The Benefits Of Rhythm To Students Working On A Biodynamic Holding
(1.1) Rhythm and routine are a vital part of the college day for our students, and also crucial to the running of a biodynamic holding. In biodynamics, we follow the rhythms of the moon to indicate the most favourable planting times.
We also must adopt rhythm into our daily practices in the garden. For example, digging becomes less strenuous when we incorporate a more rhythmic continuous motion with the spade.
To complete all of our tasks in the valley we have to embed routines into our daily work. For example, each day we must empty the kitchen waste into the Ridan composter, if we didn’t then the area would smell, and rats would come.
(1.2) Our bodies follow their own rhythms, if we become dysregulated then it would affect the quality of our work and our engagement. Many of our students have to contend with dysregulation more acutely, which may create barriers to engagement with activities that must be overcome. Sleep is one of the most important daily rhythms for our well-being, sleep can become dysregulated, leading to insomnia during the night.
(1.3) Humans, animals, and plants are synchronized with the earth’s revolutions. Nature has a day and a night rhythm, as the earth moves around the sun. Our circadian rhythm corresponds to this rhythm, typically giving us different biological responses through a 24-hour cycle. If we stay up late into the morning, playing video games or looking at our mobile phones, or any other blue light, then we will be creating dysregulation and disrupting the circadian rhythm.
During my time working residentially, I noticed the difficulty many of the students have in maintaining rhythm. Examples include: skipping meals throughout the day, then consuming unhealthy processed food during the early morning, not wanting to leave the bedroom due to low energy, sleeping during the day, and awake at night.
Our circadian rhythm is a key determining factor of our behaviour, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. Our students may be at a higher risk of disrupting their circadian rhythms, and also have a more volatile response when out of balance due to other underlying conditions. That is why it is important that they experience a rhythm during the college day and in their residential setting.
(1.4) We need rhythm and routine in our lives, otherwise, we will exert a lot of energy adapting to new circumstances. Simply waking up at the same time every morning, is one way of regulating our biology.
“Almost each and every one of our cells contains one of these clocks, and each is programmed to turn on or off thousands of genes at different times of the day or night…. When these daily rhythms are disturbed for as little as a day or two, our clocks cannot send out the right messages to these genes, and our body and mind will not function as well as we need.”
“A disrupted clock is the mother of all maladies, and, conversely, in most chronic diseases, clock function is compromised.” – Dr. Satchin Panda
On the biodynamic farm, everyone is subject to the rhythms of the season, and the day. There is a start time for when the session begins, and a time when it ends. There is usually and break halfway through the session, and more frequent breaks depending on the student. There is an expectation that the student will work within a purpose-led biodynamic farm, and partake in activities that involve movement, coordination, contact with micro-organisms, social interactions with people, and care of plants and animals, all of which have a regulating effect on the body.
(1.5) In the valley garden where I work, there is a great variety of tasks available to the students. Students come into the session with varying needs and abilities. Sometimes, a student makes great progress by attending the session for the first time. The act of sitting in the garden can be the initial rhythmic experience that the student needs before they are ready to engage, the sunlight, the ducks, and the air are some of the rhythms that penetrate through the valley. With time, these rhythms work themselves upon students and staff.
Turning the compost is one of my favourite activities in the garden, when I have a new student in the valley I like to turn a compost pile with them, it’s a useful way to discern their ability, and rhythm. Turning a compost pile is fairly simple, with a fork you need to lift up the decaying material from the pile and add it to a new compost pile which is being made nearby. Rhythmically, you will be able more a larger quantity of matter without becoming tired. Your breathing is regulated with each fork full of matter.
Wheelbarrowing is a common activity in the valley this requires a certain amount of focus from the student, they need to use two hands and lift the handles to move all of the weight onto the front wheel. They will also need to calculate the weight distribution of the contents of the wheelbarrow and compensate accordingly to maintain a balance. While doing this, they have to walk forwards, their inherent posture may be improved as they position themselves to manoeuvre the wheelbarrow with greater ease. The improvement in posture must have a regulatory response on the body.
Providing A Nourishing Environment
(2.1) A nourishing environment is fundamental in order to grow and develop. Let me explain this by changing the word nourishment for the word information. If we adopt a breathing exercise or a partaking in an activity that regulates breathing then we are nourishing our body and mind. We are informing our body that everything is okay, we are breathing strongly, and this information penetrates deep into our body. Imagine food as information entering the body, when we eat a biodynamic carrot we are giving the body information that is clear, the information hasn’t been corrupted or miscommunicated through the use of chemicals such as fertilizers.
