#43 - Yoga & Mindfulness for Kids with Michelle from MindfulMissK

Sep 24, 2023
#43 - Yoga & Mindfulness for Kids with Michelle from MindfulMissK
***For transcript of this episode, scroll down!

🧘‍♀️ Is kids yoga & mindfulness really worth it? Or is it just another fad? Tune in with Michelle Kiernozek MS, OTR/L, RYT-200, ADHD-RSP, as she shares the magic behind yoga & mindfulness and it's incredible impact on the sensory system and beyond. 🌟


Episode Highlights:

  • Discover the benefits of yoga for kids, including its role in sensory regulation.
  • Gain insights into how yoga can support sensory seekers and tips for helping them stay engaged.
  • Learn strategies for children who may struggle with postural control and motor planning in yoga.
  • Understand the importance of teaching proper breathing to children to reduce anxiety and fight-or-flight responses.
  • Explore creative ideas, like the hot cocoa breathing technique, for teaching kids to breathe mindfully.
  • Gain insights into how yoga and mindfulness practices can be tailored for individuals with ADHD.
  • Understand what mindfulness is and how it can be a helpful practice for children.
  • Learn how to make yoga exciting and unique for kids, with examples like Barbie yoga and fall yoga.
  • Discover how yoga can benefit kids within the school system, as shared by a school-based occupational therapist.


🌈 So, tune in and get ready to be amazed by all that yoga & mindfulness have to offer, as well as easy tips to get started today!


About Michelle: Michelle is a registered occupational therapist, registered yoga teacher, ADHD-Certified Rehabilitation Services Provider, and certified kids yoga & mindfulness teacher. She works full time as a school-based occupational therapist and teaches private, virtual and group yoga & mindfulness, self-regulation classes and handwriting classes. Michelle has 11.5 years of experience working with children in a variety of settings including early-intervention, preschools, pediatric skilled nursing facilities, and outpatient clinics. She has extensive experience and training in self-regulation, mindfulness and yoga for children and teens. She specializes in teaching children and teens yoga & mindfulness tools to improve self-regulation. Her mission is to make yoga and mindfulness accessible to all students including those with diverse physical, mental and emotional abilities.


✨✨✨ Want to learn more about Michelle, or get in touch with her for classes? You can connect with her at:

Episode Transcript: 

Sam: Hello. Welcome back to episode number 43 of the Food Explorers podcast.

I'm so excited to announce that today, Michelle from mindfulness,

Kay is joining us to talk about all things yoga and mindfulness.

Yoga and mindfulness can be so beneficial for kids from stress management to

sensory processing and more.

And I can't wait for you to listen to all she has to share.

I really loved how Michelle broke down how to actually start practicing these

with kids and shares where to focus to make it an experience that kids actually

want to do. Before we jump into the episode,

let me tell you a bit about Michelle.

Michelle is a registered occupational therapist, registered yoga teacher,

A D H D, certified rehabilitation services provider,

and certified kids yoga and mindfulness teacher.

She works full-time as a school-based occupational therapist and teaches

private, virtual and group yoga and mindfulness,

self-regulation classes and handwriting classes.

Michelle has 11 and a half years of experience working with children in a

variety of settings, including early intervention preschools,

pediatric skilled nursing facilities, and outpatient clinics.

She has extensive experience and training and self-regulation,

mindfulness and yoga for children and teens.

She specializes in teaching children and teens yoga and mindfulness tools to

improve self-regulation.

Her mission is to make yoga and mindfulness accessible to all students,

including those with diverse, physical, mental and emotional abilities.

So grab a nice cup of tea or coffee,

maybe even a pencil to take notes and get cozy because you are going to love

this episode.

Sam: Hey Michelle, I am so happy to have you here today. As we were just talking about,

I love using yoga in my own personal sessions,

so I'm so excited to talk to somebody who actually specializes in this area.

And I even just watched your recording that you did on the news and it was

awesome. So I think whole community is going to love this episode.

Can you start by giving us a little introduction to who you are and what you do?

Michelle: Sure. So my name is Michelle Kerno, um, and I also go by Ms. K,

which started as a nickname because my last name was hard to pronounce, um,

for my students. So I just go by Ms. Tay. Um, my social media is mindfulness.


And I am a pediatric occupational therapist working full-time in the schools,


with almost 12 years of experience working in various pediatric settings such as

preschools, early intervention. Um,

I worked at a pediatrics skilled nursing facility, outpatient clinics,

and I've been in the schools for the past almost seven years. Um,

I also teach kids yoga and mindfulness classes on the side, um,

private classes as well as group classes in the community.

