Life moves fast – especially in Houston, it seems. So fast sometimes you need to force yourself to stop, look around and remember to breathe. Given today’s fast-paced world and technological advances, is it any wonder that today’s youth can get lost amidst a flurry of mental and physical distractions?
Enter DENISE HORVILLEUR and her husband, YOUXIA KAI. Bonding over a shared desire for more mindful practices in their life, Denise, an HISD teacher, and Kai, who taught Tai Chi, reconnected (yes, they went to high school and college together) a few years ago. Combining their shared focus on wellness with Denise’s background in education, they embarked on a career path to introduce mindfulness practices as lifestyle tools for today’s kids, equipping them for navigating their increasingly fast-paced futures. We sat down with
them to learn about the work they are doing here in Houston along with Denise’s work for the Breathe, Move, Rest (BMR) Program out of New York.
Can you share your insights on mindfulness, wellness and education?
Kai/Denise: We feel that wellness and education are not limited to the classroom. We both have experience teaching mindful breathing, movement and rest at MD Anderson Cancer Center as part of the Integrative Medicine Center to cancer patients and their caretakers and have also taught Tai Chi and mindfulness classess to kids at the Health Museum during this past Spring Break.
Denise, you are very active in the Breathe, Move, Rest program. Tell us about the program, what attracted you to it and your involvement.
Denise: A few years ago, Eddie Stern developed a curriculum for a program looking to bring mindfulness into public schools. They were interested in bringing this to Houston ISD and contacted Rachel Nystrom to recruit a group of Health and Wellness teachers. Local Yogi Robert Boustany, knowing that I had experience working in public schools, suggested that I interview with Rachel, followed by another interview leading to me being fortunate to be hired by Stevens Elementary.
A second mindfulness curriculum was developed focused on training teachers how to implement mindfulness practices during the school day. The training serves all teachers and can benefit any adult working in a public school; training teachers on how to offer de-stressing exercises to students, trainees are taught how to adopt these practices for themselves. Eddie suggested that I work with him as a mentor for this new model of bringing mindfulness to schools. With 13+ years of teaching experience, I was well aware of the limitations of time that teachers encounter throughout their work day, and especially appreciated how this training addressed that issue. The program not only focuses on practices to help children manage stress, but also offers teachers and school staff easy and manageable de-stressing exercises as well, exercises that can be done throughout the day without taking time away from instruction.
After working with over 50 schools in HISD, what has the feedback been like?
And what does the future hold for BMR here in Houston?
Denise: Wow, well, HISD has been pretty incredible to work with. Most students practice in their shoes, without mats and with great attitudes. I have countless tales of students thanking their teachers. The mindfulness practice is done at the end of every Health and Wellness lesson. Students are directed to bring their awareness to each part of the body, starting with the feet, legs, hips, hands, arms, shoulders, belly, chest, spine, head and face. They are encouraged to feel each body part resting as they direct their attention to that place. This can take about 3 minutes. In my monthly visits to HISD schools, what stood out to me most was how all students, including those with varying physical and mental capabilities, could participate in the exercises, have fun and gain relaxation and focus. Students in wheelchairs, non-English-speaking students, students with documented behavior issues and special needs
students all work together in the Health and Wellness lessons.
Many of our trained teachers hope to continue sharing what they learned at staff meetings and district-level professional developments. Houston ISD administrators were very supportive of the Breathe, Move, Rest program and the respective health benefits for staff and students alike. We are open to developing new partnerships in the Greater Houston area.
Kai, you also teach mindfulness at Whittier Elementary, correct?
Kai: Yes, I teach mindful practice K through 5, making sure to address the needs of individual students and the campus. Special needs students, including those in our autism program, receive mindfulness lessons on a regular basis. I also add martial movements to enrich the mindfulness curriculum to show them mindfulness can be relevant in a variety of kinetic activities, like Kung Fu. I even making pop culture references to “Kung Fu Panda,” “Avatar – The Last Airbender,” “Naruto” and Super Heroes to help engage my students.
What does the art of mindfulness mean to you both and how do you practice it daily in your own lives?
Mindfulness means to pay attention to what is happening as it is happening. It’s something that we work on throughout the day, every day.
Denise: One reason we practice mindful exercises like Tai Chi and Yoga daily is so that we can form healthy habits, like getting up early, keeping a clean home and listening to one another.
Kai: A daily mindfulness practice includes focusing on small tasks as they are being done, like making food, eating or making coffee. For me, interacting with students, in both a school setting and at local studios, helps me build a mindfulness practice within a community. We are all interconnected, so actively listening as a teacher and student, helps me better understand what is happening around me.
2017 MINDFULNESS CLASSES AT THE HEALTH MUSEUM
Mindfulness is learning to pay attention to the present moment with an openness, curiosity and kindness. Over the last 25 years, mindfulness practices have been studied widely in America and shown to reduce stress, lessen suffering from anxiety, depression and physical pain, boost the immune system, improve our sense of well-being and actually change the structure and function of the brain. Come join Dr. Ann Friedman, a psychologist and certified mindfulness instructor, to learn more about mindfulness.
You’ll learn how to focus your attention and let go of stressful thoughts and emotions – and will learn a specific way of paying attention to your breath, body, thoughts, feelings and to the world around you. The way of paying attention is powerful because when you can observe your thoughts and feelings, then you can choose how you act. You can also learn how
to bring relaxation to your body when you are feeling stress and anxiety.
• April 18–May 23 (Tuesday evenings, 6:15-7:30pm)
• April 20 –May 25 (Thursday mornings 8:30-9:45am)
• Special series focusing on cultivation practices: April 18-May 23 (Tuesdays, 8:30am–9:30am)
Cost: $225 Members | $250 Non-members