Take note of how your body feels right now. As you’re reading this, are your back and shoulders hunched, because you’ve been sitting in front of your computer for hours at a time? Your eyes may be tired, sore, or you might have a headache from the blue light glare of your screen. If you’re a smartphone user, you may even be feeling the effects of the dreaded “tech neck,” where a 45-degree tilt forward means that “your neck muscles are doing the work of lifting a 50 lb. bag of potatoes.” To alleviate some of the negative physical and emotional effects that can come from working or learning from home for long periods of time, WITS program staff have begun introducing movement and mindfulness activities into virtual programming. Taking a moment to breathe, stretch, or rest one’s eyes allows students and mentors to pause and note how their bodies and brains are feeling before diving into a good book.
Think of the following movement and mindfulness activities as mini resets you can do at any time of the day. Take your time, listen to what your body needs (if you feel any discomfort, stop doing the exercise), and enjoy. All the movements we describe here can be done wearing regular clothes, and don’t require yoga mats or any special equipment. You can do it in your classroom – in-person or virtually- at a desk, even if you don’t have a ton of space. Also, please note that all the movements can be adjusted for students/ participants who do not want to stand or might have a physical limitation – they can do them seated if they prefer.
- General body check-in: Take a deep breath. Sigh and release the tension from your jaw. Drop your shoulders away from your ears. Soften the space between your eyebrows.
- Eye breaks: As you breathe normally, close your eyes or look away from your screen for 20 seconds.
- Spinal twists: While seated, place both of your feet on the floor. Bring both of your arms to the left side of your chair, and gently twist your body to face that arm. Take 10 deep breaths, then repeat on your right side.
- Volcano breaths: Pretend your hands and arms are like lava flowing from a volcano. Start with your hands in front of your heart, with your palms touching. Keeping your hands together, reach straight up, and breathe in. Separate your hands, move your arms down to your side, and breathe out.
- Lion’s breath: Take a deep breath, make your hands into fists, and tense your face. As you breathe out, stretch your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out. Release your hands.
- Bee breathing: Plug your ears, breathe in, and make a humming noise as you breathe out through your mouth.
- Emotion Freedom Technique (EFT): EFT is an alternative treatment for physical pain and emotional distress. It’s also referred to as tapping or psychological acupressure. People who use this technique believe tapping the body can create a balance in your energy system and treat pain. Though still being researched, EFT tapping has been used to treat people with anxiety and people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this exercise, you tap on nine different acupressure points to allow energy to flow through your body, and it can also help with stress and anxiety. The following video shows you what acupressure points to tap and in what order: EFT Video Demonstration.
- Bell Focus: This technique is from the program “Calm Classroom”. When the instructor rings the bell (or chimes) you will focus all their attention on the sound until it fades away completely and then you will listen to the silence in our space. If your mind starts to think about something other than the sound of the bell, try to bring your mind back to the sound. The instructor will repeat this exercise (ringing the bell) three times. It concludes with a few deep breaths.
- Eye circles: This technique helps strengthen eye muscles and is a good exercise to improve focus and reading stamina. You begin by finding a comfortable position where you can keep your back straight and lifted, either on the floor or in a chair. You will be keeping your body and head still and eyes open as you move your eyes in circles. As the instructor says “up, right, down, left” you will move your eyes in that direction. Then we will change directions. It concludes with closing your eyes and letting your muscles relax as we take a few deep breathes together.
- Seated Mountain: This is a classic yoga pose adopted to sitting at a desk or in a chair. While sitting upright in your chair, you will be asked to raise your arms above your head with your palms facing each other. With your elbows straight and your shoulders relaxed far away from your ears, you will sit up as tall as possible. (The instructor should demonstrate the move prior to the meditation, making sure everyone understands.) You will hold this position for 10 seconds and then release. It concludes with a few deep breaths.
- One Arm Hug: Take one arm across your body and place it on the back of your opposite shoulder. To get a deeper stretch, use your other arm to push back on the elbow. You should feel this stretch on the outside of your arm and shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times each arm.
- Cactus Arms and Reverse Cactus🌵: Bring your upper arm out sideways (shoulder 90º) and hands overhead (elbow 90º) and palms pointing to the front of your body. Your arms should resemble a goal posts or branches of a cactus. Use the floor or wall as a reference. For Reverse Cactus, you guessed it, this time your hands are by your waist, palms pointing to the back.
No matter where learning takes place – in the classroom, at home, virtually or on-the-go – it’s important to check in physically and emotionally to ensure children are feeling energized, supported, and ready for what’s ahead. You can and should adapt these exercises to fit the needs of preschoolers to teens, with careful consideration of ability and context. Modify these tips and resources in a way that supports you and your setting best and get creative!
To offer this practice in a trauma-informed way, make sure that students have choice or options for moving and pacing. If there is a movement, they do not feel comfortable doing, or they need more time, they should be allowed to pick a different stretch and/or do it at their own speed. Encourage them to participate no matter what they choose, as ideally you want the whole class moving together and engaged. These types of modifications and differentiation will allow students to interact and engage with a physical practice in a way that feels safe and comfortable for them. And remember, mindfulness and movement activities should be enjoyable, and with repeated practice, foster a sense of peace and gratitude.