Stretching Money, Minds, and Muscles

a girl in a blue shirt counts sorts coins into cups

This is part of a series about Mission Thrive Summer, a program of the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm that empowers youth with skills and knowledge for a healthy life.

In addition to farming, nutrition, and healthy cooking, Mission Thrive Summer introduces students to important life skills including money management. During week three students learned that every penny counts.

Crew leaders showed students a can of tomato sauce priced at one dollar and asked them how much of it goes to farmers, manufacturers, grocers, taxes, transportation, and other costs. Students were given a stack of a hundred pennies to distribute into cups corresponding to each category.

The goal of the exercise was to get students thinking—not just about how much farmers make, which is only 19 cents for the one-dollar can of tomato sauce, but also about how to spend and save money they earn for participating in Mission Thrive Summer.

Students were given a stack of Mission Thrive Summer Bucks and asked to calculate how many hours they would need to work to purchase items such as clothing, food, and sneakers.

Examining a marketplace table covered with pictures of items such as school supplies and sports equipment, students soon realized that they would need to be careful about where to put their money.

“I need to work for three weeks to earn enough to pay for food and movies,” said Keishan, one of the Mission Thrive Summer students. While some said they looked forward to making purchases, others volunteered that they were going to set aside a portion of their pay for savings and emergencies.

It’s not just money that needs stretching

Students in Mission Thrive Summer learn the importance of daily physical activity. Yoga postures and breathing exercises are good ways to keep the body active while keeping the mind calm. Participants discover that by controlling their breath they can better manage emotions such as anger and frustration.

“You can use breath and exercise to change your perceptions and to literally calm your nervous system,” says Annina Wells, a crew leader and yoga teacher. “And it’s great to practice yoga in groups because it creates a sense of community.”

During week three’s yoga session, participants learned tree pose, a balancing posture performed on one leg to improve concentration and coordination. Once they were instructed to visualize sending roots down to the earth, students began to relax in the posture.

“Doing yoga exercises helps me feel more energized and relaxed and makes me feel at peace,” said Michael, a Baltimore City College high school student who plans to add yoga to his exercise regimen.

Other poses students learned were downward facing dog and a wide-legged stretch to help loosen tight back muscles.

“Yoga makes me happy,” said Alexus, who also attends Baltimore City College high school. “I like it. I’m a cheerleader, and yoga and cheerleading go together like peanut butter and jelly.”

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.