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Teachers & Schools

Use of Holistic Practices by Teachers and in the Schools
Patricia Mathes Cane, Ph.D.

Article for Tomorrow's Children
Riane Eisler

Our bodies hold our entire history from conception to the present moment. The body-mind-spirit that we are, has been formed, forged and influenced by family, culture and the collective consciousness through the ages. At the same time deep within us is a remarkable spirit-a body wisdom, as well as a genetic coding that moves us ever onward toward the fullness of life. Unfortunately for centuries there has been a philosophical split in body, mind and spirit, so that in modern society the majority of people are alienated from their bodies. The challenge of the schools today is to help children, as well as adults, relearn and recognize who they truly are beyond all the conditioning. This relearning involves empowering ourselves to listen to our body wisdom, to live again in partnership with our bodies. This partnership opens us to our natural state of harmony and balance and to the full flow of energy through all the systems. The peoples of the Orient call this state health or wholeness.

The movement toward a holistic understanding of the body, along with the emergence of many complementary modalities currently used in the health system, are positive signs. There is a growing number of researchers and professionals in health and education who are opening us to recognize the power we have within ourselves when we listen to and act in partnership with our bodies. This learning is especially important for adolescent girls and boys as they begin to develop their own identity and understanding of sexuality. Parents and teachers can guide and influence young people to value and appreciate the uniqueness of their own bodies, as well as to respect and honor the bodies of others.

Capacitar focuses on teaching women and families different ways to reclaim the power of body, mind and spirit. Capacitar is especially committed to working with women who have suffered abuse and with those living in areas of violence and poverty in the U.S. and in Latin America. Practices such as, acupressure, Tai Chi, meditation, visualization, breathing exercises, massage and energy work are extremely important to heal and transform pain, stress, disease and other wounds of body, mind and spirit. Our method is to teach people simple and ancient practices that they can do for themselves, using, in many cases, the one resource they have their bodies. When the women and families begin to recognize the power they have in their own hands to bring healing to their own bodies and to empower the healing of their families and communities, there is a real shift in awareness.

One woman learning to live in partnership with her body is Brenda, a 43 year-old African American. From early adolescence she had been sexually abused, so her self-concept and body image were very negative. When I first met Brenda she was unemployed, on welfare and trying to raise her three grandchildren. She came to a Capacitar workshop with a friend who thought this might help her change her negative attitude. Brenda arrived looking tired and depressed, but she had nothing better to do for the day. In the course of the workshop, as we moved to Tai Chi and worked with visualization and massage to open up the flow of positive energy in the body, Brenda's appearance and level of energy changed remarkably. She began to straighten her back and move with grace, although she had never done any of this kind of body work before. She had a big smile on her face and walked with purpose when she left. I saw her about two months later, at a workshop reunion. She had gotten a job and proudly told me that her boss was even asking for her opinion. She taught her grandchildren some of the Tai Chi movements and acupressure to help them to better focus and concentrate on their school work, and she reported that even their attitudes had improved in school. Brenda still has her struggles, but she is much more in touch with herself and is living from the core of her being, able to handle what comes to her with greater wisdom and positive energy. She now sees the challenges of life as grist for her own growth and improvement, rather than taking on the role of the victim. With her daily practice of energy work, Brenda lives in partnership with her own body and has some tools to face life and improve her well-being.

We have found that as women and men, boys and girls start to live in partnership with their bodies, their health improves, they begin to feel energetic and alive, the wounds of trauma and memories of abuse gradually heal, and the negative and violent attitudes in homes and communities are transformed. Because they recognize their value and dignity as persons, and feel good within their bodies, they will no longer accept abusive situations or approve of sexually degrading media or advertisement.

With men and boys who participate in Capacitar workshops, there often is a shift in their "macho" attitudes, when they begin to appreciate their own bodies. Once their attitudes towards themselves change, there is the possibility that the way they treat their wives and girl friends will also change. We have found that the men and boys often fear touch because of their societal and family conditioning. In many cultures, too, massage is associated with sex, and as the men and women, and boys and girls begin to enjoy the healing pleasure of touch, they recognize the significant benefits of safe touch to promote health. They are also able to see the difference between objectified sex which uses, and often abuses the other, and vibrant sensuality and sexuality where there is deep mutual appreciation and respect.

