I’m very excited to kick off this brand-new series of mindfulness expert interviews with two truly amazing and caring Brazilian mindfulness teachers.
The sisters Andréa and Hélade Cappai are on a mission to use mindfulness to empower children, youth, parents, and teachers.
Continue reading to get great ideas for a smart practice with kids and to find out how Andréa and Hélade discovered their own mindfulness practice during a difficult time in their lives.
I’ve known them for a few years and admire them tremendously. They are intelligent, warm and passionate, and they have taught me an important lesson about the importance of imagination and play in teaching children mindfulness.
So, I’m thrilled to have the chance to learn more from Andréa and Hélade today.
Okay, let’s get this interview started :-)
Q: You have this amazing mindfulness school called Mindful Academy. Please tell me more about it.
In fact, Mindful Academy is not a school, it is a Project. We teach kids, teachers and parents, mindfulness. We teach all ages, starting from 2 years old. Mindful Academy was founded in 2017 to teach mindfulness to children, but we quickly expanded our mission to include teachers, school workers, and parents.
Q: What prompted you to begin practicing mindfulness in the first place? Was there a personal reason for this?
Hélade: Well, in my case I have always wanted to start meditating, but the time for it, never seemed to come. I got married and had 2 children (Artur, 9 and Giulia, 7), and as soon as they were born, a mother was born, but a woman (my woman side) died. I hadn´t realized it while it happened. When I look back, I can feel I had “died” and what brought my life back, was mindfulness.
I was feeling lost and unfocused. At this moment I felt, it was time to start meditating and I had heard about mindfulness and started doing it. A few months after I had started meditating, I felt peace in my heart. So, I thought to myself, if it is working for me, it´s going to work for my kids. After that, I researched about mindfulness for children and found lots of things I could do with them, and by the way, that is how we found Blissful Kids.
I talked to my sister Andréa, and we thought it would be a great idea to extend these teachings to other children, besides our kids. Andréa and I have been English teachers for more than 20 years and we had just sold our English school. We thought mindfulness would be a great way to continue working with education, but now with a wiser purpose. We teach at schools that can afford to pay us and we also teach for free, schools in need. As soon as we decided to work with Mindfulness, we took many courses to teach mindfulness: Mindful Schools (USA), MTI (Mindfulness Training International – Brazil), Workshop The Way of Awareness with Jon Kabat-Zinn (USA), among others.
Andréa: When I became a mum, I had a financial crisis, I was terrified that something wrong could happen to Miguel (8 years-old), and just watching TV made my heart beat faster… I knew I had to do something about it! I told our younger sister, Renata, who meditates for more than 10 years and I asked her: “I would like to start a meditation practice, but I can’t sit still with my back straight and not think about anything!” and she mentioned that there are many different types of meditation, but she particularly enjoys “mindfulness,” and she suggested that I look into it. And I fell in love with it since then. It’s been 5+ years now, that I practice daily.
Q: How do you put your mindfulness superpowers to use in your daily life?
Our main mindfulness superpower is remembering to take conscious breaths when we are frustrated, when we are angry…. or when motherhood take us off our tracks, we stop and reconnect with our breath.
Q: What would you practice if you could only practice one technique?
We both agree that body-scan is our favorite practice, and we do it every night before bed. We’d like to be clear that we don’t live together. It’s simply our connection.
Q: Why do you teach mindfulness to kids?
First, because kids are amazing. We love them!! And second, because if we can teach kids to learn mindfulness from an early age, we’re sure the world will be a better place, pretty soon.
Q: What are your favorite ways to practice mindfulness?
Our favorite mindfulness activities are the ones that involve movement. So, we ask students to move and go a little bit crazy, and in the end, we calm down and meditate – mindfulness of the movement. Brazilian kids are usually very hectic, so to make them calm down we should make them move first, it’s like giving them a bait. They bite the bait and then ´accept´ to calm down. One of my favorite activities is Moving Crazily: we usually ask students to move around in a crazy way, saying nonsense stuff, moving their arms and legs for one minute. When time is up, I ring a bell and invite students to sit down, put their hands in their hearts and feel their heartbeat calming down. They usually love it, because they do what they like most first: moving!
Chris: That’s so SMART!!! I love that!!!
