Swing & Sway: How Rhythmic Movement Builds Children's Brains

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Brain Gains:

Swing and Sway Your Child to Sensory and Neural Integration

Here is a sweet and simple blog:

Rhythmic movement facilitates

neural-motor integration.

If you want to know more, read on…

Rhythmic movement is good for soothing the sympathetic branch of the nervous system; the branch that is responsible for fight, flight and freezing coping strategies and responses to stress and trauma.

Rhythmic movement invokes the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system; the branch that is responsible for rest and digesting, for calming, grounding and centering.

Rhythmic movements train the vestibular system; the branch of the sensory system that helps us to balance, understand our spatial orientation in order to coordinate movement with balance.

Rhythmic movements train the proprioceptive system; the branch of the sensory system that helps us to understand a ‘sense of self’ in relation to where we are in space. Proprioception orients us to where we are and helps us to get to where we want to go or do.

Even more simply, Rhythmic movement helps young children with:

  • Stimulation and organization of the whole brain

  • Increasing the connections between the major discreet areas of the brain (brain stem, cerebellum, limbic system and neocortex)

  • Integration of primary reflexes

  • Integration of nervous system functions

  • Integration of neuro-motor skills

  • Encourage the growth of nerve nets that connect the brain stem, cerebellum, and neocortex to proliferate

  • Improvement in body posture, breathing and endurance

  • Improvement of attention, focus and memory recall

  • Regulation of activity and sensory integration

  • Soothing sensations, feelings of well-being and interconnectedness

Do you remember when you first held your precious child in your arms, and do you also remember an imperceptible beckon to sway when holding your dear one? It is the most natural posture when holding a newborn, to rock back and forth. Without knowing why, we as parents are helping our children to build their brains through rhythmic movement. Children learn by moving. Children’s brains are built through movement and sensory processing.

So, if you want to keep this robust growth going with your toddler or preschooler, one of the simplest ways is to continue to rock that child! A lovely way to achieve this is for 2 adults to hold the short ends of a folded blanket, with the child lying in the middle, like a hammock. The adults lift the child up gently, and then begin a slow rock from side to side. Check in with your child, to adjust the swing tempo to their particular needs. You may have one child who wants to swing swiftly, while another may like to sway more slowly. And, please remember to ask each and every time, because your child may like to explore shifts in their preferences, as day to day these may change.

Because your child is very vulnerable in this activity, and they will have no control over the experience, it is crucially important that it is carried out with warmth, love and without any violations in their trust. Please do not ever play games with your child by swinging faster than they want to go, as it will negatively affect your bond with them. Instead, focus on the myriad benefits for you both by keeping the exchange gentle, warm and loving.

Ms. Christine and I have been swaying children with amazing results. We find that they are calmer and they enjoy the experience tremendously. We even notice that some children like to pull the blanket in and around themselves, recreating a womb-like cave.

This activity will have many blessed effects for your child and your family, increasing the bond between you through sharing an activity that is not only joyful but also resourceful. Just please be mindful of your own spinal health during this activity. For the adults or older children holding the younger child in the blanket, be sure to bend your knees slightly so that the effort is transferred to your legs, and not burdening your spine. And only a few minutes are most beneficial. In fact, it is preferable to do this for a short time more consistently, then to have long sessions occasionally.

If it is not possible for you to share this activity with your child, then a second best option would be to take your child to a park and share swinging with them. Sit beside them and swing away! Refamiliarize yourself with this incredible kid-sport. Your brain and your nervous system will thank me!

May you enjoy the sweet sensations of swinging and swaying with your child.

References:

H. Blomberg. (2015). The rhythmic movement method: A revolutionary approach to improved health and well-being. Morrisville, NC: Lulu Publishing.

H. Blomberg, & M. Dempsey. (2011). Movements that heal: Rhythmic movement training and primitive reflex integration. Melbourne, Australia. Beyond the Sea Squirt Publisher.

S. Goddard. (2005). Reflexes, learning and behaviour: A window into the child’s mind. Eugene, OR: Fern Ridge Press.

Celebrating the Cerebellum: The Tiny but Mighty Structure that Shapes Early Childhood Development

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Celebrating the Cerebellum:

The Brain Star of Early Childhood Development

A Little Historical Context for my Research

(If you just want the brain goodies,

then jump down to the next section!)

Here is my career trajectory in a nutshell (if only to provide some context for my current passion for neural development): While my very first ‘career’ was as a pharmacy technician, my work in social care began in early childhood education. After I had my own children, I decided to go back to school and earn a degree in child and youth care to expand my reach beyond childhood, to include work with youth and families. I worked for an Indigenous community in Enderby for 10 years, providing child protection, family reunification and counselling services. During this time I got a masters in social work, and then went on to teach early childhood education, social work and women’s studies for another 10 years while doing yet more graduate work in critical theory, midwifery and diverse families while also maintaining a clinical practice with children. Along the way I did a yoga teacher training, and shortly thereafter did another yoga teacher training that focused on children and youth.