The challenge, then, for all of us, parents, youth, educators and health professionals is to relearn and remember who we truly are in body, mind and spirit, and to relate to ourselves with health and wholeness. Learning how to live in partnership with our bodies requires that we take time to listen to our body-mind-spirit, to let go of constant mental chatter and to become attuned to the energy flows, feelings, intuitions and wisdom that are always present within us. Meditation, breathing exercises, movement and acupressure are some of the many modalities available to us which can be practiced regularly to help us to heal ourselves, to become clear and current, and better able to live with joy, peace and fullness in the present moment.

There are a number of simple body-mind-spirit exercises that Capacitar has learned from many cultures that we have found to be very effective for individuals and groups. Teachers can use these practices and integrate them in their classes to help their students develop the skills to live in partnership with their bodies. Parents can use these exercises at home with their families to encourage communication and mutual caring.

One group of adolescent girls in San Jose, California, learned some of these energy exercises for a Girl Scout project. The girls adapted and simplified the language describing the practices and taught them to first, second and third-grade children in neighboring schools. They even made a little booklet of exercises with pictures for the children, and in the process the girls earned a Stress-Buster's Girl Scout badge.

Many of the energy exercises promote balance and harmony in the body and the mind. With the regular practice of one or two minutes of acupressure or deep breathing before starting a class, students are better able to focus and learn because there is a balance in both left and right sides, the creative and the rational capacities of the brain. Some stretches or body movements also help the students to release pent up emotions, frustration, stress or pain, and open up the healing flow of energy in their bodies.

Capacitar Energy Exercises

Capacitar teaches body-mind-spirit workshops nationally and internationally helping people to remember and reclaim the power they have in their own bodies. Workshops have included women, men and children from diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds: families, school-age and pre-school children, adolescents, youth groups, parents, teachers, psychologists, social workers, doctors and health professionals, grassroots activists, religious, indigenous peoples, immigrants and refugees, farmworkers, the homeless, battered women, the disabled, seniors, Central and South Americans, Appalachians, African Americans, Asians and Mexican Americans.

There are many books now available on body-mind-spirit modalities which can serve as resources. The following are several simple and basic exercises which can be used individually or with groups, with students as well as with parents, to develop a sense of partnership with the body.

Deep Abdominal Breathing to Balance and Renew the Body

Place your hands gently on your abdomen to direct your attention and focus. Exhale fully, releasing all of the air from the lungs, imagining that with the exhalation you are able to release all of the tension, pain, frustration and negativity stored in the body.

Slowly breathe in deeply, as if to fill your entire abdomen with air. Hold the breath for several moments and imagine the air filling all the cells of your body with light cleansing, nourishing and renewing your body. Then breathe out slowly and completely, hold the exhalation for several moments before taking the next deep inhalation. Continue this deep abdominal breathing for several minutes. If your mind starts to chatter, gently bring your attention back to focus on your breathing, following the air in and out of your body. With your healing breath stay peacefully present in the moment, appreciating the partnership you have with your body.

Acupressure to Balance Left and Right Sides of the Brain

Breathe deeply for several moments. Then place the fingers of both hands on points at the base of the skull on either side of your head. These points are located behind and below the ears in the grooves where the skull connects to the neck. Hold these points for several minutes while breathing deeply. You can imagine energy flowing fully and freely through these points bringing peace and relaxation to your mind. Press into the points with your fingers and then lighten the touch until the level of pressure feels comfortable. These points are usually very sensitive. Often you will feel a pulsing sensation as the flow of energy becomes strong and balanced. Usually a minute of contact is enough time for children, while adults will need two or three minutes. When your body feels ready, breathe out and release the points feeling the balance and well-being of your body-mind-spirit.

These are powerful acupressure points that balance left and right sides, the creative and the rational capacities of the brain. They also help you to focus. These are excellent points to teach children to be used before starting to study or before taking an examination. These points can also be used to alleviate headaches or neck tension, since pain often is the result of blocked energy. These points can be held on another person to help heal headaches, nervousness, worry or anxiety.

Visualization To Develop Awareness and Partnership with the Body

In the hectic pace of our lives we often feel disconnected and unrelated to our bodies. We are not even aware of the pain and tension that we carry, when we live only in our heads cut off from feelings and intuition. This visualization and body scan is a good way to check in regularly on what is happening in the body-mind-spirit, and to develop an intuitive awareness and partnership with the body. This exercise can be done while lying in bed before starting the day, or before going to sleep at night. It can also be done in a few moments during the day to get in touch with what is happening and with what you are feeling in your body.

