As an integral part of Waldorf Education, our well-rounded curriculum takes into account the whole student and the times in which they are developing. Our High School Wellness Instructor Kristine Wolcott often leads students in yoga, mindfulness, and reflection exercises to help them find equilibrium among the rigor of academic challenges. Below she offers the SFWS community her five pillars of wellness to assist in restoring energy and regenerating health during these summer months.
Dear Beloved Community,
It is my sincere hope that we are all able to use these summer weeks and months to rest, recalibrate, and revitalize. What a year it has been!
The questions that guided my work, even before the SARS-CoV-2 virus took hold of our global consciousness, remain. How do we, as educators and parents, maintain the certainty of purpose that the wellbeing of our children must be the central focus—even if this means a deviation from the mainstream narrative? How do we uphold the highest ideals of equanimity, inclusivity, humility, reverence, and compassion in our own community when faced with times of uncertainty?
The good news is that our planet and our bodies have stunning regenerative capacities. More good news: we can refer to a tried and true blueprint for human wellness. Ancient and indigenous wisdom traditions, contemporary neuroscience, quantum physics, cosmology, mycelium, and mycorrhizae—all of these shine a light on this fundamental truth: we are interdependent, connected to all that is.
What are protocols that yield inner equilibrium and beget wellness? What are protective factors that are informed by the understanding of the impacts of adversity and trauma, that ultimately build resilience and healing transformation?
Here is my working list, my top Five Pillars of Wellness.
Breath: In his book Breath, the New Science of a Lost Art, James Nestor writes that breath is “the most centrally integrating motor behavior,” modulating the circadian, cognitive, and emotional states. Simply bringing awareness to the four parts of the breath process—the inhalation, the momentary retention at the top of the breath, the nasal exhalation, and the momentary pause at the bottom of the breath—shifts us out of the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze stress response) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, relax). There are thousands of techniques that can be practiced, but this simple one-breath meditation does the trick.
Movement: Human bodies are meant to move—every day and throughout the day. Our modern lifestyle, especially here in the west where we love to sit in chairs for long periods, is quite suboptimal. A sedentary lifestyle happens to be a major health risk. John Ratey, M.D. describes the transformation that occurs in the body and brain when one engages in physical activity in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) promotes neurogenesis. BDNF is generated by exercise. Worth noting: exercise can be anything —walking, swimming, dancing, gardening, climbing, or playing. Anything that gets the body moving is therapeutic. Bonus: movement optimizes lymphatic function—essential for detoxification and overall health.
Rhythm: Dr. Matthew Walker is a sleep specialist and the founder-director at UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science. His book Why We Sleep is a must-read for anyone interested in human health and wellness. Sleep helps us deal with stress, solve problems, physically heal, improve immune health and motor skills, consolidate memories, and increase synaptic connections. Establishing a healthy routine with sleep as a central component is a non-negotiable part of health.
Nourishment: Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Prolific author and journalist Michael Pollan writes, "Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much." The old proverb states, "You are what you eat." Eating locally and seasonally while supporting farmers that practice regenerative agriculture is optimum for our health and the health of the planet. I encourage the students in my Wellness classes to "eat the rainbow." Many families already prioritize family mealtimes—a worthy goal whenever possible. Interestingly, research shows that this is a significant predictor of positive outcomes in adulthood.
Connection: This is especially relevant now, after more than a year of being in lockdown mode and isolated. The collateral damage of these restrictions—however justified or unjustified they were is just beginning to be seen and understood. The mental health impacts of being cut off from each other and from our foundational senses (touch, life, movement) are real and alarming, particularly among teenagers and young adults. We are social beings, built for community. Everything we can do to restore our connection to one another and to the earth ought to be a top priority. Richard Louv, Mark Bekoff, and many others call for a New Nature Movement. They speak of the need for us to become (re)enchanted with the natural world so that we may become more compassionate and reconnect with our own innate goodness. In doing so, we maximize the potential of nature to enhance our minds, our personal and societal vibrancy, and our individual and collective resilience. Our ancestors knew this. It's time to start walking barefoot on the beach, laying our bodies on the grass, and hugging trees. Bonus: negative ions found in nature (most potent at the ocean, in mountains, forests, and around waterfalls) have a profoundly positive and healing effect on the human body.
There are likely no great newsflashes here. What we can take away is a bit of inspiration and the knowing that tender-loving-kindness, self-care, and care for each other and the planet is the foundational impulse that will guide us beyond what has been a difficult, disorienting, and destabilizing time. We can find strength in our community—engaging all voices and honoring all perspectives—as we strive together with our shared purpose: to educate our children towards vibrant health and well-being.
With a deep bow,
Kristine Wolcott is a longtime educator who has taught for more than 25 years in public and independent schools, as well as clinical settings that serve at-risk and incarcerated youth and provide community mental health support services. She has a Master's degree in Education and Learning support and has certifications in the areas of integrative nutrition, the Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), yoga, sensory-somatic movement modalities, environmental education, and martial arts and is part of the U.S. Waldorf Emergency Pedagogy team. The mother of two Waldorf graduates, she is currently working on her Ph.D. in Education and Transformative Studies with a focus on trauma, resilience, wellness, and healing.