Being Present with Children: The Breema Touch

From Gail: Paul and I were introduced to the Breema Touch several years ago, as students in a workshop taught by Andi Gibb. We were immediately delighted with this simple, inviting process that beautifully complements our own work. As I took further courses and became more familiar with Breema Bodywork, I saw that many of its Nine Principles are similar to concepts and experiences of Educational Kinesiology—for instance, our practice of nonjudgmental noticing and the quality of body comfort available through the Got it! stage of the Learning Flow. We recently asked Andi to write this post on Breema for our readers, and we’re honored to share it with you.


Through its gentle, rocking movements, secure holds, and soothing strokes, the Breema Touch supports a recipient in feeling safe and relaxed.

Through its gentle, rocking movements, secure holds, and soothing strokes, the Breema Touch supports a recipient in feeling safe and relaxed.

For a parent, being present with your child without any agenda, even for short periods of time, is essential to that child’s development as a happy, secure human being. For many parents of young children, this is more easily said than done —whether due to the demands of a job, or of running a household, or both. But there’s a simple practice for nourishing both ourselves and our children, one that doesn’t require special dexterity or a great deal of time, called Breema Bodywork.®

Through the vehicle of touch, Breema brings about a harmonious state that’s comforting for both the giver and the receiver. Through its gentle, rocking movements, secure holds, and soothing strokes, the recipient comes to feel safe and relaxed. Rather than addressing specific ailments or conditions, Breema nourishes the whole person on many levels. Breema is guided and informed by nine universal principles, the Nine Principles of Harmony:

  • Body Comfortable
  • No Force
  • Firmness and Gentleness
  • Single Moment/Single Activity
  • No Judgment
  • Mutual Support
  • No Extra
  • Full Participation
  • No Hurry/No Pause
    While holding or playing with a child, I can look for my own “Body Comfortable” way of moving. Asking myself, “How amI right now?” is what distinguishes Breema from other somatic work. I can assess whether the child is comfortable by seeing if my own body is comfortable. With this, I become available to what the moment requires.


In the Breema touch there is “No Force.” It is this gentle quality that allows the recipient to let go of fears and anxieties—often held unconsciously—that restrict blood flow and the natural breathing rhythm. An example of the “Firmness and Gentleness” principle is found in the way that we hold a baby: we hold firmly enough so he feels secure, but gently enough so as not to cause discomfort. Being connected to one’s body is what gives us the qualities of firmness and gentleness.

Or I might be cutting vegetables for dinner when my little one tries to talk with me. If I remember the principle of “Single Moment/Single Activity” I can turn toward the child, make eye contact, and engage, before returning to my task.

Touch is often conditional, communicating an expectation or a preconception that something is wrong. That’s why being touched with “No Judgment” can be so revolutionary. According to the Breema Center‘s director, Jon Schreiber, D.C., “In receiving Breema, many individuals experience being unconditionally accepted for the first time in their life.“

Although we tend to think of childhood as a carefree time before the demands of higher education and earning a living come to the fore, children feel many unspoken pressures from parents, teachers, and peers. So, for them, the Breema touch—without agenda—is supremely nurturing.

Since 1999, Breema instructor Birthe Kaarsholm has taught a course that she calls “Baby Moves” at the East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante, California, for children three months old through toddler age. In this weekly class, parents and infants come together in a way that exemplifies the Breema principle of “Mutual Support.” Parents get down on the floor with their young ones and mimic the developmental stages that take place during the first year of life: lying supine, creeping and crawling, rolling, sitting, standing upright, balancing . . . success!

Parents get down on the floor with their young ones and mimic developmental stages from the first year of life: lying supine, creeping, crawling, and more.

Parents get down on the floor with their young ones and mimic developmental stages from the first year of life: lying supine, creeping, crawling, and more.

Birthe reminds us that each new stimulation babies receive gets expressed through movement. We can easily observe that babies live in the present by how connected they are with their body. These littlest of teachers, with full concentration and ease of movement, point the way toward greater mobility and freedom of expression.

