Peace Inside: How meditation can transform your mental health

peaceSam Settle, editor of Peace Inside, examines how the time tested practice of meditation – sitting in silence and paying attention to the breath – is helping people maintain a healthy mind behind bars.

“If you don’t go into prison with a mental health problem, then you’re very likely to pick one up while you’re there. And if you do have a pre-existing condition – and many people who come into prison do – it’s probably going to get worse while you’re inside.” So said the head of the mental health team at an Oxfordshire prison, speaking recently to yoga teachers at a training run by our charity, the Prison Phoenix Trust (PPT). Part of the PPT’s work is setting up yoga and meditation classes in prisons, training and supporting qualified teachers for this unusual work. There are currently 144 classes in 79 UK and Irish prisons.

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How can we help children to understand Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple SclerosisMeet Maria – a woman with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Maria tells the story of her family holiday which was interrupted when she began to feel dizzy, exhausted and weak. She explains how this led to her diagnosis and describes what MS is, how it affects her daily life and what others can do to help. Her story is taken from Can I tell you about Multiple Sclerosis? and is an ideal introduction to MS for children aged 7 +, as well as older readers. It will help family, friends and carers to better understand and explain MS and is an excellent starting point for group discussions.

Click here to download the extract

Can I tell you about Multiple Sclerosis? is part of the Can I tell you about…? series which offers simple introductions to a range of limiting conditions and other issues that affect our lives. Friendly characters invite readers to learn about their experiences, the challenges they face and how they would like to be helped and supported. These books serve as excellent starting points for family and classroom discussions.

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Yoga breathing exercise for foster carers, adopters and their families – Andrea Warman

Lark-Warman_Caring-with-Vit_978-1-84905-664-9_colourjpg-printYoung Royals Kate, William and Harry promoted the Heads Together charity earlier this week with a campaign encouraging people to talk about mental health and to find practical, everyday ways to help. During Foster Care Fortnight it seems fitting to think about the wellbeing of carers who risk  becoming stressed, anxious or depressed. Yoga and other mind/body practices can help – and they don’t all require being super-fit or flexible. It all begins with good breathing, so try this simple exercise from our book Caring With Vitality – Yoga and Wellbeing for Foster Carers, Adopters and Their Families.

Breathing holds the key

‘If you breathe well, you will live long on the earth.’

Yoga is not just about the physical asanas (postures). In fact, it is learning and practising a different way to breathe that will revitalise you even more than doing the poses.

All too often we become used to taking quick, shallow breaths (into our chests rather than our bellies), without making full use of all our breathing muscles, or our full lung capacity. If we carry on with this ‘bad’ breathing, the result can be physical tension and a whole range of other health problems. Continue reading

Caring with Vitality – bringing yoga to the world of social care

Andrea Warman, co-author of the family yoga book Caring with Vitality – Yoga and Wellbeing for Foster Carers, Adopters and Their Families, explains how yoga can encourage families to enjoy spending relaxing time together, as well as help children to develop the life skills they need for a healthy future.

family yoga book

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Play the Frog’s Breathtaking Speech Game

Image from Frog's Breathtaking SpeechBring the benefits of yoga and yogic breathing techniques into the classroom and the home with this game from Frog’s Breathtaking Speech author Michael Chissick. Based on the book, the game is a fun way to help children to recognise negative emotions and lean how to turn these into positive ones.

Simply download the game board, card set and instructions from the links provided and with some simple steps you’ll be ready to roar the house down with Lion, shake the walls with the Woodchopper Breath and more.

The game is at its most effective if used with the book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – find out more about the book here.

© 2013 JKP blog. All Rights Reserved.

6 Myths about Panic Attacks – by former panic sufferer, Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum

By Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum, a licensed clinical psychologist, board-certified senior fellow in biofeedback, certified yoga instructor, nutrition coach, and the Director of Feed Your Mind Wellness Programs. A former panic sufferer, Dr. Scheinbaum has practiced mind-body medicine for over 30 years, successfully teaching hundreds of clients to overcome panic.