Start breathing abdominally for a few moments, letting go and bringing your attention to the present moment. Now imagine that you are able to go on a journey visiting all parts of your body, checking in on what is happening in each part and on how you feel.

Bring your attention first to your toes, move them a bit, and just get acquainted with them, appreciating what they do for you. Without judgment, observe any feelings, pain, discomfort you may have with your toes or feet and then let that go. Move your awareness up your ankles and legs, checking in on feelings, pain, pleasure, discomfort, observing without judgment.

Continue the same process with the rest of your body, moving into your pelvis, through your abdomen and chest, checking in on your heart and emotions, then down your shoulders and arms and out your fingers, up your neck, into your face, head and brain, and finally to the top of your head, and out and above your head.

You can also continue your journey through the energy field around you, noting your energy level and how you feel in your environment. As you continue this body scan, images or feelings may come to you. Observe these images and feelings without judgment.

The purpose of this exercise is for increasing awareness and for developing your capacity for intuiting what is happening within you and around you. Continue breathing deeply for a few minutes, fully aware and present in the moment.

The Daily Hug Appreciating and Being Grateful For Your Body-Mind-Spirit

We all hunger for love and appreciation and look for affirmation from parents, friends or those around us. Often children have negative self-images because they are frequently told what is wrong with them in school or at home, and are rarely affirmed or supported. We literally embody the images and messages that we get consciously or unconsciously from significant people or authority figures in our lives. Part of the process of individuation and growth involves coming into partnership with ourselves by developing a healthy sense of self love and self acceptance. We also must learn how to realistically recognize and work with the projections of others, listening to what is helpful and fits, and letting go of what does not ring true with our deepest nature.

The daily hug is a good way to develop a healthy sense of our own being recognizing the gift of our life, our history, our potential and forgiving our shortcomings. It is a wonderful way just to give thanks for being who we are!

At first there may be some discomfort in doing this exercise, because we rarely think about loving and giving affection to ourselves. Often we have been raised with a strong message that we are being selfish if we take care of ourselves or admire ourselves. So if negative messages arise, just recognize them, let them go and enjoy the exercise.

Cross your arms and place your hands on your shoulders or upper arms. Give yourself a big loving squeeze, as if you were holding a child with great love and joyful appreciation. If tears or deep emotion come up for you, let the tears flow, just observing any images and letting them go. Continue hugging yourself, thanking yourself for all you do and for all you are. Do this for several moments and when you feel ready breathe deeply and let go.

You can do this as often as you want during the day. This exercise can also be done standing in front of a mirror, looking into your eyes, seeing deeply into your heart and spirit.

Releasing Emotions through Your Fingers

I recently facilitated a Spanish Capacitar workshop with Latino Head Start parents at our local school. The mothers and fathers arrived from their jobs, very tired, thinking they were attending a regular teacher-parent meeting. Instead of talking very much, we took time for teaching them some simple Tai Chi movements to release and unblock their energy, and for acupressure to relieve the many aches and pains they had. In fifteen minutes the parents were like different people. No one had ever done this kind of bodywork before, but everyone felt amazingly better. One father kept marveling at how good he felt, even though he almost constantly suffered back pain from his job in the cannery. One of the favorite practices I taught the parents was how to work with emotions by holding your fingers. Often problems develop at home or in school when children or family members are unable to handle or release emotions in a healthy way. Tantrums, blow ups and even domestic violence result when emotions are discharged without respect for those around us. Emotions are like waves of energy moving through the body. If the energy builds up without a gradual release, like a volcano there can be a great explosion. Or if the emotion is denied or the person is cut off from their feelings, the emotions are stored in the body. Over times this can lead to pain, ulcers, and other chronic disorders, as our body absorbs and holds the negativity, frustration and memories of strong emotions which have never been addressed. It is important to recognize emotions when they arise, and then to choose the appropriate way to work with and release the wave of energy, rather than storing it in the body.

This exercise is based on modalities related to Polarity and Jin Shin Jyutsu. Finger exercises are also found in the Indonesian culture. The theory is that through each finger flows a meridian or channel of energy which is connected with different organs and also associated with a corresponding emotion.