Sam: Oh, so cool. You've got a lot going on. I

Like to stay busy.

Michelle: Yes.

Sam: So as I mentioned, I love using yoga. I know a lot of other OTs love using yoga PTs, love using yoga.

Can you talk a little bit about what some of those benefits might be?

Michelle: So first of all,

I'm really happy to hear that and I appreciate that you enjoy yoga and see the

benefits in it. Um,

there's so many benefits physically and mentally to the practice of yoga and

mindfulness. So as an ot, you know, it provides a ton of physical, um,

exercise and it's a very sensory rich movement experience. Um,

it helps with your body awareness, motor planning,

endurance focus, strength, postural control,

executive functioning skills crossing, midline. I mean,

there's just so many growing evidence to support the,

the benefit for yoga and mindfulness specifically with children and how it helps

with their overall developmental skills, not just motor,

but overall motor and social emotional skills.

Sam: Oh, you just pointed out so many things that I wanna pick apart in this episode

'cause it was so good. But first,

I know it's a long list.

It's a long list of really amazing things. It really does so much.

But the first one I wanna chat about is that sensory processing.

So yoga can be super helpful, as you mentioned, for that sensory system.

Can you elaborate on that for us?

Michelle: Sure. So one of the big reasons I really specialize in the area of yoga and

mindfulness is because it's an evidence-based intervention that would come up in

most, mostly all of my pediatric continuing education trainings.

So specifically for children with sensory processing or self-regulation

challenges as OTs,

we know that the number one way to ground a child is to provide them with

proprioceptive input. And if we think about yoga,

kids receive so much of that input just through the postures.

So the more proprioceptive and vestibular input from a sensory perspective,

the more, um, the release of those, those chemicals,

the serotonin and the more that the children can help, um, stay grounded,

um, in terms of the sensory, uh, proprioceptive sense, um,

which gives us information about where our bodies are in space,

how to coordinate movements and yoga.

That's pretty much true with all the poses, right?

You have to know where your body is in space.

It also helps activate that stretching and compression of the joints which

provide that input. So for example, downward dog plank poses.

So it's providing all of that really rich sensory input to the nervous

sens system. And it, in addition to helping kids, um,

feel balanced, um, feel grounded. Um,

another sense as we know that's responsible for attention and balances or

vestibular system. So yoga, um,

poses that require any sort of forward bends twists, um, backward bends,

they provide a really strong vestibular input to the body.

Sam: Mm-hmm. I love using that proprioceptive and vestibular sense.

And I did wanna pause here for a moment and talk about what those are for some

of the parents or even therapists who might be joining us for the first time and

have never heard what proprioception is or what vestibular input is.

Michelle: Sure. So our proprioceptive sense, um,

is basically if you were to close your eyes and you were to, uh,

place your hand up above your head,

that sense allows us to know where our body is in space.

So our proprioceptors are, um, in our joint receptors,

in our muscles, and any time our, our body compresses or,

um, or if we, you know, have traction of the joints,

that gives us input of where our body is in space. Um,

and then in terms of the vestibular system, that is our sense of balance.

Um, so our, our vestibular receptors are located in our inner ear canal.

So anytime our head, um, is moves in various planes,

it gives us that, um, that awareness of where our head is against gravity.

So in relation to gravity. So if you think about downward dog,

when your head is in that inverted position, that really requires a lot of, um,


that provides a lot of vestibular input to know where your body is in space.

Sam: Yeah, thank you so much for elaborating on that.

I love to simplify it even and say,

our propriocept desense is our sense of body awareness and our vestibular sense

is our sense of head movement, but there's so much more that goes into that,

Michelle: Right? No, that's a better answer because, you know,

we wanna make things as simple as simplified as possible so that parents and

people who aren't familiar can really understand it in that way.

Sam: Oh. But I love teaching the science behind it too.

Michelle: I know, it's like, it's just, it,

it can be really complex and overwhelming if you don't know.

So I think starting with the simplified definition is great. And then, um,

you know, teaching as we go along is also really helpful for parents,

especially if they're parents of children with sensory processing challenges.

Sam: Mm-hmm. That's super important.

Michelle: Yeah.

Sam: So a lot of our community here does have children who are sensory seekers,

and I think yoga can be really great for sensory seekers,

but when you're starting out on that journey,

it can also be pretty challenging if they're not able to attend or they can't

stop moving, and you're trying to kind of just start teaching that.

