young people

Centennial High becoming ‘mindful’ of the benefits of meditation

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Janene Holzberg, Baltimore Sun: At their teacher’s suggestion, some Centennial High School students are closing their eyes in class and taking their minds off academic subjects.

They are relaxing instead of sitting tensely on the edge of their chairs.

And they are thinking positive thoughts instead of stressing over a coming test, a lower-than-expected grade, or a social or emotional challenge they may be facing in one of Howard County’s many top-performing schools.

To help them feel grounded, they are focusing on their breathing and their feet. Just as importantly, they are learning to just “be.”

It’s a scene taking place after school in the physics classroom of Stan Eisenstein, who is imparting coping strategies based on meditation and mindfulness to …

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Meditation transforms roughest San Francisco schools

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David L. Kirp, SFGate: At first glance, Quiet Time – a stress reduction strategy used in several San Francisco middle and high schools, as well as in scattered schools around the Bay Area – looks like something out of the om-chanting 1960s. Twice daily, a gong sounds in the classroom and rowdy adolescents, who normally can’t sit still for 10 seconds, shut their eyes and try to clear their minds.

This practice – meditation rebranded – deserves serious attention from parents and policymakers. An impressive array of studies shows that integrating meditation into a school’s daily routine can markedly improve the lives of students. If San Francisco schools Superintendent Richard Carranza has his way, Quiet Time could well spread citywide.

What’s happening at Visitacion Valley Middle School, which in 2007 became the first public school nationwide to adopt the program, shows why the superintendent is so enthusiastic. In this neighborhood, gunfire is as common as birdsong – nine shootings have been recorded in the past month – and most students know someone who’s been shot or did the shooting. Murders are so frequent that the school employs a full-time grief counselor.

In years past, these students were largely out of control, frequently fighting …

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Looking with loving eyes (through Google Glass)

glass buddha projectI picked up Google Glass, which is essentially a smartphone that you wear on your head, on July 6. I’d made a pitch to Google in order to get Glass, saying that I wanted to explore it as a tool for teaching meditation and mindfulness.

The timing in some ways wasn’t great, because I was working a second job at the University of New Hampshire over the summer, teaching personal development and study skills to teens from low income families. And when that seven-week stint was up I had a heck of a lot of catching up to do back at Wildmind.

But one of the things I did do with Glass while teaching at UNH was to use it to record some guided meditation sessions I led with my teens. You can’t actually record just audio on Glass, so what I’ve done here is to take a video and strip out the audio.

I’ll be posting more about my adventures with Glass now that I’ve caught up.

A word about the quality. I was teaching in a large room with constant noise from the air conditioning and from the fan of a projector. So I had to talk much more loudly than I would normally do, and you can also hear the machine noise in the background. But here’s the recording, which is 12 minutes long.

The meditation starts with a brief body scan and then turns into a lovingkindness practice. It uses an approach that I call “loving gaze,” which is a quick and easy way to evoke a sense of kindly, caring, compassionate attention.

I was able to get Google Glass thanks to many generous donors who covered the costs involved. (Although I won a competition in order to become a Glass Explorer I still had to pay for the device.) One of the most generous donors was Adrian Lucas of Sassakala Microfarm. I’ve visited Adrian’s microfarm in Florida, where he gets an amazingly bountiful crop from a vertical hydroponic farm with a tiny footprint, and it’s very impressive. In fact, Sassakala catered a retreat I led in Florida this February, and the veggies were delicious.

sassakala logo

Sassakala’s aims are:

  • to show kids where real food comes from
  • to encourage you to take control of your health by growing some of your own food at home
  • to show you how much fun it can be to cook beautiful, healthy meals for yourself from the food you grow
  • to show you that it’s not only possible but also amazingly rewarding to put food on the table that came from seeds you planted and nurtured yourself
  • for you to grow your own food

Please visit Sassakala at

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Mindfulness and education


Life Coach extraordinaire Tim Brownson drew my attention to this interesting infographic last week, and I promptly forgot about it until stumbling across it again last night.

According to the graphic’s creators, by the end of 2012, at least 91 schools located in 13 states were planning to implement meditation course for their students. High school students practicing meditation for a month had 25% less absence and 38% fewer suspension days when compared to other students.

Students improved scores in their attention by practicing meditation and students found that their aggressive behavior was reduced. Students practicing focused meditation committed fewer rule infractions.

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Room to Breathe: The official trailer


Room to Breathe is a surprising story of transformation as struggling kids in a San Francisco public middle school are introduced to the practice of mindfulness. Topping the district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices. Do they repeat the cycle of forcing tuned-out children to listen, or experiment with a set of age-old inner practices that may provide them with the social, emotional, and attentional skills that they need to succeed?

Even just this brief extract of the film is powerfully moving. I can’t wait to see the whole thing.

