Alexander stood towering over Joey, his 6 foot frame stretched and reaching, fist balled over Joey’s cowering head. Everyone was looking at them frozen in this position.
The fourth and fifth grade students were spread around the classroom standing up wondering what was coming next. They had just twisted their bodies to demonstrate the states of passivity and aggression.
“Everyone, stand like a soldier at attention—like this,” I demonstrated. “Put your legs and feet together, chest up, back straight…I’m going to come around and see if how strong you are.”
The students smiled and then giggled as one by one, I lightly pushed on their shoulders and they lost their balance. Some would have fallen over if I hadn’t put counter pressure on the other shoulder.
The boys and girls stand around shuffling as they realize they aren’t alone and that everyone was unstable in the soldier position.
“OK, now let’s try it a different way. Spread your feet apart, up to a foot’s worth.”
The teacher and I went around adjusting the stances even wider, especially with the girls.
“Now, take a deep breath, let it out, stand up straight and roll your shoulder up and back,” I instructed. “Don’t hold your breath, keep breathing naturally. You should be standing straight, but also be relaxed. Bend your knees slightly, so that they aren’t locked. “
Again, we assisted the students in adjusting their positions.
“Let’s take a deep breath all together and as we breathe out let’s imagine we are pushing the air all the down into the ground below us. Pretend that you have roots coming out of the bottom of your feet, just like a large tree. These roots extend down for at least six feet. As you breathe you are pushing those strong roots down even further.”
As I was talking, I began circling the room. “As I come around, I am going to see if I can move you out of your spot again, just like last time. Let’s see if there is any difference.”
One by one, the students easily stood strong while I firmly pushed against their shoulders. Large smiles were my reward as they realized that they were able to stand strong against my pressure.
“Ah , see how strong you are Julie? Like a rock. There is no moving you!”
Then, I came to a boy that wasn’t able to stand firm. “We are trying to figure out why Rogelio is moving,” the teacher explained. “We think it is because he is still breathing from his chest.”
“Yes, Rog, your breath needs to go deep; all the way down to the end of those super long imaginary roots.” As he changed his breathing he was much steadier in his stance.
“Boys and girls, you just learned about grounding yourself in your strength. This is a position you can put yourself in anytime you want to feel powerful, but calm at the same time. This is your place of strength that is not based on anger or aggression. Also, you aren’t pretending to be strong, standing like a soldier, you really ARE strong.”
Every time, I do this exercise with students (as young as kindergarten), they love to see the transformation as they see they aren’t toppled over by me. And I push against them pretty hard when they are in the grounded position.
Learning the difference between deep strength and the look of strength ties in with the social-emotional lessons on assertiveness versus passivity or aggression. The kids discover how their bodies react in various situations, finding out how that feels with the energy in their bodies, as various hormones and arousal actions take place. The rush of adrenaline-laced power juxtaposes itself against the centered unmovable power that still allows them the use of their critical thinking skills.
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