One reason I find my career path so interesting is that I am happily back to where I started, focusing on early childhood education. Just like the hero’s journey, I have travelled out and back, changed by my experiences along the way. After all the higher education and years of both teaching and learning with adults, I return and remain passionate about working with ‘littles’, especially the 3 to 5 age range.

Fast forward to now, and my current studies in the field of dance and movement therapy, I find myself applying all that I learn into specializing in early childhood through the lenses of developmental psychology, embryology and neuroscience. While I am not an expert in any of these specific fields, they all contribute to the expertise I am gaining as a movement therapist. Currently, I am specifically researching how early reflexes shape early childhood development, especially neuro-motor development, and how this development informs behaviour. This leads me to…

Celebrate the Brain Star that is the Cerebellum!

(this is the brain goodies section)

While the above may cause you to think I must be super smart, please know that I am actually super humbled by my work with children. I find that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, but the more curious I become. Children have always been my most profound teachers, especially my own children. Now I realize know I don’t know much at all, as my wise and sassy granddaughter reminds me frequently!

This brings us to the structure at hand, the Tiny but Mighty Cerebellum. I’ve been referring to this ‘tiny brain’ as the Brain Star of Early Childhood Development, so I wanted to share why with you, in hopes that you too will become passionate about supporting the growth of your child’s cerebellum in the most optimal, efficient, functional and resourceful ways.

Let’s begin with some Super Interesting Facts about the Whole Brain (which will make the cerebellum facts even MORE interesting!)

  • The average adult brain weighs about 3 pounds

  • As only 2% of the body’s total weight, the 3 pound brain draws 20% of the body’s resources (oxygen, glucose, energy)

  • The brain is 73% water and it only takes 2% dehydration to affect attention, memory and other cognitive skills (are you convinced to drink more water yet?)

Now, for some Super Interesting Facts about the Cerebellum:

  • The cerebellum is situated at the back of the brain, and sits atop the brain stem, just below the cerebral cortex (see arrow in above image)

  • The cerebellum is only a small portion of the overall brain size, but accounts for 11% of the brain’s weight because it is so densely packed

  • From birth to 4 years of age, the cerebellum grows at a faster rate than the cortex

  • The cerebellum reaches 80% of its full size by 2 years of age

  • The cerebellum completes a major period of mylenation by four years of age (Mylenation describes the ‘fatty sheaths’ that wrap around neurons to make transmissions smooth and super fast, and also points to the importance of including health fats in young children’s diets)

  • The cerebellum is best well known for the coordination of voluntary movement, balance and muscle tone, though current research is demonstrating that this ‘tiny brain’ area of the larger brain is crucially important in early childhood development

The cerebellum learns by DOING. Young children learn primarily through movement that is mediated through the cerebellum. As early motor patterns (movement) are learned and practiced, they are filed away in the cerebellum to be accessed when required. Children’s movements are literally building the motor or movement equivalent of building a language vocabulary. The cerebellum is particularly involved in the learning stages of a new skill or movement (Goddard, p. 46).

The cerebellum has many layers, each with their own purpose. I’ll highlight a few of the functions that inform my developmental movement work with children. I’m incorporating this knowledge into my yoga and movement programs.

  • Posture

  • Progressive movement, including walking, running, climbing

  • Fine muscle coordination, particularly of the hands and mouth

  • Word association

  • Mental imagery of movement sequence (think intention or planning)

  • Practice related learning (eg. dance lessons, gymnastics, yoga)

  • Error detection (the minute I read about this, I thought about the wisdom of Sesame Street’s iconic song “One of these things is not like the other, three of these things are kinda the same”… Sesame Street is helping to strengthen the cerebellum in children! Who knew!)

  • Judging time intervals and velocity of moving stimuli (eg. catching a ball)

  • Rapidly shifting attention between sensory modalities

  • (Goddard, p. 47)

A strong cerebellum supports the other areas of the brain, as the connections between the ‘main brain’ and the ‘tiny brain’ are the most dense of all brain connections.

This excites and challenges me to focus more attention on supporting children during this crucial time of brain development. I’m currently practicing skills and games with children to observe their engagement, reactions and behaviour. So far, so good. I am working very closely with Ms. Christine, Ms. Rhonda, and the staff to ensure that your children are given the very best movement program we can create.

I’m very curious about what you think? Did you learn some things about the brain you didn’t know before? Do you have any concerns or questions you’d like to ask me or the staff?

