Drawing and Writing about Anxiety

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When Anxiety Attacks is a graphic memoir about living with anxiety and finding help through a therapist. In this blog, Terian Koscik, author and illustrator, gives an inside look to her experience of drawing and writing about anxiety.

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One of the hardest parts about living with anxiety is trying to explain what it’s like to friends and family who don’t experience it. To them, it makes no sense that someone who is usually capable of making clear, rational decisions would have fears and thoughts that are totally irrational. What they don’t realize is that anxious people are often perfectly aware of how irrational our thoughts are. This doesn’t make it any easier to ignore them, though. Dealing with anxiety, beginning to understand it after going to therapy for the first time, and trying to convey my new sense of understanding to others led me to want to create a comic book about the experience.

As a child, my anxieties appeared blatantly silly and irrational to outside observers. I would panic whenever the phone rang, worried about what would happen if we didn’t answer it before it went to voicemail. What if it was an extremely important call, and they needed to talk to us right then? Or what if they thought we didn’t care?

As adults, we have a lot more in our lives to worry and panic about, and the line between what is silly and what isn’t is harder to see, especially if one’s default state is to worry. After graduating from college, my best friend from high school moved in with me, and I was distraught when she didn’t seem as enthusiastic about living together as I was. I constantly thought about what I was doing wrong when she chose to spend her time alone instead of with me, and whether I was capable of making any friends at all. I ended up going to therapy to talk about these feelings. I gradually realized that my worries were based on a general fear of being alone rather than anyone’s specific actions, that I could address them directly by asking others for help, and that there was nothing wrong with me for feeling this way.

In my book “When Anxiety Attacks,” I used dramatically different color palettes to demonstrate the way that irrational anxious thinking separates one from their usual ability to consider facts and possibilities. Other people and possibilities other than the worst case scenario do not exist in this state of mind. This makes it difficult or impossible for well-meaning loved ones to get through to us when in this state. For example, if I felt lonely, someone might remind me that I have many friends and family to turn to for reassurance. However, my anxious thinking would find a way to ignore this advice. Wouldn’t my friends and family have more important things to do than listen to me complain? Did I even deserve their attention?

Through therapy I have found that as anxious people, the best we can do is remain open to facts and possibilities, and not judge ourselves too harshly for the tendency to worry. I hope that my book will help others reach this conclusion.

Terian Koscik has been a reader of comics, a creator of comics, and an anxious person for almost as long as she can remember. Most of her work is autobiographical in nature, and deals with finding humor in feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. She posts her work regularly at http://pineconedoesthings.tumblr.com/. Terian lives in Portland, Oregon with 4 humans and 2 rabbits.

Tweet in a drawing of your anxious self to @Singing_Dragon_ using the hashtag #AnxiousMe to enter the chance to win a copy of When Anxiety Attacks

Learn more about When Anxiety Attacks here

Autumn Metal Element activities for children – by Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke and Bettye Jo Wray-Fears

Welcome back to the monthly series of stimulating Five Element activities that can support development of children in all ages!   If this is your first time reading our blog, you can go back to our first entry in May to view the WOOD Element activities.  All of the blogs can be downloaded in a pdf format by clicking on the link at the end of this article so that you can enjoy making your own notebook of Five Element exercises for each month and season of the year. 

November - metal imageThe transformation of the autumn leaves from their brilliant colors blowing in the wind to withered, crunchy piles on the ground shows us the natural capacity of our planet to let go of what is no longer   needed in life.  Autumn is the time of the Metal Element, where the cycle of life from beginning to end is most apparent as nature prepares for the hibernation of winter.  Fall marks the approaching end of the year and can bring a natural sense of reflection for us as we recognize how time passes season after season.

The Metal Element and the season of autumn are symbolic for many aspects of our lives.  It has clear demarcation of irreversible change representing the need to let go and create boundaries in order for balance and the cycle of life to continue.  It is the Metal Element that gives us the capacity to reflect on what has past, to keep what is most precious, and to cut loose what we no longer need so we can make room for what comes next.   When in balance, this function is as natural as breathing in, and breathing out, and one might even find oneself doing exactly that with the crispness of the autumn air.