So what have you seen, what tips do you have for our sensory seekers?

Michelle: So I think that the, the number one thing for everyone, parents, teachers,

educators to understand is that kids' yoga is not meant to be still.

It's not meant to be a quiet practice.

It's meant to meet children where they at, where they're at developmentally. Um,

so having that understanding going into it and, you know,

keeping your expectations realistic for the child's developmental level, um,

is so important because I've had parents who are like,

my child cannot sit still, they're not gonna be able to do yoga. And I'm like,

well, first of all,

that's not what yoga's about kids yoga is not about sitting still and,

and being still, I like to think of kids yoga as planting the seed.

So we're teaching kids all of these awesome skills right at a

young age so that, you know, it is something that they connect with.

And then of course, as they get grow older, the expectations will be more,

you know, we'll,

we'll differ and then they'll be able to practice more stillness. But,

um, but I would just say to keep it really fun, um,

if you're a parent doing this at home, I would say to build on their interests.

So if they like dinosaurs,

I would have names of the poses that, you know,

coincide with the theme. So I've called a yoga pose,

like 10 different things depending on the student or the child I'm working with.

Whatever's intrinsically motivating will essentially help them attend.

And to keep it short, if you are looking for a group class,

my number one tip would be to find the right teacher.

So I would look for someone who has an understanding of children with

sensory processing challenges and has experience of child with children,

um, who have various needs, would be a really good place to start.

Sam: Okay.

So I have to ask you this because I know that this is going to be a question I

believe you offer in-person therapy in and yoga classes in

New York,

but do you also offer online classes for those people

in our community who maybe aren't as close to you?

Michelle: Yes, I do. I offer virtual private classes. Um,

those are one-on-one classes, um,

and you can reach out to me via email or learn more on my website

if anyone is interested in those.

Sam: Cool.

So you did mention a little bit about motor planning and postural

control in there. So for those parents who are maybe newer to us,

motor planning is our ability to plan out our movements in our head and complete

them. Postural control is our ability to hold ourself up against gravity.

But for those kids who struggle with that,

how do you kind of change your yoga positions?

How do you switch it up to fit their needs more?

Michelle: So the first thing that I would say is to start with the alignment.

So if you are going into like a balance pose, for example,

that has multiple steps,

I would start with the very first step of feeling where your feet are on the

ground. So not only does that give them that proprioceptive input,

helps with body awareness, also helps them be mindful oftentimes with kids,

you know, because it is very play-based, you know,

I'm not worried about the perfect posture, right? I'm just,

we're teaching it in a very play-based way. However, with that being said,

they rush through the poses specifically if they're trying to balance, you know,

so I always start with grounding our feet, for example, if we're standing.

So I would say start with alignment and just start one step at a time.

If you're doing tree poses, all right, let's first stand, feel our feet,

and then use props specifically if they're having challenges with their,

you know, dynamic balance or static balance due to a postural control, um,

challenge, I would have them hold onto something. You know, even as parents,

they can hold onto their hands, all right, let's lift one foot up,

but make sure that that sta that balancing foot is grounded.

I always say that to my students, okay,

make sure that that foot is really pretend that you're a,

a trunk and it's stuck in the earth. Like so that's your, your ground,

your tree trunk, you know? So that really helps with, um,

with motor planning specifically.

And it also helps them with slowing down and becoming more mindful of what

their, their body is doing, which also in turn helps with motor planning.

Oh, those are such great tips for making it a little bit easier,

because a lot of the time when they do have a hard time with that motor planning

or that postural control, they give up.

Sam: So I love how you broke it down and how we can make this more simple and fit for

them so that they actually feel successful too at this.

Michelle: And what I do too is I model like all different variations. Like, okay,

your tree could look like this, and maybe for some kids that's just their toe,

um, touching the, the ground.

It's not necessarily that their foot is up if they're not there, you know?

So I think being an OT helps me tremendously

in how I craft my classes to ensure that all kids feel successful. You know,

it's not a matter of doing the pose, it's a matter of trying. And, and they,

once they feel successful with one part of it,

it actually motivates them in further classes to then want to challenge

themselves by moving on to the next step. And,

and everyone's journey's different,

but I find that once they feel successful with step one,

it really does help them. Um,

it helps them for future classes and to wanna continue it and not give up.

Sam: Oh, that's amazing. Yes, it totally does.

