Photo: MZMikos - CIM, Belgrade, Serbia
Urban Nun ZENDO conducts seasonal visits to local charities, as part of the DoKa Foundation program; to directly assess the situation and support selected organisations.
Two types of programs are offered:
Mindfulness training for children and adolescents and
Stress reduction training for local charity workers
Mindfulness training for children in shelters
The Programs are based on the Three Kernel System , which applies ancient wisdom that is intertwined with modern science and was developed specifically for the needs of modern society.
The goals of mindfulness training for children are:
rise awareness of the situation and the learned response to it
understand the cause-and-effect principles and own responsibility and opportunity they contain
understand the processes that underline emotions and behavioral patterns
provide methods that can reprogram unfavorable response patterns (physiological, neural and behavioral)
Children/ young people that are visiting shelters are often victims of a minor or major trauma. Various types of scanning techniques have shown that trauma causes a number of changes in the brain, and in particular affects the part of the brain associated with memory and learning. Research shows that under traumatic events, the neural connections between the hemispheres weaken (Perry and Szalavitz, 2006 and Badenoch, 2008). This leads to learning deficits, which often bring upon toxic emotional and adverse behavioural responses.
Mindfulness training allows children to focus on their experience without with un-judgmental awareness. Such training, when consistent*, works on re-programing the learned responses to stress, ultimately leading to physiological changes and changes in the structure and function of the brain (Siegel, 2007).
Over time, mindfulness training increases the number of connections between the targeted areas of the brain, improving learning and reactivating inherited intelligence. Body awareness enhances what leads to the strengthening of the part of the brain that is associated with the interpretation of the emotions, one's own and of others, moving focus from the feeling self-pity to feeling empathy (Siegel, 2010). In addition, responsiveness to stress decreases, resulting in a greater ability to tolerate the ups and downs and improving emotional regulation.
It is often neglected that the support, which is based only on covering essential needs (shelter, food, clothing), education (books, school) or relaxation (sport, culture, art) is often not sufficient. Psychological support is of great importance for bringing some traumatic experience to the surface or to discuss behaviour and toxic emotions, but only when the methods of mindfulness practice are applied can neuronal rewiring be efficient and stable, opening the way for emotional and mental healing. While psychological conversations can trigger deep emotions, techniques that draw attention to the present moment work in opposite direction. It gives a body-mind system “emotions-and-thoughts free space”, which leads to deeper relaxation, while activating its own recovery mechanism.
* Practice shows that at least 8 weeks are required for measurable effect
Mindfulness training for shelters’ staff
The employee programs target stress response mechanism with the goal of:
Balancing the mental, physiological and neural response to induced stress
Increasing threshold of stress response
Re-programing stress reaction
Employees of charities, social or health-care organisations work under extreme stress conditions. While, in regular occupations, stress spreads over the workday, occupations that deal with traumatized or emotionally unbalanced children have different stress dynamics throughout the day. Due to the history and maturity of the children, caregivers are exposed to stress that is more concentrated and less predictable. The heavy emotional burden on employees is often neglected what leads to counter-productive responses – compassion’s fatigue, feelings of impatience, frustration or depression. This can cause emotional and health issues that can affect their protégés, family, friends and colleagues.
Mindfulness practices can be very helpful in relieving the symptoms of such toxic stress. However, it is important to choose the practices that match the learning style and level of tolerance of the person who uses them. Sitting still and focusing on the breath for long periods of time may be soothing for some, but very disturbing for others. For this reason, the Three Kernel System applies elements that can be tailored to the needs of the individual. Some may start with a short period of sitting meditation focused on the breath, while others may require as the first step body awareness training, deep relaxation or moving meditation.
But the ultimate goal is always to learn more about oneself, one's own emotions, thoughts, responses and deeper issues that can only be achieved by practicing returning to the present moment again and again.