She is the author of the new book, How to Give Clients the Skills to Stop Panic Attacks. Here, she shares some common myths* about panic attacks.


Don’t Forget about the Myths

Along with a hopeful message regarding recovery, it’s important to address the myths surrounding panic. A panic episode may be frightening, but it’s not dangerous. Use the myth-busters below as needed.

Myth #1: Panic Can Cause a Heart Attack, Heart Failure , or Cardiac Arrest.
If you have heart disease, an electrocardiogram (EKG) detects noticeable electrical changes. During a panic attack, your heart beats faster. That’s all.

Myth #2: Panic Leads to Cessation of Breathing or Suffocation.
A panic attack will not cause you to stop breathing or suffocate. Under stress, chest and neck muscles tighten, which limits breathing capacity. But don’t worry, the brain has a built-in reflex mechanism that forces you to breathe if you’re not getting enough oxygen. You’ll automatically gasp and take a deep breath long before reaching the point where you could pass out from a lack of oxygen. Even if you did pass out, you would immediately start breathing again.

Myth #3: Panic Leads to Fainting.
You may be feeling light-headed because blood circulation to the brain is reduced, but a panic attack won’t cause you to faint.

Myth #4: Panic Causes Loss of Balance and Falls.
A panic attack may cause you to feel dizzy because the stress response may be affecting the inner ear. But panic cannot cause you to lose your balance. I understand you feel “weak in the knees.” That’s because the adrenaline surging through your body causes blood to accumulate in your leg muscles. The good news is the legs don’t lose strength, and you won’t fall over or be unable to walk.

Myth #5: Panic Means I’m “Going Crazy”.
You’re breathing quickly during a panic attack, which reduces blood supply to the brain and causes constriction of blood vessels. The result: feeling disoriented. Although it certainly feels like an out-of-body experience, you can’t “go crazy” during a panic attack or have what used to be referred to as a “nervous breakdown.” In fact, you’re perfectly capable of thinking and functioning normally because these sensations are meant to protect you. There’s no evidence that psychotic conditions, such as schizophrenia, stem from panic attacks. We don’t see visions, hear voices, or become delusional during a panic attack.

Myth #6: Panic Leads to Loss of Control.
A panic attack won’t cause you to “lose control” or act in a bizarre way. You won’t burst out screaming or harm yourself. It may seem as if you’re “losing it,” but the opposite occurs: all senses reach a heightened state of alertness in order to protect you.


*Adapted from Chapter 1: Could This Be Panic?

For information, tools and exercises about how you can help clients prevent and abort panic attacks through lifestyle change and mind-body relaxation, pick up a copy of How to Give Clients the Skills to Stop Panic Attacks or check out Dr. Scheinbaum’s website.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

How to use Dramatic Play to teach kids to ‘learn by doing’ – An interview with Carol Woodard and Carri Milch

Encouraging imaginative play in the classroom is an effective way to teach young children how to think creatively and interact socially – vital parts of their cognitive, social, and emotional development.

In this interview, educators Carol Woodard and Carri Milch introduce their new book, Make-Believe Play and Story-Based Drama in Early Childhood, which presents engaging and practical ways to use drama to enable young children to develop creative thinking and literacy skills while planning together, making decisions, giving and receiving feedback and working toward a common goal. Download a sample activity »

What made you go into education, and how did the book come about?

We have always enjoyed working with young children and are continually intrigued by their development and innovative techniques that support learning. Over the years, we have gained experience by teaching in public, private, and demonstration schools, at the college level here and overseas, and by writing and consulting for schools, agencies, and business. More recently, however, we have been disturbed by the teacher directed instruction and scripted materials being introduced in early childhood classrooms, and decided to try to do something about it by focusing on pretend play which does not always receive the attention it deserves.

Why is engaging children in drama and pretend play such an effective way of supporting their development?

