Peacemaker Cards

 

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The Fit Abilities Yoga Program recently tried a set of Mindfulness Cards geared for kids ages 5-12.  The Peacemaker Cards were created by Suzanne Tucker, founder of Generation Mindful.   Each card has an age appropriate mantra on it that can be used to help embed a yogic philosophy to any lesson plan or activity such as  “I am Kind, “I am thankful,” or “My Thoughts Matter.  What am I thinking about today?”

So far we have used the Peacemaker cards to help the students in the Ferguson program open up before our one-on-one in school yoga sessions that we do before starting any Braille or academic activities.  These mantras helped many of our Fit Abilities students, many of whom are using yoga as an extra support for self-regulation to address their visual disability and specific social/emotional issues that have been impacted by growing up in poverty and with a disability, to hear positive and self-affirming language about themselves for the first time.  When I asked one of our fit abilities students who chose the “I am kind” card if he believed that about himself, he said “No.”  I asked him if he ever thought he felt it could be true.  He said “Maybe, I hope so.  I think yoga and meditation helps with that, though.”

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Since many of our students in Fit Abilities are learning to view themselves in a positive light for the first time in their lives, the Peacemaker Cards are definitely helping them form a language around positive self-concept.  However, the only downside that we experienced is that some of the concepts, while positive for many life experiences of little yogis are not necessarily true for many of our students in our yoga program since some come from homes and environments that are not safe and the people in their families cannot be trusted.  We believed the cards with the mantra “I am surrounded by love.  I trust the world and let love in,” and “I am huggable, let’s hug,” were not appropriate for our students due to the pervasiveness that psychological trauma plays in a our student’s day to day existence.  Those mantras just didn’t feel safe or real to their experiences.

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Overall, we really like that the Peacemaker Cards are deepening the language of positive self-talk for our students.  We will continue to use many of our favorite cards in our daily routine to give students more opportunities to think in these ways to increase their capacity for resilience as they face a society that is not often kind to people with disabilites and also, for many of our students, people of color.

 

 

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Mindfulness Apps According to A Fit Abilities Student

Screenshot 2017-04-11 at 2.12.32 PMOne of our student’s in the yoga program tried three different meditation apps geared for students with typically developing and vision.  She tried them on her iPAd to see if she could run them with Zoom or Voice Over.

She tried the following apps:

Settle Your Glitter

Stop, Breathe, Think

Tangram Zen Puzzle

She Brailled the following comments on each App:

Settle Your Glitter: It was too hard to see all the glitter pieces with Zoom.  It would help if there was a sound component to make it easier for people who can’t see.

Stop, Breath and Think:  There was too much text to sift through.  It was not designed well. Voice Over didn’t work very well but Zoom did “Ok.”  I liked the ideas felt like someone needed to explain a lot the words to me since I am not a master meditater.

Tangram Zen Puzzle:  This App was my favorite.  I liked problem soliving plus I could easily use Zoom.  I think it would be good to add a sound component to this app.

In conclusion:

“I have been trying out some mindfulness Apps on my iPad. I really enjoy them, but some aren’t accessible for the visually impaired. There needs to be more work with people with visual imapirments on telling developers how to make these apps better for people like me.”

Our Favorite Yoga Tools Pt.3: Sitting Still Like A Frog

As the  concept of children doing yoga and mindfullness continues to make its ways into mainstream culture, we thought it would be important to share one of our favorite mindfulness and meditation books for kids. Please read the review below followed by a point reflection on how the skills in this book impacts students learning yoga with histories of trauma and physical disabilities.

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Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel is one of our favorite books for 5-12 year olds learning a mind body practice for the very first time.  The author creates age appropraite analogies between meditation and real life situations that kids interact with day to day. One of our favorite analogies from the book was looking at meditation like surfing; the point is to be able to learn how to move through hard emotions and thoughts like a surfer moves over waves.