Receiving Breema from a certified practitioner, Kaarsholm affirms, can be wonderful for anyone, and especially for new parents as they adapt to the rhythms and needs of a baby in the home. It can also be therapeutic for mothers and babies where there’s been a long labor or other complications during the birth process. While, in fact, Breema can help support digestive functioning and reduce colic, this gentle work does not set out to fix or address specific conditions.

We can come into our body simply by experiencing our weight as we sit or stand, or by observing the breath as we inhale and exhale, allowing it to have its own natural rhythm. Being attentive in this way gives us greater access to our common sense and intuition as we go about our daily activities.

The Breema Center was founded by Jon Schreiber, who, having completed his Doctor of Chiropractic degree, felt that a more holistic approach was needed to support and maintain vital energy in the body. In 1980, along with a core group of individuals, he began a search for that support, and today this bodywork system, with its practical tools for becoming more present and available to life, is taught worldwide.

A full Breema session usually lasts an hour or more, but even just practicing for several minutes is profoundly nurturing; no real dexterity is required. Self-Breema exercises are another aspect of Breema. These are simple movement sequences done for oneself, using the Breema Principles as a support for being present.

To get more acquainted with the Breema touch or to further explore the variety of sequences that exist in both Breema Bodywork and Self-Breema, the support of a qualified instructor is necessary. To learn about classes and practitioners near you, go to

Andi GibbAndrea Gibb has over 10 years experience in Breema Bodywork. She lives in Ventura, California, where she teaches Breema and has a private Breema practice. She was trained and certified at the Breema Center in Oakland, California, and formerly worked with mothers and children at Nextdoor Solutions, a safe house in San Jose.



Photo Credits: Breema photos courtesy of the Breema Center
Image of mother and child: ID 29873604 © Alena Ozerova |

Barefootin’ – Gill Connell

Barefoot 5In a world seemingly obsessed with carefulness these days, one of the things I fear is getting lost is the joy of going barefoot, and along with it all the benefits. For little ones, getting and staying in touch with their feet is important. Here’s why . . . Barefoot 4

Five Great Reasons to Go Barefoot!

1. BODY MAPPING. Babies aren’t born with a sense of their own body, and in fact, don’t even realize they have hands and feet for a while. The way they find out is through feeling them, tasting them, and putting them to good (and mischievous!) use. Little ones who have their feet stuffed into footed onesies, slippers, socks, and/or shoes, all day and night run the risk of never truly getting to know their toes.
2. STRENGTH. Feet have a big job everyday holding our weight. Wearing shoes and socks provides support but also takes some of the responsibility off of the muscles in the feet. Going barefoot is the most natural way to keep feet in tip-top shape!
3. ADAPTABILITY. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for summer to run barefoot outdoors (as every kid did out in the country where we lived). But those first days were always a little hard on the feet. Softened up by the padding of socks, shoes, and indoor carpeting all winter, our feet had to toughen up. It hurt a little, but it was so worth it! Not only does going barefoot give kids a great sense of personal freedom, it teaches them a fundamental principle of independence — how to adapt to different situations — even the rocky ones.(Of course, city kids have it different I realize, so find a park if you can. And remember, going barefoot around the house has many of the same benefits.)
4. CONFIDENCE. When children feel their steps directly, they are much better able to understand the intricacies of even the trickiest terrain and navigate it more adeptly. This is true for flat surfaces as well as inclines. Indeed, shoes tend to slip when children climb on playground equipment, while feet are naturally designed to provide sensitive traction, and toes flex to give us better grip.
5. CONNECTEDNESS. Feet are our connection to the earth. They are where we meet gravity. Which makes me wonder. Could our modern image of ourselves be upside down? What would the world be like if we believed we begin in our feet and end in our minds?Barefoot 2
In gratitude to Mum and Dad for all those well-grounded, barefooted, gone fishin’ summers.
Banner - Barefeet
Take my word for it. Go to ITunes and download the 1966 hit song Barefootin’ by Robert Taylor. Then throw off those socks and shoes and show everybody what dancin’ feet can do!
By Robert Parker
Nola Records, 1966
Everybody get on your feet.
You make me nervous when you in your seat,
Take off your shoes and pat your feet,
We’re doin a dance that can’t be beat!
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin’,
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin’,
Went to a party the other night,
Long Tall Sally was out of sight
Threw way her wig, and her high sneakers too,
She was doin a dance without any shoes
She was barefootin’, She was barefootin’,
She was barefootin’, She was barefootin’,
Hey little gal with the red dress on,
I bet you can barefoot all night long
Take off your shoes and throw them away,
Come back and get them another day
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin’,
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin’,
Lil John Henry he said to Sue,
If I was barefootin’ would you barefoot too
Sue told John, “I’m thirty two,
I was barefootin ever since I was two
They was barefootin’, they was barefootin’
They was barefootin”, we barefootin’
We barefootin’ we barefootin’
We barefootin’ we barefootin’
We barefootin’ we barefootin’
We don’t have no shoes on
Gill Connell is the founder of MOVING SMART, co-author with Cheryl McCarthy of Moving To Learn and, just released, G&C in Play TentA Moving Child Is a Learning Child. A teacher of teachers, parents, and young children, Gill is a child development expert with a unique area of focus on the natural development of children’s cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development through movement. Click here for more information.

(c) 2013 Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy; reprinted with permission

Photos (c) 2013 Gill Connell

Neurodiversity, Play, and the so-called ADHD Child

Thomas Armstrong - Cropped (eSpeakers)(1)This blog post was written for Hearts at Play by educator Thomas Armstrong, whose innovative work we’ve advocated for many years. On his own site he adds: The Dennison’s are the co-founders of Brain Gym® which has helped so many kids with learning difficulties achieve success in school, home, and life. I am happy to connect with them on this very important topic of the misdiagnosis of millions of children as ADHD:

In May of this year, the American Psychiatric Association released a new revision of its “sacred text”—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—used by mental health professionals, insurance companies, HMOs, and other power brokers in determining whether a person has a psychiatric disorder.

In the DSM – 5, they have expanded the criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to include children who began showing symptoms of ADHD as late as twelve years old (the previous criterion was seven years old). This is going to open the floodgates for many more children to be identified as ADHD, and millions will be diagnosed and stigmatized with a negative label (the label has three negative words in it: deficit, hyperactivity, and disorder).

While it’s true that these kids do have neurological differences when compared to typically developing children, these are developmental differences only. The best research we have suggests that the brains of kids labeled ADHD mature on average three years later than the norm (Shaw et al., 2007).

This finding from neuroscience makes sense. Kids diagnosed with ADHD generally seem to act younger than their years. Among other things, they’re more playful than kids their own age. The larger question here should be: Is this such a bad thing? Play, after all, is one of the most important activities that human beings engage in. Great scientists, artists, and thinkers have frequently compared their own creative process to that of children at play.

When children play, they inhabit the fertile world between actuality and possibility. They take something that is from their own fantasy (say, a trip to the moon) and combine it with something real in their environment (perhaps an empty cardboard box), and out of that encounter they create something new (like a “rocket ship”). This is the creative process. And the fact that kids diagnosed with ADHD hold on to this playfulness for a longer period of time than the average child should be regarded as a mark of strength, not disability.

Recently, I’ve been writing and lecturing on the topic of neurodiversity, and I think this new idea is tailor-made for making sense of the abilities of so-called ADHD children. Neurodiversity says that we should look at brain differences such as ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism in the same way that we regard diversity in nature or diversity in culture. Instead of using a disease-based paradigm focused on deficits, we should be using a strength-based approach that regards these kids as part of the wonderful diversity of life.

This approach puts the emphasis on the positive. In this instance, it places the focus on the playfulness, curiosity, imagination, and other childlike characteristics that kids with ADHD seem to hold on to for a longer period of time than “neurotypical”’ kids. There’s actually a term that’s useful for describing this youthfulness: neoteny. It means “holding youth’” and refers to people who act younger than their age. Eminent thinkers like Harvard University evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and Princeton University anthropologist Ashley Montagu have pointed out that neoteny is a positive evolutionary step in humanity. It’s the direction toward which evolution is moving. These children identified as ADHD are not disabled; they’re actually the vanguard of our species!

