This is fascinating to those of us who love empowering others with evidence-based wellbeing strategies. It turns out that when we pray the Hail Mary with our long, slow exhales, we are actually breathing at the most ideal rate for calming our nervous system, major organs, heart rate and brain activity. Incredible! We finally have scientific evidence to show why we FEEL so grounded, relaxed and calmer when we pray the Rosary.
What great news for your students, staff and/or families! Often, the Rosary gets boxed in as an outdated, boring or overly-traditional and those of us who love it and want to share it are at times scrambling for modern ways to explain its benefits. A scientific, biological explanation of how praying the Rosary can switch us from the sympathetic system of ‘fight or flight’ to the parasympathetic system of ‘rest and digest’ is a very useful tool for your faith formation toolkit. For more positive wellbeing reasons, including neuroscience evidence, to encourage participation in the Rosary see 10 Reasons the Rosary is a Great Prayer for School and Home
‘ “Norcliffe-Kaufmann confirmed: “Vagal activity is highest, and heart rate lowest, when you’re exhaling.”She mentioned that the ideal, most calming way to breathe is six times a minute: five seconds in, five seconds out. She also noted that in the study that determined this rate, researchers found that this style of slow breathing is also what practitioners naturally lapse into during meditation with mantras, and during the Ave Maria prayer with rosaries. “Each time you do either the rosary prayer or a meditation mantra,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann said, “it naturally synchronizes your breathing at six times per minute.”
“Stimulating the vagus nerve to the heart has a really powerful effect on slowing the heart rate,”said Lucy Norcliffe-Kaufmann, associate professor of neurology at NYU-Langone. And this, specifically, is what relaxes us. The vagus nerve is basically listening to the way we breathe, and it sends the brain and the heart whatever message our breath indicates. Breathing slowly, for instance, reduces the oxygen demands of the heart muscle (the myocardium), and our heart rate drops.
The vagus nerve is essentially the queen of the parasympathetic nervous system — a.k.a. the “rest and digest,” or the “chill out” one — so the more we do things that “stimulate” or activate it, like deep breathing, the more we banish the effects of the sympathetic nervous system — a.k.a. the “fight or flight,” or the “do something!” stress-releasing adrenaline/cortisol one. When we breathe slowly, the heart slows, and we relax. Conversely, when we breathe quickly, our heart speeds up, and we feel amped, or anxious.’
Below is one of my original ‘Videoscribe’ animations. Please feel free to share it with your students, staff and families. Videos make great prayer resources to add to your faith formation tool kit as you build a Catholic Ethos in your community.
“Jesus Brings Those on the Outside to the Inside”
In just over 4 minutes, it covers a few stories of Jesus as the ultimate relationship builder who brings all sorts of people into a personal experience of God’s life-giving, empowering love. Originally created for Year 7s (as mentioned at the end), this video has a message that is relevant to all age groups.
This guided meditation for whole-person wellbeing takes the listener through the following 4 steps:
Bringing to mind your Noble Gospel value that you have prioritised for yourself
Cultivate a practice of gratitude
Pray for others with compassion
Visualise yourself living out your immediate goals in line with your value
Relax into the meditation and make space for the cultivation of a healthy, powerful spirituality. This is a great resource for yourself, staff, students and/or your family.
Beforehand, invite your group to contemplate the list of Noble Gospel Values included on the page or your own school’s or family’s focus values. Invite them to identify which one resonates as an antidote to a struggle they currently face.
Neuroscience experts encourage us to pick something that will make us stronger, and help us affect change in a place of difficulty in our lives, not a strength we already have. Enjoy the feeling of being grounded, positive and strengthened.
Please feel free to download this to your device by clicking the 3 dots followed by the download arrow.
Joyful Mysteries with Space to Contemplate
10 minutes or so each in length, these audio files are my own voice taking listeners through the Scriptural Rosary Joyful Mysteries, one decade at a time. It’s a modified version that aims to invite people to experience a simpler version of the Rosary and so open up a pathway to this spiritual practice.
Begin with the Sign of the Cross and a moment to bring to mind God’s love
Pray the Our Father
Listen to one sentence of Scripture
Pause for contemplation or spontaneous prayers of the faithful
This article can be used as a teaching resource over 4 lessons.
