Preschoolers learn mindfulness, yoga in Ivy Child program
(Instructor America Young creates a full moon pose with children in a yoga/mindfulness class at the Salmon Center for Early Education in Worcester. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Friday, March 16, 2012
Enter a classroom full of preschoolers and you might expect a frenzy of activity; running, jumping, playing and shouting.
But if Rose Pavlov and America Young are in the room, it will be a different story: children sitting calmly in a circle, breathing deeply or doing yoga, pretending to be a butterfly. Or a bear or a flower, or whatever their young minds can imagine. It’s all part of Ms. Pavlov’s yoga and mindfulness program for preschoolers, which she presents along with Clark University yoga instructor America Young, at preschools wherever requested. The program includes children from Worcester, Shrewsbury, Westboro, Northboro, Auburn and Paxton.
And why do children 2-1/2 through 5 need yoga and relaxation? “There’s been a nationwide increase in aggression among children,” Ms. Pavlov said. “Stabbing with writing utensils, beyond pushing and pulling and biting; really aggressive incidents in preschool.” Ms. Pavlov’s knowledge on this subject comes from research by Ivy Child International, a Worcester-based nonprofit founded by Ms. Pavlov and devoted to “cross-cultural, positive psychological services.”
Research there also showed that such aggressive behavior was because of stress. Further research and clinical experience also showed an antidote.
“With the research that we conducted with pediatric cancer patients, it showed that children had a multitude of benefits when dealing with stress through mindfulness and yoga,” Ms. Pavlov said. “Our theory was that if it can help with coping with physiological stressors, it may also help with environmental stressors.”In short, learning to deal with stress in ways other than lashing out could benefit everyone.
“We all deal with stressors, but how we respond and cope is really essential,” she said. “If we teach children how to cope with stressors and how to self-regulate their emotions by identifying triggers of negative emotion and identifying appropriate and constructive outlets, they may better have the opportunity to thrive when facing challenges,” she said.
Just how does this work for young children?
Ms. Pavlov teaches mindfulness first, deep breathing and calmness. Children then move on to traditional yoga and finally on to a portion of the program that gives their imaginations free rein: They transform into something from nature, a butterfly or a tree. They discuss nature and where their imaginations can take them.
Part of the mindfulness portion includes an activity Ms. Pavlov created to help focus and calm children, called the Calming Hands technique. Children in stress learn to place their hands on a copy of their own hand with the fingers numbered and count and breathe. The activity helps calm and focus them.
The children respond well to the program, Ms. Pavlov said. She hears from teachers and parents that the long-term goal of the program is working: Children are taking away from the 16-week program, currently being taught at the Salmon Center for Early Education on Plantation Street, the skills they need to deal with stress. They stop, breathe, think and then act.
Part of the program is also teaching children to identify feelings such as anger, frustration and confusion that often impel the young to act quickly in destructive ways. But also to identify the good feelings.
She’s astounded at how easily that lesson takes root with children. Her own test group — her son, Noah, 6, and Laiya, 4 — have shown her just how easily children can learn to identify feelings and deal with them.
At the end of the course, children are encouraged to talk about their experience, an eye-opening experience for the adults around them. “It’s really incredible to see the world through their lens, and what they’re experiencing and what they find are their areas of difficulty,” Ms. Pavlov said.
Ms. Pavlov, a licensed mental health provider and founder of Ivy, began her journey in India in 1995, working with Mother Teresa and her group in the slums of cities in India. “That’s the experience that really changed my life,” she said.
There, children living under the most adverse circumstances could be brought some peace, Ms. Pavlov found, through yoga and mindfulness . . . and music. Ms. Pavlov is also a musician and in India learned to play the veena, an Indian string instrument. “I always had a passion for working with children,” she said. In India, she not only indulged that passion and joined it with music, but she began to focus her future on working with children and helping them deal with their stress as well.
In the United States, Ms. Pavlov founded Ivy to focus on bringing nonpharmaceutical solutions to the stress that children labor under.
The yoga and mindfulness program is one of three new programs by Ivy, the other two focusing on bullying and multicultural and music education. Ivy provides the programs to schools, groups and individuals, and Ms. Pavlov hopes to see sustainable funding sources soon so that more and more children will learn to stop and take a deep breath, not just now, but in their future.
To learn more, visit www.ivychild.org.