For children, the Metal Element expressions are most visible in their sense of boundaries in their environment, bodies, space and time.  The young child that cries out, “No! That’s my toy!” is expressing a boundary of self and depending on the age is an appropriate and needed expression to come in touch with oneself.  Just as the 6 year old child that shows difficulty respecting the space of other children and their objects, likewise may be expressing an undeveloped Metal Element aspect.  Space, time, order, capacity to let go of one craft to start another, or just an ability to know when the time for stopping an activity, are all developmental pieces of the Metal Element that can be observed in children and adults.

The following exercises are games and activities that can be used to stimulate the Metal Element energy.  They can be used with a family, classroom, or a group of children to experience some fun qualities of Metal Element.

Do I Know My Size?

This activity is for a family or small group. Every member of the family/group gets a long rope (longer than what it would take to draw the outline of the body).  The rope can be inexpensive twine that is used to wrap packages.  Everyone uses their rope to try to create the outline of their body (in whatever shape they want) on the ground.  They cannot lay on the ground to measure; they have to try to do this from their idea of their own size and shape.  When everybody is done, all members of the group look and decide if they think the drawings are the correct size of each other or not.

After all the opinions have been shared,  each person will take a turn laying in their own shape while the other group members use different colours of wool or cotton balls to surround the actual shape of the person laying down.  Then they help the person surrounded by cotton or wool to stand up very carefully.  Now this group member can see how different the shape they made was to the real shape on the ground.

Having Fun with Boundaries!

2 people are sitting face to face at a table. The table should not be too big.  A cotton ball is placed in the center of the table.  Now, without using hands or any other objects, both people try to blow the cotton ball off the opposite side of the table in the direction where the other person is sitting. Of course it becomes harder and harder to succeed as the each person tries to keep the cotton ball from falling off the table on their side!Kalbantner-Wern_Children-at-The_978-1-84819-118-1_colourjpg-web

Click this link to download this article.

For more information about the Five Elements and the way they can support child development read Children at Their Best: Understanding and Using the Five Elements to Develop Children’s Full Potential for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists.

NEXT: Winter Water Element activities – snow fall down the Bladder Meridian!

Improve patient’s experience through relationship-building – interview with Jane Wood

Jane Wood

Jane Wood has been involved in reflective practice for the last 20 years.  She is a supervisor and teacher of reflective practice at the University of Westminster and is the head

of practitioner development and reflective practice at the International School of Homeopathy, London.

Jane Wood’s new book The Compassionate Practitioner is now available from Singing Dragon. This handbook, full of practical tips and supportive advice, explains how best to enhance the client’s experience through compassion and mindfulness. This book will be a valued support for anyone working in private practice.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have been teaching the practitioner-patient relationship to students at college and at the University of Westminster for nearly 20 years. At the same time, I have been supervising qualified alternative practitioners and seen their struggles to build up a private practice. Many practitioners talked about the same issues in supervision: their patients were demanding, impatient or simply didn’t return. The practitioners needed to find a way to create trust, loyalty and staying power. They could do this if they improved the patient’s experience during the consultation. I realized I was in a position to write a book that takes the practitioner through every stage of the consultation, giving them lots of practical advice on how to create a healing relationship with the patient – and gain a flourishing practice.

 

Why is relationship building so important for people working in private practice?

I strongly believe that relationship building is vitally important for everyone in the caring professions whether they are alternative practitioners, counsellors and therapists or traditional doctors, nurses and consultants. Unfortunately, most orthodox practitioners do not have the time available to do much relationship building, leaving both the practitioner and the patient feeling dissatisfied and rushed. Many alternative practitioners such as homeopaths, acupuncturists, and body workers have longer sessions with their patients, which allow them more time to work on the relationship.

On the surface, making an effort to improve the experience for the patient will increase their trust and loyalty to the practitioner, but it is more than this. When the practitioner takes time to make the patient feel safe and appreciated, the patient can start to relax and explain themselves better; which in turn enables the practitioner to give a better treatment.

The added bonus for anyone in private practice, is that once there is a good relationship, the patient will help build up the practice by referring other people.

There are many different ways in which the practitioner can improve their patients’ experiences. One way is consider the clinic environment. I suggest that practitioners take five or ten minutes to sit in the patient’s chair, quieting their mind by focusing on the breath. Once they are quiet and relaxed, they can bring themselves into the present moment and use all of their senses to assess the clinic room. What is the feel of the chair they are sitting in? Is it comfortable? What is the room temperature? What smells are there?  Can they hear the receptionist or another therapist working in the next room? If so, does this impact on confidentiality?

 

What can practitioners do to improve their patients’ experiences?

