Planting The Seeds Of Wellness With Jen Rapanos

Planting The Seeds Of Wellness With Jen Rapanos

 

Fostering the emotional and mental well-being of youth, Well-Bean is a wellness center that offers child and adolescent psychotherapy, yoga and mindfulness classes for the youth and their families, teacher training and professional development, parenting workshops, and other resources. Jen Rapanos, Well-Bean’s Founder and owner, has always been drawn to social justice work and loved working with kids from a young age. In this episode, she joins Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D. to talk about how she was inspired to build Well-Bean and how they’re planting the seeds of wellness starting with our children.

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Planting The Seeds Of Wellness With Jen Rapanos

Jen Rapanos is a licensed clinical social worker. She earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from Wayne State University in 2001. Thereafter, she practiced as a school social worker before starting her practice in 2017. She blends her comprehensive background in mental health and training in mindfulness and yoga to offer an integrated and holistic approach for her work as a child and adolescent psychotherapist. Jen is a registered children’s yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance, a mindfulness educator for mindful schools, and a training coach with the training programs through the University of Michigan, a program to make effective mental health services accessible to Michigan schools. She is completing her training and trauma certificate through Michigan State University. Jen is the Founder and Owner of Well-Bean, a business committed to offering programs and services that foster the emotional mental wellbeing of youth. Well-Bean provides community-based yoga and mindfulness classes to children and families.

Jen, welcome. Thank you for joining us here.

Thanks for having me.

I’m always grateful when people are willing to share their stories, especially when they’re doing something a little other than traditional talk therapy. Can you tell us a little bit about what got you started on this and what drives your passion?

From a young age, I’ve always known that I had this draw to helping people. I came into the world with knowing that. The environment in which I was raised in supported that too. I come from a large family. I have 11 siblings, 9 biological sibs and then 2 sibs were adopted into our family, both of whom had disabilities. From a very young age, our family was there supporting not only my two sisters, but we also had foster sisters and siblings in our home too. I grew up in a world where we connected with other people a lot. We helped other people. I’ve always been drawn to advocacy and social justice work. Social work was a natural fit for me and helped me drive into that path of working with people. In terms of working with kids, I’ve always loved working with kids from a young age, just being a camp counselor and knowing that that was my niche. Even now, as I work with children and youth, adults are part of that equation because I work with families, but working with kids is my niche and where I feel most comfortable.

In my experience when families have both a large family and/or someone with special needs when they handle it well, that shapes a person. It shapes the atmosphere in the house. It’s interesting to hear that about you and what’s driving your passion. What is it that you do at Well-Bean that is significantly different from a traditional therapy center?

I first started off in school social work many years ago. Within that field, I was doing a lot of that traditional work of working with kids, cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy and such. I then came upon mindfulness-based stress reduction. It had been recommended by a therapist who we were working with within my family in supporting my daughter who had some anxiety. The skilled therapist said, “Jen, have you ever heard of mindfulness-based stress reduction? Would you be interested in taking the course?” I had read tons of books about Jon Kabat-Zinn and this mindfulness meditation. I had a cognitive understanding of the practice, but I wasn’t doing the practice.

When I took that eight-week course, it shifted and changed things for me. It changed the way I started to relate to myself and the anxiety that I had been experiencing my whole life from childhood. It changed and shift my relationship with my family and the work that I did. As I started committing to that practice along with a yoga practice that I had been doing for a number of years too, I kept saying to myself, “Why aren’t we teaching this to children? Why do we have to wait to adulthood to start learning about some of these practices?” It was profound for me in how I started changing the relationship I had with my own anxiety that I started saying, “I need to figure out how to bring this to kids.”

The more familiar we are with our breath, the more we're apt to tap into it when we really need it. Click To Tweet

That’s where I started to do more training. I start practicing individually with my students in the school and bringing it into the classrooms and small group work. That’s where I started to see some profound shifts and changes. In the work that I do now, I have all those foundations of my mental health training and learning, in addition to yoga, mindfulness, somatic experiencing work and body work. That’s where my work is a lot different. Often, kids will come in and we roll yoga mats out to start. Every single kid that I work with or team that I work with, we start with a mindfulness check-in practice. They know that the expectation in our time together is going to be some form of meditation practice as well.