With play being under attack these days from a culture steeped in too much technology (kids sitting in front of a screen instead of out playing cops and robbers), too much testing in the schools (tests don’t reward students for creativity or playfulness), and too much fear of litigation (playgrounds are getting more and more minimal because of fears of lawsuits), we need the playfulness of kids to renew us, to keep us flexible, to bring us alive. It’s only a testament to the times we live in that we take the very children who are the most alive and playful, slap a medical label on them, and say they have a disorder.

The disorder is in our culture, folks, not in these children. We need a paradigm shift so that children who are being labeled ADHD can be recognized for the amazing kids that they really are. We should take the cue from them and learn to be more playful in our own lives, whatever our age. We should regard these kids not as disordered but as wonderfully diverse children who can wake us up from our dogmatic slumbers and transform the society in which we live.


Shaw, P., et al. “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is characterized by a delay in cortical maturation.’’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 4, 2007, Vol. 104 No. 49, pp.19649–19654.

Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., is the director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development and the author of 15 books, including Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life. You’ll find more information on his website. You’re welcome to contact Thomas with your response to this article at


5 Tips for Setting Your Child up for Success in School

With the school year underway, it’s time to think about helping our children be as successful as they can be. That includes resisting the temptation either to push children beyond their means so they fear never meeting up to expectations or to neglect staying involved so they feel unimportant. In other words, it means meeting your child where he is—be it deep in anxiety and school resistance or excited for new challenges.

Meeting our children in the present is often the toughest job for a parent. Fears keep us setting expectations for the child we want rather than the child we have. Fully accepting what the situation is puts us in a more influential place.

In my book Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With, one principle states, “Behavior is your clue.”  Behavior is what we have to tell us how our children are doing—whether or not they feel in balance with themselves and their world. When a child feels balanced, her internal needs are met and her behavior reflects that balance. When a child is behaving unacceptably, it signals an unmet need.In other words, the child is having a problem not being a problem.

When we use external motivators like sticker charts and prizes or withdrawing privileges and isolation to try to motivate “good” behavior, we ignore the cause of the behavior, the underlying motive. We simply manipulate behavior. So unless a child is already in balance or will do what you want to get the prize, the behavior management trick will not work; at least not for long.

Another principle in my book is, “All children want to be successful.” This means all children are born intrinsically motivated to please the most important people in their lives and to do the right thing—no matter what. Rewards and punishments ask them to ignore their natural, intrinsic motivation and shift focus to external motivators because we don’t have the patience for, or the understanding of, their developmental and temperamental needs. We simply ask the child to ignore his needs to meet ours. Hence we set them up to be unsuccessful.

In order for success in school:

1. Be considerate of the match between your child and the school environment. Don’t force a square pegs into a round hole. Sometimes changing the environment and its expectations can strongly affect the child’s behavior.

2. Advocate. If your child cannot be placed in the ideal environment, these two principles can keep you focused on how to lobby for your child’s best chance at success.

3. Remember that children do well when they can. Don’t get stuck in the traditional perception that disruptive behavior is on purpose, disrespectful, or oppositional. If your child is not doing well, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to, it means she can’t. Her behavior will tell you.

4. Set expectations considerate of your child’s temperamental, neurological, and developmental needs. Do not assume you can change your child’s innate biology to suit you or the school.

5. Do not use or endorse external motivators. Manipulating behavior encourages children to answer to extrinsic cues – you may get the behavior you want but only as long as the cue is present and feared or desired. Punishment increases internal, unmet needs, and rewards work only as long as the external cue is desirable. After awhile the child loses trust in her own internal cues.

School behavior problems often stem from a child’s conflict between their own intrinsic regulators and the expectations of the setting the child is placed in. A child needing activity and stimulation does not do well where he is expected to sit still for long periods of time. An introvert who needs solitude and calm has a hard time in a roomful of rambunctious children.

Nothing makes a child happier than to perform well and meet expectations. Make sure those expectations are set for success and are not a setup for failure.