The appearance of the room will make a big difference to the patient. If the practitioner is behind a desk they will feel more secure, but the patient will feel distanced. What do the patient’s eyes rest on when they are not talking? Considering the clinic room through the senses will give the practitioner a taste of what the patient experiences. They then need to consider what they can do to improve the current environment.

Another suggestion for improving the patient’s experience is that the practitioner should explain to the patient what will happen during the consultation. This is called ‘signposting’ and should be done at the beginning of the session. It can be very brief, such as, ‘I’m going to invite you to talk about yourself and your problem for the first twenty minutes, and then I’ll give you a treatment which takes about thirty minutes. You’ll need to take off your shoes and get onto the treatment couch. After the treatment we’ll see how you feel.” Once this has been clarified, the patient knows what to expect and can relax.

 

How can practitioners maintain balance in their work and avoid burnout?

Being a practitioner and listening to many patients talking about themselves is a great privilege and helping them can be deeply rewarding.  But sometimes the price is too high. There are several different causes of burnout, including working for very long hours, anxiety about patients or unconsciously taking on the patients’ negative emotions. The last one occurs mainly when there is a long time spent face-to-face with the patient, such as for counsellors, therapists or homeopaths. Our brains are programmed to read other people’s body language and facial expressions, so that we can empathise or feel their emotions.

The patient’s emotions can be directly experienced by the practitioner who might carry home a patient’s anger or depression. An awareness of this will help them consciously make more breaks in eye contact, and change their own body language more often so they don’t unconsciously mirror the patient so much.

Another way to avoid burnout is to make sure the practitioner has enough personal time to have fun and relax. This might sound obvious but when a single practitioner is running a private practice, they have to be their own marketing manager, record keeper and accountant and this all takes time. The practitioner needs to balance the intense work in the clinic with care for themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally.

 

You write a lot about self-reflection. Who do you think should do it and why do think it’s important?

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Self-reflection is a process of self-examination, of thinking seriously about your own character or actions. In the caring professions this will mean exploring something about the practitioner-patient relationship in order to understand it in more depth and decide what can be done to improve it. It is not nearly as effective if it is done within the limitations of the practitioners mind, and much better if it’s done out loud in front of a colleague or supervisor, or written into a self-reflective journal. If something went well, the practitioner can make a note of it so that they can repeat it. If it didn’t go well they can analyse why and plan how to change things next time. As I see it, all practitioners should be doing self-reflection. Their learning taught them how to work with the average patient. Experience shows them that patients are anything but average and everyone is very different. Self-reflection raises the standards of the practitioner and everyone gains from it: the practitioner, the patient, the clinic and the profession in general.

 

 2014  Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

 

Understanding and treating the complex chronic patient – an interview with Isobel Knight

Isobel KnightWhat makes treating the chronic complex  patient so difficult? Do you think there is still a lack of understanding about how best to approach this?

I think that practitioners are very scared by complex chronic conditions and can become very overwhelmed. I’ve had so many medical professionals dismiss me because they really didn’t understand what the problem was. Treatment of chronic complex conditions really does require a multi-disciplinary team of people and medical experts, as well as an overarching approach to treatment plans. This can all be overwhelming for one person.

Conditions become chronic and complex over the years. There’s often a long delay in diagnosis (research by the Hypermobility Syndrome Association in the UK suggests that diagnoses can take about 10 years). As an individual gets older, he or she will gather more problems, which makes treatment even more difficult, relating to more bodily systems. If the condition is intercepted younger, these can all be addressed and hopefully better controlled.

How has being an individual with EDSIII (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – Type 3, Hypermobility) influenced the way you treat people in your clinic?

Based on what I’ve experienced, I can certainly spot the condition very quickly in people who haven’t had a diagnosis. Although I can’t officially diagnose, if the symptoms are there, I can get them sent to their GP for a referral to an expert rheumatologist. So in this way it’s really helped some people. I also know what ongoing management they are often going to require, so I can both refer them on to practitioners that I know, and support them with Bowen Therapy in the areas that I know they will need help with.

I’m never overwhelmed by what patients say, and I always believe them. And that helps a lot.

Why did you choose the autoethnographic approach in writing your new book?

That was inspired by an author I quote in the book, who wrote about life with a kidney condition and eventually turned it into a PhD thesis. I thought it was a really good way of framing the book. It uses my story as a basis, but also weaves in the stories of others, to ensure that it’s socially representative of that culture group. But also, this is a personal story. I include some quite personal details, and I hope that this makes it much more accessible to read, not a dry textbook. It really says how the patient feels, from my point of view and from the points of view of others.

