Megan McWilliams, School Social Worker

Megan McWilliams, LCSW, MPH spent 10 years as a school social worker before the pandemic closed her Austin Independent School District Elementary school for in person learning. Prior to the pandemic, Megan had incorporated Yoga Ed.’s trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness tools into her individual and group work with students. Never were the tools more needed than when the pandemic upended life as we knew it.

“This was the first time I experienced collective trauma along with my students. There is no training for how to live during a pandemic and meet the needs of students at the same time.”

Calm Amidst the Chaos

Working with youth in times of uncertainty has been extremely difficult. Megan felt the weight of not being able to provide students with any assurances or information on how the school year will look. The yoga tools provided a sense of calm amidst the chaos. “Leaning into the mindful practice of focusing on the present moment helped me stay centered so I could be available for students’ needs.” Seeing the benefit in her own ability to stay grounded and present, Megan incorporated more yoga tools in her work with students. “Breathing can seem so basic, but in times of high stress it is an essential resource. Regulating our breath helps regulate our nervous system which impacts our ability to function.”

Bringing Back Joy

Additionally, the yoga tools bring much needed attention to the physical body. “From preschoolers to teens I saw an appreciation for the chance to move the body in the therapy space. Creating accessible, mindful movements provides an opportunity to develop self awareness and a break from the stagnation of virtual learning. ” Yoga brings a sense of joy and play back to students’ days, two feelings particularly difficult to access during these times.

“The smiles I received after practicing lion breath or tree pose were a reminder that students need a chance to still act like a kid, even if the worries of the world are heavy.”

Building community and connection has become central to Megan’s work with youth. In group settings, creating the opportunity to play a yoga game or share how they are feeling with each other was extremely valuable. “The feelings of isolation and disconnection are valid. I saw students who never spoke up in a virtual group session participate in a freeze dance style yoga game. Their affect changed so even if they don’t say it with words, I can see it in their face and body language that they are feeling better, even for a moment.” Accessible, trauma-informed yoga tools provided Megan’s students with the opportunity to reach a feeling or sensation that words cannot describe, or students may not yet have the words for.

Caring for the Caregivers

Another role Megan found herself filling was supporting teachers and staff. “In a consultation about a student I could hear the concern and the fatigue from teachers.” Being on the frontlines of a mental health crisis has not been easy and certainly not what teachers signed up for. Seeing similar stressors in her students; uncertainty, health and safety concerns, and burnout, Megan advocated for resources and support to teachers and staff. “We know things aren’t working right now and new challenges require new types of support.” Prioritizing access to yoga and mindfulness tools for teachers not only allows them to teach these to their students, but also allows teachers to hold space for themselves.

“I know first hand how overwhelming it can be to be present for the pain and struggles of others. It’s not realistic to expect anyone to be able to do this job right now without support.”

Similarly to her work with students, Megan recognizes that breathing and yoga poses do not solve problems. The current challenges in schools can feel insurmountable. When we are overwhelmed by our feelings one of the best tools we can use is our breath. It won’t change what’s happening, but it can change how we feel.

“When we feel better in our minds and bodies we are better able to show up for others. Showing up, fully present for another human being is an incredible gift during these difficult times.

Learn more about Yoga Ed.’s Mindful Movement Program for student, teacher, and whole-school wellness today. 

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