It is an absolute pleasure and privilege to be working with your children. I thank you for your kind attention and valuable time.

May you be healthy, happy and live with deep peace,

Ms. Joani

Reference:

Goddard, S. (2005). Reflexes, learning and behavour: A window into the child’s mind. Eugene,

OR; Fern Ridge Press.

The Calf Pump: Developmental Movement to Release Tendon Guard Reflex

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The Calf Pump:

Developmental Movement to Release Tendon Guard Reflex

Calf muscles can hold a lot of tension, especially if your little is inclined to toe walk. Tension can also build from movement that is not balanced, meaning there is a focus on using the muscle (walking, running, dancing, climbing) but that movement is not complimented by stretching as well. Most adults do not stretch, and it is even more rare for children to stretch without guidance and encouragement.

Children have an innate (meaning it is instilled in utero during their fetal development) reflex called the “Tendon Guard Reflex” (referred to hereafter as TGR). The TGR is one of many reflexes that children are born with that support their survival, and through normal learning and development become integrated into the nervous system.

Unless they don’t.

Sometimes, reflexes are ‘retained’, meaning, there was not sufficient opportunity for the child to fully express and integrate the reflex, or their developmental process was impacted by trauma (including birth trauma).

The TGR, like all reflexes, has important implications for survival, protection and development. The TGR, while the reflex is located in the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calf, becomes a whole body reaction triggered by a message sent to the brain stem, because as you may suspect, everything is connected—the calf to the thigh, to the pelvis, to the spinal column, to the brain. This further triggers the survival oriented part of our brain to choose fight, flight or freeze.

If triggered by a sudden, unexpected sound, sight or sensation, the TGR can trigger a ‘freeze’ response, like hearing a loud thud in a room that you thought was unoccupied. The freeze keeps you safe by keeping you quiet and listening (hearing and vision are activated) for more information, though it also causes contraction in the abdominal, shoulder and neck muscles, effectively curling one into oneself, inhibiting free and easy movement. If this kind of reaction continues to happen without resolution, a child can adopt a narrow and over-focused sense of attention to ‘burn the excess energy’ in the visual field. Children who perseverate or shut-down may be experiencing the TGR in ‘freeze’ mode.

Some folks may react differently to threats—unknown, unpleasant or unfamiliar sensory input—and may experience the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ responses, which then causes the spinal muscles to contact, lifting and extending the spine, making us appear larger and ready to move. In some children who live with ADD or ADHD, the TGR may be hyperactive, causing an excessive widening of the attention span which may result in chaotic, uncontrolled, impulsive behaviour. A clue if this is true for your child is that you notice them walking on their toes, and not extending the heel all the way to the ground.

regulating the tendon guard reflex (tgr)

When integrated, the TGR offers support to good posture, healthy movement, sensory integration, focussed attention, organization, comprehension and over all cognitive development. One of the most noticeable effects when fully integrated is an ability to expressively communicate.

The TGR can be regulated with an easy exercise that you can do at home with your children. When the muscles of the calf are lengthened, the reflex relaxes, invoking the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system associated with ‘rest and digestion’, the opposite of ‘fight, flight and freeze’ and helping the child to fully integrate the reflex.

Dr. Carla Hannaford (1995) offers a calf lengthening exercise that is appropriate for children. She suggests:

“the child lays on her back and the parents place both hands on the bottoms of her feet, gently pushing the ball of each foot (the rounded board part of the foot between the toes and arch) forward so that the calf lengthens. Many children love to push simultaneously with their feet against the parent’s applied gentle pressure, especially when goaded to ‘push me away’, or ‘push me really hard’. The contraction during the push (where the toes move forwards and the heel is higher than the toes) allows the calf to further lengthen in relaxation. This relaxation has an interesting link to verbal skills, and greatly facilitates communication in speech-impaired and autistic children” (pp. 127-128).

Another simple intervention that may feel wonderful for children’s leg muscles as well as their spines is to for parents to push rhythmically on the balls of the feet while the child is lying on the floor or bed. This activity initiates a gentle relaxing movement that rocks the entire body from head to toe. Parents can also massage the bottoms of their children’s feet after a bath or before bed, gently encouraging the foot into dorsiflexion (see image below). The foot should never be forced or coerced. Keep the dialogue going with your child, asking them how it feels along the way, and if they want more or less pressure. Let them determine the degree to which their foot flexes, and over time with practice, the calf muscles will extend and relax.

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The TGR is one of many reflexes that respond well to intervention. Calming the TGR can reset proprioceptors and reeducate muscle-tendon systems that habitually contract in unfamiliar circumstances (Rentschler, 2007, p. 6).