One of the other parts of the book and it’s exercises that I really liked were the sections for the parents (or teachers).  It is just as important for parents and teachers to have a mindfulness practice as it is for our students.  In many ways, we are their best yoga and meditation teachers since children model and learn the behaviors they are exposed to over a long period of time.  If more children were exposed to more adults practicing a yoga and mindfulness meditation as a part of their daily routine, I really think we would see some big changes in the aggressive behaviors many student act out towards one another.

The book covers a variety of themes exercises including learning how to breathe, becoming aware and increasing attention, handling difficult emotions, learning to be kind, establishing a sense of trust, addressing the worries in our minds, and many more emotional intelligence skills every child faces internally and should learn in childhood.  Of all the skills this book offers, the absolute best foundational skill the book spends an entire chapter exploring is the teaching students (and parents +teachers) how to get out of their heads and into their bodies.  

The author writes:

“Your body can tell you a great deal. Like a finely tuned instrument, it responds to emotions such as shock, tension, fear and happiness to cheerful thoughts or a head full of worries. These signals are all there for a reason, telling you something about this moment, about your limits and your needs.  Stiff shoulders, heart palpatations; knot in your stomach, feeling too tired to get up or the opposite, bouncing out of bed, feeling freshin and in high spirits.  Your body registers it all.” (pg. 40)

The reason it is so important for all kids but especially our Fit Abilities students to understand to learn how to read their body signals (called somatic skills) is that as a yoga program for students with a wide variety of special needs, we recognize that the remnance of  neurological,social emotional and psychological trauma live in the body. When our students (and adults) learn to tune in, read our body signals and learn yoga and mindfulness excercsies to get us out the fight, flight, freeze response (which is the normal response to the long term impact of trauma), we/they have taken the first step to learning how to trust ourselves and experience a neurophysiological freedom. That is the beginning of true social emotional healing for anyone, regardless of the presence of trauma or disability.

Two Final Points About This Book:

1.The book was written mostly for typically developing children: physically and social/emotionally.  It’s important to understand the  high prevalence Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) or childhood trauma can be present in a group of children.  Some the activities mentioned in this book are not necessarily trauma informed or appropriate for students with known histories of trauma.  You should always give students the option to close their eyes, participate in any guided imagery meditation or to sit at all.  In fact, the very thought of “sitting still like a frog” might trigger some students into a fight, flight, freeze response.  We say this in hopes that you can read this book as a way of getting ideas for your own class and know which ones would or would not be appropriate or know that a student who might be hestitant to these practices might be apprehensive for a completely psychologically soundsreason.  To understand more about making yoga and mindfulness trauma informed, please consider reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk or Overcoming Trauma with Yoga by David Emerson.

2. For students who are visually impaired or experience other disabilities some of the analogies used in this book may seem esoteric and conceptually out of reach as many children with disaiblities but especially those with visual impairments learn through personal experience. Many of individuals with visual impairments only know as much as they have personally experienced since what they see is limited. If they have not experienced seeing, hearing or possibly surfing themselves, this analogy we stated in the beginning might not make the cognitive connection the author intended to.  For more information on accessible yoga and the benefit of people who face issues with physical access, please see the Fit Abilities Yoga Teacher’s professional page UD Yoga

You can find the guided imagery recordings from the book for free at the link below:

Audio Meditations from Sitting Still Like a Frog

You can purchase the book here

Our Favorite Yoga Tools Pt 2: Weighted Lap Pads or Blankets

Another one of our favorite multisensory yoga tools to use with our students during our one-on-one instruction time and in our after school yoga program is the weighted lap pad or any weighted pillow or bean bag.

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      Photo Credit Fun and Function

Weighted lap pads, pillows and/or blankets help our students with lots of energy, whether that energy is physical or anxious in nature but are beneficial for *all* of our Fit Abilities Students.  Additionally, since our students are visually impaired, it also provides a sense of environmental safety since it can be an external reminder of where their body is in space.   According to Psychology Today weighted accessories are beneficial in the following ways: “providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body,” Moore says. “Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.” Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer. (Source Psychology Today: Choosing A Blanket To Help You Sleep)

We like to use weighted blankets in the following ways:

1.  By placing the weighted lap pad on the students stomach or back in any socially/emotionally or physically safe position for the individual student during our after school yoga routine.

