About our Butterfly Project

Butterfly Effect ...

Our Breathing Butterfly project uses a butterfly metaphor, and provides kids, teachers, medical personnel, or other responsible adults with simple and straightforward visualization videos and activities.

With this project, we empower children in stressful conditions (e.g., health-related stress, financial stress, bullying, etc.) with an internal coping resource, commonly referred to as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Children learn that, while they may not be able to control the environment, they do have some power over their response to it. Thus, MBSR has been shown to build resilience and improve outcomes... an 'innoculation' that helps protect against stress. All children, whether highly stressed or simply dealing with the stress of growing up, can benefit from additional coping skills.

We mean it when we say 'help one, help many, cause a ripple.' By helping one child, you just can't predict in what interconnected way you're changing the future of the entire world… just as a butterfly flapping their wings in one part of the world can change the weather in another, helping one child can change how the world unfolds in ways we cannot know. That's been called the 'butterfly effect.' We've been talking about it for years in our 'ripple' campaign, and it's in the animation at the end of our Concert for Hope film… now Rabbi David Nelson has linked this 'butterfly effect' to Tikkun Olam (healing the world) in his book Judaism, Physics and God.1 Well, this is our Breathing Butterfly project.

Please note:

If you are a shelter / school / hospital volunteer, it's important for you to check with your supervisor before enthusiastically jumping in. With proper permissions and training, you avoid unintended problems in areas that are intending to bring only help and healing. Please let us know your results, and how we can make this a more helpful page!


Project History

The Breathing Butterfly, one of The Elfenworks Foundation’s key initiatives, took wing in 2009 as a response to studies in child stress.

We have used our Seven Pillar process throughout the project, since inception. Our vision was to equip children (and caring adults) with stress-busting techniques and materials, starting with a basic mindfulness based stress reduction meditation.  This meditation was written by Rev. Dr. Lauren Speeth, based on a lifetime of meditation practice combined with training as a minister and hospital chaplain.  Before recording the meditation, we checked the script with a child psychologist and a social worker. Then, before setting the recording to a visual, one of our team members tried it, with his own children, and learned that the original counting (one through seven) needed to be shortened.  As soon as the final visualization was complete, we reached out to teachers to solicit their feedback. This resulted in the addition of a small “flower” introduction video, currently available only in English.  Our friends at The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality have helped us craft a potential study for The Breathing Butterfly project, and we have made a small stipend available to interested researchers.

We began translating the project after the first English rollout. Although we originally made use of language skills of our team and friends, we have also worked hard to include the languages most often found in shelter environments. We have also continued to add creative offerings, such as a Klingon translation, in an attempt to spread the word about the project. We’ve taught the Breathing Butterfly to teachers, to The Lasallian Volunteers, to ministry students in India, and to students in classroom settings.

Although the project was initially envisioned as a way to combat stress in children afflicted by poverty, we have expanded our outreach to include groups that support children suffering illness. Also, to spread the word, our staff have attended children’s events across the country, giving away materials to parents, children, educators, and health professionals.   

As with all of our projects, we continue to gather feedback and modify our offerings. We consider The Breathing Butterfly to be one of the most important ways we’re working “In Harmony With Hope®.


The Future

Over the coming months, Elfenworks will be expanding our offerings, with new languages and activities. We are continuing to expand our reach, welcoming partner schools locally and partner organizations nation-wide. We welcome partners in this effort, and just ask that you use our 'contact' page to reach us! Below, a 'white paper' summary by Elfenworks intern Laura Mitchell, clearly explaining our project and straightforwardly summarizing research provided to us by Dr. David Grusky of Stanford University's Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality:

The project will aim to address some of the effects of high level and persistent stress among children in high risk populations. By providing access to mindfulness meditation and other positive coping exercises, this project will give children the opportunity to decrease the negative psychological and physiological effects of acute and chronic stress in their daily lives. These stress-management strategies will translate into positive mental and physical health outcomes, as well as empowerment through successful participation in educational, social, and community networks. Research focused on the effects of stress on individuals has shown that stress leads to the release of cortisol.1 While a release of cortisol can be part of the body’s natural reaction to stress, long-term exposure to cortisol has many negative health outcomes, such as insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.234 In addition to these negative long-term health effects, cortisol release has also been shown to reduce some components of memory performance.5 One effective method of addressing these stress-related increases in cortisol is through use of mindfulness meditation exercises, which can reduce both base-line cortisol levels and cortisol release during stressful events.6 Meditative practices that focus on awareness within the present moment, acknowledging emotions and circumstances without judgment, and developing patience for one’s self and others may all be effective.7 Our current understanding of the language, based on Santa Clara County English learners, is that the language need will be as follows [Data Source: State of California Department of Education, California Basic Educational Data System. http://data1.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/. Retrieved 08/13/08]:
  1. Spanish – 66.6%
  2. Vietnamese – 11.9%
  3. Tagalog – 3.3%
  4. Mandarin – 3.3%
  5. Cantonese – 1.7%
  6. Korean – 1.6%
  7. Punjabi – 1.3%
  8. Japanese – 1.2%
  9. Khmer (Cambodian) – 0.7%
  10. Farsi (Persian) – 0.6%
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1. Hammerfald, K., C. Eberle, M. Grau, A. Kinsperger, A. Zimmermann, U. Ehlert, and J. Gaab. “Persistent effects of cognitive-behavioral stress management on cortisol responses to acute stress in health subjects – A randomized controlled trial.” Psychoneuroendrocrinology 33 (2006): 333-39. 2. Dimsdale, Joel E., Paul Mills, Thomas Patterson, Michael Ziegler, and Elaine Dillon. “Effects of Chronic Stress on Beta-Edrenergic Receptors in the Homeless.” Psychosomatic Medicine 56 (1994): 290-95. 3. Hammerfald, K., C. Eberle, M. Grau, A. Kinsperger, A. Zimmermann, U. Ehlert, and J. Gaab. “Persistent effects of cognitive-behavioral stress management on cortisol responses to acute stress in health subjects – A randomized controlled trial.” Psychoneuroendrocrinology 33 (2006): 333-39. 4. Ranjit, Nalini, Elizabeth A. Young, and George A. Kaplan. “Material hardship alters the diurnal rhythm of salivary cortisol.” International Journal of Epidemiology 34 (2005): 1138-143. 5. Newcomer, John W., Gregg Selke, Angela K. Melson, Tamara Hershey, Suzanne Craft, Katherine Richards, and Amy L. Alderson. “Decreased Memory Performance in Healthy Humans Induced by Stress-Level Cortisol Treatment.” ARCH GEN PSYCHIATRY 56 (1999): 527-33. 6. MacLean, Christopher R.K., Kenneth G. Walton, Stig R. Wenneberg, Debra K. Levitsky, Joseph P. Mandarino, Rafiq Waziri, Stephen L. Hillis, and Robert H. Schneider. “Effects of the transcendental meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: Changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice.” Psychoneuroendrocrinology 22 (1997): 277-95. 7. Carlson, Linda E., Michael Speca, Kamala D. Patel, and Eileen Goodey. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Relation to Quality of Life, Mood, Symptoms of Stress, and Immune Parameters in Breast and Prostate Cancer Outpatients.” Psychosomatic Medicine 65 (2003): 571-81.

1. Nelson, David W. Judaism, Physics and God; Searching for Sacred Metaphors in a Post-Einstein World. Woodstock, VT. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005: 99.
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