Here’s some more background information from the film’s website:

The film begins in the halls of Marina Middle School in San Francisco – kids pouring out of classrooms, shouting to each other as they sweep down the stairwells into a concrete schoolyard that lies outside of the massive art deco building that is the weekday home to almost 1,000 children. The tough language and raw physicality suggests the underlying violence to which these kids are exposed.

Topping the San Francisco school district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices. Do they repeat the cycle of forcing tuned-out children to listen, or experiment with a set of age-old inner practices that may provide them with the social and emotional skills that they need to succeed?

We are introduced to Omar, a troubled African American boy with a love for playing basketball, partly to forget his brother’s murder in an unsolved crime in 2007; Lesly, a highly social girl with no interest in academics, whose hard-working parents immigrated from Mexico; Lesly’s friend Jacqueline, a tough and disruptive girl who is frequently in trouble with school administrators; and Gerardo, a winsome but defiant boy who sees himself as unfairly persecuted by his primary teacher and other school officials.

Room to Breathe has two primary adult figures — Ling Busche, an overworked young Asian-American counselor helping seventh graders deal with what they perceive as a hostile school or home environments, and Megan Cowan, a buoyant 30-something Executive Director of a growing mindfulness-in-education organization. The first question is whether it’s already too late for these kids. Confronted by defiance, contempt for authority figures, poor discipline, and more interest in “social” than learning, their young meditation teacher runs into unexpected trouble in the classroom. Will she succeed in overcoming street-hardened defiance to open their minds and hearts? Under Megan’s guidance, our characters and their peers slowly start to take greater control over themselves, and a new sense of calm begins to permeate their worlds, in class and at home.

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Largest randomized-controlled study to date on mindfulness and children shows significant improvements in behavior

In the 2011-12 school year, Mindful Schools partnered with the University of California, Davis to conduct the largest randomized-controlled study to date on mindfulness and children, involving 915 children and 47 teachers in 3 Oakland public schools.

The Mindful Schools curriculum (which has been taught to over 30,000 children) produced statistically significant improvements in behavior versus the control group with just four hours of mindfulness instruction for the students–a very small, low-cost treatment.

In addition to the study’s size, it is notable for the population served and the environment around the schools. There are very high levels of crime around the three schools that were studied — surroundings that add tremendous turmoil to children’s lives. In 2010, Oakland was ranked 5th in the United States in violent crime.

In addition, 85% of the students in the study were on Free Lunch and 6% were on Reduced Lunch. 68% of the students were English Language Learners. 49% of the parents did not have high school diplomas.

A new film, Room to Breathe showe Mindful Schools at a San Francisco middle school with the highest district suspensions.

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Meditation creates a little breathing space for San Francisco students

Richard Schiffman, OpEdNews: There are two jobs that have become a lot more difficult in recent years. One is being a teacher, which was never easy at the best of times. But in an age of virtually unlimited opportunities for distraction and rapidly shrinking attention spans getting kids to focus on their schoolwork can be (with apologies to dentists) like pulling teeth.

I know: As a former school aide working with young children, it was often all that I could manage just to break up fights and keep the decibel level below that at an international airport. Any “education” that actually took place …

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Teenager credits meditation with helping her on way to singing success

Rob Pattinson, Ormskirk Advertiser: A talented teenager has made it through to the regional finals of a national singing contest – with a little help from meditation.

Amy Wilkinson began singing while at primary school at St Michael’s in Aughton.

The 14-year-old, from Narrow Moss Lane, Scarisbrick [West Lancashire], entered Britain’s Got Talent last year but missed out on a chance to sing for the TV judges.

But, undeterred, she entered the Open Mic UK competition and, having performed a version of the Noisettes track Never Forget You, she has successfully made it through to the regional finals on October 14, where she will …

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Stress isn’t limited to adults

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Keith Upchurch, Herald-Sun, North Carolina: Stress isn’t limited to adults. It affects students, too.

Whether it’s a crushing load of schoolwork, fear of the next test or worries about money and the future, high school and college students face their own pressures in an increasingly competitive world.

Some find the pressure stimulating and motivating, while others lose sleep.

One person who isn’t burned out by carrying a full course load and also devoting more than 40 hours a week to extracurricular activities is Duke University senior Chris Martin, 22. He’s chairman of the Duke Honor Council, president of Club Sports, president of the cycling team and president of the Duke University Campus Recreation Leadership Council.

He recently calculated that those commitments take about 43 hours a week. He’s also got classes, tests and term papers, and is applying to business school.

But instead of letting stress overcome him, he finds it a pleasure, because he’s passionate about what he does.

“It is hard at times to be committed to as many things as a lot of us at Duke are,” Martin said. “But at the end of the day, the people at Duke make it a real pleasure to lead them. The people in the organizations I’m involved with have been incredibly challenging and passionate individuals who have brought my leadership to a higher level. They challenge me to become a better person.”

For Martin, it’s all about doing what he loves.

“It’s a pressure, for sure, but for me, stress is more about how you deal with your commitments and not necessarily the commitments themselves.”