As you mentioned on one of your Instagram posts,

it's also really important to teach kids that proper breathing pattern,

because potentially, as you mentioned,

it could lead to more anxiety or fight or flight response.

Can you explain a little bit about that for our audience?

Michelle: Sure. So I think learning, um, proper breathing,

which means that you're taking, um,

deep breaths into the nose and out through the mouth.

And in yoga we call that diaphragmatic breathing is really hard for

adults and especially for children.

So I've worked with many children in group settings and in private sessions,

and it's hard for them a to close their mouth when they're breathing in.

So if you tell a child to breathe in,

what I see often or more than not, is that they suck in air. So they're like,

and then what that does is actually activate our sympathetic nervous system

because we're breathing through our mouth,

and the way to offset that is to breathe in through our nose,

which will then activate our parasympathetic nervous system,

which will help our bodies feel calm.

So the first step is to teach breathing and to practice it

repeatedly during times of, um, natural parts of the day,

and then generalize it to stressful parts of the day. So it's important, a,

to make sure that, that they have that breathing pattern, um, not mastered,

but they've practiced it enough to where, you know,

they close their mouth when they breathe in.

I don't expect children to inhale and exhale through their nose,

but if they can,

that's wonderful because that will activate the parasympathetic nervous system

and it'll, it will restore your breath back to that calm state.

When children are anxious, and this is true for everyone, really,

our breathing patterns change and they change to that fast, shallow breath,

which then, um, makes your heart beat faster.

You get that rush of adrenaline and your breath starts to be more rapid.

So we wanna offset that by taking those slow, deep breaths.

So that's why it's important,

because if we're telling a child in distress when they're already like,

you know, gasp, grasp, you know, gasping for air,

and they're anxious to take deep breaths, they might just suck in more air,

and that will send their body into more of a state of distress or dysregulation.

Sam: I notice all the time that I do this too. I teach it, but I also notice,

like when I get stressed, I'm like,

and I breathe in and I forget to breathe out,

Michelle: and that's what actually circulates it. Well, it happens,

It happens on a physiological level. So we don't even, you know,

it's not with awareness that our breath pattern changes,

it's just the reaction to a trigger of stress.

Sam: Mm-hmm.

And I once heard somebody just explain it in a way that I thought was like, oh,

this is, this makes it so much more understandable for me,

is that when we breathe in, we stimulate our fight or flight,

and when we breathe out, we stimulate rest and digest. Yeah.

And we all forget to breathe out.

Michelle: Yes, yes. That's why if you can exhale twice as long as you inhale,

that'll be the most efficient and effective way to activate your

parasympathetic nervous system.

Sam: Well, let's talk a little bit more about that,

because you had some really cute ideas for

teaching kids some breathing techniques. I loved, you had a hot cocoa one,

and I was like, Ooh, this is a new one. I have never heard this before.

Can you share some examples of some ways you might teach kids breathing?

Michelle: Sure. So in terms of the hot cocoa example, you know,

what I actually had the kids do is with a visual of a

hot cocoa. I mean, you could print out like a cup or something online.

I used GL and I had kids, um,

sprinkle like literally cocoa powder on the glue to, um,

to vis to represent like the swirl of the hot cocoa so that they can actually

smell it, which adds that olfactory experience to the breathing exercise,

which the kids you want them to buy into whatever you're doing.

So my number one tip is to use a prop,

anything visual to help them not only to make it exciting and engaging,

but to also help with, um, slowing down. So,

for example, I love slinkies. Um, they're pretty inexpensive,

I would say hoberman spheres are also my favorite. But you know, they,

they're not as, they're not as easy to access, but slinkies,

you can get a pack of them at the Dollar Tree. So what I do,

if I was using a slinky as I would have the children, um,

breathe in as they expand the slinky, just to indicate like, Hey,

this is what happens to your lungs when you take deep breaths. And it, again,

it ha it naturally causes them to slow down.

And then when they exhale, I have them mindfully bring the slinky back, um,

together. So it helps them with the concept of breathing.

When you use a prop such as a slinky, um,

another favorite of mine is to use pompoms or feathers.

And you can do this with or without a straw.

So what I'll have the students do is take a deep breath through their note.

I always make sure that they're breathing into the nose first,

just to teach them that the breathing pattern, and then I have them breathe out.

So going back to what I just said, when you exhale longer than you inhale,

you create more of that parasympathetic, um, response.

So by using feathers, by using pom-poms on the, on the floor,

naturally they're gonna have to exhale longer because they're gonna wanna blow

it across whatever, you know,

I usually like to make a target similar to what we would do in ot if we were

working on, let's say, eye conversion, you know, using a straw or something.

It really, you really work on a lot of skills, you know, not just breathing,

but also, um, from an OT perspective, you're working on the eye convergence.

If they're on their belly, you're getting their, that, um, proprioceptive input.

So it's something so simple, something so simple, but so effective. So,

um, those are some of my favorites. Uh, using visual slinkies,

pompoms feathers, um,

anything that they can physically hold also and see,

Sam: Oh, I love, I'm stealing those,

I'm definitely stealing the hot cocoa one to use in sessions with the smell.

Michelle: Yes. And the kids absolutely love the smell. I mean, they just love it. And,

you know, you could even call it your, uh,

I did this last year with one of my classes, I called it the Cup of Calm.

So all the students had a cup of calm, and then they got to choose, you know,

what sense they wanted. So anytime they were feeling, um,

anxious or even just throughout the day, they would take it out.

They would take a deep breath in and they would blow off, you know, the,

if it's hot cocoa, obviously we're, we're gonna make it playful. Like, okay,

let's cool it off with our breath. And they just absolutely loved it, and it,

it stuck with them, you know,

you wanna get something that they really connect with.

Sam: Mm-hmm. My favorite is also bubbles,

because kids blow out so hard that the bubbles pop. Yeah.


Practicing that like long,

deep breath out so that your bubble actually makes it outta the wand.

Michelle: Yes. I, I know that is the, my favorite for toddlers. Like,

in all my toddler classes I always had bubbles because it's so motivating.

But yeah, that's a great one. I love

That. That is so motivating.

It really is.

Sam: So I did see that you were also an A D H D certified rehabilitation services


I was hoping you could speak a little bit about how yoga and mindfulness might

differ for somebody with A D H D or how it's specifically helps somebody with A

D H D.

Michelle: So, when you work with children with A D H D,

the number one thing is to get them to be motivated. So in my experience,

um, and just with knowing what we know about A D H D, um,

they lose interest quickly. So keeping it very exciting for them.

So going back to what, um,

I had answered about how parents can help their kids,

I would say this is the same answer,

making it very motivating and using a theme.

So I love to use themes in all my classes. So again,

finding something that draws their interest and working off that.

Um, I also love to provide visual schedules. Um,

if I have a student one-on-one, I provide a schedule that I have them,

um, you know, help me kind of create, like, we have a list of things to do,

let's sequence it so that they know what to do,

and then I have them take part of crossing off what they have to do to keep them

on task. Um, so that's in terms of structure.

In terms of actual classes, um, with a D H D, we do,

we know that this is a,

that research supports that a bottom up approach is very effective in helping

the body. So we wanna work with the body.

So yoga uses a lot of sensory based movements, um,

as a therapeutic intervention to help with the attention and dysregulation

With these particular students,

I would use a lot of stop and go activities to help build those executive

functioning skills that you can always wean into your classes. So stop, go,

stop, go. That helps with that impulse control for them. And again,

if they're children, they have to move. So we want them to stay active. Um,

we want to focus on poses that help with, um,

na naturally just calming the nervous system. So I love to do, um,

a lot of poses that require flexion, meaning child's pose,

any sort of pose that, um,

that they're inverted in downward dog poses that provide a lot of proprioceptive

input plank, for example. So you would kind of, you'd want to, um,

select poses that do provide those deep pressure, that deep pressure input,

and also keep the sequences, um,

sequence the poses so that the kids are moving through the

poses versus static postures,

which they have tend to have a little more difficulty with. So I would sequence,

um, poses that they, you know,

become familiar with and create like a little yoga flow for kids.

Sam: Yeah. That's such a great idea too, to have a visual schedule for,

do you do it for your yoga poses? Is that what you do?

You plan out the yoga poses with them?

Michelle: Um, so I have worked privately with, um,

students with A D H D where I've had a schedule specific for them.

And then in groups I've, um, also used like a large schedule. Um,

so yeah, I've done it both ways. Um, with the kids,

with A D H D I usually will have something like visuals that they,

they enjoy. So like if, if I'm theming the class, uh, it was just, say Barbies,

I don't know. I'm giving that example. Like,

I'll have Barbie pose cards and then that keeps them engaged. Um,

so visuals in all areas, so yoga pose, visuals,

and also visual schedule is super helpful for them.

