Mindfulness in Schools

I try.  I try hard.  But there’s so much noise that it’s tough to sift through the clutter.  “I should put the laundry in first” or “I have a full inbox of emails that I should tend to beforehand.”  “Should” being the operative word in both sentences. 

For anyone that has tried meditation, you understand where I'm coming from.  Those first few moments, when you take your seat on the floor or a chair, close your eyes and try to “be still.”  But in a world of buzzing smart phones, multi-tasking and the need for instant gratification, the act of meditating can be a challenging endeavor. 

As a lifelong swimmer, I didn’t have the opportunity to snow ski until my senior year in college, after the season had ended and my "official" athletic career was over.  I was awful.  And when I say “awful” I mean that I couldn’t even make it down the bunny slope without falling and bursting into tears.  By the time I made it to the bottom of the hill the first time, I was finished.  Frustrated and defeated, I took off my skis and went back to the cabin, while my friends spent the day on the mountains. 

Had I been taught at an early age, or younger than 22, there’s a chance I would have been better at skiing.  Maybe not swooshing my way down Black Diamond slopes, but as an athlete, one would assume that I could have gotten down the hill a few times without falling and enjoyed it.  The point is that the younger we learn a skill, language or sport, the greater our chances are of being successful. 

Here in the DC area, a local high school is testing that theory and bringing in local instructors from a non-profit organization to teach “mindfulness.”  While students at Walt Whitman High School stress about grades and college applications, instructors show them how to relax and focus. 

The school is known for having overachievers, so the 8-week pilot program is a big change for the driven students.  Beginning in November, meditation time will take place during the school day, but will cost the school nothing.  If the program continues, the principal said that parent donations would cover the $4,000-$5,000 cost.  Already practiced in an AP Literature class, the teacher holds 90-second meditations for the students, where they sit quietly, eyes closed. They are instructed to sit up straight, concentrate on their breathing and take deep, slow inhales.  One of the students says that she feels the benefits of the practice and has helped her to manage the pressure of sports, academics and college applications.  

Benefits of meditation include: lowers your stress levels including cortisol, which could be a contributor to weight gain*; helps lower your blood pressure*; could help lesson the severity of colds*; improve student grades*; lowers the risk of depression among teens* and helps you to sleep better*.  (The asterisks are hyperlinked to articles or studies that support the noted benefit).

I’ve said on more than one occasion, “Yoga makes me a better person.”  The reason? When I’m in class, my mind is calm -- I’m focused on my breathing, body position and being present in the moment.  Today, with iPads, iPods, video games, iTouch, smart phones and TV monitors in the headsets of cards, it’s tough to get a quiet moment.  I constantly remind myself to put down the phone when I'm watching a movie, not tweet while walking and set a time in the evening when I play my Word With Friends, rather than constantly throughout the day. Otherwise, I'm a multi-tasking machine instead of being "in the moment." The next generation is proficient in technology and well versed in it’s constant stimulation and entertainment it provides.  So, to this end, why not give them usable tools to help slow them down, focus on the present and be mindful of their physical and emotional space?

Interested in giving meditation a try? There are many sources available online that will help guide you through the practice, as well as iPhone applications and You Tube videos that will keep track of your time and emit a chime-like sound when you have completed the set amount of time.  Start out with 5-minutes and build your way up to 15 or 20.  Most importantly, don't get discouraged.  Every single person who has tried meditated has "done it for the first time" and been in the same position.  (Click here for great beginner information and here for tips on how to practice with your children)

What are your thoughts? How do you practice mindfulness in an over-stimulated world?