2. By placing it in the student’s lap while they are completing a Braille, Assistive Technology or other academic lesson that is IEP related.

Where you can purchase a weighted lap pad, blanket or pillow:

  1. Create your own
  2. Fun and Function
  3. Etsy

More Reading on the benefits of weighted blankets, pillows and lap pads:

  1. PTSD and Weighted Blankets
  2.  Weighted Blankets for Kids with Visual Impairment

 

Please check out Pt. 1 of this blog series here

 

 

Our Favorite Yoga Tools Pt. 1: Bean Bags

In the new few weeks, we will be focusing on a few of our favorite yoga tools to bring with us into the classroom and in our after school yoga programs to use with our students with visual, sensory and social emotional adaptations.   Today, we will focus on our love for bean bags!

Bean Bags (click the link to find the amazon.com product to purchase online)

Bean Bags are helpful for students of all ability levels.  They can help be used to increase body awareness, sensory play, calming  or energizing activities. Please read below for a few ideas on how to use them:

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Photo Credit Walmart.com 

 

 

How to use them:

1. Put them on their head and have them get into tree or mountain pose for 5 yoga breaths before beginning an activity. This can help them increase focus and attention. It can also be helpful to this in intervals within a route for students who needs lots of sensory breaks.

2. Have students put the bean bags on their heads and walk around the room.  If you have enough space and the students are able to motorically, you can have the students get into upward facing dog and move around their space while balancing the beans on their backs as they move. This activity can help those that are more low energy, increase their energy for learning activities and focus those that are naturally high energy.

Fore more ideas on how to integrate Bean Bags into your mindful movement or yoga routine please see the follow resources:

  1. 7 Indoor Bean Bag Games
  2. 1000+ Ideas about Beans Bags

 

 

 

 

 

On Teaching Trauma Informed and Accessible Yoga to the North County Fit Abilities Students

By Natasha Baebler, RYT500

When I was first asked to organize and teach a trauma informed yoga program for students with visual impairments, I knew that the program would need to be unlike any other yoga class I’d taught to date. I had taught trauma informed yoga to adults. I had taught yoga to kids, even taught yoga to kids who are blind. Yet combining the two, the experience of trauma and blindness/visual impairment, was something that to my knowledge hadn’t been done before.

 

 

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The number one assumption people have made about the FitAbilities program has been that the students have experienced trauma or chronic stress due to their being blind or visually impaired. The reality is that the trauma and visual impairment are two unrelated entities that coexist in each child’s life experience, and thus need to be taken into account separately when designing a yoga program for this population. I as the instructor needed to teach to the blind or visually impaired child keeping his primary presenting disability at the forefront of my instructional techniques. So, If a child was struggling more with his trauma in class one day than the fact that he can’t see the yoga poses, I needed to address the trauma response first when teaching him, leaving instruction specific to his visual impairment on the back burner.

The average yoga instructor might walk into a FitAbilities class and see a form of organized chaos. Not all of the students will be participating in the activity I as the instructor am leading. Yet to the level that she is able, each student will be engaged in the class. To give an example, one student would come sit on his mat at the beginning of class for the opening song and then spend the remainder of class kicking a soccer ball against the gym wall or shooting baskets. As the instructor, I brought all the students over to take turns shooting baskets and then if they missed (which they usually did since none of them could see the basket) they had to pick a yoga pose for everyone to do. After three weeks of looking like he wasn’t engaged in what I was teaching, this student drew a picture on his iPad of himself and his classmates on their yoga mats doing different yoga poses. He was able to tell his teacher who each figure represented and what yoga pose they were doing in the picture. Yet this student never did a single yoga pose in class. Clearly he was doing yoga. His yoga just looked different than the other students’ yoga.

