Staring out at a sea of hundreds of faces can be daunting for even the most seasoned public speakers, but when Diane Mastnardo and her 12-year-old son Jacque took the stage at Cleveland Leadership Center’s Accelerate 2020 in February, they were the picture of calm.After all, they were at the civic pitch competition to present their concept for BAAM — a mindfulness technique that combines breathing, aromatherapy, acupressure and movement.
“BAAM uses four different neurological inputs, like smell and touch,” says Mastnardo, a massage therapist with 20 years of experience. “The more that we can educate people to be aware of their bodies using their senses, the more it will bring mindfulness into our bodies.”
And with more than half of Americans reporting strained mental health due to stress and worry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, these techniques may be more needed than ever.
Fueled by a $2,000 Accelerate 2020 grant, Mastnardo hopes to bring the benefits of BAAM to more schools and organizations on the heels of a successful eight-week pilot program and assembly presentation at Avon Lake-based Troy Intermediate School, which took place over the last couple years.
Her goal? To help kids learn how to manage anxiety in the moment — and give them choices in doing just that.
“We’re teaching body literacy,” says Mastnardo. “We want to help kids feel comfortable in the uncomfortable and go inside themselves to find that grounding to respond rather than react.”
Using BAAM, that might mean tuning into one’s breath, using a lavender aromatherapy inhaler, touching the “third eye” acupressure point or doing some stretches. Simple concepts, but effective, as the BAAM pilot project noted a 19% decrease in disciplinary action and 10% decrease in anger reported among students.
As students become more fluent in BAAM, Mastnardo’s vision is for them to empower each other. Driven by the mantra “Each one, reach one, each one, teach one,” her ultimate goal is to train and pay high schoolers to teach the technique to younger kids. In October, she teamed up with Case Western Reserve University researcher Elizabeth Benninger to train teens in the Resilient Youth Group (based in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood) to share BAAM with their peer mentees.
Though COVID-19 has slowed many of Mastnardo’s school initiatives, she is still resolute in her mission to bring BAAM to local youth and show them that they can be an integral part of their own health care.
“We want to tap into what’s right with people instead of what is wrong,” says Mastnardo.
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