on earth to follow, what would it be?  Again you must tailor this to meet the needs and age of the children you are with.

Yoga  –  Many people buy a book or a video and encourage children into Yoga poses or asanas. As a yoga teacher, I would discourage this. Firstly because you are unlikely to be insured against injury.   Some poses are physically challenging and should only really be done with good anatomical knowledge and adequate warm up.  However, the Yoga Pretzel cards are easy to follow and can be a great tool.  If you are an experienced practitioner, attending regular classes yourself, you will probably understand what you are doing and could have a go at some gentle poses.

Final Relaxation –  Very Important! 

All children to find a space enough for them not to be touching others. Lie down with a cushion under their heads or not. Breathing buddy in place on their tummies or not.  Legs slightly apart and feet relaxed, and arms by sides with palms uppermost. Talk through a relaxation session.  If you have not experienced this personally, I suggest that you do try it yourself, and you-tube might help?  Take your time to settle the children for this leaving 10 minutes at the end of your session.

I start with visualising a special place with blue sky above.  Toes are feeling warm and melty. That feeling travels up your body etc. Introduce a sparkling white light that also travels down through their relaxed body. Do all this is child friendly language, obviously. If worries and thoughts start to pop into their mind just put the thoughts onto a little white cloud and let them drift away till later.  Play your music gently throughout, and you may find that the children come to love it and quickly learn to calm themselves as soon as it starts in future sessions.  Remind them to do their ‘belly breathing’. Some children are very receptive to this and can switch off from the world quite easily. Others do not, a few children become uncomfortable and twitchy.

I would say that it’s good to keep on for a few weeks.  To begin with certain children have never ever been able to relax, and may be never will fully.  But this is the hard part for you, staying with it, teaching them this lifelong skill. However not all personalities will react well, with this or each other as it is with any group work.

One boy with ADHD loved it, but was too ‘wired’ and disruptive to allow the others any peace.  I took him on his own and it all changed. He had his own copy of the Zero7 CD and bingo!  Another with pronounced attachment problems took much longer to trust me with this activity, I was one of his attachment figures anyway and he became jealous, scared of the low light in the library and of the tea light I had burning, however, he did get there eventually.

Generally speaking it has become quite a ‘cool’ thing to do in school which I think has been helped by Mindfulness being enjoyed and promoted by the children themselves.

Isabel Brooks

22nd April 2016

Isabel has written a relaxation script and you can read it and download it from here: Relaxation Script

 

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