If this still feels unclear, or if you feel unsure, just ask one of the staff at Precious Seeds to demonstrate, as we have been working with this reflex for 2 weeks now. We hope that your child enjoys the extra attention, the comforting stretch and the links to more expressive communication.

Yours in health, comfort and care,

Ms. Joani

References:

Hannaford, C. (1995). Smart moves: Why learning is not all in your head. Arlington, VA: Great

Ocean Publishers.

Rentschler, M. (2007). The tendon guard reflex. New Developments, 12(4), 6.

What is Developmental Movement?

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What is Developmental Movement?

Developmental Movement is the phrase I’ve been using to describe the work that I am currently doing with children, which draws on my experience as a social worker, child therapist, children’s yoga educator and as a student of dance and movement therapy. In a recent training, I learned the phrase “Neurodevelopmental Movement”, which is actually more apt, but sounds a tad medical for my intentions. However, this medical sounding term highlights that the most important factors involved in Developmental Movement are the Brain and Spinal Cord. In this way, Developmental Movements include and encompass:

·         The Brain (the organ)

·         The Mind (the thinking and feeling ‘self’)

·         The Spinal Cord

·         The Body

·         The Nervous System

·         Primitive Reflexes

Here is a list that helps to describe and indicate the importance of Developmental Movement:

·         Movements that the child can perform individual to their own growth patterns and development

·         Movements that are appropriate to the child’s age, stage and placement on the developmental spectrum (sensitive to growth plates, motor coordination and capacity)

·         Movements that bridge the child’s current capacity with developmental milestones

·         Movements that help to integrate retained reflexes

·         Movements that facilitate self-regulation through energy management

·         Movements that support pro-social behavior

·         Movements that encourage self-knowing through coaching (where do you feel this stretch or movement in your body?)

·         Movements that calm the nervous system

·         Movements that help children to focus, pay attention and be ‘still’ (Stillness and balance are considered the Royal Moves in children’s development)

·         Movements that repair the effects of trauma

·         Movements that develop neural pathways that help to coordinate and mature sensory-motor pathways as well as enrich all three major areas of the brain (hindbrain and brainstem; mid-brain limbic system; and the neo-cortex)

·         Movements that are rhythmic and propulsive, helping to soothe and mature the nervous system

·         Movements that promote sensory integration and maturity in processing time

·         Movements that support memory and learning pathways in the brain

In short, Developmental Movements are holistic, and global in their effects. Developmental Movements help children to develop ‘normally’ on the spectrum of growth and development (in all areas) as well as help those children who may lag behind to ‘catch up’ with playful activities that they enjoy and are easy to perform.

In consultation with Ms. Christine and the staff at Precious Seeds, I am incorporating developmental movements into our Itty Bitty Yoga program. I will be sharing some of these with you through the WonderLab Movement blog, and I hope to be able to share some of these easy to learn and use movements with you directly in a workshop we are planning in the New Year.

Yours in health, comfort and connection,

Ms. Joani

Flexible Families: Fall Programming at Semiahmoo Family Place

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Flexible Families:

Fall Programming at Semiahmoo Family Place

I’m so excited to be offering Family Yoga at the Semiahmoo Family Place as part of their “Active Saturdays” here in South Surrey at the Kensington Prairie Community Centre.

Click HERE to link to their site for more detailed information.

Have you ever considered bringing your family to yoga?

Family yoga programs are emerging as a fun way for families to bond and play together, while also learning how to relax, renew and restore. In these busy times of hustle and bustle, moving through jam-packed days with school, work, after school activities, homework and mealtime preparation, many families are feeling stressed, exhausted and disconnected. Family Yoga is a wonderful way for a family to de-stress together. Many family members report increased relaxation and less stress in the household with regular yoga practice.

Yoga promotes holistic health because it involves both the body and the mind. There is a growing body of evidence-based research to demonstrate the many benefits of yoga for both physical and mental health from reliable medical sources, including the Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organization. Hatha yoga is becoming increasingly accepted by the medical community as a safe, gentle and healing practice when taught by qualified instructors and in collaboration with an integrated health team.  

Yoga is especially good for children. Among the physical benefits, yoga aids in building healthy, balanced brains. Neuro-muscular development is strengthened as connections and awareness between the brain and the body are consistently highlighted during a yoga class. This practice helps children develop functional control of their fine and gross motor skills, while also increasing coordination, balance and concentration. Yoga also promotes core strength which helps children to establish life-long healthful posture habits. Yoga also relaxes the body, promotes better sleep, increases immunity to guard against illness, improves digestion and elimination, and helps to manage sensory processing issues, as well as ADD and ADHD.

As childhood obesity becomes an increasing concern in North America, family yoga is a wonderful way for parents to promote physical activity in a way that fosters dignity for children who may struggle with weight issues. Yoga teaches self-compassion and thus promotes positive self-esteem, personal responsibility and supports students to become the best version of themselves. 