Pretending has an important role in early childhood development. Through make-believe play and story-dramatization, children expand their thinking by using imagination to connect reality (what is) with a variety of stimulating alternate possibilities (what could be). In this process, the child develops cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically especially when interacting with more knowledgeable adults and peers in a safe and supportive environment. The young child is also naturally drawn to pretending and finds it an engaging and delightful adventure.

What skills does dramatic play help children acquire?

Dramatic play is a type of pretending in which young children assume pretend roles within a theme like the grocery store, and improvise and control their own actions and conversations. Such play provides countless opportunities to develop skills such as critical thinking, prediction, problem-solving, self-discipline, cooperation, self-confidence, and empathy towards others, while also advancing language and literacy.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about education?

We firmly believe that young children learn by doing and being involved in actual experiences which they help design, develop, and guide, and parents need to understand how children learn and be encouraged to become partners in the undertaking. We also feel that learning should be an interesting, challenging, and satisfying experience that contributes to a child’s overall development and a teacher’s professional fulfillment.

Can you talk about the storybook component in the book and why was it important to include this?

Dramatizing a story is still another type of pretending in which young children need to thoroughly know a story in order to act it out. For this reason, we suggest a three step approach to story learning which includes picture reading a storybook with the children. Realizing that teachers can be hesitant about beginning to use story dramatization, we wanted to provide a complete package which would introduce dramatizing and provide a storybook especially designed for this purpose. Our storybook is quite lovely and well suited to dramatization as it combines action and suspense with simple, colorful illustrations which are easy to follow and later improvise. Such a package offers children and teachers the ease and confidence to become involved in this rewarding experience.

What do you hope teachers and others working with young children will take away from this book?

We hope the book will enable teachers to skillfully integrate dramatic play, everyday drama activities, and story dramatization in their programs and help children learn by doing while building a sound foundation for future success in school.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Teaching Yoga to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders? A Piece of Cake!

By Michael Chissick, primary school teacher and qualified yoga instructor, and specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and author of Frog’s Breathtaking Speech.


Exciting New Training Project

An exciting new initiative which delivers the benefits of yoga to hundreds of children with autism will be the cherry on the cake. The project will be in action at a Special Needs Academy in Lincolnshire, UK, after Easter with more to follow.

Over the past thirteen years I have developed a model of how to teach yoga to children with autism. The model can be used by class teachers and teaching assistants with no previous experience of yoga. The structures, activities and postures are easy to learn and are safe to teach. The model is suitable for children across all key stages.

Special schools that have a high proportion of children on the autistic spectrum will use the model. The advantages are that teaching and training are geared to the specific needs of their pupils, and staff can be trained economically without time away from school; and the icing on the cake is that staff can use the model immediately.

How did we reach this point?

I have been teaching Yoga to KS1, 2 & 3 pupils as part of the integrated day at Special Needs School for thirteen years. Many of the children I teach have autism and sensory processing disorders. During each thirty minute session I work with the whole class, class teacher and teaching assistants. Time restraints make it impossible for me to teach all classes in my schools, so I tend to alternate classes every half term.

I had noticed that when I returned to a class to continue after a 5/6 week break there was a need to start over again, which can be frustrating. For many years I simply regarded it as part of the job of teaching pupils with ASD.

However over the last couple of years I have noticed that some classes had retained what I had taught them and were as enthusiastic as ever for their yoga. So what distinguishes the ‘ready-for-more-class’ from the ‘let’s-start-again-class? The answer is that the class teachers and teaching assistants have been teaching their pupils yoga without me… and doing a brilliant job at it too!

Why does it work?

The answer also lies in the fundamentals of my highly structured approach. For example, the children are seated on chairs in a circle. I use a visual timetable and posture cards to keep my verbal input to the minimum. Within the structure I target several layers or elements simultaneously; it’s like a multi-tiered cake. These layers are easily recognised by colleagues who are already experts at working with children with ASD and are using similar models in other curriculum areas.

 

The Layers

  1. Engagement tactics are, for example, encouraging children to choose from posture cards hanging from an umbrella; or children throwing tiny bean bags into the holes on a colourful board as a means of choosing a posture.
     
