Incorporating Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning in Comprehensive Sexuality Education
“My body belongs to me. No one gets to touch me unless I say it’s ok.”
This is a key message for our work at Mad Hatter Wellness. It is a concept that is both simple and life-changing.
Sexuality Education is full of topics that are challenging, nuanced, and can lead to discussions on values. The topics covered in Sex Ed can also be triggering, causing participants to recall past traumas, or even to understand for the first time that something they experienced in the past was abuse. Additionally, Sex Ed can get at the very essence to who we are, the labels and intersections we carry as we move about the world.
With all of these layers, it is so understandable that many participants in Sex Ed can get overwhelmed, avoid the topic, or try to derail the class with jokes. However, people are typically hungry for the kind of essential information that Comprehensive Sex Ed provides.
So what are some ways that we help people move through big emotions and stay centered as we explore sexual health topics?
One way is to incorporate Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning in every lesson we teach. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) involves understanding and managing emotions, having positive relationships, problem solving – all of this ties into comprehensive sexual health education.
We start each lesson with mindful breathing. Taking five breaths together can help us all arrive in the space more fully for learning. Many times we do some stretching and movement. Moving and breathing helps information sink in, allows feelings to move through the body and prepares us to learn.
We always offer choice and do our best to use language that is inclusive of all people and their levels of mobility. Breathing and moving are never forced. This honors everyone’s body autonomy – a key component of Comprehensive Sex Ed.
Most of the moving and breathing that we do comes from Yoga.
We are grateful for the mindfulness, breathing and movement practices we’ve learned from Yoga Calm, Move Mindfully, as well as many other teachers. We honor and appreciate the many breathing and mindfulness practices that come from traditional and ancient practices, such as Yoga which comes from South Asia. We are an organization of all white women, and we utilize these techniques. It is important to acknowledge the cultural appropriation of mindfulness and yoga techniques by white folks and to give credit to the folks we’ve learned from. We incorporate mindful breathing and movement in our classes because it helps calm our brains and bodies in order to get ready to learn and discuss challenging health topics. It also helps us to make space for our thoughts to settle when we breathe and rest at the end of a lesson.
As mentioned earlier, building healthy relationships is key to Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and we focus much of our work on learning about what is healthy and unhealthy in relationships. We spend time at the beginning of each lesson checking in with how participants are doing to strengthen the relationships within the class. We check in at the end of the lesson to see what people have learned and how they are feeling.
Additionally, any time we can bring in community members to teach or talk about elements of the sexual health curriculum gives participants an opportunity to see themselves represented and/or to experience a different perspective that will foster empathy.
At the close of each lesson, we take time to breathe and reserve a few minutes to unwind with a guided relaxation. Again, these activities include choice, and none of them should ever be forced in order to give people body autonomy and to allow folks who’ve experienced trauma to opt out of anything that might not feel safe.
Ideas for incorporating Mindfulness, SEL and Sex Ed include:
- Centering and Check-In
- Breathing for calm, focus and energy release
- Movement breaks
- Guided Relaxations
- Telling folks: Do what feels good in your body.
- Using the statement: My body belongs to me. Then reinforce that statement with offering choices for movement and learning, as well as fostering bodily autonomy.
- Intersectional/Whole Person Approach to Sex Ed
- Focus on Body Rights
- Bring in Community members
- Teach about interpersonal relationships and what is health/unhealthy in a relationship
Susan Barkataki, Yoga teacher and resource for cultural competency in yoga – https://www.susannabarkataki.com
CASEL for more on SEL – https://casel.org
Yoga Calm – yogacalm.org
Move Mindfully – https://move-mindfully.com
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