The mental and cognitive benefits of yoga, especially for children, include the reduction of stress and anxiety, promotion of critical thinking, and stimulation and strengthening of auditory processing and responsiveness. Yoga also helps children to expand their imaginations, express their creativity, to balance high and low energy levels, improve brainpower, boost memory, and to calm and quiet their busy minds. Yoga teaches children to value stillness and silence in their lives as they learn to self-regulate and self-soothe.

I love this saying: “Blessed are the Flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape”. Let’s get together and promote flexible families.

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace.

The Metrics of Itty Bitty Yoga

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The Metrics of Itty Bitty Yoga

The Metrics of Itty Bitty Yoga is a fancy way of goal forecasting. It is my way of claiming: These are my intentions with your children this year; this is how we will measure success.

Beyond the meta-themes that I have previously described, including: Movement, Mindfulness & Wonder, as well as Ethics and Community (click HERE if you missed that blog), my intention is to provide these four elements in each of the upcoming Yoga Ethics Stories as I unpack the Yamas and Niyamas (click HERE if you missed that blog) throughout the Yogademic year.

I am poised to launch the “Itty Bitty Ethics Stories”, which are essentially a series of children’s books in progress. Each story will focus on one of the yamas (social ethics) or niyamas (self care ethics) and will contain each of these four elements: Planet Care, Peace Practices, Brain Gains & Social Care. Further, each story will be hosted and narrated by an animal character to help the children connect through the wonder of storytelling.

Let’s unpack the elements:

Planet Care

In keeping with the Montessori philosophy that children learn directly from their environment, I will offer opportunities to learn about the biggest container and widest environment within which our children are held: the planet. These conversations and skills acquisition will provide children with time to think about how much the planet supports them (providing food, shelter and natural challenges to overcome) as well as how we can in turn support the planet by taking care of our environments; both micro and macro, from our home yards to the oceans and rain forests. I will make connections between keeping an orderly work space, and how this serves the larger world by creating harmony, balance and waste reduction. I will also approach craftivism as a way to intersect art and activism, culminating in a big end of year project that will be on display at both centres. Stay tuned for the big end of year reveal!

Peace Practices

This element may be the most obvious and require the least explanation; however, it is also one of the most important in supporting your children towards self-regulation, self-reliance and self-confidence: contemplative practices that promote peace within and without, both internally and externally. We will be practicing a variety of meditation techniques, providing your children with a robust skill set that they can both share and practice at home along with you. In the very near future, I will be posting videos and podcasts that help you to share in peace practices with your child directly, drawing from the learning we do together in the classroom.

Brain Gains

There is a massive amount of research literature available that connects, correlates and demonstrates causality between movement and brain growth that I will be drawing on this year in order to provide the most efficient, functional and enjoyable movements for your children. I’m leaning into the science of movement, informed by yoga, embryology, ecology, biomechanics as well as the learning that I’m doing in dance and movement therapy to provide your children with movement opportunities that support optimal brain growth and development. Meditation has also been shown to have remarkable positive impacts on brains, including improving the areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning, such as planning, choice making, and understanding consequences.

Social Care

Prosocial behaviours are lauded in children, especially those behaviours that demonstrate and support connections to others within the range of developmental appropriateness. I hope to take this to deeper level, in concert with Christine’s focus on character education through virtues. And this is also where ethics come into play. There won’t be a formula for behaviour, but rather evolving and emergent conversations that are both planned and take advantage of learning opportunities as they arise. Collectively with the school staff, I hope to promote an attitude of community and care between and among the children. Rather than promoting ‘being nice’ as rhetoric, I will be focusing on helping children to make choices that are based in honesty, non-violence, compassion, and that are empathetic to their peers, as well as adults.

I hope that this provides you with a sense of the landscape in finer detail. This concludes the BIG explanations about what I am doing and hope to achieve this year. From now on, the posts are intended to be more useful and practical, less theoretical. I thank you for your interest and support and as always, am here to respond to any questions or concerns you may have. I realize it is an ambitious year I have planned, but I have reduced my private practice substantially to focus on this writing and curriculum development in order to provide the richest and most scientifically supported material and experiences for your children this year. I do hope you’ll check in with me to let me know what you think. And, please be sure to ask your children what they learned in Yoga and Movement each week.

In Peace, Care and the Joy of Movement!

Miss Joani

Exploring the 8 Limbs of Classical Yoga

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Exploring the 8 Limbs of Classical Yoga

This blog post is intended primarily for the families and care-providers of Precious Seeds students; however, it may also be useful for any person who is new to yoga and is interested in a very brief summary of the intentions of yoga as expressed by Patanjali, the sage who wrote one of yoga’s watershed texts: The Yoga Sutras.

