This week I had the pleasure of interviewing my dear friend Michael Eisen. Michael is the founder of The Youth Wellness Network, which is an organization that provides programs and resources for young people that help inspire them to live happier and more positive lives. Michael implemented a wellness programs in schools and other youth-based organizations. By training these young people in wellness principles and strategies, Michael is able to help inspire them to share what they've learned with friends, family, peers, etc. and thus creating a ripple effect. The mandate is to create a culture of happiness amongst youth worldwide. One of the principles Michael teaches is the value in taking more breaks and using this "break time" more effectively. He demonstrates this through a program called the Break Zone. In this interview Michael explains the importance of a brain break and guides to apply this principle in our own life.
(G) Tell me more about the Break Zone program.
(M) The Break Zone was designed based on the scientific research that says the human brain can only take in up to 45 minutes of information before it starts decreasing its capacity to absorb anything. This is especially relevant in young minds. So, the idea is to encourage youth to start taking more frequent breaks (every 45 minutes, or as often as possible). However, it is not just the act of taking the break that is important. It is also about shifting your attention and giving your brain a true rest from what it was previously focusing on. This means doing something that engages the brain like spending time on Facebook or Twitter is not the solution we're looking for. What the Break Zone does is provide students with a variety of practices, modalities and methodologies, which truly give their brains an effective break. As a result they are able to mentally, emotionally and physically reduce their stress and rejuvenate their minds so when they return to studying they feel refreshed, relaxed and re-inspired to learn.
(G) What are some of these practices and modalities that Break Zone offers?
(M) I believe it's really important to offer a wide range of different options for the students so there is something that appeals to everyone. For those who prefer still relaxation we offer meditation, visualization and breathing techniques. For those who prefer movement we offer modalities like Yoga, Zumba, Tai Chi and Groove Method. For those who love to laugh we offer Laughter Yoga. For those who need to blow off some steam we run an anger release zone. For the auditory people we run sound/music therapy. And, sometimes we even offer chair massages. Not only is this a great chance for students to take a break from studying, but it's also a chance for them to learn about these different practices and find something that will work for them in the long-term.
(G) In your opinion, what are the main factors that cause stress in youth?
(M) I believe that stress is a symptom of the deeper-rooted issues present amongst youth. Every program that I run focuses on getting to the cause of the challenge that young people are facing, not just providing a band-aid solution for it. That being said, I truly believe that what is causing most of the stress amongst young people is their limiting beliefs and negative, fear-based thoughts. I am a firm believer, as I have witnessed it first-hand in my own life, that our thoughts create our reality. What I see happening is that youth are taught to believe certain things, like good grades equal success; failure is life- threatening; the harder I work the more I will succeed; and there is too much to do in too little time. These beliefs, particularly applied to school, create thoughts, words, actions and habits that possess the same negative perception. As a result, they are unconsciously creating a life that is full of stress, anxiety, negativity and poor health.
The unconscious habits that then show up during peak study periods encourage young people to put everything aside that contributes to balance in order to focus only on studying. These cramming periods result in high-stress, low-energy and complete nutritional, mental and emotional imbalance.
These habits do not allow the brain to run at an optimal level, which means students often forget things they studied and feel panic during exams and tests. Panic creates even more stress. Without ever taking a proper break to restore the balance in their minds and bodies, a boiling point is inevitable. Not to mention, even if they manage to get through this period of unease and write a test successfully, there is very little chance they will retain much of what they just studied.
(G) How do you take breaks yourself?
(M) One of my greatest values in life is authenticity, so it is incredibly important to me that I walk the talk when it comes to everything I teach. I have taught myself to become aware of how I am feeling in each moment, and I allow that feeling in my body to tell me what I need.
My breaks vary and include different forms of movement (dance, yoga, pilates, swimming), laughter and a consistent meditation practice. I also find simply taking a walk outside and getting fresh air does wonders for my mind and body. Spending time in nature is also a wonderful way for me to recharge. At this point, there is not a formula that I follow in terms of how frequent I take a break, instead I allow my body and mind to guide me. The goal is that once youth have experienced the Break Zone they will start to adopt this practice in their own lives more consistently and reach that level of self-awareness!
For more information on Michael Eisen and the Youth Wellness Network visit www.youthwellnessnetwork.ca.
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