Project Kindy is my small, grassroots charity which raises funds in
Australia to provide for kindergartens in rural Malawi, Africa. Please see www.projectkindy.com to get acquainted with our work. The kindergartens are initiated and run by
the local communities and overseen and managed by the Canossian Daughters of
Charity. The partnership between the
local village communities, the Canossian Sisters and Project Kindy demonstrates
the Catholic Social Teaching principles of Human Dignity, the Common Good,
Solidarity and Subsidiarity.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Genesis 1:27 proclaims a very powerful message, that humans are made in
the image and likeness of God. This is
powerful because it bestows immeasurable value onto every single person no
matter who they are, where they are, what they have got or what they have done. It affirms that each person is created for
relationship with God and with other people, just as the Trinity models unity
of one God in three persons.
The human person flourishes when he/she loves and is loved by God and
other people because he/she is created for relationship with God and other
people and one relationship fulfils and strengthens the other. In every area of society we are called to
create environments where each person’s inherent dignity is protected and
upheld and each person is able to flourish into who God intended him/her to
The children’s dignity is honoured in several ways through Project
Kindy. Firstly, the provision of access to
early years education empowers them to develop as a whole person with a special
focus on literacy, numeracy, life skills and social skills. There is much research that confirms kindergarten
experience improves the child’s school readiness which is a key indicator for improved
and sustained success through primary, secondary and tertiary school and as an
employee, leader and active adult citizenship in society. This research also indicates that not only
does the individual have an improved chance to flourish, but so does the local
community and the country at large.
“Giving children a
good start through kindergarten not only counters the worst effects of poverty,
but may also be the most effective means of halting cross-generational poverty.
When equity in access to early education and learning is improved, greater
economic benefits accrue to individuals themselves and collectively to
society.” United Nations
Children’s Fund: New York, Updated in April 2012
Another way we honour the dignity of the children and the village
communities is in the way we present them to donors and supporters on our Project
Kindy website, in our emails, social media and public speaking presentations. The photos and videos we use of the children,
teachers, village leaders and mothers are natural, strengths-focused and elicit
a feeling of equality and respect. The
stories we tell emphasise their noble efforts to work, learn and flourish amongst
such difficult circumstances of pervasive poverty and that only luck of birth
separates us from them. We invite people
to stand in their shoes and imagine that if we were born there, we might hope
to be the same leaders, teachers and mothers trying to improve the standard of
living for our children.
Our support is offered to each of the children in each of the
kindergartens regardless of their family background, religion, family finances or
location. They each have immeasurable
worth in our eyes due to being children of God. Some are Christian, some are
Muslim and some are not religiously affiliated. Some are orphans living with
extended family and some are children still living with one or two of their parents. We love them all.
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
Why is the idea that every person is created by a loving God with inherent dignity is sometimes so challenging to accept?
If it is true that every person has God-given worth and love, what are the consequences for society?
Are there times in my life when I struggle to see the image of God in other people? When? How could I reframe how I see those people and improve my response to challenging situations?
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
The common good is the goal of creating social conditions where people
are able to develop more fully and flourish more easily. The right to the common use of the earth’s
resources is fundamental to this goal. God
gives the earth and her resources to all of humankind and He does not exclude
or favour any person. It is imperative
that societies with more resources share them with societies that are in
need. The single-minded materialistic
pursuit of collecting goods while our neighbours suffer stifles the flourishing
of both the poor and the wealthy. We
were made to be in relationship with each other and our destinies are entwined
so that we are liberated only when we are ALL liberated.
The national annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of Australia
is around $50 000 whereas it is less than $500 in Malawi. By luck of birth, we Australians have access
to a great deal of resources and according to Catholic Social Teaching we must work
to share these resources with other countries that are struggling to
flourish. Project Kindy strives for the
common good and aims to contribute to the common access to the earth’s
resources mainly through helping to provide short term help in the form of food
security as well as long term empowerment through early years education. Our donors share their resources with the
kindergarten communities and in doing so they contribute to sharing the
excesses of the Australian society with the poverty-stricken rural communities
In Malawi, people live a subsistence lifestyle, where they are reliant
on the land and the weather for the small amount of food they grow for
themselves and struggle to make an income. In 2016, the United
Nations World Food Programme declared Malawi, Africa, a “Level 3”
which is their highest level of emergency, identifying that 6.5 million (just
over a third of the population of 18 million) Malawians needed immediate
food aid. The families Project Kindy supports only harvest their
food once each year, roughly from April to July. For two thirds of the year,
they cannot harvest anymore crops or access new food for their family. If their
one harvest is bad, they are in very real danger of food crisis.