Book cover: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Managing Ehlers-Danlos (Type III) - Hypermobility SyndromeIn the book, you go into quite a lot of depth on the psychology involved both in having a chronic complex condition and in treatment. Do you think that the importance of this area is underestimated?

Yes. I was actually really surprised how large the psychological section of the book ended up being. There are so many layers to it, trust being a very important one. The issue of trust is so important for any medical professional dealing with a chronic complex patient. Personally, I had been consistently told by a range of professionals that the pain I was experiencing was psychosomatic, and that there was nothing wrong with me. I think that most patients have years of that to contend with. In so many cases these conditions involve a legacies of problems that haven’t been fully handled since a young age. Behaviours change because of pain. That really has an impact on people. They get angry, they get depressed, they get anxious.

I’ve also included a section for the patient on managing chronic pain, cognitive behavioural therapy, and other psychological aids such as goal-setting, pacing, ways of communicating and dealing with doctors.

Medical professionals also need support psychologically in dealing with the complex chronic patient because, as mentioned, treatment can be very overwhelming for them, and quite emotionally draining. If one of your patients comes back every week with little improvement to their pain, it can be emotionally difficult as a therapist to make a positive spin on it and focus on treatment.

Social media seems to be a really supportive, positive force for the treatment and understanding of these conditions. How do you see this developing in future?

I think that because some patients with this condition can become quite disabled, and socially isolated, Facebook, for example, can be a real lifeline for them. It’s a way for them to get mutual support, to learn more about the condition, to realise they’re not alone in their experience. I’ve been staggered by the response to my Facebook page, and how it’s being used internationally to provide support and share information on this subject (but never any medical advice).

How do you hope this book will help professionals working with, and patients with the syndrome?

I hope that the patients will be able to see that there has been, in my story, quite a positive improvement due to the level of care I’ve had, and the experts I’ve managed to have access to. Physiotherapy has been essential in this. I’d like to offer patients hope but also the reality that this is a genetically inherited condition, which is about management, not cure. I hope that the book provides not only treatment information, but validation – they can take the book to their doctors to show them what’s going on. It’s as up to the minute as up to the minute can be in terms of medical research and practice.

In terms of the medical professionals, I hope that they can understand the full impact of a multi-systemic chronic complex condition, what it means to have bodily systems not working very well, and the impact that this has psychologically, physically and socially. I hope this helps them to develop a bit of a more empathetic approach.

I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to have 6 real experts in each field contributing to the book. This means that they’ve been really able to bring the book up to date with the latest research on treatment and medical management of the condition. That’s a real privilege.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

The Enneagram of Personality – From Psychology to Spirit

The Enneagram of personality is an ancient, beautifully accurate, spiritual and psychological model of humanity. Describing nine personality types and their interactions, it enables us to look deeply into our own character, harmonise our daily lives and our relationships both personal and professional, and understand our personal path to growth.

Image of Karen WebbFirst described in the West by Gurdjieff, the Enneagram’s particular nine-pointed star is an ancient diagram, though no-one knows its origin. Not an arbitrary shape, it encapsulates the esoteric Laws of Three and Seven (octaves), is very like Pythagoras’ ninth seal symbolising humanity, and some researchers link ancient stone circles with the mathematics of the Enneagram.

Sufis have called the Enneagram ‘a God-given tool for personal moral healing’. A conversion concept including the diagram and nine personality types has been part of Sufi ethical training for 1400 years. Christian mystics of the Desert Father tradition, in the third and fourth centuries, worked with the concept of converting vice to virtue, using the personality traits now named in the Enneagram. It seems to be a wisdom which surfaces when and where it is needed – and in surprising ways – as of course all spiritual truths do.

The Enneagram describes, amazingly accurately, nine distinct personality types, their variations, and the spiritual states of being with which they are linked. Furthermore, the flow of connecting lines shows the inter-relation between different aspects of each personality. At first it may be hard to identify our type: unlike other typologies, Enneagram type is defined not by behaviour but by something which is so fundamental to our personalities that we may not be aware of, or may actively deny, it.

