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Volunteer Spotlight: KidRISE Yoga + Mindfulness

Written by Bonnie Young Banke

Remember the old “count to 10 until you calm down” method? In today’s world, that simple practice has evolved into a broader movement towards mindfulness – the art of bringing a gentle, accepting attitude to the present moment.

Mindfulness can help adults and kids alike to calm their anxiety and relieve stress by living in the moment and gaining control of their emotions. This is particularly helpful for kids at the Tennyson Center, who have experienced unimaginable trauma and stress in their young lives.

By teaching the kids a simple exercise called the Flower-Candle Breathing Technique, kids envision themselves slowly breathing in the scent of a flower and then more powerfully blowing out a candle. It sounds simple but we have already seen the calming effects of these techniques. After using this technique with his clinician, one child with autism with a history of becoming violent showed great improvement in his patience, social interactions, and aggression level. This was particularly true when he faced the stressful situation of getting x-rays at the dentist.

mindfulness breathing

The impact of mindfulness is not just something we’ve seen in practice; it’s backed up by numerous studies. The Hawn Foundation, which developed a “MindUP” curriculum to share with educators, has seen results firsthand. In schools using this curriculum, 90% of children improved their social skills, 80% were more optimistic and improved their self-regulation, and 75% improved their impulse control and showed less reactivity. Additionally, visits to the principal’s office, incidents of bullying, and absenteeism—among both students and teachers—decreased.

Another program developing mindfulness in kids is KidsRISE, a nonprofit that provides trauma-informed yoga classes to help children who are abused and neglected learn to feel Resilient, Inspired, Self-confident and Empowered (RISE). Tennyson Center has partnered with KidsRISE to offer these classes, taught by Bonnie Young Banke, which includes guided meditation as well as relaxation.

Here’s part of our interview with Bonnie:

“KidsRISE is a 501c(3) non-profit that offers free trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness classes to children who have experienced trauma, neglect, or abuse. We’re currently working on developing curriculum and a training program so that we can send volunteers to shelters, schools, treatment facilities, and anywhere else that has a need in the Denver area and beyond. We’re hoping to apply for a few grants that will allow us to greatly expand in early 2020.

Unfortunately, child maltreatment and trauma is much more common than many of us think. In one year alone CPS received thousands of reports of children who were believed to be neglected or abused, so it’s important to always look at what we are teaching through a trauma-informed lens.

There are a few things we can do to make children feel more safe when practicing yoga and mindfulness: establishing expectations, allowing choice, making time for relaxation, teaching boundaries/consent, and focusing on personal power.

Participation is always a choice. It is their body and they get to decide whether they want to try something out or whether they feel like resting on their bellies or in ‘criss cross yoga sauce’. I teach in one of the residential cottages at TCC and some of the kids will watch what we’re doing from their rooms until they see an activity they would like to participate in and that’s OK!

It’s important to add in relaxation, mindfulness, or meditation because many children who have experienced trauma have trouble sleeping or calming themselves down. We may learn some new breathing exercises or I will lead them through a guided meditation and explain what other times we might want to practice this.

Many yoga classes tend to be hands-on but that is something we need to be much more cognizant of with children who have experienced abuse. I don’t offer hands-on adjustments of any kind unless I feel that they are doing something truly unsafe, in which case I always ask for permission first. When I’m doing check-outs after class, many of the kids will want a hug so I try to model appropriate behaviors. I love hugs but I want to make sure they know that they have power over their bodies and can say ‘no’, just as I can, so they always ask me first.

My main goal is to leave children feeling resilient, inspired, self-confident, and empowered (RISE) so I try to bring activities to every class that will help with this – whether that’s practicing poses with positive thoughts or ending with our gratitude circle. I’ve learned so much from working with the kids at Tennyson and they are such amazing and deserving souls! I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to work with them and my biggest goal for KidsRISE would be to have a volunteer in every classroom here in the future!”

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