  2. Fun is key! Children eagerly get out of their chairs and into the posture because it’s fun; if it continues to be fun then they will want to stay in the posture.
     
  3. Repetition of postures over the weeks is a crucial; as children become more at ease with the posture leading to improved skills and greater confidence.
     
  4. Every child Achieves in the lesson.
     
  5. Social Skills like waiting, listening, speaking, helping each other, taking turns and following rules are targeted.
     
  6. Fitness Flexibility and improved co-ordination are the layers that tend to hit the news.
     
  7. Sensory is the sweetest layer. The vestibular system ‘tells us if we are moving or still, while our proprioceptive system is the unconscious awareness of our body position’ (Yack et al 2002). A combination of both systems gives us vital information about movement and where we are in relation to, for example, the floor. I teach many children whose vestibular and proprioceptive systems are dysfunctional. Using yoga postures I help to regulate those dysfunctions.

Feedback

Feedback from the Academy in Lincolnshire was wonderfully positive describing the day as excellent and staff commented that the model:

‘…does away with many pre-conceptions and prejudices – it helps make different types of movement accessible to all.’

It is early days in Lincolnshire, but soon the children and staff will be enjoying their yoga while I’ll be teaching 175 miles away. Seems like I’ll be having my cake and eating it.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Yoga breathing techniques to help children deal with anger and stress – An Interview with Michael Chissick

Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.

Michael is the author of the forthcoming children’s book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech, which is published by JKP imprint Singing Dragon and teaches four yoga breathing techniques in a fun and interactive way and shows how they can be used to deal with anger, anxiety and tension.

In this interview, he shares the story of how this beautiful book came to be and the rewarding experiences he’s had teaching yoga to children; why he believes children nowadays need tools to cope with life’s stresses more than ever before; and how the breathing techniques in the book can be used with all children, including those with special needs.


Tell us a bit about you – how did you get into yoga, teaching yoga and teaching yoga to children?

I first came to yoga in 1974, and although I practised regularly it was not till 1990 that I consciously stepped up my practice and interest.

In 1990, following the death of my wife Jill, I decided to give up my business and look after my children. I made up my mind that Jill’s death would not be wasted and that I would do something meaningful with my life. I signed up to an Access Course, which got me back into studying and prepared me for University. As a mature student I simply thrived on the course and it unleashed a creative side of me that I had never known before. I went on to take a four year degree course in Education, (BEd Hons) and eventually took up my first post as a primary school teacher in Old Harlow, Essex, UK at the age of forty-six.

It was during my four year degree course that I established my deep interest in children’s self-esteem – specifically how it can be damaged and how it can be improved. Of all the areas that I studied this was for me the most important and I determined to make enhancing children’s self-esteem the core of my approach to teaching.

In the nineties yoga was such an essential part of my life that soon I had completed my yoga teacher training with the British Wheel of Yoga, and was able to begin my new career teaching yoga to adults. It was an obvious next step to merge my skills and experience as a primary teacher and qualified yoga teacher, and thus I become a children’s yoga teacher. I set up an after school club but found the work frustrating primarily because of my realisation that yoga needed to be taught as part of the school day for children to benefit most.

Nevertheless word of my work had spread and one day I was asked to teach yoga to children in a Special Needs School in East London. That day was a turning point in my life. Despite all my experience I stood there not knowing what to do while this group of children were going absolutely crazy, at one time cussing at me and throwing shoes around – it was chaos. I tried various activities, all to no avail. Then, amazingly, with one specific activity (it was Sun Sequence), they were suddenly hooked… and I even got them to do a relaxation. The transformation was astounding. I came out of there that day, sat in the car and cried tears of joy that I could make such a difference. That was a Tuesday Morning in 1999 and I have taught there every Tuesday ever since. Over time the school has become a beacon school for teaching children with autism. This means that for more than a decade I have been developing teaching approaches for teaching yoga to children with autism. I am now regarded as a specialist in teaching yoga to autistic children. I am very proud of that.

