This is the story of how YW began...
When nothing else seems to work…
In 2009, we were running Integra Mindfulness Martial Arts (MMA) with teenagers learning Mindfulness, yoga, and martial arts as a form of therapy. It was a successful, innovative, and effective mental health treatment that has expanded and continues to run at our “Klub Integra” dojo (training hall) in mid-town Toronto to this day.
But, a large portion of our clients at Integra — 8-11 year olds with Learning Disabilities and Mental Health challenges (LD/MH) — either could not keep up with MMA’s serious and rigorous training regime, or they refused to even give it a try. Not surprising, given these same boys and girls struggled in school, and refused to engage actively in conventional therapy (individually or with their parents).
Starting from scratch…
Wanting to help these kids to learn the Emotion Regulation (ER) skills they lacked and needed to engage with everything else, we decided to start over and rethink everything we knew about this age group and even the way we (successfully) taught martial arts and Mindfulness to teens.
Our Critical Discoveries…
Testing the waters with pilot programs and multiple feedback evaluations in the first 2 years, we discovered the following about our 8-11 year old clients:
- There is a powerful intrigue towards MARTIAL ARTS, as well as, a lot of concerns about getting hurt, being too weak to do it, not being good enough, getting bored and being yelled out by teachers.
- Engaging activities need to be EXCITING and very COMPELLING — like a video game (which is what they spend more time focusing on than on their parents or school).
- The Mindfulness needs to be made more EASY, QUICK, and APPLICABLE to any context!
- TESTS and CHALLENGES need to occur often to keep their attention and drive them away from boredom or frustration towards optimal learning and eventual skill MASTERY.
- There needs to be FUN! If it ain’t fun, they won’t do it for long and they certainly won’t remember what they did!
- PARENTS and CAREGIVERS need to be integrated into the program — especially those who are estranged and disconnected from their kids — because learning to regulate our emotions happens both internally (through practice of skills) and externally (through positive attachment experiences with others).
Continual learning and improvement….
Over the years, we’ve continued to take feedback and to continually improve the program. We’ve completed two years of research to validate some of the gains parents and kids have been telling us about. We have a very popular volunteer program, attracting some of the most promising clinicians and educators to learn and train with us. We have also been consulting with schools about how to best translate what we teach (making Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation more skills fun, easy, and applicable) into their classrooms.
2016 and Beyond….
And, recently, we have been training 15 new “Senseis” (YW Instructors) while launching a pilot project of integrating YW in 6 schools in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. This project is a collaboration between a number of Mental Health agencies and the school board, involving both teachers and clinicians working together to deliver YW to some of the kids who need it the most, right in the classrooms. Find out more here.