What most of us who’ve been in the field for a lot of years have seen is that children learn much more quickly. If we can introduce these tools to even as low as 3 to 5 years old, they soak it up. If you can build a base as you’re talking about mindfulness, it’s interesting to think that mindfulness has become a buzzword after many years ago. Jon Kabat-Zinn was talking about this. It’s going in this cycle. If someone comes to you, do you try to get them as an individual? Do you try to bring the whole family in? Tell us a little bit about what your intake procedures like and what you offer at Well-Bean.

Within my private practice, I work with families, children about the age of 7 to 18. Within that psychotherapy practice, I’m doing individual work. Families have become part of that, but part of that support is to offer also yoga and mindfulness classes. We offer community-based yoga and mindfulness classes for younger kids. We have a class called Mini Sprouts, that’s for children ages 3 to 5. That’s an invitation for that young child and a grownup to come with them. In that course or in that class, we’re doing a lot of work with breath with emotional regulation and awareness. We always set time for relaxation. Even kids as young as three years old will lie down in a Shavasana pose, the last relaxation pose when we present tools like a stuffed animal for them to rock to sleep.

In those moments, they learn and parents or grown-up alongside them learn that we can practice calming our bodies lying down and resting. It’s the practice of that. I also offer Little Sprouts class for kids ages 7 to 11. That’s a community-based class. We offer family yoga. That’s an opportunity to have families come together to practice these courses. They’re not regular yoga classes. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class as an adult, you have an idea of what that looks like. You stay on your own mat. It’s a very private practice and experience. With kids’ yoga, we use these opportunities for families to connect in a playful, fun and engaging way. We do movement and yoga. We bring a lot of mindfulness into that, noticing and felt sensations in the body, building awareness about the body there.

We always bring in breathwork. We always bring in self-compassion work. We end with loving-kindness phrases, and we always bring in rest and relaxation work. It’s an hour-long class that embodies all of those practices for families. We’re starting an online course for parents, educators, grownups who work with kids. We know that the world is stressful, especially now. On top of that, just the demands of parenting in COVID, educating in COVID, we know that we can respond to some of those needs out there by providing opportunities for parents, educators and grownups to carve out time for self-care.

We’re going to be offering 30-minute online yoga and meditation courses for grownups with the idea that we want to support their self-care practice. We also within Well-Bean provide parenting workshops. We also have a mindfulness and education program. It’s a twelve-week program that goes into the schools on a weekly basis. It teaches both the teacher and the students’ basic skills for mental health under mindfulness, yoga, movement, and some of the cognitive behavioral therapy strategies that we can bring into the classroom. Within my practice with Well-Bean and psychotherapy, those other pieces are there to not only support that family that I’m working with but maybe the community or the educational system that the child might be within.

You’re located in Michigan. The thing that piqued my curiosity there is you’re talking about starting an online class. How do people find out about that?

Yoga and my meditation for grownups class start on the 21st. They would go to the Well-Bean website, which will have information for you under programs.

OYM Jennifer | Well Bean
Well Bean: With kids’ yoga, we use these opportunities for families to connect in a playful, fun, and engaging way.

 

It’s WellBeanKidsYoga.com and under programs, they might find the online offer. Is it up there yet?

We have it through Schedulicity in Facebook. We’re putting it on the website that will be entered. If you go to our Facebook page, there’s an event page.

How do they find the Facebook page?

They look at Well-Bean, find us under our Facebook.

That’s such a boost these days that more and more people are doing online stuff, so we can have more people find out about your programs and the breathwork, the mindfulness, and the yoga you do. That’s excellent. Have you done anything with the EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique tapping?

I was registered to attend that training at Omega Institute back in May 2020, then COVID happened. That was delayed until October 2021. I practice myself with some great app but I’m registered waiting to attend to do intense training with that.