Project Kindy funds daily
lunch of ‘nsima’ (ground up corn or rice kernels cooked in water over a
campfire) for the 700 children, Monday to Friday, for the 9 months of the year
that they attend kindergarten. In Malawi, the people eat ‘nsima’ for breakfast, lunch
and dinner (or less frequently if they are running low in supplies). The Sisters purchase 400 x 50kg bags of rice
and corn kernels and store them in sheds for the year. They mill the kernels each Monday morning and
give representatives from each of the 11 kindergartens their week’s ration of
flour. This provides a
much-needed safety net for these children and protects them from hunger and
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
What have you observed about the relationship between poor people and rich people across the world?
How does working for the Common Good differ from working for material gain alone?
What would the world look like if each society was built upon the idea of the Common Good?
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40
Solidarity is an attitude of brotherly and sisterly love for our global
family, believing that God is our common Creator and so we are inextricably
linked through His love. It is the right
way to see our relationships as we receive, the love from our common Heavenly
Father and reflect and channel it to each other which then further strengthens
our relationship with God and so on.
Whenever we reach out to love, support or empower another person we are
expressing our desire to work toward our common good and build unifying, right
relationships with each other. Those of
us who are in well-resourced societies are called to share material support
within the context of a kind of Christian sibling love with those of us who are in under-resourced societies. The most fulfilling life is found through empowering,
serving and loving others, not just accumulation of material goods.
When the Sisters talk to the leaders, teachers, mothers and village
communities on behalf of Project Kindy, they tell them that we are not a big
NGO, but a small number of their brothers and sisters in God across the
seas. Some of the village communities
are Christian, some of them are Muslim and some are of no religion. We extend our love and material support to
all 11 village groups no matter what religion and culture they are. When I was there in 2017 it was profoundly
beautiful for me to see the children contentedly eating their lunches, playing
their games, singing their songs, playing together and smiling away. Not one of them is excluded from our love
because we are all one family in God’s house.
We do not see the children, teachers and mothers as lower in status to us. Instead we see them as equal partners in a mutually beneficial project, working together to achieve a common goal. We benefit in many ways from being connected to them and working together towards their liberty which is tied up with ours. We are wired for this connection and it simply feels good to be serving a noble purpose bigger than ourselves. The direct relationship we enjoy with the communities through the Sisters is truly a source of wholesome nourishment for our own souls. The gift of knowing we are making a real and tangible difference in partnership with the locals is a very special antidote to the frustration many donors have expressed to me as they search for deeper relevance in their day to day lives.
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
Who is left behind in the world?
Who is left behind in our own communities?
How can we show solidarity with them?
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. ” 1 Corinthians 12:12
Subsidiarity refers to the rights and responsibilities of different
levels of society and how they should relate to each other for the common
good. The smaller, more local groups
should be empowered to participate fully, have their voices heard and cooperate
in the creation of that which affects their lives. Higher structures such as managing bodies and
governments must do for the smaller groups what they are unable to do for themselves
and to respond to injustices appropriately.
The smallest, most local group in our network is the teachers, parents
and committee of each of the kindergartens.
They are in charge of running the lessons, cooking the lunches and solving
the everyday problems of the kindies.
The Canossian Sisters sit above them as the overall managers and they
educate, mentor and provide support for the local teachers, parents and
children. Project Kindy is further removed from the project and so we listen
carefully to and respect the advice from the Sisters as to the best course of
action for how our funds are to be spent.
Above Project Kindy is the Australian Government who impose strict
standards on the charity and the Canossian Sisters and local staff in Malawi to
ensure their standards are met.
Each kindergarten is managed by a Parents and Community Committee with
the approval from the village chief and each has a representative that meets
with the Sisters and the other representatives regularly. It is an empowering model of partnership and participation
where the local people are truly active agents of change in their own
communities. It was clear during my
visit that the local volunteers are very energized by this opportunity to work
and provide early years education for the little children in their
communities. I cannot overstate the
passion with which they spoke as they addressed the villages gathered for our
visit. I observed their great enthusiasm
as they taught the children songs, literacy and numeracy. This energy is very impressive given the oppressive
nature of poverty in all aspects of life.