Our second favorite activity is Starfish Breathing. Students open their hands and using the index finger of the other hand, they slide this finger around the fingers of the other hand, starting with the thumb and finishing with the little finger. When fingers go up, students breathe in and when they go down, they breath out. When it’s done, they slide the finger again from the little finger until the thumb. We love this activity, because you can do with all ages, starting from 2 years old.
Q: If you could teach just one activity or technique what would that be?
It would be to explain to the kids the importance of the breath, so teaching kids that they can use their breath whenever they need it. That is powerful!
Q: Is there a mindfulness technique or activity you like to do daily?
Well, we always start our classes breathing in and out 5 times and always ask my students to complete the sentence: Today I feel….
Q: What are the kids’ favourites?
The kids’ favourites are the animal breaths, including: the bee breath, the horse breath, the bunny breath, the lion breath and the dragon breath. Because they get really excited with these breaths and end making up other breaths, once a girl made up Elsa (Frozen) breath.
Q: What are the children’s perspectives on mindfulness?
Many kids in Brazil have never heard about mindfulness, they know only about meditation, because I think they see it in cartoons, once we explain what mindfulness is they end up realizing it is just like meditation. Most of them love doing the practices, a few of them don’t like doing the practices, and we respect their choice.
Q: How do you explain mindfulness to kids?
We tell them it’s something that can help them when they are sad or angry and it can help them perform better at school, at soccer practice, at a presentation…
Q: How do you help kids get interested in mindfulness?
Whenever we teach them, at the end of the class, we try to make a connection with their lives, and make them come up with ideas in which situations in their lives they can use mindfulness.
Q: Do you believe children can learn to practice on their own?
Without a doubt! We emphasize that they are the ones who can help themselves whenever they need, even if it’s when they go to bed, or before a test. But first, we have to do some practices with them regularly, and then we can always remind them that they can breathe attentively in difficult situations.
Q: Do you think kids can learn to apply mindfulness skills on their own and use them when they need it?
Yes, we always remind our kids to breathe before a test or a difficult situation in their lives, in our opinion we have to model it for them, and in baby steps, they learn it. When you least expect it, they apply what they’ve seen and learned. You know: monkey see, monkey do.
Q: Do you think mindfulness practice can be made an ongoing habit for kids and youth?
Absolutely! If you are a parent and you practice it at home with them, as we mentioned before, you have to keep your own practice and you probably have to practice with the child as well, or remind the child to do it. And if you are a teacher you have to do a practice everyday with your child. Both at home and at school, parents and teachers need to be mindful in their daily lives, because they are the role models. With the help of an adult, mindfulness can be made an ongoing habit for kids and youth.
Q: How do you deal with group dynamics and encourage children to concentrate and slow down?
The practices can’t be very long, unless they are playful, the more formal ones have to be very short and according to their age, otherwise they’ll get bored or start doing something else. We have to be very careful and sensitive with that matter.
Q: How do you deal with antsy children who refuse to cooperate?
We try to make sure that they can move if they want to. Even if it’s just paying attention to the breath, they can use the tik tok practice in which they can bounce to the sides while paying attention to the breath. And we also tell them if they don’t want to practice, that’s OK, but they can not disturb the other students.
Q: How does the tik tok practice work?
It works like this: when we say “tik” the kids bend to one side and when we say “tok” they have to be in the middle. We can make it faster or slower and kids have a lot of fun, just like a metronome.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to teach mindfulness to children and youth?
Be resilient! When we try to learn mindfulness or try to teach it to our students, it sometimes looks like it’s not going to work. Don’t give up! It’s a long journey but it’s worth it!
Chris: Thank you so much for your time and wisdom! I’m in awe of your work! And I’m hoping we can do this again. I wish you much success, joy, and love, as well as many mindful moments :-)
And I hope you, the reader, found new inspiration from the incredible Andréa and Hélade.
Let them know what you think in the comments below or email me and I’ll send them your regards.
With gratitude, Chris Bergstrom
Chief Mindfulness Ninja @ Blissful Kids
#1 Best-Selling Author of: Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book: 150 Playful Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens
Chris Bergstrom is a bestselling mindfulness author, a leader in the field of mindfulness, the founder of BlissfulKids.com, a blog dedicated to children’s mindfulness, and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also known as “the dad who tried 200+ mindfulness activities” and has taught meditation for more than 15 years.