While we’re talking about your work with kids from 7 to 18, and the younger kids with a parent and the yoga, I flashed on how years ago I’ve been teaching the EFT tapping to people for years. Ever since I first discovered it, it was similar to something I already did in session that needs a therapist to do it with you, but it uses all the same acupuncture meridians, and then I found out about it. I instantly started teaching it to every one of my patients who were willing to learn. I had some friends who had younger children and I was on all of these emails.

I discovered someone created children’s sing-along, tapping and singing wonderful catchy tune and that hit me strongly. That should be something that, if it’s still available, we’ll let you get access to it because it was beautifully done. It was kids singing the songs. They had a slightly different set of lyrics for each day of the week. They would build feeling good about yourself, “I’m a good kid and I can make good decisions,” all that lovely stuff while doing the tapping matched to this catchy and simple kids tune.

Mindfulness is powerful in developing a different relationship with anxiety. Click To Tweet

Please share if you could find that.

I will make it a point to find that and send it to you. You haven’t done the EFT tapping yet, but we’re talking about the breathing and Sylvia Boorstein who talks about putting a hand over the heart space and being gentle with yourself. Is there a specific type of breathing that you introduced to kids and teens?

When it comes to breathing, what’s important to think about first is teaching kids that foundation like why and how. Many of the kids that come into my office, we’ll talk about and brainstorming right away, “What’s working for you?” Oftentimes, when I bring up breathing, kids will say, “It doesn’t work.” When I go into classrooms and we start talking about breathing, kids will say, “My mom said, ‘Take a deep breath and it doesn’t work.’” We’re missing an opportunity to empower kids with the knowledge as to why they couldn’t use their breath. I make it a point to teach kids about the brain first. We learn in kid-friendly language about the amygdala, our stress response system, and the prefrontal cortex.

When I interpret something as a stressful or threatening situation, what happens with my breathing? We explore that first and we start to paying attention to it. We touch and feel our breath. I get drums out and we kind of playback and forth how our breath might mimic under stressful conditions versus calm conditions. We do a lot of work to build that foundation. We then bring in mindfulness to start paying attention. We do our mindful check-ins. They do home practices to pay attention to their breath more, and then we start to learn more about breathing and how to do it. I find that, especially with young kids, but teens do love breathing tools. I have a Hoberman sphere that will open and close that we practice with.

I have a flower that I put a little bit of essential oil in, and I make sure kids are taking a full inhale because oftentimes when you say, “Show me, let’s take a deep breath together,” it will not be a full breath in. With the breath, I can see them breathing in fully. With a pinwheel, we’ll work on exhaling. I use those tools to have them start to practice and know what it feels like to take a full breath in and a full breath out. We’ve then got lots of favorites. We teach palm breathing, where we trace the hand, you breathe in as you go up, you pause, you breathe out as you go down, and you continue on and trace the palm.

Square or triangle breathing, tracing a triangle. The long size would be the exhales, and the short side would be the inhale so you can breathe in and out. There are fun things like bee’s breath where they’re humming and making a sound. There’s cocoa breath. There are many fun tools and ways to get breathing practiced and engaged for that. I have to tell parents to practice frequently and not just in states of dysregulation. Start practicing in calm states because the more familiar we are with our breath, the more we’re apt to tap into it when we need it.

We develop our muscle memory for anything that we do and practice. The old adage is the time to learn to shoot the bow and arrow is not when the bear is charging. You want to practice something and get it down to where it has muscle memory. That’s exactly what I teach people. As you mentioned, a lot of times people say, “It doesn’t work,” because when they’re coached to take a deep breath, they end up taking a deep breath and blasting it out. They can do that when they’re running away from somebody who’s angry.