The Sanskrit word “Sutra” means ‘to thread’ or ‘stitch together’, relaying the embedded nature and interconnectedness of yoga.

While the eight limbs will be explained here in a list fashion, it is useful to understand that they are not intended to be experienced as a hierarchy, but that one may flow through any of the limbs and any given time. Several of the limbs naturally ‘fit’ together, and in my own personal and professional experience, if you are new to these ideas, I would suggest making your way through the list in a linear fashion to understand the infrastructure of Classical Yoga. Then you are free to concentrate on any limb in any order as it serves.

The entirety of this framework is holistic, comprehensive, and is founded in science and philosophy; however there is also most certainly an ‘art’ to yoga, given the vast creativity that has been applied to the practice, especially here in the West.

Please remember that this is a brief explanation intended to provide a context for the Yogademic Year at Precious Seeds Montessori Schools.

It also feels important to point out that yoga is not a religion. Yoga is often referred to as a wisdom or contemplative practice; a comprehensive system that is based in science, philosophy and the lived experience of the practitioner. Yoga is not dogmatic, rather, provides suggestions or guidelines for living a life that is ethical and sustainable, built upon the discipline of practice in moving the body, breathing and focusing the mind towards joy.

THE ROOTS

The true roots of Classical Yoga are about ethical behaviour. The first two limbs are entitled Yamas and Niyamas, and they work very well together. In my mind, they are like two halves of a whole, and both must be present in order to live a balanced life.

Yamas:

Yamas are about social ethics. I appreciate that social care and community is the actual cornerstone of yoga as a practice. The Yamas are comprised of five discreet ethical guidelines that I will be explaining more fully in future posts, as my intention is to teach each one over the year. Briefly, the 5 yamas are:

Ahimsa: Non-Harming, or non-violence. I reframe this as compassion and kindness for children.

Satya: Truth or truth-telling, though it is critical to temper truth-telling with Ahimsa to ensure the truth does not cause undo harm.

Asteya: Non-stealing, or not taking without permission. I reframe this as taking only as much as you need, living simply and learning to not act on impulsive cravings.

Bramacharaya: Energy management, or restraint. This is another ethic about not giving in to impulses, including over-commitment, and/or being busy all the time. With children, I frame this as being mindful of your own thoughts, feelings and actions, and noticing how those impact others around you.

Aparigraha: means avoiding hording or compulsively collecting. With children, I reframe this as being generous, sharing and appreciating living simply.

Niyamas:

Niyamas are five guidelines that help us to be self-caring, to be mindful of treating ourselves with respect and dignity, about being responsible and accountable to ourselves, and then to others. Briefly, the 5 niyamas are:

Saucha: Purity and cleanliness in body, mind and soul. With children, I focus on thinking good thoughts, especially about yourself, and about the importance of cleanliness in the body for health, and cleanliness of work areas for organization.

Santosha: Contentment and being positive. Contentment can include the practice of being grateful for what you already have, for being happy with yourself and who you are, and for offering blessings for what you receive.

Tapas: is about applying heat to discipline, or fire to a task. With children, I talk about being disciplined in completing tasks, and then focus on how good that feels to complete something you started. We also discuss forming good habits as tapas.

Svadhayaya: Self study and education. This niyama intends for us to know ourselves well enough that we can meet our own needs, and is also about asking for help when we need it. Knowing the self well helps to ground us and acts as a wonderful prevention mechanism against peer pressure and temptations.

Ishvara Pranidhana: Devotion to something bigger than yourself. Traditionally this niyama is about surrendering to God, though in an effort to be non-secular as an educator in both private and public school systems, I reframe this as cultivating an appreciation for the natural world and honouring the religious and/or spiritual belief systems of your own family.

THE TRUNK:

Asana:

Asana is probably the most popular and well known limb of the yoga-tree. Asana refers to the poses or body shapes we enter during physical practice. Asana builds strength and flexibility in the body, which in turn, builds strength and flexibility in the mind, especially through practice. With children, asanas focus on safe alignment, building appropriate developmental gross and fine motor skills, and on having fun being in their bodies.

Pranayama:

Pranayama is another well known limb of the yoga-tree, as it refers to breath work, or breathing exercises. Prana means life, and in breathing, we are moving life force energy through our bodies which can have direct effects on our psychology and cognition. For example, breathing slowly and fully can help us to reduce anxiety and aid in clear thinking.

The Branches:

Pratyahara:

Pratyahara is a very important limb of the yoga tree because it is all about the senses. In Classical Yoga, pratyahara describes the process of turning away from external stimulation, guiding our energy, thoughts and senses inside with the goal of learning how we feel from the inside, without outside influence. With children, I talk about paying attention to their inner world: thoughts, feelings and behavioural motivations.