Through positive social interactions, we give the information to our bodies that we have a tribe, and therefore our basic needs will be more secure, as our biology knows deep down that we need others to survive and thrive. The body will stress more if the information that it is being given indicates that there is a lack of strong social bonds, this could lead to disease within the body.
Good information for the body or nourishment is a continuous requirement for a healthy fulfilling life. If we are constantly undernourished or sending our body bad information through bad habits then we won’t have the foundation that we need in order to build a life where we can thrive.
(2.2) A day working with others on a biodynamic farm and eating a biodynamic meal will send our bodies a whole series of good information, realising beneficial chemicals and psychological responses. Caring for animals or plants or something beyond ourselves will give us confidence and self-esteem, which again floods our bodies with good information. When we are involved in purposeful activities, such that exist on a biodynamic farm, then we nourish ourselves through nourishing others.
Working on a biodynamic farm or holding involves movement/exercise, teamwork/communication, being outside/fresh air, unsterilized environment/helpful microorganisms, biodynamic produce/vital nutrition, purposeful work/self-esteem, and daily rhythms/self-regulation.
Building Healthy Relationships
(3.1) The life process of warmth is an important quality for building relationships with the students. In most circumstances, it demonstrates an understanding or a caring quality for the other. It is a quality that is associated with welcoming. Many of the students have had negative experiences in the past, and warmth is a way of helping them enter into a new environment or setting where they will in time feel safe, that will allow them to develop, re-step, gain confidence, gain practical skills, and access the curriculum.
One of the initial gestures available when meeting a new student for the first time is to ask them if they would like a cup of tea or squash, and how they like their drink to be. It makes them feel welcome in the session and allows them to relax.
(3.2) Positive role modelling in our interactions with others, in our work ethic, timekeeping, in our habits, body language, and our outlooks is very important for the students. This includes me, and every member of staff or even some of the students.
We should respond to the day positively, with the goal of making a difference in someone’s life, to the aesthetic of the garden, to nature or to ourselves. Enthusiasm is infectious.
It’s important to engage all members of staff in the session, as this helps motivate all of the students. If a member of staff instead sits out deciding to scroll through their phone, then it gives the student, the wrong idea of what is acceptable, and this behaviour could be mirrored by the student and will create an obstruction to them fully engaging in a PSTE. Engaging staff in a task therefore can be as important as an engaging student a student in a task. If a student is working independently during the sessions, their support worker should still be engaged in a task somewhere in the garden.
(3.3) Trust is important for all relationships. It’s important to trust yourself, as you need to have faith in yourself or confidence in order to carry out tasks to the best of your ability. You also need to be trustworthy, this allows you to bare responsibility, and responsibilities are very important for our well-being. Within a team you need to have a level of trust, in order to work together, otherwise, you will only be working against each other, and the students and the land will suffer.
(3.4) Maintaining professional boundaries is very important when working with students, it’s important to be warm and friendly but not to be perceived as a friend. Many students have attachment issues and will become attached or obsessive about members of staff. It is important to remain professional at all times.
The Impact Of Culture On Students
(4.1) Environment influences behaviour. When we walk by a neglected piece of land, one with broken glass on the ground, graffiti, and large metal fences, our blood pressure will increase. When we walk through the park on a break from a busy office then it’s likely our blood pressure will decrease. Furthermore, the culture we grew up in, the culture we now live in, and all of our past and present experiences will affect our behaviour. Traumatic experiences from our past can continue to haunt us throughout our lives.
Traumatic experiences can become ‘imprinted’ in our memory, and when triggered we can be forced to re-live that experience. In some cases, traumatic experiences may even inhibit our development or areas of our development.
The cultures that we grew up in will also imprint themselves on us, and we may not be able to understand what cultures are beneficial or negative to our well-being. Perhaps we can be in a position to re-evaluate our culture and beliefs from a new critical perspective, as we continue to have more experiences, and build a more complete perception of the workings of the world. But perhaps, the cultural programming that we have been subjected to from childhood, denies us the opportunity for self-reflection or contemplation outside of our socialised culture.
Lived experiences in the past may give us a predisposition to other experiences in later life. If for example, I had a traumatic memory of almost drowning, then my behaviour or ability to regulate myself when unexpectedly visiting a swimming pool might be diminished, and the memory will come to the forefront of my mind.
People on the autistic spectrum also experience the world in completely different ways. They may not have the ability to filter past experiences from present experiences and may actually be re-living it as a psychologically real experience.