Sam: Oh, I love,

I love that idea of just having all the visuals throughout the entire class.

So let's switch over to mindfulness for a moment.

What is mindfulness and how can practicing mindfulness be helpful

for kids?

Michelle: Sure.

So I would say that mindfulness is simply just being in the moment and paying

attention on purpose in a non-judgmental way. Um, I mean,

there's different types of mindfulness practices.

So there's something that are things that are referred to as formalized

practices such as yoga, um, guided meditation,

things that are more class-based.

And then there's also informal practices of mindfulness.

And that just means simply paying attention in the moment

during a typical activity. So for adults, it could be cooking for kids,

it could be they're outside, let's take a moment to see, to notice what we see,

what we smell. Um, and in terms of the benefits, I mean,

there's just endless research to support the,

the benefits of mindfulness on a brain-based level.

So think of mindfulness as, um, exercise for your brain.

That's how I like to explain it to my students. You know, we,

we do physical exercise for our bodies and, you know,

mindfulness is like an exercise for your brain, which means a,

we need to practice it. Um, and then from, again,

back to the brain based, um, rationale for it and, and evidence,

it helps strengthen the brain, um,

gray matter in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.

And these two areas are key learning areas that train the brains ability to

focus, to pay attention, and to feel calm. So it strengthens the brain.

There's no disputing that. And it also is a life skill.

So when kids learn that they have something that they can

use at any time to help their brains, to help them be a better learner,

to help them feel calmer, you know, it's something that's gonna carry them over,

carry them throughout life. Um,

so they're gonna use it as they get older.

And it's gonna be a self-regulation tool,

which is really the goal for why I use it for my students to be able to,

to self-regulate.

It really is an important skill, I think, to learn. And one that you,

maybe you learn in yoga, but it can be applied to school,

it can be applied at home, it can be applied when they go to college one day.

So I think that using mindfulness and learning mindfulness is something that's

really overlooked. Mm-hmm. Can be so helpful.

Right. And it helps with thinking about thinking, right?

And I think so many things start with self-awareness. Like in anything we do,

like, we have to be aware of either how we're feeling,

you know, what we're thinking, and that's all mindfulness. You know,

it may not seem,

it may not mean sitting down with your eyes closed and meditating,

but we use mindfulness throughout our day. You know,

we just don't call it mindfulness.

So I think it's such an important skill for all learning situations,

especially kids who have trouble with, um, and I know I have,

and there's a lot of kids, um, that have trouble with reacting.

So mindfulness is that pause button.

So you see you're in a situation, and if you are practicing mindfulness,

it allows you to pause before responding versus being reactionary.

And I think that's so important to have like proactive measures because then

that, again, you strengthen your brain and then you become more, um,

flexible and in your thinking and in your behaviors.

So how you respond to situations are going to differ when you have that

practice of mindfulness.

Sam: Oh my gosh, can't we all work on our reactiveness?

 Michelle: I was gonna say, that's, that's a hard, that's a hard skill for adults.

So it's actually funny because as adults we learn the concept of mindfulness,

and I can tell you what mindfulness is,

and as much as I share in a very developmentally appropriate and kid friendly

way, what mindfulness is to children, their definitions are all very different.

So I have students who have been coming to my classes for maybe even over a

year, and when I ask what mindfulness means to them, one, um,

some of the answers I get are being kind to yourself, being kind to others,

being calm, um, being nice to others, uh,

listening to your body. And it,

I think all of those answers are completely fine, and they're great.

And I actually love that everyone has a different meaning of what they take from

the classes. So mindfulness is about slowing down.

It is about paying attention, but for some kids, it's just, they,

they're there because it's a demand free environment, non-competitive,

you know, not that there's anything against sports,

but so many of my students are involved in so many extracurricular activities,

like so many sports, so many different classes.

And I want to provide that environment that is stress

free, non-competitive,

each student feels successful and feels like there is no, you know,

there's no winning.

They're lose or losing is also an answer I've gotten from kids. You know,

I've even gotten non-competitive, um, class, you know,

that's their definition of mindfulness. And again, all of it is,

is valid. It's valid to them and their experience.

Sam: So you're also a school-based occupational therapist.

How have you seen yoga help with kids in the school system?

How do you use it in the school system?

Michelle: So in the school system, I tend to gear more towards mindful movement,

um, just to keep it secular. And also I do a lot more mindfulness,

um, based approaches. Um, so it's not, you know, Hey,

let's do a pose, let's hold it, how does it feel? But, um, it's learning, um,

how it helps our body.

