Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Life Balance: Accessible Home Learning and Yoga

by Sarah Blunkosky

I want to start by sharing karuna. I’m sending out compassion to everyone known and unknown to me, from our home quarantine. I want to start there and end there, too, because this is perhaps the most important practice for us all during this difficult time.

As of today, thousands of learners in the United States with learning disabilities and access needs with individual learning plans (IEPs) aren’t having their educational needs met due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Worldwide, an estimated one billion children are home from their traditional learning environments, many of them struggling, with anxious and struggling guardians scrambling how to adapt to pandemic learning, survival, and work/pandemic life balance.

So, I’d like to offer some humble guidance here for these profound transitions. Please use whatever might serve you and skip the rest. I came into my profession as an integrative educational consultant after having to adapt and pivot my livelihood and lifestyle around my eldest daughter’s learning and health needs. She helped guide my yogic practice and inspire me to deepen it further into growing as a yoga teacher. I am first and forever a student of yoga. Josie is fourteen now and has complex medical needs that include: Down syndrome, autism, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, sensory integration challenges, and anxiety. After several different learning plans and public-school settings, we found home and community learning the best fit for her and our family. My younger two children also prefer it after trying out public school. But although home and community learning have served our family, I encourage everyone to aim for the best fit for each learner and family, without judgement. Just as in Accessible Yoga, we find the variations that best serves our practice. Be your own judge.

Most learners have been legally mandated to stay home, so let’s ponder the idea that home learning is our safest and best fit in this present. For all who can, let’s keep staying home and try to flatten the curve and keep as many people safe as possible. I’m trying to make sense of this and land in santosha, a contentment with where I’m at. It’s not my ideal but I’m trying to find a place to center in here and ground.

I suggest the following series of inquiries for you to assess and explore as you use yoga practices and yoga philosophy to adjust to your new reality:

1. How can we make our home learning as accessible as possible for each learner as well as for the family/people residing within the quarantine space?

2. If you have interaction or assignments through a virtual school program, check in: Is this working? What parts are working? How can we nurture the functioning aspects of this program? If you’re creating your own program, also ask, what parts are working?

As you assess and explore these inquiries, listen to your biofeedback. If positive feedback is emerging, take note of it. Maybe you’re finding a rhythm to your days. Depending on the ages of your children, you might be finding regular mealtimes and snack times opportunities to break from activities and reassess the day and schedule. Are folks easing into assignments or projects? Maybe you’re finding some flexibility in deciding when and what gets done based on choices. For example, Child A is liking doing math in the morning rather than having to wait later. Child B is enjoying doing reading assignments at night after doing more sensory intense work during the day and feeling calmer. Take notes of what is working and use that as a foundation to move from, grounded in what is serving you.

3. Now, ponder meditating and asking where the discomfort is arising from. Where is the discomfort popping up? What isn’t working? What feelings emerge?

Perhaps you’re feeling the tension of mitigating arguments between siblings more often than desired in your neck, as you try to pace yourself for the next long quarantine mandate. We can’t seem to escape each other in these close quarters! I’m feeling tired and tense in my shoulders and anger in my thighs with having to be teacher, entertainment director, income provider, food and supply acquirer—argh! Maybe tension in the throat in lymph nodes emerges, which is stress in the throat chakra. Then maybe, “what if it’s the virus” creeps in, and then the nervous system frazzles and the diaphragms clench, and tension tightens….

4. Ponder prioritizing your (and your learners’) nervous system and survival chakras (first, second, and third).

Survival is primal and needs importance right now. We need strong immune systems to keep as safe as possible. And stress can overwhelm an immune system. If our learners or ourselves are stressing over educational goals to a point of extreme imbalance (lack of sleep, tension, anxiety), then we are creating danger. Draw a line somewhere and stay there. If an expectation or assignment pushes us beyond that line, make a survival choice. Ask for more time. Ask if it is essential. One year my daughter in public school had to slowly decrease homework to the point of us stopping homework because we were all crying and angry, and it was ruining the few peaceful moments we had with her together. Written assignments changed into iPad app time, which then went into nothing because the difficulty and stress did not necessitate the desired outcome. We later discovered that different times of day were better for assignments that better served her needed goals and skill acquisition.