(4.2) The biodynamic farm is a self-contained organism. Biodynamic farming has a beneficial impact on the land, it creates healthy soils, biodiversity, nutritious food, and supports wildlife. Biodynamics is one of the core aspects of Ruskin Mill. Having a full functioning biodynamic farm, and market gardens create a purpose-driven environment where students can build practical skills, gain confidence, and have therapy education.
A biodynamic holding is a proactive response to the state of the world, and evolving issues that are moving to the forefront. It puts belief back into the soil, as a way of navigating through the crisis approaching.
Gardening and farming also bring people together from different backgrounds, towards a common ideal. At Ruskin Mill there is a seed to table initiative, what is grown on the land is fed back to students, staff and the general public.
Maintaining A Positive Culture
(5.1) Planning sessions in advance is important to create a consistent structure for the students. The morning sessions in valley landscape start with a cup of tea, it creates an environment where students and staff can chat with each other. It also allows tutors to gauge if the job in mind is right for the student on the day or if another job will be more suitable, depending on the weather, the student’s mood, clothing etc. The task is then written on the whiteboard, and then we begin the work. We will always have a tea break at 10:45 am, or 11 am for 15-25 minutes. This is an important part of the day where students can socialise all together. Then at 12:30 pm, we stop to put away the tools and reflect on the day before heading to lunch. This routine is crucial for most students. The routine creates a foundation from which they can try new things, and learn new skills, but it has to be within the framework and predictability expected. Timetable changes are particularly difficult for many students.
(5.2) Certain tasks in the valley will help develop different characteristics for the students. Students that initially find it hard to engage will often be persuaded to feed the chickens, after this, they are more receptive to other types of jobs.
Some students will build up to collecting and delivering eggs to the cafe independently, which requires social skills, confidence, communication, and will.
Tasks that have a clear end in sight are helpful for those needed to improve tenacity or determination, for example: if you have 20 kale plants to transplant, then it becomes a clear goal, or if there is one pile of compost to turn.
(5.3) Aesthetically and practically it’s important for the workspaces to be tidy, and functional. I have spent a lot of time, clearing away rubbish or clutter from the site and the workspaces. An environment that is disorganised is much more difficult to focus in, especially for our students. As the space is decluttered everything becomes more simple, and it allows us to focus on the tasks at hand and keep up with the demands of the garden.
(5.4) The slogan of Ruskin Mill Trust is ‘reimagining potential’. I have noticed positive changes in students from when I started the biodynamic apprenticeship, and am constantly surprised by the abilities and talents of the students. I have high aspirations for all of the students at Ruskin Mill because I know that the environment and curriculum has be crafted to help them transform. As a tutor, we want the students to achieve their potential, and do what we can during our sessions to help them achieve.
(5.5) As human beings we have to learn from the mistakes we make. We need to experience the consequences of our positive and negative actions, so we can re-approach the world and do better each time. When occurrences and negative actions take place in the student’s life, it’s important that staff take the necessary steps to de-escalate the situation. Afterwards, once the student has calmed down then you can ask what caused them to act in this way, and present some of the different ways the student could have handled it better. Strategies can be put in place.
Building new stories may be a beneficial way to deal with past traumas. A student may think ‘I can create beautiful willow baskets’ or ‘I can drive a tractor, and I want to be a farmer’ instead of returning back to past traumas which have been hard-wired in our brains and continue overwrite our responses to the environment. In our work, we can help build these new stories for the students, and they learn practical skills and have meaningful work.
(5.6) Being confident involves taking positive risks with our actions, I work with staff to encourage students to step outside their comfort zone, as this is where the challenges and growth are. In the baking room, I know that some students make really tasty cakes, but the real challenge for some of them is then to take what they have made and walk around the valley, to share it with other workshops. It pushes them out of their comfort zone, but each time they do it their confidence increases slightly. There are many ways available to staff to promote positive risk-taking in the workshops, one way is to give students responsibility for a particular job.
The Importance Of Recreation
(6.1, 6.2 & 6.3) Recreational activities are moments of enjoyment that are aside from the work that students partake in during the college day. Tea breaks are a good example of a recreational activity, the can enjoy sitting together with others and have something to eat and drink. Its fundamental to break up the work with a tea break, students can relax and take a break from work. It might be a time, when they can speak to staff to discuss what they like and don’t like with the tasks, maybe their is another project that they would be keen to work on after break that they suggest. Its a good opportunity to practice social skills with other students and staff.
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