A talk on the use of stories as a tool for facilitating greater inclusion of all children and for helping children to overcome challenges and difficult behaviors:
A recording of a talk I gave at the Maleny Neohumanist Education Seminar 2017, at the Ananda Marga River School, Australia:
A recording of my first webinar:
As the technological speed of modern society increases at exponential rates, so has the experience of early childhood been radically altered. Children are faced with increased levels of cognitive stimulation and complexity from their early years. The statistics of the incidence of childhood mental health disorders, such as ADHD, are rising. As the very landscape of childhood has shifted so dramatically since parents and teachers were themselves children and is increasingly characterized by continuous change rather than by stability, in what ways must educational approaches adapt to help children to successfully integrate these experiences and reach their full human potential? Is cognitive development in itself sufficient to guarantee happiness, or does conscious attention need to be given to the development of social, emotional and spiritual competencies? How to facilitate the development of an internal “compass” to prepare children to navigate the challenges of a technological, commercialized culture?
This webinar explores these questions according to the holistic approach to early childhood development offered by Neohumanist Education. It examines the ways that Neohumanist education balances extroversial sensorial stimulation and cognitive development, with training in introversial capacities such as self-regulation, empathy and creative visualization. The Neohumanist teacher’s own subjective experience and self-development is seen as an inseparable part of the teaching process. This webinar looks at Neohumanist Education’s synthesis of classical eastern wisdom teachings from the ancient tradition of yoga that highlight personal development and collective values with modern western progressive educational techniques that cultivate rationality, logic, and individual creative expression. The holistic vision of Neohumanist education is essentially an ecological vision that honors the interconnectedness of the web of life, seeking to preserve children’s sense of being connected to a greater whole, engage them in learning as joyful discovery, and help them discover meaningful ways to contribute to their world.
I first fell in love with yoga practices in France. I was an exchange student at the time, and we were encouraged to sign up for extracurricular courses in the afternoons. I chose yoga and modern dance. It was the first time I learned to direct my attention within my body and learn to listen and understand its silent language. Although I struggled to understand the directions flowing in graceful French, I was able to follow along with the movements. I became fascinated with my breathing, discovering to my surprise that I didn’t know how to breath correctly. I also learned to use my breathing to release tensions, sink deeper into positions and relax my body consciously. I discovered the limits of my flexibility and witnessed my body gradually loosening, lengthening and becoming stronger.
Though I could not remember the long sequences of movements in the class, I had soon memorized a yogic warmup known as the sun salutation and I began to integrate it into my daily morning routine. It soon replaced my need for coffee to wake up – rather with just 5 minutes of the vigorous sun salutation exercise, my entire body felt revitalized and wonderfully stretched and strengthened. It has remained part of my morning routine to this day.
When I returned from France, my friends and family had the impression that I had grown taller. I was already twenty, so I doubt that I was still actually growing in height. Rather, I think that as my posture became more aligned, it allowed my spine to lengthen. As I continued practicing, I found that chronic issues I had struggled with throughout my teen years, such as anxiety, chronic digestive issues and symptoms of chronic fatigue that had lingered after a series of illnesses I had had as a teenager, simply evaporated and disappeared. I felt lighter, more dynamic and energized, and the changes were permanent.
Most importantly, yoga helped me to tune into my own body and learn to listen to it. I found that even my cravings changed, as I began to feel the need for foods that were lighter, simpler and healthier.
Although I had tended to struggle as a child with numerous colds, strep throat, ear infections and flus throughout the winter, after a few months of yoga practice – I noticed that I went through an entire season without falling ill. Indeed, it is now a rare occurence that I catch a cold – despite daily contact with kindergarten children and their runny noses! My eyesight also improved – from a minus 6 to minus 1.75. I attribute this to the practices of “half-bath”, which includes splashing water on the eyes, as well as to the yogic self-massage done at the end of a session which includes many pressure points around the eyes.
Most importantly, after a few months of practice, I noticed my mind gradually settling into a more peaceful and harmonious state. When I first began yoga classes, if the teacher proposed a short meditation at the end, it seemed that the restlessness of my mind flitting around like a moth was heightened under the magnifying lens of the quietness in the room. I felt about as far from inner peace as one could possibly be. However, in time, something began to subtly shift within and soon I found myself curious and drawn to introspective practices, and interestingly, my mind was more easily stilled than before. I only discovered later, when studying “Biopsychology” – Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii’s writings on the relationship between glands, cakras and the mind – that indeed, yoga asanas were designed in order to prepare the mind to be still for meditation.
At this point, yoga asanas have become such a part of life for me that if for some reason I cannot do them in the morning – it makes me feel just as odd as if I were to skip brushing my teeth. They make me feel alive, fresh, energized and ready to face the day. When I practice in the evening, the days tensions and tiredness melt away and I feel renewed and relaxed. I am so grateful to have encountered yoga asanas. They help me to stay connected with my own body and develop an intuitive understanding from within. As I have learned to inhabit my body more fully, naturally and spontaneously I have found that I am then also able to experience and enjoy life more thoroughly.
1. Yoga improves our respiratory system
2. Yogic self-massage for the lymphatic system
The regular practice of even a short 15 minute routine of yoga asanas provides multiple levels of benefit to all of the systems of our body. This two part article will cover ten benefits of yoga:
1. Strengthening yoga postures increase bone density
Many yoga exercises, or asanas are considered excellent weight bearing exercises. Our bones reach their maximum density at around 30 years old, and all of us will naturally begins to lose some bone mass with aging. However, especially in women, this loss can be as dramatic as 20% in the first 5-7 years after menopause,* (1) leading eventually to the painful, degenerative condition of osteoporosis.
Integrating weight bearing exercises into your daily routine is important to prevent bone loss. Yoga postures that support the body’s weight and are held isometrically, such as the plank pose, cakrasana (wheel), sahajasana (chair pose) not only strengthen the muscular system, but also increase bone density. Asanas increase the pressure on bones without stressing the joints as movements are slow, deliberate and careful attention is given to proper alignment.
2. Yoga benefits the heart and circulation
Beyond “Us” and “Them”
In its essence, the Neohumanist philosophy is about continually expanding the radius of our circle of love to include the entire universe. Human love is nurtured from birth by forming attachments to those closest to us, but often, beginning in early childhood, those outside of our circle of love, are part of an unknown “Other”. We then begin to experience the duality of “us” and “them” – those that are part of our world and thus familiar, safe and approachable, while those that are not, and are unfamiliar, alien and often thus perceived as threatening on some level due to our basic fear of the unknown.
I just made a playlist on SoundCloud of some of my favorite recordings of live kiirtans, that I made during gatherings with hundreds of Ananda Marga meditators. Kiirtan is the chanting of sanskrit mantras that create a deep resonance with Divine Love. There are many mantras in the tradition of kiirtan – but the one that I love best is “Baba Nam Kevalam” which means “I am only calling out to my Beloved”. It focuses and aligns the whole heart and mind to that core of unconditional, Divine Love that vibrates the essence of the entire universe.
Singing kiirtan is such an amazing simple way to experience pure spiritual bliss. These recordings give a taste of how that bliss intensifies when many people gather together to sing, creating a powerful flow of minds all moving towards that same Divine Nucleus.