Published in Children’s Voice, Volume 29, Number 1
by Andrea Kupferman
Almost 35 million children in the United States have experienced at least one traumatic event (Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health, 2013). Exposure to childhood adversity, also referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), has been identified as one of the most significant and detrimental public health issues of the past century. In the presence of a dangerous or stressful experience, the body naturally activates the “fight-or-flight” response; while adaptive and necessary in the event of life-threatening situations, this response becomes maladaptive and health-damaging if activated consistently. In turn, continuous exposure to traumatic situations can negatively impact brain development, the immune system, hormonal systems, mood, and even how one’s DNA is read and transcribed.
Children, whose brains and bodies still are developing, are especially sensitive to this negative activation. Exposure to ACEs can trigger difficulties in school; behavioral problems; poor decision-making surrounding relationships and sexual health; low self-esteem; and problems with physical, mental, and emotional health.
For more than 15 years, Connection Coalition, based in South Florida, has been passionately and relentlessly working holistically to combat the deleterious impacts of ACEs on children and youth. Both the Connection Coalition executive team and the community, which has expanded nationwide, have dedicated themselves to a twofold mission: spreading awareness about trauma and its impact; and providing yoga, meditation, and mindfulness programming, led by trauma-informed teachers, to youth who are at risk. As the leading trauma-informed provider in South Florida, we at Connection Coalition—formerly known as Yoga Gangsters—have taught more than 5,000 community members and have created programs to provide the tools of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to more than 24,000 youth around the country.
Our trainings—15-hour intensive trainings or four-week online trainings—currently are being offered in 27 states. We also lead private trainings for organizations, schools, and universities, and offer trainings to the public, usually held in yoga/meditation/mindfulness studios. Topics explored include:
• an introduction to trauma
• the neuroscience of trauma and mindfulness
• how trauma affects the body
• privilege and access
• creating authentic connection
• appropriate touch
• classroom sequencing, lesson plans, and practice teaching.
• unpacking the interplay between trauma, race, ACEs, and systemic oppression
• learning practical mind-body tools for managing triggers, such as self-inquiry and self-regulation
• cultivating awareness of cyclical trauma and its impact on how we relate to others
• exploring how to create a more connected, engaged community
• discovering how to become an ally
We know that holistic interventions can positively impact brain and body development and can even facilitate the body in repairing the damage done by trauma (Kamenetz, 2017). Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have positive effects on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus (responsible for information gathering and memory), the amygdala (responsible for emotion-regulation), and the prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive functioning and complex behaviors) (Hölzel et al., 2011; Gothe et al., 2019).
Many children are being raised by parents who have yet to heal their own trauma wounds and in environments that perpetuate trauma. Millions of children experience trauma and cannot leave their environments. We have the tools to address this crisis. We have the people who are knowledgeable about these tools and are ready, willing, and able to share them. Connection Coalition will continue to vigorously be a part of this movement—a movement that advocates for the emotional and physical healing of youth who have experienced trauma. It is our human right to feel peace within our bodies. If we do not step up now, then when?
Andrea Kupferman is the Programming Director at Connection Coalition. To learn more about programming, contact Andrea at Andrea@theconnectioncoalition.org. If you would like more information on participating in or hosting a training, please contact Jen at Jen@theconnectioncoalition.org.
Bethell, C.D., Davis,M.B., Gombojav, N., Stumbo, S., & Powers, K. (2017). Issue brief: Adverse childhood experiences among U.S. children. Baltimore,MD: Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.cahmi.org/projects/adversechildhood-experiences-aces
Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health. (2013). 2011/12 National survey of children’s health. Baltimore, MD: Author. Retrieved from https://www.childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=2614&r=1
Gothe, N., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E., & Damoiseaux, J. (2019). Yoga effects on brain health: A systematic review of the current literature. Brain Plasticity, 5(1), 105-122. Retrieved from https://content.iospress.com/articles/brain-plasticity/bpl190084
Hölzel, B.K., et al. (2011).Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191(1), 36-43. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/
Kamenetz, A. (2017, June 2). The role of yoga in healing trauma. NPREd. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/06/02/527570310/the-role-of-yoga-in-healing-trauma