Mindfulness and Hula Hooping may seem like an unusual combination, but at Future Urban Leaders - my son Ross's non-profit organization - it has proven to be a winning combination!
The mission of Future Urban Leaders is to create opportunities that support youth in realizing their unique potential. We motivate scholars to be self aware future leaders and ambassadors of change in their community and beyond.
Mindfulness integrates every part of our mission and I've been teaching Mindfulness to our scholars since we started the after school program. When Milwaukee College Prep, the FUL home, integrated Mindfulness into their daily curriculum (which is great!), I knew we had to do something different with it to pique the scholars' interest. Enter Alison Von Brown, a Registered Yoga Teacher and active flow artist and instructor. Alison and I met when she took the Integrative Yoga Therapy training at Inner Light Studio in Wauwatosa about 5 years ago. She has continued to take many of my trainings, including the 8 week MBSR course and Mindful Yin Trainings at Trillium Studio MKE. When I mentioned the idea to Alison, she jumped on it. We both saw immediately the practicality of applying Mindfulness to learning a new skill - and within a few meetings we had our curriculum together for the third quarter after school program.
The format for the 75 minute class began with a half hour formal lesson and meditation, focused on a particular aspect of Mindfulness, and then we applied that lesson to a Hula Hooping technique. So, let's say the Mindfulness Lesson is on THOUGHTS - noticing thoughts that arise and fall in our awareness and cultivating a more objective view of our thoughts - looking at the thoughts instead of from them - and even asking ourselves if the thoughts are necessarily true or not. We worked with the technique of labeling the thoughts - as ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) that are often not true at all, or in our best interest. We discussed how about 80% of our thoughts are negative - because the brain is hardwired for survival - its highest priority - and not for wellness - unless we practice Mindfulness and get back into the drivers seat of our lives! We discussed and practiced saying Hello to the negative thoughts - acknowledging them - and then saying Good Bye to the negative thoughts - to let them go or release them. Choosing not to engage the negativity bias and allow ourselves to be more objective and kinder to ourselves. After a short 10 minute meditation practicing this technique, we were ready to head to the cafeteria, hula hoops in hand!
Alison began our hooping sessions with some stretching, with and without the hoops, to help the scholars feel more awake and present. Then she introduced the new skill -for example hooping off body (on the arm/overhead/on the leg) and had them practice. There were usually a few hoops sailing around the room, but after a while, we were all feeling a bit more comfortable with our new skill. Alison checked in often, encouraging the students to notice what thoughts might be sabotaging them - like "Everybody is better at this than me", and asking - is that true? Is that thought supporting you? Perhaps inviting in more positive thoughts, like "I can do this. This is fun." or "I am tenacious!"
During our snack, we discussed the Attitudes of Mindfulness - and Qualities that we'd like to bring in to our practice and our lives. Each scholar gave themselves a Hooping Identity like Donald the Confident One, KeJuan - Self Controlled or Tory the Brave.
At the end of each session we circled up and shared our qualities with call and response. "I am Strong." "I am Determined." "I am Creative." "I am Grateful." Placing all our hands together in the center - we let out a collective "whoop!" to end the session! I think that was sometimes the most powerful moment of the day.
As we wound our way back up to Mr. Romenesko's classroom, one of the girls remarked to me, "I really do feel better. Like my body is happy - and feels.... more open." Well, that's the greatest gift of all. To notice feeling good - and savor it - is one of the most important and challenging Mindfulness techniques of all.
Toward the end of the quarter, we took our group on a field trip to Elemental Design studio, owned and run by Derek Nunez d'Agrella. After about 10 minutes of Mindful Walking, the students broke into two groups. One group refined their hooping skills and learned some new moves while the other learned a new flow art, poi. Poi spinning is one of the flow arts' simplest and most common forms, where you swing two small weights around on cords. The kids took risks, they laughed, and many of them amazed us with their focus, concentration, and flow.
Alison and I are looking forward to our Year End Showcase on May 29. Two scholars will lead the group in a Mindful Minute. Two others will share with the group how they applied Mindfulness to learning a new skill (a.k.a. Hula Hooping) and a group of 4 will dazzle the group with their Hooping and Poi technique. We are already planning for next year.
Mindfulness and Hula Hooping. Who knew it could be so much fun to be MINDFUL? I guess we did.