How the pose, or asana, looks is so much less important than how the asana feels for students with blindness and visual impairment in particular. Since this of us who practice yoga and are also blind experience the world through touch and sound, these senses also need to take precedence in how teachers teach students who are blind. Even a student with significant residual sight who is only given visual instruction or told to focus on how a pose looks to an outsider will not have a full experience of the pose because the experience is disconnected from how she experiences things in the rest of her life. Instructions need to be given through multiple modalities, need to be specific, descriptive, and related to familiar movements or tasks. It is not enough to substitute a visual demonstration of a pose with a tactile graphics or even a 3-D model. Students who are blind need more than just descriptive words as well. Believe it or not, there are blind people who are visual learners. For these students words are important, but don’t create the full picture.

As with any student, be sure yo ask before touching a blind student. She may not mind being touched or having you move her body to a particular posture, but she is also most likely capable of moving her own body and certainly deserves the respect of her personal space. If you use what seems like descriptive language such as “reach your arms straight out off your shoulders” and the student with a visual impairment just stands there, he doest have a full picture of what his arms are supposed to be doing. Even more specific verbiage such as “let your arms hang down at your sides, now start to lift them away from your body out to the side until your hands feel as high as your shoulders” seems like a lot more words, but provides your student with a much clearer understanding of what he is to do with his arms in warrior two. Once his arms are out to the side in the correct position, you can become more specific about palms facing down, and move on to what other parts of the body are doing.

Even some commonplace analogies may not have relevance for a student who has never seen them. When I teach airplane pose (warrior III), I pass around a small toy airplane to provide the students with a tangible reference of arm position like airplane wings.

Perhaps the most important skill that is developed through yoga for students who are blind and visually impaired is their sense of proprioception – their awareness of where they are in space. This is a skill they use to navigate the world without sight. Learning to transition from simple poses like cat to cow and back or downward facing dog to upward facing dog can help strengthen a students proprioception. The key here is to start small with a single focus and work up to larger transitions. Unlike with sighted students whose first journey into yoga flows may be with a sun salutation, students who are blind will need to develop some basic proprioceptive skills before they are able to conceptualize what a transition from a forward fold to plank pose should feel like and how to move to get their body from chattering to downward facing dog. Simply telling them to lift their hips into the air from lying on their belly isn’t enough.

If you as a teacher understand the anatomy and function of the poses you are teaching (i.e. downward facing dog is about length in the spine rather than in the hamstrings) you are one step closer to being able to provide meaningful instruction to a student who is blind or visually impaired. The more you hone your vocabulary, particularly movement-related adjectives, the more clearly you will be able to give instructions to all of your students without the need to physically demonstrate. The more familiar you are with words that describe how children move, the easier it will be for you to find a variety of ways to help a blind or visually impaired student find their version of any yoga pose you choose to teach them.

Even more important than the language I use, or the manipulative I bring to class are the questions I ask. Asking a student how a pose feels is of extreme importance in developing a blind or visually impaired student’s sense of success and consistency in yoga. I can talk about a pose and how it should feel, but once a student feels that pose in his own body, he will remember where his body needs to go the next time you call for that pose. Perhaps more than with fully sighted students, blind yogis will repeat even uncomfortable poses in the name of doing them right if not given the opportunity to find a more “correct for your body” version and develop that into muscle memory. Once that lightbulb goes on and the student’s body clicks in to what the pose feels like, it will stick allowing them to return there again and again. This is why I’ve found this to be very important to tackle within the first time I teach a pose as muscle memory builds fast for people who are used to getting a majority of their environmental information through touch!

So I challenge you, take a class with your eyes closed. Listen to the words the teacher uses. If you did’t already know what the pose being cued looked like, would you know from his or her words? Are you aware of how poses feel in your body. Close your eyes next time your in downward facing dog. Occasionally allow your sense of touch to guide your practice. It’s certainly taught me to be a stronger, more inclusive teacher.

Triangle Pose to Braille 

This week one of my students who is learning Braille on refreshable Braille display learned that triangle pose can help focus, calm and open his mind to the new things he needs to learn to meet the challenges of being visually impaired in a sighted world. 

Other benefits to triangle pose:

-Increases energy, stamina and focus

-Helps with digestion

-strengthens legs, knees and ankles