In the last few years I have been fortunate to have taught continuously in the same nucleus of schools. This means that I am there on a specific day every week, every term, every year. It also means that I have had to be creative and develop fun and interesting activities or risk the children’s boredom. I have taught yoga in schools as part of the integrated school day for more than a decade now and have developed many approaches and activities that the children love.

One of those activities has now been turned into a book called Frog’s Breathtaking Speech. Now my enthusiasm for writing knows no bounds and I am busy with three new books that will enable me pass on my considerable expertise to others. Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – and incidentally The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Gruffalo, and Going on a Bear Hunt – all make terrific stories to embed yoga postures in.

What inspired you to write this wonderful book?

I have been using Frog’s Breathtaking Speech in children’s yoga lessons for many years. The story grew out of the need to increase children’s awareness of their breath and, more importantly, how to apply it in stressful situations. Situations such as dealing with exams, spelling and table tests, being bullied, tension, headaches and anger, and of course performing or presenting to their peers and parents in assembly.

Although, as an adult, I had experienced the benefits of yoga breathing techniques I had honestly found them dry and unexciting. If I was to grab the children’s attention I needed to teach breathing techniques in a way that was fun and relevant. My strategy was to use the story in a yoga/drama format and it was an immediate success.

I would set out the yoga mats in a circle in the hall. As many children as possible would be given the opportunity to be Frog. I would ask for sad faces and then ask for less sad faces as the story unfolds. The other characters, Crocodile, Lion, Humming Bee and Mr Gumble the Woodchopper, would be played by the whole class. To keep the “chorus” in unison I would hold up placards in pantomime style saying, “Why so sad Frog?” and “I know an interesting way to breathe”. We have also performed Frog on stage to great applause.

I think there are several reasons why this approach worked well, including:

  • there was sufficient repetition for everyone to be able to join in;
  • it was obviously great fun;
  • the children were learning the techniques in a fun and relevant context;
  • children found the characters interesting.

Looking back I think that one of the main factors that inspired me to turn the yoga play into a book was the feedback from the children. I have lost count of the amount of times that children would tell me how they had used the techniques to deal with incidents in their lives. Problems ranging from being angry at siblings who stole their sweets or broke their toys, to being the calming influence in big family arguments. My two favourites will always be: the nine-year old boy who was terrified of the dentist and who quietly sat in the waiting room, and ultimately the dentist’s chair, practising his Crocodile Breath to calm himself; and the ten year old girl, who was angry with her parents, who would go to her room and practice Woodchopper Breath every day for three weeks, who eventually came and told the class teacher and me that that she had Haaaa’d out her anger.

The other main factor that inspired me to turn the play into a book was, simply, to get it out there. If this story helped the children that I taught it would help all children.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with the illustrator,
Sarah Peacock?

I have worked with Sarah Peacock in her Hertfordshire Primary School for five years. Sarah would come into in the yoga lesson with her class and over the years had been involved with Frog’s Breathtaking Speech on many occasions. She knew the story very well and how much the children liked it.

Examples of Sarah’s amazing illustrations were displayed around school. Often over lunch she had talked about her dream of being an illustrator. When I finally wrote the story as a book, I asked her to illustrate and she came up with the wonderfully timeless and charming illustrations that make the book so readable.

Where did the character of Frog come from?

Frog came about for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, children can stay in Frog Posture easily for longish periods without too much discomfort (and it’s great for their knees and hips). Secondly, I like Frog characters – they make me laugh; and thirdly, there is a long history of Frogs (and Toads) in children’s literature – for example, The Frog Prince and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.

I saw Frog as a character that boys and girls could relate to because he was honest about his fears. I think they could also relate to his courage in taking action, facing his fears and achieving a victory.

I suppose he is based on many of the children that I have taught and if I am being honest there’s a lot of me in Frog. (Well, even grownups need to calm themselves and get angry sometimes.)

Can you describe scenarios in which the different breathing techniques would be especially useful?