If they take a deep breath, pause at the top, and make sure the exhale is 4 to 8 times longer than the inhale, and let it ease out, it sends an irrefutable message to your body that you’re not in danger. You can start to feel that cascade of relaxation. Andrew Weil has the 4-7-8 counting that he does, which taps into that because you breathe in for a count of 4, you hold it for a count of 7, and you make sure the exhales are full 8 counts long. You’re in control. When you teach especially the younger kids how to control that, which has been an automatic process all their lives, some of them light up.

OYM Jennifer | Well Bean
Well Bean: The key is sharing with kids that they have an innate tool within themselves to tap into 24/7.

 

I find those tools. You can have kids trace even with paper. Sometimes when we get technical, they can focus in on the technicality of things like counting and it can become overwhelming. I found everyone’s capacity to hold their breath or breathe in long is different. I found with some kids taking out the numbers, focusing more on how it feels, and using a piece of paper to trace something can be helpful too.

More and more people are getting into it. There’s Spire, which is a Bluetooth tech thing that helps you monitor your breathing. There are some necklaces they have that restrict the breathing so when you’re breathing out through this tube, you have to breathe longer. I love the idea that more people are paying attention to how powerful it is and what a powerful and effective tool it can be. Each of us has it.

That’s the key. Sharing with kids that they have an innate tool within themselves is not something outside of them. There’s a lot of power in that. Empowering them and understanding that I have a resource within myself to tap into that’s there 24/7.

The kinds of thoughts that are flooding me are things how Bruce Lipton was tapping into what our energy system, this physical energy system expresses isn’t set in stone. The more we learn these calming soothing techniques. If you can teach kids the really simple, “There’s a part of your brain that when you interpret something as dangerous or stressful, it reacts strongly.” There’s another part of your brain that can help you focus on your breathing and the physical sensations. The idea of the two wolves that are always fighting, which one’s going to win, the one you feed. Are there any stories you have about how either personally you’ve overcome something using these tools or somebody you’ve worked with it stands out that would be illustrative for the readers?

I can use an example for now. I mentioned before that mindfulness been powerful for me in developing a different relationship with anxiety. I’ve had anxiety that’s strong and impactful when I was younger. It’s not that it’s gone away. I just learned to work with it differently. Knowing that I was going to be interviewed and having this conversation with you, my nervous system was alive and well. I had a thought about that. I did some practice to ground myself and get myself ready. Noticing even thoughts that popped up as I went for a walk in the morning, I knew going outside and getting some fresh air and moving my body would be great versus sitting, reading, studying and over-planning, which I would have done probably many years ago.

Getting outside, moving my body, fresh air, taking a cold shower, which woke up my nervous system too, and then getting into my office a bit early, getting set up prepared beforehand and did a little bit of a yoga practice. I am getting into my body. Instead of into my mind and my thinking mind, I got into my body and do some breathwork. What I found is that I’m still a bit nervous. I can still feel it. I pause and notice my heart beating, a little bit of restriction in my throat, but it’s allowing me to be in a place in my mind and body where I can still be present and available. It’s not causing me to avoid things that make me nervous and overwhelmed.

In terms of practices with kids, there are many. What can be profound is when we go into the classroom. As a group, I start to teach some of these strategies to kids, and to sit in a classroom and to have every child, a group of 30 kids sit and come into a mindful body and close our eyes. Maybe place a hand over their heart and tap to their breath for a moment and explore the sensations in their body and then ask themselves how they’re feeling. They then open their eyes and then be able to relate to me by using a word or two to demonstrate how they’re feeling in that moment. It is powerful. When I do that practice in the classrooms, we start to teach kids that being aware of how we’re feeling is a daily practice that we can and should be doing, and just giving permission to feel whatever you’re feeling.

With kids, I would do a thumbs up, thumbs middle or thumbs down day often. If I didn’t have time to touch base with every kid, I would do one of these and look at each kid in the eye and know what kind of day they’re having. If some kids were having a bad or tough day, I could even if I had time to touch base with those kids. All that to say, giving kids permission to feel and to have good days, meh days and not so good days. To me, it’s been powerful to see that transformation going into classrooms and big groups of kids. I worked with a teen who when she came in, we did a mindful check-in. After they do a mindful check-in, I had a sheet with a list of different words and they’d mark off what they noticed they were feeling.