Gently wrap your fingers around the finger related to the emotion you wish to release. Often after several moments you can feel the energy moving through the finger, like a pulse balancing itself. Hold the finger until you feel relaxed and peaceful. You can hold the fingers of either hand, or hold several fingers at one time.

  • The Thumb - to release grief and tears.
  • Index Finger - to release fear.
  • Middle Finger - to release anger.
  • Ring Finger - to release worry, nervousness and anxiety.
  • Small Finger - to release low self-esteem and feelings of victimhood.

Children love to do these finger holds and find them very effective in learning how to work with their emotions. One inner-city mom commented at a workshop that her angry kids were always giving everyone the finger. Now she had something to help them. She was going to teach them how to hold their middle finger, instead of giving it!

Work with Small Children

Many practices can be easily adapted for use with small children. Tai Chi can be taught with playful animal names such as flying like a bird or swimming like a fish. Children love Pal Dan Gum and this can help them with feelings of anger and frustration. Instead of punishing a child with a tantrum, teach them how to hold their middle finger. With creativity and imagination children can be included in the choice and planning of the workshop. A child's attention span is short so respect for their needs is important.

Work with Adolescents

Young people really enjoy the more active exercises and practices like Pal Dan Gum. Be sensitive to the issue of their developing sexuality. The bodywork can be a great way to educate youth to healthy non-sexual touch. Drum massage is a fun way to work with touch using humor and energizing moves. Foot massage and some of the Polarity foot moves are also good ones to use with adolescents. One group of teens really got into the visualization. Knowing how to claim a safe space in their center can be a very helpful tool.

Capacitar for Teachers and Children
–Mary Duennes , R.N., M.A. Cincinnati , Ohio

Capacitar for Kids grew out of a desire to offer wellness practices to children, especially those caught in the cycle of violence and trauma in many of our local neighborhoods in Cincinnati. Too often children are the unseen and unheard victims of the choices of adults in their lives. We thought that teaching these practices could help children heal and transform the stress and violence of their lives so that they could better learn and grow as healthy whole persons. In collaboration with Dr. Pat Cane and Capacitar International, I helped to create a 3-year pilot program at two inner-city Catholic elementary schools in Cincinnati with enrollment of approximately 260 children. Thirty teachers, staff and administrators took part in initial trainings.

Pat and I developed the Capacitar for Kids Teacher's Manual as a resource for teachers and families that can be used with or without formal training. The wellness practices in the manual can be incorporated into the curriculum and subject areas, and as part of daily routine in the classroom, on the playground and at home. The language and method of presenting the practices can be readily adapted to grade level, culture, and subject area. The manual also pro- vides suggestions for teachers and identifies core practices.

Students and teachers have told us about their experiences with comments like these:

  • The Capacitar practices help me because I can channel my anger. It helps me to calm down for tests and home- work.–7th grade boy
  • My favorite Capacitar practice is Tai Chi because I like doing the moves. They make me feel like I'm floating like a feather.–5th grade girl
  • One of the children who used to complain of stomachaches now uses Capacitar on her own and reports that it completely relieves her upset stomach. She reports that she has taught this to her parents as well.–3rd grade teacher

In August, we expanded the pilot and trained an additional 39 teachers, nurses, and counselors. At a time of global trauma and violence, we hope that Capacitar for Kids can bring hope and healing not only to the local community, but also to the larger world. We envision an ever-growing circle of solidarity - children, families, schools, teachers and communities - all joined hand in hand, healing ourselves and bringing healing to our world.

Capacitar in the Schools
–Dawn Swan and Patty Caspary—Teachers, Wisconsin

The CAPACITAR Training includes a practicum in which participants share with others some of the practices they have learned. After the first training module, two teachers in the group reported exciting results in working with their students.

Dawn Swan teaches first graders who need extra help with reading and writing at an elementary school in Portage, Wisconsin. Since she does not have her own classroom, Dawn wasn't sure how to incorporate teaching the practices into the limited time she has with students. At a monthly writing assessment of 17 students, the children were in extremely high spirits, unable to be quiet. Dawn knew they would never be able to concentrate on the task in this state. Spontaneously, she decided to try some of the Tai Chi movements she had learned. Keeping the children seated she asked them to imagine being like trees with their roots going deeply into the earth and grounding them. Then she taught them how to move their arms and hands adapting the language of Tai Chi meditation to help them become calm and to focus. She guided them in sending out energy that made them restless and bringing in energy that made them peaceful. After just a few minutes they were calm.