The central premise is that each of us has one of the nine possible ‘chief features’, a focus of attention so deep it is usually hidden from our conscious awareness, which sets the tenor of our whole lives. Originally a way of coping with the outer world, by the time we are adult it is an automatic biased perspective (the ‘false self’). The key words are ‘passion’ – through which we focus on the world emotionally – and ‘fixation’ – our mental focus. In the grip of our passion/fixation, behaviour is automatic and often harmful to our true well-being, though it was originally developed as a protection.

The Nine Enneagram Types

 

The beautiful part is that this ‘false’ personality shows us our own spiritual path: not an enemy to be conquered, but our best friend, showing us what lessons we need to learn and how to learn them. The different passions and fixations developed to protect their ‘holy opposite’ (Holy Virtue and Holy Idea), which were ‘forgotten’ as ego developed, and to which we long to return. They are mimicked as well as masked by personality.

Linking personality type to spiritual potential in this way, the Enneagram makes it possible for the first time to bridge the gap between psychology (who we are not) and spirituality (who we truly are): a continuum of healing growth.

All mystic traditions recognise three ‘organs of perception’. When unconscious the head produces fear, the heart yearning, and the belly anger. The nine Enneagram types are variations on these three basic emotions: according to our type, one of these is the ruling ‘negative’ emotion, whether we are aware of it day-to-day or not.

The central triangle of the Enneagram shows the core personalities of each centre. It also represents the trinity of Hope (3), Faith (6), Love (9), and would teach us to open all three centres.

I am often asked: ‘When I know my type, what then?’. We start with the personality. According to the Enneagram the resentments, desires and fears that go to make it up are actually distorted expressions of the energy one works with to get to the higher states.

Working with the Enneagram, with myself and clients, I have found it more creative to recognise your passion, put your attention on it, learn to observe it and see what it teaches you about yourself. Part of this learning is in meditation, developing a strong inner witness (that part of ourselves which is not our personality), and part in simple day-to-day self-observation.

This process itself loosens the grip of the automatic response: it also gives insight into how to work with our issues. Different issues define each personality type, and the same strategy for emotional, psychological and spiritual growth doesn’t work with all types of people. So the first step for all types is to observe the underlying placements of attention that support repeating behaviours and emotions.

Finally, though we are all capable of feeling all human emotions, we actually experience life in radically different ways, and have vastly different responses to events, even to conversations. The Enneagram, like any personality typology, can be trivialised. Though this cannot be helped, I trust that its real meaning will survive through those who recognise its spiritual origin. Studying your own and others’ types fosters skilful living, personal growth, better relationships, a deeper understanding of all humanity, and ultimately, despite our different personality types, the experience that we all are one.


Karen A Webb has been teaching the Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition for over 20 years. She graduated from the Enneagram Professional Training Program in 1991 and now runs Enneagram Studies UK, providing open and tailored Enneagram workshops and consultations. Karen is a passionate, lifelong student of spirituality, comparative religion and psychology and lives in Malvern, UK.

© 2012 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

VIDEO: Christa Mackinnon on using shamanism techniques and approaches in therapy

In this exclusive video, Christa Mackinnon gets to the heart of how adjusted shamanic healing techniques can be a major asset to any therapeutic practice.


Christa Mackinnon is the Founder and Director of Kamdaris Psychological Consultancy and Training and is an Honorary Fellow and Associated Lecturer at Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, UK, where she teaches special study units on trauma as well as clinical hypnosis. She is a social psychologist, family counsellor, clinical hypnotherapist and group facilitator with over 25 years of professional experience as a therapist as well as an international trainer and lecturer.

Christa has spent time as an apprentice to shamans in South America and has received various trainings from spiritual and shamanic teachers in Asia, the USA and the UK, which led her to design and run training courses for therapeutic professionals combining western approaches with indigenous spiritual teachings. She is the author of Shamanism and Spirituality in Therapeutic Practice: An Introduction.

Yoga breathing techniques to help children deal with anger and stress and build self-esteem – An Interview with Michael Chissick

Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.

Michael is the author of the forthcoming children’s book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech, which teaches four yoga breathing techniques in a fun and interactive way and shows how they can be used to deal with anger, anxiety and tension.

In this interview, he shares the story of how this beautiful book came to be and the rewarding experiences he’s had teaching yoga to children; why he believes children nowadays need tools to cope with life’s stresses more than ever before; and how the breathing techniques in the book can be used with all children, including those with special needs.


Tell us a bit about you – how did you get into yoga, teaching yoga and teaching yoga to children?

I first came to yoga in 1974, and although I practised regularly it was not till 1990 that I consciously stepped up my practice and interest.