At times there are matters that are inappropriate for the local
teachers, mothers, parents and community committee and village chiefs to decide
upon. In these cases, the Sisters manage
the situation. This is clearly seen in
the problem of how to give incentives and thank the volunteer teachers. At first, it was agreed upon between the
Sister and myself that Project Kindy funds would be used to provide a small
wage to the teachers as this is in line with the principle of the dignity of
work. Later, another Sister corrected
this and pointed out that providing monetary wages would create a social
injustice in the community. She said the
village volunteers are not equipped to deal with such an influx of money and it
would cause conflict. The Sisters
resolved the matter with their solution to provide each volunteer teacher with bags
of grain instead of wages. In this
instance, the Sisters had a superior view of the social dynamics of the 11
villages and how introducing wages would cause unnecessary difficulties. Their decision-making enabled the smaller
groups, the teachers, to continue to do their work unhindered and with
appropriate reimbursement for their time and energy.
Reflection and Discussion Questions:
Why is it important that the local people participate in the decision-making and running of the kindergartens?
Why is it important that the Sisters make decisions from their perspective?
How do small community groups in your own area strengthen your society?
The Catholic Social Justice principles of Human Dignity, Common Good, Solidarity and Subsidiarity underpin the work of the local teachers and representatives, the Canossian Daughters of Charity and Project Kindy, whether the individual people involved are aware of that or not. It is a mutually beneficial project which proves the point that true fulfillment comes when we empower others to flourish and in doing so, we too develop more fully. Ultimately, we are blessed to be in relationship with our siblings in a faraway land and we will continue to strive for our common good.
1) Praying the Rosary is a chance to slow down, appreciate, find your anchor point and become aware of God’s love for you. This is a particularly powerful prayer for individuals, families and communities during hard times. It is one way to build an integrative spirituality, where our soul is energised and well-directed. The Rosary engages our senses and is excellent and engaging classroom prayer activity.
2) Praying the Rosary helps us move out of pain and shame and redirects us back to our noble mission, as neuroscience,virtue ethics and Dr BreneBrown suggests. As we aim to cultivate gospel values in our lives, the stories, emotions and experiences of the Rosary help us to understand the values more deeply, to soak up the feeling of their positive effects in our bodies and to change our minds, hearts and lives.
3) In a unique way, the Rosary engages several senses which have a centring effect on the person and the community. Holding the Rosary beads helps your mind to focus and keeps you on track through the ancient prayer. The beads keep our ‘monkey brains’ from running off track. The auditory experience of praying the Hail Mary in halves and listening to individuals read and pray throughout brings the group closer together.
4) The slow, meditative exhales of the Rosary cause us to stimulate the VagasNerve, shifting us out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest and digest’, or the parasympathetic nervous system.
5) The Scriptural Rosary with modern picturesis a powerful invitation to experience ‘Visio Divina’ and ‘Lectio Divina’ contemplation simultaneously by gazing at meaningful pictures and listening to one line at a time of the scriptural stories.
6) Meditating on Scripture stories invites us to get to know Jesus and His family as aclose friend does through visualising ourselves within the stories as Ignatian spirituality suggests. The pattern allows us to slowly imagine the scenes, find deeper insights and listen to God speak to us. It is a doorway into experiencing and cultivating a two-way relationship with God.
8) The Rosary also connects uswith the ancient and modern, global pilgrim church, with many of our religious congregations and with every person in God’s family. Even by just praying this reverently with your class, staff or family opens up a sacred way to be together and pay respect to the human dignity in each person.
9) The prayer experience itself is a gift from God so you can receive the love and peace of Jesus and Mary for your journey. More than just a rote learning exercise, the Rosary is an experience that lifts the heart and connects us with God in a sacred way.
10) God promises to forgive, refresh, free, help, defend, reform, instruct, humble and connect to us through the Rosary and any time we come to Him in prayer. The more we pray the Rosary, the more we will notice small and/or significant blessings or positive changes.
“When people love and recite the Rosary they find it makes them better.” – St. Anthony Mary Claret
“There is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary.” – Sister Lucia dos Santos of Fatima
“The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.”– St. Josemaria Escriva
“The Rosary is the most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God…and if you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary.” – Pope Saint Pius X
“The Rosary is a prayer that always accompanies me; it is also the prayer of the ordinary people and the saints… it is a prayer from my heart.”– Pope Francis
“The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.” – Saint Francis de Sales
“The Rosary is a prayer both so humble and simple and a theologically rich in Biblical content. I beg you to pray it.” St. John Paul II