Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Mindfulness Techniques in Afterschool: Experiences of a Youth Worker

By Sam Piha

The use of mindfulness techniques with young people have been shown to promote social emotional skills (self-awareness, emotional regulation, social awareness, and empathy, etc.). For years now, they have been used by schools and expanded learning programs. Mindfulness techniques are also being used to promote self-care for adults in stressful jobs (youth workers, health workers, and others). 

For some, these techniques are about relaxation, self-care, and time to regain calm. For some, they involve awareness of breath or more formal lessons on meditation. 

For others, this sounds too “touchy-feely” or "religious" for expanded learning programs. We disagree and have created a 16-week curriculum for use with young expanded learning program participants and have offered trainings for school districts and county offices of education across California. 

Below is a guest blog from an afterschool worker describing her use of mindfulness techniques in her program. 


My name is Erika Chavez. I am currently 22 years of age. I have been an after
Erika Chavez
school academic instructor for the POWER program at Pioneer school for 3 years now. I am also in the process of becoming a certified Holistic Health Coach. 

I am deeply passionate about bringing awareness concerning health and complete overall wellness to those around me, whether it is through social media, events, or in my classroom. My vision is to someday be able to start a movement that encourages and inspires a balanced and an all-round healthy lifestyle - physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s own awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. 

I have been practicing mindfulness with my students for 3 years now. It all began with a pretty Fiji water bottle full with gold glitter. You see, I needed a visual way for my students to understand what mindfulness was and the purpose it had. So, I showed them the still water bottle with the glitter resting at the bottom of it. I asked them if they were able to see through the water bottle and of course their response was “yes” since the water was clear and calm. 

Photo Credit: Able Data
After I shook the entire water bottle, I then asked them again, “can you see through the water bottle now?” They all responded “no” with such wonder in their eyes. I then explained to them how that water bottle was our brain and the glitter represented our thoughts. When I introduced mindfulness to them, I explained how it was a powerful tool to help us calm that glitter down in our brains so that we could be able to clear our waters in order to make wise decisions. They then understood how it all worked and they were all motivated to calm their glitter. [See "Just Breathe" video].

I had them all lay down on the floor with their eyes closed and focused on their breathing. I then played a children’s guided meditation and they followed… sure enough there was one or two students who couldn’t stay calm but what’s new, right? However, with lots of patience and understanding, those few students who couldn’t seem to settle down began to slowly sink into the activity. I must admit, seeing all my students laying down on the floor, with their eyes closed, hands crossed on their chest, and breathing calmly was one of the most rewarding and soothing feelings ever. 

Mindfulness has allowed us as a group to come together and form a bond of understanding, kindness and support. Now they even come to me asking if we can please meditate! Especially when they’re hyper, that’s when I realize they ask for it the most. Best part is seeing them tell one another, “calm your glitter, you need to relax and make better choices”. I’ve seen them grab the water bottle and take it to that student so they can be reminded of what’s going on. It’s seriously amazing!

I’ve seen some students mature, others striving to be better, and I’ve heard others open up with very intimate things that were weighing them down. One student in particular taught me a lesson I will never forget. She opened up and talked about a very serious, sensitive and painful situation that had occurred to her. She broke past a wall that had been holding her back for some time, making her feel trapped. I was able to see the strength coming through her as she let it go. She became present and was able to acknowledge her feelings and thoughts. 

This also helped me as a teacher to better understand why she acted the way she did and I was able to support her in a much more effective way. Now she is a better student and her behavior has improved radically. This is the POWER of mindfulness.

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