In 1990, following the death of my wife Jill, I decided to give up my business and look after my children. I made up my mind that Jill’s death would not be wasted and that I would do something meaningful with my life. I signed up to an Access Course, which got me back into studying and prepared me for University. As a mature student I simply thrived on the course and it unleashed a creative side of me that I had never known before. I went on to take a four year degree course in Education, (BEd Hons) and eventually took up my first post as a primary school teacher in Old Harlow, Essex, UK at the age of forty-six.

It was during my four year degree course that I established my deep interest in children’s self-esteem – specifically how it can be damaged and how it can be improved. Of all the areas that I studied this was for me the most important and I determined to make enhancing children’s self-esteem the core of my approach to teaching.

In the nineties yoga was such an essential part of my life that soon I had completed my yoga teacher training with the British Wheel of Yoga, and was able to begin my new career teaching yoga to adults. It was an obvious next step to merge my skills and experience as a primary teacher and qualified yoga teacher, and thus I become a children’s yoga teacher. I set up an after school club but found the work frustrating primarily because of my realisation that yoga needed to be taught as part of the school day for children to benefit most.

Nevertheless word of my work had spread and one day I was asked to teach yoga to children in a Special Needs School in East London. That day was a turning point in my life. Despite all my experience I stood there not knowing what to do while this group of children were going absolutely crazy, at one time cussing at me and throwing shoes around – it was chaos. I tried various activities, all to no avail. Then, amazingly, with one specific activity (it was Sun Sequence), they were suddenly hooked… and I even got them to do a relaxation. The transformation was astounding. I came out of there that day, sat in the car and cried tears of joy that I could make such a difference. That was a Tuesday Morning in 1999 and I have taught there every Tuesday ever since. Over time the school has become a beacon school for teaching children with autism. This means that for more than a decade I have been developing teaching approaches for teaching yoga to children with autism. I am now regarded as a specialist in teaching yoga to autistic children. I am very proud of that.

In the last few years I have been fortunate to have taught continuously in the same nucleus of schools. This means that I am there on a specific day every week, every term, every year. It also means that I have had to be creative and develop fun and interesting activities or risk the children’s boredom. I have taught yoga in schools as part of the integrated school day for more than a decade now and have developed many approaches and activities that the children love.

One of those activities has now been turned into a book called Frog’s Breathtaking Speech. Now my enthusiasm for writing knows no bounds and I am busy with three new books that will enable me pass on my considerable expertise to others. Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – and incidentally The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Gruffalo, and Going on a Bear Hunt – all make terrific stories to embed yoga postures in.

What inspired you to write this wonderful book?

I have been using Frog’s Breathtaking Speech in children’s yoga lessons for many years. The story grew out of the need to increase children’s awareness of their breath and, more importantly, how to apply it in stressful situations. Situations such as dealing with exams, spelling and table tests, being bullied, tension, headaches and anger, and of course performing or presenting to their peers and parents in assembly.

Although, as an adult, I had experienced the benefits of yoga breathing techniques I had honestly found them dry and unexciting. If I was to grab the children’s attention I needed to teach breathing techniques in a way that was fun and relevant. My strategy was to use the story in a yoga/drama format and it was an immediate success.

I would set out the yoga mats in a circle in the hall. As many children as possible would be given the opportunity to be Frog. I would ask for sad faces and then ask for less sad faces as the story unfolds. The other characters, Crocodile, Lion, Humming Bee and Mr Gumble the Woodchopper, would be played by the whole class. To keep the “chorus” in unison I would hold up placards in pantomime style saying, “Why so sad Frog?” and “I know an interesting way to breathe”. We have also performed Frog on stage to great applause.

I think there are several reasons why this approach worked well, including:

  • there was sufficient repetition for everyone to be able to join in;
  • it was obviously great fun;
  • the children were learning the techniques in a fun and relevant context;
  • children found the characters interesting.

Looking back I think that one of the main factors that inspired me to turn the yoga play into a book was the feedback from the children. I have lost count of the amount of times that children would tell me how they had used the techniques to deal with incidents in their lives. Problems ranging from being angry at siblings who stole their sweets or broke their toys, to being the calming influence in big family arguments. My two favourites will always be: the nine-year old boy who was terrified of the dentist and who quietly sat in the waiting room, and ultimately the dentist’s chair, practising his Crocodile Breath to calm himself; and the ten year old girl, who was angry with her parents, who would go to her room and practice Woodchopper Breath every day for three weeks, who eventually came and told the class teacher and me that that she had Haaaa’d out her anger.

