Alex Miller and Cally Bailey from GrowYourRoots.ca discuss how to develop resilience in kids through mindfulness
Our personalities are instilled with different patterns and habits shaped over time, and we are influenced from before we are even born. Everything from our silly quirks to our biggest fears are a result of what we have been exposed to in our lives: emotions like humour, anger, sadness, grief, and anxiousness all play a large role in our development. Some of these emotions have the potential to trigger shame, anxiety and depression in children as young as two years old. On top of this, children and youth have the added pressure of facing social media pressures. By practicing functional mindfulness, we give ourselves the opportunity to connect internally, discover self-love and develop healthy habits, so students may face education with curiosity and interest rather than restlessness.
If we look at a classroom with twenty youth, on average, four of them will have a mental illness. Times that number by 100 schools, and we have 400 children with mental illness. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, from the 20% of youth that experience mental health disorders, youth suicide is now listed as one of the leading causes of death. Students are less able to focus on their academics because their mental health is deteriorating.
Mental illnesses, no matter what the cause, can affect how well students do in school and their ability to form relationships with others. If physical and mental illnesses are not treated properly or with enough care, they can totally disrupt development, leaving individuals to struggle for their entire lives. Everyone should have an opportunity to build a strong emotional and social foundation and build resilience, and that is why we decided to start making a change!
Our “Ah-ha” Moment
Our passion for physical and mental health stemmed from our own personal experiences of not knowing how to cope with pain and suffering as it would arise in the body. Alex and Cally clicked through our openness about this suffering we went through during development and how it impacted our desire to learn anything in school, causing grades to suffer along with personal relationships. Alex discovered healing in physical movement, and Cally cultivated a life of love and acceptance through meditation. We each went through years of trial and error to find these methods and because of this, we understand that mind-body healing is not mainstream knowledge.
While looking into how to improve how kids are educated about physical and mental health, we went through endless research, testing, and brainstorming as to how we could combine each of our skill sets – we quickly found that mindful movement isn’t just a good idea, but a proven method to cultivate resilience, no matter what obstacles are present.
What is Mindful Movement?
When we first started working with students, we would ask them if they could identify exactly where they felt their muscles turn on. About 75% of students responded with “no” – students felt discomfort, but felt it was all over the body. When we asked them to hold specific movements, many students would hold for just a few seconds because it was “too hard”. Then, we began to work with the students on their synchronizing the mind and breath with the body. That’s when we saw change. Students began to understand their true threshold rather than where they would normally give up because it was was uncomfortable, and faced movement with curiosity instead of dread. They were in turn better able to activate specific muscles and develop functional core strength. These students weren’t just developing physically – this was a training ground to cope with the discomforts of life on a mental scale as well. They were developing resilience.
The idea of physically moving the body during mindfulness practice is not new. Mindful movement in the form of Yoga, QiGong and Tai Chi has been practiced for centuries and is shown to be essential in building functional mindfulness in everyday life. When we practice mindfulness while moving, we can learn to identify where we tend to give up mentally, what causes us to react instead of respond, and face discomfort with curiosity rather than mentally rejecting it, which we know makes discomfort worse. We also learn important skills such as self-love, compassion, and kindness. Ultimately, we want to give students the tools to face any situation with curiosity and non-judgmental awareness. Take that, Math class!
New research links mindful movement to increased self-awareness, communication, and physical endurance. Here are some of the benefits of mindful movement:
- The ability explore healthy versus unhealthy limits in the body
- Increased strength and endurance
- Higher levels of concentration
- Better ability to manage stress with the body
- Increased body image and self-worth
- Less attachment to stimulants such as electronics
- Improved moods and quality of life
- Acts as a catalyst to choosing healthier options in daily life
The Grow Your Roots Program
Grow Your Roots is a mindful movement program, comprised of specially created mind-body practices to slow the heart rate, generate awareness, and tap us into our parasympathetic nervous system, cultivating an environment of deep self awareness. The practice involves slow moving pilates based movement to bring consciousness into our core, and meditations based on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction topics such as “Metta”, meaning “loving kindness” and “pleasant events” to notice the little things that bring joy into our lives. Each class includes a challenge for individuals to bring practice into everyday life.
Grow Your Roots was developed in Vancouver, Canada and seamlessly pairs with the the British Columbia curriculum in the following subjects: Physical Education, Health and Career Education, and Arts Education. We host the program internally through private and public schools in BC, and host workshops for both private events and teachers.