To keep stress at bay, Martin tries to stay fit, and cycling is his sports of choice.

“When I ride my bike, that’s when I think clearest,” he said.

But not everyone reacts to pressure the same way.

For example, Elizabeth KonKolics, a 21-year-old Duke senior and Baldwin Scholar majoring in evolutionary anthropology, says schoolwork creates the most stress in her life. One way she deals with it is to get more sleep.

“I’m the kind of person that when I have a lot of stress, I tend to sleep more, and that can be a problem,” she said. “I would say that sometimes there are a few meltdowns, as my mother always calls them. And also, when you’re thinking about things outside of school or a particular class, it makes you less focused on all your other studies or the rest of your life.”

KonKolics is involved in several student organizations, and much of her stress comes from the tug of war between those commitments and schoolwork.

But she knows what her future holds after graduation: She’ll be teaching high school biology in Memphis, Tenn.

“It’s funny to think that Duke’s stress has prepared me for other stress,” she said. “I don’t know that we are always taught how to deal with stress, but I am someone who talks it out. I have a lot of friends I have breakfast with, and talk things out with them.”

Other ways she releases pressure is by watching movies, especially romantic comedies. At other times, she likes to close the door and sit quietly in her room.

“My mother has a funny saying [about stress]: ‘Take a shower, shave your legs and go to bed.’ ” She tries to take that advice.

For Philip Polychroniou, a Duke senior who plans to go on to medical school, stress is “a double-edged sword, because it can serve as a motivator to get things done, but can also be crippling, especially when faced with an approaching deadline.”

He said some students faced with deadlines often turn to energy drinks, coffee and other stimulants like Adderall to get their work done.

But Polychroniou prefers to run, play basketball or watch a movie to handle stress.

“I think to a certain extent, today’s college students are under more stress than in the past, because there is more competition, not only while in school, but also in the job market,” he said. “The recession hasn’t helped either, because our immediate future is in a bit more doubt than it would be if there was more economic growth and job openings.”

At N.C. Central University, stress is a constant companion for many students.

Describing her life as “very stressful” is Jessica Mohabir, 21, a senior majoring in psychology. She’s feeling the pressure as she nears graduation and tries to get into graduate school. Also, her mother recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan, where she served in the Marines, and it stressed Mohabir to know she had been in harm’s way.

How does she cope with stress? By venting to friends and keeping a journal, which she finds “very therapeutic.”

She tries to get enough sleep, and takes time-outs to listen to music when the walls start closing in.

But money worries sometimes chip away at her peace of mind.

“Money is definitely an issue — trying to make sure I have money to pay rent, buy groceries, textbooks and so forth,” she said. “That adds to the stress I’m in right now.”

The way NCCU sophomore Tyquan Ward, 19, handles stress is “hitting the gym” and “making a to-do list and complete as many tasks as possible.”

The pre-law student feels the stress of trying to excel at whatever he does.

“If you don’t want to be successful in your schoolwork, you’re not going to have high stress levels,” Ward said. “But if you want to make all As, then of course you’re going to be stressed, because to get at least 90 percent in all your classes takes hard work. There are some times when you have two or three tests in one day. You’ve got to prepare for all of them, because at the end of the day, the professors aren’t going to take any excuses.”

Drinking lots of Pepsi has helped get him through long nights in the past, but this semester, he’s trying to drink more water and better manage his time.

And he believes the pressure on college students is more intense now than 10 years ago because of increased competition for jobs.

“Maybe 10 years ago, you could get a great job with a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “But nowadays, a bachelor’s degree is equivalent to a high school diploma.”

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Miley Cyrus urges young girls to meditate

San Francisco Chronicle: Miley Cyrus is encouraging young girls to meditate more and take time to discover what they really want out of life.

The pop star and actress admits she lost her way during a tough period in her life – and started hanging out with people she thought were “cool” in a desperate bid to be just like them.

Then she found meditation and realized her best friend is herself – and she urges other confused teenagers to follow her example and get in touch with the real you.

Appearing on TV show “The Conversation with Amanda DeCadenet,” the former “Hannah Montana” star says she’s sick of meeting young girls who want all the wrong things in life.

She explains, “Some girls that I see and I see what they want and what is the most important thing in their life, I just wanna shake them and say, ‘Wake up! The world is so much greater. Go, be by yourself, go meditate, go spend 10 minutes really looking at yourself and I don’t know if you’re gonna like it.’

“I always say, ‘If I met me, would I really like me…? Would you really wanna be your friend?’

“We kind of judge people and we put people down about the things that we really don’t like about ourselves. It’s the same with the people you choose to have in your life.”

The realization made Cyrus rethink who her real friends were: “I see the people that when I was in a sad point in my life and when I so just wanted to prove a point of, ‘I’m not who people think I am…’ They were cool … but I’m so sick of people trying to be too cool. Cool is so dumb.”

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