The other main factor that inspired me to turn the play into a book was, simply, to get it out there. If this story helped the children that I taught it would help all children.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with the illustrator,
Sarah Peacock?

I have worked with Sarah Peacock in her Hertfordshire Primary School for five years. Sarah would come into in the yoga lesson with her class and over the years had been involved with Frog’s Breathtaking Speech on many occasions. She knew the story very well and how much the children liked it.

Examples of Sarah’s amazing illustrations were displayed around school. Often over lunch she had talked about her dream of being an illustrator. When I finally wrote the story as a book, I asked her to illustrate and she came up with the wonderfully timeless and charming illustrations that make the book so readable.

Where did the character of Frog come from?

Frog came about for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, children can stay in Frog Posture easily for longish periods without too much discomfort (and it’s great for their knees and hips). Secondly, I like Frog characters – they make me laugh; and thirdly, there is a long history of Frogs (and Toads) in children’s literature – for example, The Frog Prince and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.

I saw Frog as a character that boys and girls could relate to because he was honest about his fears. I think they could also relate to his courage in taking action, facing his fears and achieving a victory.

I suppose he is based on many of the children that I have taught and if I am being honest there’s a lot of me in Frog. (Well, even grownups need to calm themselves and get angry sometimes.)

Can you describe scenarios in which the different breathing techniques would be especially useful?

I think that being a child nowadays is stressful. I have already mentioned my two favourite examples of how techniques from the story have helped. However as educationalists we are constantly aware that the children in our care are travelling through a minefield of emotional problems in different areas of their lives.

For example children are dealing with major blows within the Family like divorce; separation from parents; death of a family member or friend or pet; worries about family’s financial situation; worries about a family member’s health; or perhaps a new baby brother or sister has arrived.

At school children are often anxious about their lack of specific skills, being bullied, tests, SATs, how to deal with an overload of activities, a belief that they do not have enough friends, lack of self-esteem, fear of failure, and even fear of success.

On the social side, children can be anxious because they may see themselves not “in” with the right crowd, too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, too ugly and so on.

I believe the social pressures on children – in or out of school – are immense today and we need to teach them all manner of strategies to help them deal with the pressure. Yoga and breathing techniques being at the top of the list.

The four strategies that are taught in Frog are:

  • Crocodile Breath. Situations where children could apply the technique are: tests, exams, sports day, making speeches to peers and parents, going to the dentist, finding courage.
  • Humming Bee Breath. Situations could include: headaches, feeling tense, panicky in the middle of a busy shopping centre at Christmas.
  • Woodchopper Breath. Situations could include: venting anger or frustration.
  • Lion Breath. Situations could include: strengthening voice or loosing tension.

How can this book be used with children with special needs?

Frog can be used with all children and that includes many children with special needs.

Used purely as a story, Frog is highly engaging, the illustrations compelling, and there is sufficient repetition to help reinforce readers and invite anticipation. There are also ample opportunities to compare the Frog’s experiences to the children’s if the children are at a suitable level.

On a higher level, if you are reading the book to children and encouraging them to practice the postures there is a lot to be gained. Firstly, the children will benefit from increased flexibility and better muscle tone. The big reward, however, is that yoga postures can help children with Sensory Processing Disorders.

Many children with autism, for example, have Sensory Processing Disorders which affects their Vestibular, Proprioceptive and Tactile systems. This is a vast subject that I will deal with elsewhere. Suffice to say that yoga can go a long way to identify any extremes in a child’s sensory behaviour and provide strategies to help regulate their nervous systems away from those extremes.

Using the story in a yoga/drama format also creates opportunities to work on speaking and listening skills and other communication skills like, for example, projecting the voice. Also social skills such as taking turns, waiting or applauding another child will come up when you use this story.

One massive benefit of using the story with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example, is the opportunity to be acting out different emotions. Frog becomes less sad as the story progresses. In fact, emotions range from sad to happy, scared to brave, beaten to successful. A great excuse to give those face muscles a good workout.

Finally, if you are using the story in a yoga/drama format and including the breathing techniques then you are encouraging the children to be “in the moment” – a well hackneyed yoga term, I know, but totally appropriate for children on both extremes of the hyperactivity scale who need to find “that middle ground of alert interest where they are not overwhelmed or underwhelmed” (Sher, B. 2009 p. 22).

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.