Being aware of how we're feeling is a daily practice that we can and should be doing. Click To Tweet

When she first came in, she said, “Jen, I’m doing great.” She had a smile on her face, but what she indicated or what she communicated from that checkoff list was that she was having quite a tough day. I asked her if she would be willing to explore those feelings a little more. She looked at me with wide eyes. I gently guided her through a mindfulness practice of noticing where she was feeling that hurt that she noticed, that disappointment, that embarrassment, and she felt a lot of restriction up in this area. I simply asked her if it felt comfortable to place a hand over that area and tears started to come down.

We just sat with it. I didn’t have to say anything. I didn’t have the perfect words to say, but creating space for her to feel that. I noticed her breathing change a little bit. She settled a bit, and then we opened our eyes and continued on with our session. We circled back to that at the end of the session and talked about that. She said, “I’ve never sat with sad. I’ve never sat with hurt like that.” It was an experience for her that showed her that those feelings can’t hurt her. She can watch and do that urge surf of those feelings. That was powerful remembering that this work is important and simple practices but can be profound.

Learning to observe in the moment so you can demonstrate something different for yourself rather than running on autopilot. The autopilot for each of us is what we were taught by our parents or what we watched them do growing up. Even if we had good parents, most of our parents didn’t come from a generation where they were taught about the energy of their thoughts and their emotions and how it’s all safe to feel it and let it flow, and how there are tools they can use to process or allow those emotions. This is wonderful that you’re teaching at a hands-on level to these people. That it is an energy and it’s all safe to explore. It’s wonderful to find out that more people are doing that and you’re a part of that.

I think about the evolution in the last many years that I’ve been doing therapy, and how much more readily available the conversations about these things are, and tools to help do these things, except for some weird periods back in the ‘60s where all kinds of stuff were introduced without any prior evaluation about what would be effective. I think about Pataka baths and things like that. Aside from some of that stuff, most of the conventional therapies had been talk therapy focused on, what are your thoughts about that? Congratulations on being on the front lines of helping people learn to do that. The Journey’s Dream group is not for profit. One of the primary things we say about it is that we want to help rewrite the narrative on mental health to one in which optimal health and wellbeing is possible and expected, where mental health challenges become transformational rather than tragic.

The group was founded on a set of tools that are being called the Optimal Being program. Some of those core tools that the Optimal Being program was developed from are available free. I will send you some links to that because there’s a completely free and private app that people can download for their smartphones. These days people take that everywhere. In that app, there’s the tool for the adults called The Reality Management Worksheet, but there’s also a tool called The Dragon Klingon Game, which is a wonderful way to introduce these tools to even younger audiences. I’ll make sure that we send you that information so you can check that out. Unlike a lot of other things, it’s not a loss leader. It’s not like if you go and download the app, then they start marketing to you to sell you this, that and the other thing. It’s completely free and private. Maybe that’s something that would benefit you.

One of the things that is an expectation often is home practice. Instead of homework, it’s a home practice. When working with kids in my practice, the expectation is like anything, any skill you want to get better at, the more we put into it, the more practice, the better we’ll get that. That goes for our mental health and emotional health. Any tools that are available for families and kiddos to be using, things like apps can be helpful. Stop, Breathe & Think, PBC is an app that most of the kids that I work with are very familiar with so that they’re practicing some of these practices at home. Any other additional tools would be greatly welcomed to share.

Is there’s anything about the work you do with the teens and families or the adult individuals that I haven’t even asked you about yet, that you would want to make sure we get into this conversation?

One of the things that keeps coming to my mind that’s not waiting until adulthood is normalizing therapy, normalizing supports outside of the family. That’s something that comes to mind in terms of making it just a part of a practice, part of your village, your community. What’s important to me in working with families, some families come in with a lot of hesitation for a number of reasons. Some families come in and say, “I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to my child.” There’s this taboo behind coming in to talk with somebody about how we’re feeling. It’s imperative that we start as a family, as a culture. Start talking with kids about mental health and emotional health.