What have you noticed about your child’s school setting? What are the expectations based on the setting? Does it fit your child’s personality?
Bonnie Harris

Bonnie Harris, MS Ed, the director of Connective Parenting and a parenting specialist for twenty-five years, is known for her pioneering mindset shift out of the reward and punishment model to that of a connected relationship. She received her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York City. In 1990, she founded The Parent Guidance Center in New Hampshire. Based on her book, When Your Kids Push Your Buttons, Bonnie teaches Buttons parent workshops and professional trainings internationally. Her second book Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With distills her groundbreaking work into 8 key principles and practical strategies. She has appeared on The Today Show, Asia News, ABC Australia broadcast among others and has been featured in Parenting, Parents, Good Housekeeping, Essence, and Working Mother magazines. Bonnie is the mother of two grown children and lives with her husband in New Hampshire. To learn more —

Play: The Intrinsic Motivation for Childhood Learning

Randal A. McChesney


Everywhere I travel in my work in teacher education, serious questions arise about how to motivate children to learn and inspire them to treat each other with respect, regard, and dignity. Increasingly, these questions reveal helplessness and near desperation on the part of adults stymied in their contact with children. Whether wealthy, of moderate means, or disadvantaged, it seems we have somehow become bewildered, even afraid, when our children exhibit uneven or inadequate effort and motivation as they present themselves for schooling. What is most worrisome is that we seem to have reached for the most disparate and desperate of solutions, making any national approach to solving the problem nearly out of reach.

The problem is scarcely new. Tomes of information and opinion exist about motivation and effort. Alfie Kohn, Brafman and Brafman, Jane Healy, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Dr. Bruce Perry, Pintrich and Schunk . . . the list of those reporting the problem and posing ways to think about and solve the situation is lengthy and impressive. The views coalesce around three important and difficult-to-address conclusions:

1) The problem generally orients from the earliest years of childhood.

2) While such external rewards as over-praise, payment for achievement, or other coercive structures are alluring when immediately successful, these strategies can be ultimately addictive (Brafman and Brafman, 2009, et. al.).

3) External incentive can seriously undermine resiliency when children are faced with hard challenges or need to develop a life orientation other than one-upmanship or outright greed. Empathy, kindness, cooperation in group tasks, etc., constitute a more effective response to situations in which external reward cannot or ought not to be a goal.

The problem may be best revealed by those who are beyond schooling. I live in a high-density Microsoft/ area of Seattle. It is not uncommon for me to attend seminars or engage in casual conversations at the University of Washington regarding the state of workplace ethics and behavior. Across the board in work environments where demand for team thinking and cooperation is high comes this complaint from managers, human resource directors, and hiring executives: more and more young workers expect higher pay for less work, overestimate their workplace effort, are too apt to cut corners to get ahead, and, when asked to spend extra hours of work in accomplishing tasks, often ask, “What will I get for doing so?”

One software giant’s upper-division manager recently opined (referring to his young new hires), “They come from school wanting to know: ‘How soon can I get to a top-dollar job, and who do I meet to start that process?’ It’s a remarkable and unusual person who asks, instead, ‘What value can I add to this company (which might produce the salary I’m seeking)?’”

Back in school, debates are now raging over paying children with food, points for rewards, or, in the extreme, money for basic, considerate behavior once expected as a matter of human interaction, impulse management, or effort on tasks and tests. More than a few families these days offer monetary rewards for grades. And, as a trusted colleague and teaching friend reported to me, a school psychologist recently asked her elementary school faculty, “If you would not go to work without being paid, why would you go to school?”

The answer, obvious as it is, is not the subject of this article (although perhaps it ought to be). The benefits of social and work apprenticeship in societal status recognition are long-documented in anthropological research. When we examine the habits of the most effective learners (not necessarily the most gifted, talented, wealthy, etc.), it is apparent from the research that motivation is completely aligned with the habits of effective learning. Think of it as a sort of hierarchy, a pyramid.