Dharana:

Dharana is about focusing the mind, specifically on a single point, like the breath. When the body has been warmed by movement, and the mind focused through informed breathing and intentional management of the senses, it becomes easier to focus the mind towards single mindedness, towards casting attention in an intentional way. With children, I talk about how movement prepares us and makes us better at focusing. This is a valuable lesson I’ve learned through my many years of working with children: if they are struggling to focus, get them moving first. Help them breath deeply and fully, and suddenly, focusing becomes much easier.

Dhyana:

Dhyana is about achieving the state of meditation, or flow. Children are especially skilled at moving meditations, such as twirling or soaring for no apparent reason, other than for the sheer joy of experiencing rhythmic movement. With the right preparations, I also find that children love stillness, quietude and silence. More about this in upcoming posts.

Samadhi:

Samadhi translates into bliss, and for many, this is the objective of yoga as a practice, to feel and experience bliss. Bliss can be described as transcendence, as open awareness without resistance, as joy that is unbound and limitless. As you well know, children can be much more adept at bliss than adults! Samadhi is not hard for children to achieve. However, we still talk bout the usefulness of joy and bliss in a balanced life, and how we might support it in others through good deeds, mindful attention to our teachers and parents, and through enjoying the natural world.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about yoga and how this incredible practice my help your children through the promotion of self-regulation, self-reliance, developmental movement, breathing and meditation. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to connect with me directly, or with the Director, Miss Christine.

This service is provided to your children as a choice. Each child chooses for themselves if they wish to participate, to observe or to choose another activity. It is also common for children to join in for a portion of the session, and to decide to move on when it feels right for them. Parents are most welcome to observe. I teach on Wednesday mornings at both locations.

Try asking your children regularly about what they are learning in yoga. I’m certain they’d love to share their learning with you, and they’d probably love to teach you a thing or two!

Over the next few months, I will be providing more in depth material on the yamas and niyamas, a major focus of our yoga curriculum this year. Look for Children’s Ethics Stories, as well as ideas for living and learning each ethic.

In Peace,

Joani

Reference:

Iyengar, B.K.S. (2001). Light on yoga: The classic guide to yoga from the world’s foremost authority. London: Thorsons Publishing.

Precious Seeds Yogademic Year

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September 2018

Greetings Parents & Caregivers of Precious Seeds,

I am delighted to introduce you to some exciting programming I’ve developed for children and families of Precious Seeds this year.

While I have an ambitious curriculum this year, the essence of what I hope to accomplish can be summed up in three themes: Movement, Mindfulness & Wonder. These three themes are hugged and snugged by 2 meta categories: Ethics & Community. I refer to this as the “Table of Context”.

 

Itty Bitty Yoga Program Table of Context:

(See above poster for the Illustrated table)

 

My primary intention is to provide curriculum that is responsive, relevant, and educational for early childhood. To this end, I’d like to explain my overarching plan, and then provide you with updates to detail finer points each month in the Precious Seeds Newsletter.

The Itty Bitty Yoga program has evolved over the years at Precious Seeds to include dance and movement, as I am currently a student in a Dance & Movement Therapy post graduate program. I’m very excited to be sharing these practices with your children for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the children’s response guides me; as they engage easily and demonstrate signals of joy. Another reason this learning has been so important to me and significant to the program is the focus on child development in general and developmental movement specifically. One way that I am ensuring that this learning filters down to your children in the most profound way is through the practice of observation. I will be spending time at both sites this year observing your children in order to determine the most appropriate movement methodologies for them. My intention is to provide you with summaries of my observations and how those impact my plans, making this a true living and breathing document.

 

The Itty Bitty Yoga Table of Context Explained

Ethics:

I teach a style of yoga called Raja Yoga, sometimes referred to as Classical Yoga. This practice is defined by a special text that was written by a yoga scholar over 2500 years ago called the Yoga Sutras. In this text the author Patanjali outlined a system referred to as Ashtanga Yoga and the Eight Limbed Path. What this means for you is to know that Yoga is so much more than a system of exercise, in fact, the asanas (yoga poses) are only 1 of the 8 limbs, making this system extensive and comprehensive. I look forward to explaining more about this throughout the year, as I will focus on one limb at a time. Briefly, for now, the first 2 limbs are referred to as Yamas and Niyamas which comprise the ethical components of yoga practice. Yamas uphold Social Ethics, and Niyamas provide for ethical Self Care practices. These ethical guidelines outline principles for living that include non-violence, truth telling and contentment, to name a few of the ten ethics. They fit very well with the school’s focus on virtues and character education. If there is interest from parents, I’d be delighted to host a free workshop to explain them in more detail directly if needed beyond what is provided here in my newsletters and blogs.