OYM Jennifer | Well Bean
Well Bean: Any skill you want to get better at, the more practice you put into it, the better you’ll get at it; that goes for our mental and emotional health.

 

If we’ve not talked with our kids about this ever, and then at fourteen they are dealing with the crisis, it’s foreign to them to start understanding that they have a mind that they can train and work with. They have emotions that are there for a purpose and a reason, and a stress response system that’s there to protect them. If that is also foreign to them, then they’re not aware of it. It’s scary at times. Getting the word out more of starting to understand our mental health and the habits of our mental health, those are things like we brushed our teeth every day, and all of these things that we do for other hygiene purposes. Mental health hygiene is a real thing. Emotional awareness and emotional health as well. I don’t know if that answers your question about what else, but that seems to be one of the barriers to getting kids in maybe before a crisis is normalizing therapy, normalizing the supports that are out there for them.

Having the conversation, the Journey’s Dream people came up with a T-shirt that said, “What if talking about mental health was as common as talking about the weather.” What I find hopeful is that as I do these interviews with people like you who talk about, “I’ve had anxiety. On one side of the family, there was a lot of depression. On the other side of the family, there was a lot of anxiety.” I’ve had 3, 4 or 5 people already in the interviews I’ve done since February who’ve come right out and talked about they’ve either had obsessive-compulsive problems or they’ve had depression problems, or they’ve had bipolar problems. They are looking at ways to empower themselves to do things differently in their lives rather than take a pill or going to the hospital every time there’s a flare-up. That is exciting.

Dr. Lila E. Massoumi is in one of our past shows and she’s an integrative psychiatrist. She talks openly about her issues. There’s also one who works down in the alternative to med center in Sedona. She’s a naturopathic physician. She had a lot of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive problems. That was the trigger for her to get into the field, and to learn to do things with nutrition and personal techniques like breathing and yoga. She no longer has the symptoms that plagued her in her young life and her teen years. Thank you for sharing that and thank you for the interview. I know I’m time-limited here because of my schedule, but I appreciate this. Let me know if you’ll launch another online program or you expand one because we’d be happy to have you on and talk about that. Thank you for doing what you do.

Thanks for connecting with me and then taking the time to do this. It was fun. It was a good experience for me.

I’m glad that the terror and fears lighting up your system didn’t pan out.

They never do. That’s what I love about awareness. I can be with it and be aware of it. It doesn’t prohibit me from continuing on.

There’s that book and I didn’t find it to be a good book, but I loved the title and that was Feel The Fear & Do It Anyway. Thank you for feeling the anxiety and doing the interview anyway. That’s a benefit to our readers. I appreciate your time. Thanks, Jen. Take care.`

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About Jennifer Rapanos

OYM Jennifer | Well BeanJen Rapanos is the owner of Well-Bean, LLC., a mom of two amazing kids, and a licensed clinical social worker. She believes in world peace and trusts that it starts with our children! One of her favorite places to be is on a yoga mat with kids, watching them discover the power of their own breath! A long time yogi and meditator, Jen also holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work with over twenty years of practice in mental health. She is registered with the Yoga Alliance as a E-RYT 200, RCYT and YACEP. Jen has completed the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course and along with her daily practice, attends silent meditation retreats at Insight Meditation Society.  She has training with Mindful Schools, and continuing education experiences with esteemed teachers Jon Kabat Zinn, Dan Siegel, Jack Kornfield and Kristin Neff.

In 2014 Jen developed Well-Bean, inspired to blend her mental health background with yoga and mindfulness meditation for a more holistic approach to working youth. She has a passion for education and collaboration and finds joy in sharing her knowledge and learning from others. As a life-long learner, Jen continues to find inspiration for Well-Bean programs through continued education opportunities and staying current with research in her fields of study. She is humbly grateful for the opportunity to work with so many children and continues to believes wholeheartedly that they are her greatest teachers!

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