So trying to teach kids first where their energy level is.

So a lot of self-regulation, I tie it into a lot of self-regulation programs,

and I think it really goes hand in hand with, you know,

our interceptive sense and knowing how we're feeling. Um,

so I first start with modeling also, like where my body is,

you know, if I'm feeling like really I have a lot of energy, what is,

what is something I can do to bring my energy down?

What is a way I can bring my energy up? And, um,

with that as like a preface,

I'll then go into a video of a yoga sequence or, you know,

I'll teach them a pose that help, um, with that energy level,

depending on if we wanna be higher or lower. Um,

I also love to teach a lot of, um,

mindfulness listening strategies and games with the kids. Um,

I think that's really important before we get into movement,

or I'll do movement followed by a mindfulness activity. So yes,

we're practicing the physical poses, but we're also helping a lot with, um,

slowing down with teaching them how to work on the impulse control by

stopping, going, stopping going. But I like them to really understand,

so not just, um, you know, imposing different poses or I mean,

although many teachers use yoga as brain breaks,

and that's completely effective and, and awesome. You know,

at the ot I like to teach them about their bodies.

So I'll use books and stories, um, and then we'll practice yoga,

and we'll use yoga as a tool, uh, for learning. So,

so I kind of tie it into a lot of different aspects of learning in the schools.


it looks different than like a group class or a private class would look like.

Um, but in the schools, that's where I found it most effective. Um,

and then the kids, they learn the routine and they also,

if they are students with motor challenges,

it's amazing to see their growth from the beginning till the end in terms of

body awareness. Um,

I use yoga mindfulness in some of my comprehensive skills classrooms where

students have, um, physical limitations.

And seeing their ability to sequence the motor plan through some of these yoga

postures and sequences from September to June is amazing.

So there's so many benefits I see, you know, overall,

and that's gonna help with their learning. You know,

all of this is to help them learn. You cannot learn if you're not regulated.

And yoga helps with regulation. So once you're regulated, um,

you are able to access information and, and that's important in the school

Sam: gosh, I would love to know,

or have it measured what the difference is when a kid is

sitting in class before your session and then they go back to the class after

the session and their focus and their learning.

I would love to see what the difference between those are.

Michelle: Yeah, that would be, and you know,

I kind of think of it as like sensory strategies. I mean,

how many times have you seen yoga as a sensory strategy? Like,

I have like oodles of resources from being an OT

for almost 12 years, and yoga is always,

I feel like it's always something that comes up in like sensory diets or sensory

strategies for, for kids. So it's also one of those things where I feel like it,

it could be part of a sensory diet and it would be a proactive or preventative

measure to help with, um,

those students who have challenges with focus or attention in the classroom.

Sam: Oh, definitely. Out of my own curiosity,

do you mm-hmm as an OT in your school system get to also work with the whole

class and the teachers, or you purely one-to-one?

Michelle: So I am very lucky, very, very lucky. I absolutely love, um,

my school district in that they are,

they see the value in all that we can offer to students at large.

So we're really big into R T I, um, which is response to intervention,

so universal design and teaching kids as a whole, which is amazing.

So as of last year, all of the therapists in our district, um,

were granted with 30 minutes of r t i time in each of the

kindergarten classrooms.

So each week we go in for 30 minutes and we teach a whole group lesson.

While it's primarily focused on handwriting me and my style of, you know,

my approach, I always start with self-regulation.

So yoga or mindfulness is always included in all of my lessons prior to

sitting down and writing.

So I do work with the general education population,

and I also do have my, um, direct, you know,

caseload of students with IEPs and 5 0 4.

So I'm really at advantage that I can serve the population at large and not just

students on my caseload, which is really amazing and I'm grateful for that.

Sam: Oh, that's like the dream that is where OT is meant to be.

Michelle: Yes. And we are very progressive and it's just, it's amazing, you know,

because the more you know, the better you can do.

And I always tell teachers and staff, like, if, even for myself,

like a lot of approaches are, um,

kind of on learning things that we thought were best practice that, you know,

maybe aren't the best for students with spread through processing challenges or,

you know, neurodivergent brains. So, um, so yeah,

I think that's a huge part of our role as OTs is to educate and to provide,

you know, things that will serve not just one student,

but the whole student at large, or the whole classroom at large.

Sam: I’m so happy to hear that they're going in that direction and your school

system. Hopefully the rest will pick up.