I think that being a child nowadays is stressful. I have already mentioned my two favourite examples of how techniques from the story have helped. However as educationalists we are constantly aware that the children in our care are travelling through a minefield of emotional problems in different areas of their lives.

For example children are dealing with major blows within the Family like divorce; separation from parents; death of a family member or friend or pet; worries about family’s financial situation; worries about a family member’s health; or perhaps a new baby brother or sister has arrived.

At school children are often anxious about their lack of specific skills, being bullied, tests, SATs, how to deal with an overload of activities, a belief that they do not have enough friends, lack of self-esteem, fear of failure, and even fear of success.

On the social side, children can be anxious because they may see themselves not “in” with the right crowd, too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, too ugly and so on.

I believe the social pressures on children – in or out of school – are immense today and we need to teach them all manner of strategies to help them deal with the pressure. Yoga and breathing techniques being at the top of the list.

The four strategies that are taught in Frog are:

  • Crocodile Breath. Situations where children could apply the technique are: tests, exams, sports day, making speeches to peers and parents, going to the dentist, finding courage.
  • Humming Bee Breath. Situations could include: headaches, feeling tense, panicky in the middle of a busy shopping centre at Christmas.
  • Woodchopper Breath. Situations could include: venting anger or frustration.
  • Lion Breath. Situations could include: strengthening voice or loosing tension.

How can this book be used with children with special needs?

Frog can be used with all children and that includes many children with special needs.

Used purely as a story, Frog is highly engaging, the illustrations compelling, and there is sufficient repetition to help reinforce readers and invite anticipation. There are also ample opportunities to compare the Frog’s experiences to the children’s if the children are at a suitable level.

On a higher level, if you are reading the book to children and encouraging them to practice the postures there is a lot to be gained. Firstly, the children will benefit from increased flexibility and better muscle tone. The big reward, however, is that yoga postures can help children with Sensory Processing Disorders.

Many children with autism, for example, have Sensory Processing Disorders which affects their Vestibular, Proprioceptive and Tactile systems. This is a vast subject that I will deal with elsewhere. Suffice to say that yoga can go a long way to identify any extremes in a child’s sensory behaviour and provide strategies to help regulate their nervous systems away from those extremes.

Using the story in a yoga/drama format also creates opportunities to work on speaking and listening skills and other communication skills like, for example, projecting the voice. Also social skills such as taking turns, waiting or applauding another child will come up when you use this story.

One massive benefit of using the story with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example, is the opportunity to be acting out different emotions. Frog becomes less sad as the story progresses. In fact, emotions range from sad to happy, scared to brave, beaten to successful. A great excuse to give those face muscles a good workout.

Finally, if you are using the story in a yoga/drama format and including the breathing techniques then you are encouraging the children to be “in the moment” – a well hackneyed yoga term, I know, but totally appropriate for children on both extremes of the hyperactivity scale who need to find “that middle ground of alert interest where they are not overwhelmed or underwhelmed” (Sher, B. 2009 p. 22).

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Video: Nancy Williams on the benefits of Yoga Therapy for children with special needs

In this series of videos, Nancy Williams – author of Yoga Therapy for Every Special Child – talks about the many benefits of Yoga for children with special needs, including those with autistic spectrum disorder, developmental delay, sensory integration disorder, anxiety disorder, ADHD, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Nancy has been a yoga therapist for 9 years. She also works as a pediatric Speech Pathologist, and is a certified Neuro Developmental Treatment Therapist, Zero Balancing practitioner, Yoga instructor and Reiki Master Teacher. Nancy runs her own yoga therapy practice in Tucson, Arizona (USA). more…

This lovely slide show features images from Nancy’s yoga workshops:

 

Nancy introduces ‘Yoga Therapy for Every Special Child’:

Nancy on Why Yoga Therapy Works for Children with Special Needs:

Nancy on The Difference Between Traditional Therapies and Yoga:

Nancy on How to develop a Yoga practice of your own, or locate a good Yoga teacher or class:

Watch more videos about Nancy and her Yoga workshops…