5. Work with the body.

For most people, different times of the day are better for skill acquisition and specific tasks. My kids are more active and hands-on in the morning, so they aren’t into reading or writing until after they’ve done computer apps/games or moved their bodies (building things, painting, arts/crafts, exercising). I like setting them up with success when possible as it reduces my stress. If you have tasks for them and your own work, try to be creative with your learning life and break away from cramming it all into the traditional school day. Take more breaks. Rearrange based on your family’s needs. Play games. Find ways to break up anything that isn’t coming together in an easeful fashion.

6. Pandemic home learning is not what anyone is used to.

A quote from my friend Michelle rings true each day for me: “Isolation schooling is not homeschooling.” She continued with an explanation of all the activities and social connections her teens were missing in their homeschooling life and wanted those new to home learning to understand: THIS IS NOT WHAT HOMESCHOOLING is. Homeschool families are struggling with their isolation and missing activities and all the mainstays that ground their journeys. School families are struggling with having learning grounded at home. Please do not put an unnatural expectation on yourself or family. This is a practice of karuna (compassion), which should always come first. Might I also suggest practicing aparigraha (non-greed)? In this context, this means practicing non-reaching or grasping beyond a pandemic expectation?

7. Ponder viewing this learning situation as a “situation.” Situations are not permanent; they are instances of creation. What do you want to create out of this chaos? What can you let go of? Here are a few ideas: expectations of a picture-perfect clean home, perfectly well-mannered people, perfectly executed assignments, intellectually stimulating conversations at every sit-down meal, insert your own here to let go of:____________________.

8. Give yourself some pandemic creative freedom, the more accessible and customized for your family’s needs, the better! Be creative with how you reach academic, therapeutic (if you’re trying to do academic in-home therapy, and if you have to let that go for now don’t berate yourself), and sensory/physical goals.

Here are some suggestions:

Humor here ________________ and here ___________________. 

Movement break here ____________ and here _______________. 

Extra snack time here ____________________. 

More time for baking/creating something new in the kitchen here _______________________. 

Time for family to all help clean up together here ______________. 

Time to help with a needed task together here ________________. 

Time to all take a needed rest break here _____________________.

9. When in doubt, retreat into the yogic practice of pratipaksha bhavana (cultivating the oppposite), replacing negative with positive.

One of the difficult challenges my daughter struggled with and still struggles with is communication. In public school, many teachers told us she would expand her communication, but we found the opposite—she started losing words and regressing. We suspect one of the causes was a lack of opportunity for long and sustained conversations. In classes with many kids, children often don’t have time throughout the day to actually speak; most of the day is listening or raising a hand and waiting for a turn. A gift in bringing her home was talking with her all day long and watching her language expand. As she has journeyed longer, we try to find the positive in this expansion, even when it includes occasional curse words or offensive insights to us: “You’re so overprotective mom! Damn! Oh sh*t!” These random and highly on-target speech patterns and usage catch me off guard (I need to set a better example I say to myself…), but then I look for the positive: “How age appropriate! Listen to that articulation of the word sh*t! She got the “Sh” sound correct!” What might be a behavioral concern and trip to the principal’s office can, at home, be an invitation. What positive can we find in these skills? What twist can I find in this present moment, though scary and funny and sad and joyful and messy and uncertain?

10. Can you land back at karuna, compassion? 

Sarah Blunkosky, M.A., RYT 500, RPYT, RCYT is an integrative education consultant, certified peer-breastfeeding counselor, and registered Accessible Yoga instructor specializing in family, children’s, special-needs, and prenatal/postpartum movement/embodiment. Her learning life spanned teaching high school social studies at Open High School in Richmond, Virginia to studying slavery and social history on a graduate school path that pivoted when her eldest daughter's intellectual disabilities and medical needs required an intensive lifestyle shift. She started Learning Heroine LLC in 2015. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook sharing her dharma/mission: Set learning free. When she isn’t homeschooling her kids or teaching yoga, you can find her writing articles and working on a book. A forever student of yoga, she is also studying to become a certified yoga therapist.

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief of the Accessible Yoga blog and co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.

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1 comment:

  1. I just love this. Sharing with my network of parents of atypical kids. It is so relatable and honest. "What might be a behavioral concern and trip to the principal’s office can, at home, be an invitation. What positive can we find in these skills? What twist can I find in this present moment, though scary and funny and sad and joyful and messy and uncertain?" YES!