Michelle: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.

'cause I've heard a lot of different things from OTs just across the country,

and it, it's crazy how different it is, you know, depending on where you are.

That's really, yeah,

Sam: I have a lot of thoughts about our, our system down here.

Michelle: Yeah. I, I see. And I wouldn't even know, I just know I'm very fortunate,

very fortunate from what I've heard.

Sam: Oh, that is awesome.

So for a parent or a therapist who feels really inspired after listening to

today's episode, where is one place they can start?

What do you wanna leave them with today?

Michelle: So for a parent, and even for teachers, I think it, it starts with you.

So you partaking in these practices and modeling these

practices with your child or with your students is number one, right?

So in my experience,

the teachers that really buy into this and that utilize these

strategies and tools that I teach them are the ones that believe it and speak

it. You know, I couldn't, in my opinion,

be a good teacher unless I practice what I am preaching, right?

So if a parent wants to, um,

teach their child these strategies,

I would have the parent do it with them and model whatever it is they're

teaching them. And one way I always say to, um, you know,

introduce mindfulness is to use it, um,

as a tool for a parent or a teacher to, to regulate. So, you know,

if a parent or teacher shows signs of, oh, you know,

I'm really, I'm feeling really stressed out, you know,

maybe I can take a few deep breaths and oh gosh,

I feel so much better after taking those breaths and then modeling the breathing

patterns, right? Of closing your mouth, breathing in through the nose, exhaling,

you know, twice as long. And even, um, with the breathing, you know,

I know this is kind of going back to your, your previous question. Um,

I would have, I, as the,

the teacher or the parent would count down the breath. So, all right,

let's take a deep breath in. One, two, a deep breath out,

1, 2, 3, 4. So giving them, um,

that feedback of how long to breathe out would be, would be, uh,

really effective to helping slow down their breathing patterns.

So the power of modeling is, is just, you can't undermine, you know,

how important that is because parents play a crucial role in their child's

social emotional development. So when children see their,

their parents utilizing a specific strategy or practice,

they will in turn follow them. So practicing with your child is,

is the number one tip I would say, and I would leave them with. And also,

when you feel better, you're gonna respond better.

And then we're gonna get to that co-regulation,

which is where we need to start with trying to regulate, uh, a little one.

Sam: Yeah, I tell my parents the same thing at the table too.

Kids learn so much by watching what we do,

by seeing what we do.

And I think modeling is just such a powerful strategy both in school, at home,

all over the place. Yeah.

Michelle: And what that does too, just to, just to leave with another thought,

is that normalizes discomfort. Um, you know,

we don't want to present, like we haven't had the same worries, um, or,

or struggles that our children are experiencing.

So one big strategy is just to normalize those, you know,

that dysregulation like, hey,

sometimes I feel big feelings and I get upset.

And also modeling where you feel it in your body is also awesome to teach kids,

um, that interceptive sense of, you know, uh,

getting them to be attuned to where they feel it in their bodies. Um,

again, but that goes back to that self-awareness. So mindfulness,

self-awareness, it, it just all goes hand in hand. So modeling, normalizing,

and, um, and then practicing together, those would be the, the big tips,

practicing those strategies together, um, prior to a meltdown,

prior to times of discomfort so that kids know what to expect and

they, they can,

we can't necessarily hold them to independently utilizing those strategies in

the moment, but we can scaffold it so that eventually they can hopefully mm-hmm.

That's the goal.

Sam: Yeah. Teach it now so they can carry it over later.

Michelle: Right. Yeah.

Sam: So where can our audience connect with you more? So

Michelle: I, um,

I have a Instagram and social media Facebook account, and I can be,

um, found on there at mindfulness. K,

and it's M I N g F u l m I F

f K, so mindfulness, K with one L. Um, I also have a website.

It's ww dot mindfulness k.com,

Sam: And I'll tag those in the show notes so that everybody can click and find you.

Michelle, thank you so much for being here today.

So much really valuable information,

and I think our community's really leaving with some actionable things to try

out at home and get started.

Michelle: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

And I love all that you bring to the community too, so this was awesome.

Thank you.

Sam: Thank you for listening to the Food Explorers Podcast,

a podcast about helping your child learn to become a confident and happy eater.

If you love this episode, please make sure to share it with a friend,

subscribe or leave a review wherever you are listening.

This helps parents just like you find this podcast and start bringing the magic

back into mealtime. Thanks again for joining me today,

and I'll see you next time.


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