Movement:

Movement will include yoga asana (poses), dance, as well as creative and rhythmic movements. An aspect of Dance & Movement Therapy that has been very exciting for me to learn about is how certain rhythmic movements can be soothing, nourishing and healing to the nervous system. These movements can aid in the integration of early reflex patterns, therefore helping the brain to grow appropriately in tandem with gross and fine motor skill development, and this can have direct positive effects on speech and learning, cognition and behaviour. This is another area of the curriculum that I’d be so pleased to workshop with parents if there is a desire to learn more beyond what you get in these newsletters. Workshops would also provide you with a venue for direct questions, and the ability to learn these movements to enjoy at home.

Mindfulness:

Having taught extensively in the elementary and secondary school system, I can tell you that children and youth of all ages easily learn and appreciate skills in the practices of mindfulness and meditation. I find they crave it! These skills help to enhance the parts of the brain involved in executive functioning, which include focus and attention, understanding consequences, empathy and choice making. These skills also help children to self regulate, to become more aware and appreciative of their environments and each other, and inspire a fidelity to self care that will serve them well as responsible adults.

Wonder:

The topic of wonder includes many facets for me, including a connection and reverence for the natural world, an attitude of curiousity and exploration in movement, and a wide open landscape for creativity to be expressed. I provide opportunities for children in ‘craftivism’, a form of creativity with an intention towards social justice and community development. Over the course of the year, we will explore both movement justice (inclusion and diversity) and the gift economy, sharing in ways that promote selfless service.

Community:

For me, yoga, dance and movement are all about creating community: first creating community in the classroom, and then extending that sense of belonging out into families, natural social circles, and into children’s experience of their wider place in the world. “Planet Care” will be an aspect of our activities through Yoga Ethic Stories this year, which includes practices for treading lightly upon this Big Blue Dot.

While these categories may seem discreet, for me, they are all connected and interwoven.

I’m very excited to begin working with your children and I want you to feel like you can connect with me directly if you have any questions or concerns. I consult and collaborate very closely with Christine and the incredible team at Precious Seeds, so you could also let any of them know if you have specific questions or concerns you would like to have addressed. I’m here in service to you.

Please also let any of us know if you are interested in workshops that may provide you with a greater understanding and skills practice for any of the offerings this year. I’d be very pleased to involve you in this deeper learning and support for your children. If there is interest, we will definitely host workshops for you.

With tender care, warmth and wonder,

Joani Mortenson, MSW, RSW, E-RYT, RCYT

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WonderLab: Ready, Set, Grow!

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Welcome to Wonderland Movement! 

This is a space to explore, resource and contemplate Wonder and Movement with the heart and mind of appreciative inquiry. Indeed, WonderLab Movement is a place for the confluence of body and mind with a view towards achieving integration, wholeness and peace through movement.

WonderLab Movement is about being curious, not certain. It is about holding space for dichotomous thinking, for not knowing, for being messy in learning and moving. 

WonderLab Movement is primarily about focusing my professional relationship with children.

WonderLab Movement is also about embodiment, about total body connectivity, about exploring, emerging and enhancing the lives of children through developmental movement education. 

Children have always been my heart-space, and as I train deeper into Dance and Movement therapy, layered with social work, yoga and child wilderness therapy, I see how my practice is evolving and becoming more sophisticated, yet at the same time, more playful. 

My intention is to offer this space in Community. I've starting using this verb: Communitying. I want to community with you, not to you, or about you. I wish for you to chat with me here, to ask questions, and to guide me to serve you in resourceful and meaningful ways that promote growth in children, families and communities. 

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Let's Move together in Wonder. 

Ready, Set, Grow! 

 

ECE, DMT & KMP, Oh MY!

Welcome to the "Moving Well" Blog, a component of the WonderLab Movement portion of my business.

My intention is to create a garden of resources here, to leave seeds for you to plant if they work for you. 

I will provide only science and evidence based information that is intended to enrich the lives of children and their families. 

Let's start by creating a glossary of terms to create a landscape of common understanding: 

ECE: Early Childhood Education

DMT: Dance & Movement Therapy

KMP: Kestenberg Movement Profile

To open, I am presenting a workshop that will introduce my new love, The Kestenberg Movement Profile. As a DMT student, I am learning how to clinically observe and analyze early childhood behaviour in order to determine treatment and interventions that support healthy physical and psychological development through movement. 

I am so blessed to be working with the Precious Seeds Montessori Houses, as we are co-visioning enhancing the existing yoga program with elements of my training in dance and movement therapy. 

If you are a parent of a Precious Seeds Montessori House child, please contact Christine to register for the upcoming workshop by clicking here to her contact page.