There is an overwhelming amount of students who suffer from stress, anxiety, and other problems with mental health. It’s challenging to balance different aspects of life, especially when responsibilities begin to pile up and loom over us like a daunting tower. It can be beneficial to learn how to deal with stress and express emotions in a healthy way. At Morro Bay High School, there is a program that addresses these issues and provides students with multiple ways to cope with their stress. This program is called Voice Through Movement, available for all juniors and seniors.
Voice Through Movement (VTM), a program led by counselor and Dance Fusion director Elena Smith, is a six week program exploring art therapy, integrative movement, and self care practice. Art therapy is a creative method of self expression used as a therapeutic technique. The first and last week of VTM is an art therapy session that prompts participants to center their minds or express their emotions through a painting or drawing. Integrative movement, or in this case yoga, can alleviate stress physically and energize the body. Simple yoga stretches are taught so that students can learn to take time for themselves during and outside of the weekly program. The movements help to alleviate symptoms of stress, scattered mind, depression, procrastination, or other forms of struggles that students face regularly. Senior Faye Vavra, a participant of VTM since her junior year, says her favorite part of the program is “how Smith ties the stretches and exercises to specific parts of mental health that we all struggle with on a daily basis like anxiety and depression.”
VTM takes place on block days once a week during this six week period. It alternates periods so that students don’t keep missing the same classes over and over again. The dance room is transformed into an intimate, peaceful den dimly lit with fairy lights. Yoga mats pattern the floor and essential oils enfuse the air. Subtly energizing but chill instrumental music completes the meditative atmosphere. After participants complete the hour of yoga, they are encouraged to read an inspiring card with a quote or mantra for leading a centered day and healthy life. Overall, VTM provides a safe and intimate place for participants to find ways to improve their lifestyle, attitude, and actively combat negative mental health.
Students who participate in the program speak highly of it. “I signed up for voice through movement because I knew it would be a fun way to relieve stress and to improve my mental health as well as doing art and being with my friends,” Vavra shared. Another student, junior Vienna Laughlin, said that she joined VTM this fall to learn to deal with her stress, and that her favorite component of the program was the art therapy portion.
Smith began this program because of her personal experience of being an artistic athlete her entire life. “I know that art and exercise can have a tremendous positive outcome for oneself. Having a degree in psychology and counseling students with a rise in dealing with anxiety, stress and depression, I pondered how I could create a program encompassing movement to get one’s blood flowing and art therapy to enhance self awareness.” She started the program five years ago to address this. Smith has danced since she was four years old and started practicing yoga eight years ago, taking classes and workshops to maintain healthy mobility and body longevity.
“My hope is that I am making a difference for others by providing positive mental health alternatives like art and mindful movement.” Smith shared when asked about the goals of the program. “The aim is for students to reduce their stress and anxiety, increase self esteem and learn how to relax the mind and body.” Smith commented that after each session she observes students with looks of relief and relaxation on their faces. She mentioned that students who complete the program constantly ask her when the next session will start up again.
There are two sessions every year. Although students can’t join the session that is occurring now in the fall of 2019, the spring session of 2020 is open to juniors and seniors. Students can join by contacting Mrs. Smith. Sign ups are volunteer and happen during the junior fall Counselor classroom presentations every year. The second semester sign ups for newcomers The informational website about VTM is available here.