Atop the pyramid is achievement. Whether in a grade, an ability to monitor one’s interactions with others, or the garnering of a coveted job, achievement for most of us is the result of sustained motivation over time and over distractions. Motivation is the sub-tier girder for transporting us in our achievement arc, whether it is to get home in a blizzard or find a way to get someone to be our friend. We succeed, we fail, we take a large step here, a small step there. The process can take hours, days, weeks, or years, depending on us, what we’re seeking to do, and how effective our strategies to get there are. Emotion, by the way, plays a very significant, and often ignored, prime-time role in our motivation, and is fascinating to explore and start to understand. Think of motivation as a sustaining wind blowing our attempts forward over the time we take to try to achieve any goal.

The infrastructure for effective achievement does not stop with motivation, however. Underpinning all sustained motivation is effort: the ability to add emotional, physical, mental, and willful “oomph” to our attempts to accomplish what we want. Sustained effort is the sure foundation upon which consistent motivation is built. And it is here, in the moment-by-moment, day-by-day orientation to tackling the tasks, distractions, failures, successes, and challenges of our lives, that we have the opportunity to build the “muscle” for our life-span achievement.

It is here that the brain-based research is perhaps the most clear on at least two points:

  • Motivation is most predictable, most assuredly available to us, when we most need it (as in those really hard-to-manage tasks and situations), and least roller-coastered when it comes from within us as an “interior locus of control” (Pintrich and Schunk). In simple terms, we are set up, from our earliest experiences of crawling around on the floor and reaching for everything in sight as we crawl, to do what we do for the sake of doing it first and being “paid” for it later—as a result of our effort and motivation not as a means of securing it. Again, we benefit from an abundance of life-span situations where appreciating experiences and achievements for their own intrinsic value is an assumption in our lives.
  • Our motivation is best supported when we believe that effort, rather than natural or innate talent, helps us accomplish things. If we learn from the earliest age that immediately adding effort to anything not easy for us to get is likely to get us through (“If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up; you can do it!”), we are far more predictable and reliable partners when the going gets tough. It also tends to make us tougher when the going gets tough (resiliency), and more likely to act altruistically in situations where doing the right thing may, in fact, cost us something.

Achievement over our life-span is best assured—particularly in tasks that don’t lend themselves to being “paid” (leadership quality, teamwork, sharing and building on ideas, tasks requiring an emotional component or sympathy/empathy)—when we are used to feeling self-satisfaction that we did our best, that we will keep trying when things get hard, and that we can—and should—call on others for help when we can’t pull the load alone.

Where, then, does the research point us in securing this for our children from their earliest years? Play. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has encountered the play state in children. Every single, solitary characteristic of play (visible, by the way, in fMRI images, if you require such evidence) points to effective motivation and effort orientation. And play draws us inevitably into situations in which we “do stuff” simply for the reward of enjoying how it turned out (think: building a sand castle at the beach or your local sand-pile, hiking to the very top of that hill over there, walking around the block two extra laps, taking in the neighbor’s garbage can, saying “I’m sorry” first), time and time again. In fact, this is the very definition of play.

Many of us are bewildered by play: How do we do it? What good is play in teaching children anything? The answer to the first question is simple: observe a child who is at a beach or in a sand box, or who has just appropriated an unused cardboard box (TV turned off, please). Sit back, watch, and wonder . . .

Play is also, to a certain degree, a learned behavior. We actually get better at play by playing with others who really know their stuff. There are high-quality groups expert at promoting and provoking childhood play: I would start with the Brain Gym program and our own work with Education Through Music (, among others. These resources are steeped in the understanding of play, provide high-quality experiences in genuine play for children across ages and cultures in America, and, most important for me, are nonprofit in their orientation. Think of it as “playing” even at business!

The second question, What good is play in teaching children anything? is highly common in a culture of quid pro quo such as ours increasingly becomes. This question, of course, generally misses the crucial developmental nature of play itself. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that the answer is also well documented (start with Stuart Brown’s Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul). The vast neural architecture each child is building for a lifetime of achievement and societal import demands a deeply respectful response to both its complexity and its enormous possibility. The role of play in this cannot be overstated . . . and is, for now, a conversation for another time.

© 2013 by Randal McChesney. All Rights Reserved.


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