Dawn said, "The room was silent for the entire 10 minutes of the testing. Everyone was focused and working." Then she asked them to look around and feel what this room is like when were quiet. As they left the class, they lined up without incident. Dawn was surprised and encouraged by this response. She began to use the Tai Chi with children in a small reading group she met with daily. These students now ask for the quieting exercises before each session because they feel better when they do them.

Patty Caspary is a sixth grade teacher. She incorporated a number of Capacitar practices into a unit on emotional management she designed to help students learn how to stay calm in crisis situations. "When you can't control your surroundings, control your response," was the theme of this learning. She guided students through practices such as deep breathing, visualization of a happy place, gentle movement, fingerholds and pressure points, all of which she adapted to their age level and the theme.

As a way of teaching them to become aware of their own emotional and physical reactions, she created a simple evaluation tool with two outlines of a child's body. Students marked the first outline with colors, images and words depicting how their bodies felt before doing the practices. After the practices, they repeated this on the second outline so they could notice any changes. Patty said, "The kids were really excited about this. I was surprised that they were so interested in knowing how to manage the stresses they feel. They wanted more." She noted that even young children come to school with lots of worries that result in headaches and stomach aches. "Now they have a way to manage these for themselves."

Work with Youth
–Sue Bouril, R.N., Wisconsin

I was recently asked to teach a Tai Chi class for my local high school's health class. The class consisted of 15 male and female students. The school heard about the Tai Chi class I offered to the public and contacted me to work out a schedule.

I started the class with a brief background about myself and a short history about Tai Chi. I demonstrated each movement to the class explaining what the movement is and what it means. The students were timid at first but most of them joined in eagerly within a short time. After I reviewed all the movements with the class I put on some soothing music. While doing the movements of Tai Chi to the music, I read some of the meditation from our workbook. I found this to be very relaxing to me and I was able to feel the energy in the room rather then feeling my own nervousness. I was surprised to feel all the different types of energy I did. When I would get close to someone while doing a movement I was actually able to feel their individual energy.

Upon looking at the class I could see some of the students really trying to visualize along with the meditation. It was amazing to see how the class became more cooperative and comfortable as the session went on. After we finished Tai Chi the class expressed that they were tired but that they felt good. I then did some Pal Dan Gum with the students, they really enjoyed roaring like a lion.

I had a little time left over so I did some energy work. The group rubbed their hands together to feel their own energy and then I showed them how to feel each other's energy. This went over very well with the group because they felt comfortable with each other and themselves. The students were amazed that they could feel this energy on themselves and each other.

I had so much fun with this group; they were open, friendly, and very receptive to the information I presented to them. All the feedback I received was very positive. The school has asked me to come back to work with other classes, and they thought that other staff members would appreciate and benefit from learning Tai Chi also.

Capacitar Practices in a Montessori Class
–Loretta Tobin, Milwaukee

Through my association as a client and volunteer with Core/El Centro, a natural healing center in Milwaukee serving those with low income, I participated in the CAPACITAR training program at The Center to BE. As part of my practicum experience, I chose to work with my young daughter Deva-Dawn's Montessori class. This group was a combined classroom of about 20 first, second and third graders. Over a number of sessions, I taught the children many of the practices we learned in the training including visualization, breath technique and simple acupressure. I introduced the finger holds and created a chart illustrating the practice that the children could refer to in their classroom. Many of the children drew their own charts to take home and share with their families. They talked a lot about this practice and reminded one another to use the finger holds at the appropriate times.

We met in the school gymnasium for movement practices. The children's favorite Tai Chi movements were the Globe of Light, Passing Clouds and the Shower of Light. Ivan, a second grader commented, "The Shower of Light feels like nothing else is happening and I get really absorbed in it. I like that feeling." He also added, "The practices are focusing and soothing." Harrelson said: "The practices are calming and help my mind to be clear." The Pal Dan Gum movements added enjoyment to each session. Opening the Bow, Heaven and Earth, Punching with Fists and the Lion's Roar were among their favorites. The children were all very open to learning these practices. I learned a lot from working with them, too.

I am a single mother, currently in transition due in part to health-related matters. The opportunity to participate in the Capacitar training program was a wonderful gift. It truly enhanced the quality of my life and has directed me to a higher calling....helping others to help themselves.