Sit still. Be quiet. Listen.
There are a lot of demands placed on children, but have we given them the tools to succeed?
The creators of a new program dubbed UB.U, as in “you be you,” don’t think so.
“We haven’t given our kids the tools to understand, process and manage expectations,” said Emily McCormack, one of the founders of UB.U, a program that addresses social emotional learning and character development for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade taking place in 20 classrooms in five Eagle County elementary, middle and high schools. “To them expectations simply equal stress. And they don’t know what that means.”
Those expectations manifest in not-so-positive ways sometimes: temper tantrums, depression, defiance, acting out and even bullying.
The UB.U program has three main components: mindfulness, yoga-based movement and relaxation.
“It helps students recognize the connection between the brain, the body and the breath,” McCormack said. “This awareness introduces life-long tools to regulate stress, improve social-emotional skills and recognize the power of self-esteem.”
UB.U helps kids live in the moment and focus, McCormack said.
“In school, it’s especially difficult,” she said. “They get bored sitting there. It’s hard to keep them focused, especially when asking them to sit for long periods.”
Anne-Marie Desmond and Rachel DeLong initially started the program through the Youth Foundation’s Girl PowHER program last year. McCormack joined the women and the program has since morphed into UB.U.
“Now the program is offered to all kids, both genders. We’re trying to get into all the Eagle County schools,” McCormack said. “This is the true pilot year. We’re rolling out the program the way we want to introduce it for years to come.”
Proceeds from this weekend’s Eagle YogaFest, as well as all funds from Glow Yoga, a yoga party under black lights complete with a DJ and glow sticks that takes place at 8 p.m. Saturday, will go to UB.U.
“We’re so honored to be part of a festival that carries such an important message: that you’ll be accepted here and that it’s OK to be who you are,” Desmond said. “We provide kids with tools to promote self-awareness, resilience and thoughtful response. Yoga is a lifelong journey of self-discovery and Eagle YogaFest represents one incredible opportunity for growth along that road.”
‘WIRED TO BE IN MOTION’
DeLong teaches most of the middle and high school classes. McCormack has been working with kindergarteners and first graders at Eagle Valley Elementary School, as well as fourth graders at Gypsum Creek.
At a class for kindergarteners and first graders at Eagle Valley Elementary earlier this month, McCormack began with a mindful listening exercise. She asked the kids to sit cross-legged, spines straight, close their eyes and listen.
“No moving, no thinking, no giggling, no twitching, itching or tapping. This is a tough exercise for many adults, so you can only imagine how the kids fare,” McCormack wrote in a blog post about the experience for the YogaFest website.
“Kids’ bodies are biologically wired to be in motion,” McCormack continued. “And yet we, as adults, ask kids to be still and listen. A lot. I can hear myself ask it of my own children and I cringe. But in our society, this is sometimes a necessity —in school, for instance. Yet, we haven’t provided our kids with the tools to listen and be still.”
McCormack asked the kids to “open their ears” and then she rang some bells.
“We tried the bells a second time; this time I asked the kids to raise their hands when the bells stopped singing,” McCormack wrote. “We practiced with the bells a third time, this time with eyes closed so our sense of hearing could be even stronger.”
The room grew quiet. The kids closed their eyes and listened intently.
“I was awestruck by the pure wonder packaged in these tiny bodies,” McCormack wrote.
Next up, the kid’s practiced several rounds of “Yogi Says,” UB.U’s version of Simon Says, which incorporates yoga-based movements.
‘MAGIC’ BREATH’: A LIFELONG TOOL
Finally, the session ended with McCormack teaching the kids “magic breath.” She instructed the kids to breathe into their bellies.
This “acts as a counter to our sympathetic nervous system’s fight, flight, freeze response,” she wrote. “Belly — or diaphragmatic — breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, a nerve running from the base of the brain to the tummy, which is responsible for mediating nervous system response.”
In essence, this type of breathing calms your mind and helps you focus. Try it for a minute or two and see how you feel.
“Scientists and researchers are discovering more benefits, like increased brain size, lower blood pressure and heart rate (helping to prevent stroke and lower risk of cerebral aneurysm) and even changes in genetic expression (immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion). Magic breath is a great tool and it’s just challenging enough to keep even the antsiest kids focused. And when they’ve mastered magic breath, they can call upon it whenever they need it for as long as they live.”
Each session ends with the kids lying comfortably on yoga mats for quiet time. It’s easy for some kids and quite challenging for others. But either way, nearly all the kids who participate in the program cite the same thing as their favorite part of UB.U: quiet time.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2984.