Over the course of several months, Ana B. ’21 worked tirelessly to create and deliver a mindfulness program to young children in her home city of Araçatuba, Brazil. The program, How To Train Your Dragons, is designed for children between the ages of eight and twelve to learn and practice inner stillness and mindfulness. Throughout the program, Ana collected data via human behavior scales that is on track to be published in the coming months as a scientific study with Unifesp, the Federal University of San Paulo.
Ana’s journey with mindfulness began when she was a junior at The Hun School, and she explains that the experience was not always an easy one, but the reward has been well-worth the obstacles she faced along the way.
“Last year, when I came to Hun, I had an extremely hard time adjusting to the new life, routine, schedule, and culture that I was living,” she said. “I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone I didn’t know what to do, and so when virtual school began and I was back home I knew it would be the right time for me to begin finding new and healthy ways for me to cope with the stress I was feeling.”
Ana notes that during this time, she often thought to herself that if she had practiced mindfulness and established healthy routines at a young age she would have been able to handle life’s challenges a lot differently, which is why she created a program focused specifically on younger kids.
Based on the popular movie, “How To Train Your Dragon”, Ana used dragons as a metaphor for different feelings and emotions. Throughout the program, students were challenged to fully understand their dragons, how they feel them, where they feel them, and what they do to train them. For example, Ana explains that when she feels angry, she often feels a hot sensation around her neck and to combat that feeling, she drinks a cold glass of water.
“My favorite part of this program was seeing young children begin to understand where their feelings are coming from, why they are feeling them, and figuring out what works best for them in terms of creating a positive experience.”
In just a few short weeks, Ana’s program took off; she began working with seventy-five students and her program caught the attention of an expert in the field, Dr. Marcelo Demarzo, founder of Mindfulness Brasil and professor and researcher in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Unifesp.
Dr. Demarzo began mentoring Ana throughout the program, providing essential tools to collect research and track progress.
“Having Dr. Demarzo as an advisor through this process has been such an honor,” Ana said. “He gave me these human behavior scales that I could give out to the parents and kids in the program so they could track their progress and I could use it as data and proof that my program works. These scales, along with the activities I created for the program will be published as scientific research.”
Recently, Ana has created a Mindfulness club at Hun where she shares her favorite practices and offers tips and feedback on how to deal in stressful situations:
“Because mindfulness flipped my life upside down in the best way possible, I want to do whatever I can to share so others can learn how to cope with really difficult situations too,” she said. “Some of my favorite practices include doing body scans while stretching and changing my scenery when I am feeling a little bit off; I figure if I can’t change what I’m feeling on the inside, I can at least change what’s happening on the outside.”
Currently, Ana is in the midst of college applications and plans to move forward with the publication after all applications are completed; she also plans to create a second part of the program once the college process is finished. Next year, Ana hopes to attend University of Colorado Boulder and study psychology with a pre-med track with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist.