young people

Memphis School offering meditation to middle school students

It’s not what you’d expect at a school: students being asked not to think!

“We are calling it a mental recess,” said Greg Graber, the head of middle school at Lausanne Collegiate School. “We really think this is going to help them, to sit and do nothing for 10-15 minutes and try to relax their minds to get distressed and unplugged.”

The Lausanne Collegiate School in East Memphis is trying a different way to get kids focused.

Starting in September, Middle schoolers 10 to 14 years old are going to get the option, of skipping recess to sit and do nothing.

“Have you ever tried meditation?” …

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Zen for high schoolers: ‘Notice the anxiety. Notice the fear.’

The New York Times reports not only that Brooklyn high-schoolers are attending weekly meditation sessions meant to help them handle the challenges of growing up in the city, but that Zen meditation is being offered as an alternative to traditional detentions.

The meditation sessions are taking place in the Brooklyn Zen Center, where Zen priest Greg Snyder is involved in the center’s Awake Youth Project, which includes weekly workshops in five public high schools as well as teenager-led sessions at the center.

Now, Mr. Snyder is taking on the tougher task of teaching meditation to Level 1 offenders— students who are frequently put in detention or suspended because they start fights or cause trouble — at Bushwick High School. Administrators at the school approved the program April 5 and plan to start it in coming weeks.

Students in trouble are given the choice of traditional punishments or participating in the meditation program, where Mr. Snyder will teach them how to meditate, understand volatile emotions and curb impulsive behavior. He intends to take the program to other schools as well.

One of the students reports that the meditation has been helpful in dealing with tensions at school and with her mother, who works with the mentally impaired. “It’s hard, because she has to go work with them and then comes back to us. Maybe a year ago, I’d have talked back and had a bad attitude, but now I let it go through me and accept it.”

“For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could relieve the stress on my shoulders,” another student says.

Snyder is reported as using the trauma students experience as fodder for meditation:

“This is where you actually use this. Notice the thought. That’s fine. Notice the anxiety. Notice the fear. Use the meditation to focus your mind. Are you with me?”

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Meditation enters Mumbai classrooms

Students across [Mumbai] city schools will soon start their day by closing their eyes for 15 minutes and breathing deeply to keep stressful thoughts at bay. In an attempt to relieve the ever-increasing stress of students as well as the school authorities, the state education department has introduced compulsory meditation in all government-aided schools.

The Maharashtra State Council of Research and Technology (MSCERT) has introduced meditation sessions in the morning, for school teachers, headmistress and students between classes V to X. MSCERT director Shridhar Salunke says the council has initiated the move to help students relieve stress, boost self-confidence, improve grades and even cut down on bad behaviour.

At least one teacher from every school will be trained for six days in Anapana [mindfulness of breathing] courses, as part of project ‘Mind in Training for Right Awareness’ (MITRA).This project has been formed to spread awareness about Anapana and Vipassana courses in the education sector in the state. Last year, the state government had come out with a government resolution asking its schools to conduct one-day Anapana courses for school children.

Stating that the project will be implemented across all schools, Salunkhe said, ‘’Once trained, the teachers will spread awareness about the programme in their respective schools. In the morning assembly, schools will hold meditation sessions for 10 to 15 minutes daily.’’ A government resolution (GR) has already been issued in this regard to all education offices.

[via DNA India]
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Yoga shows psychological benefits for high-school students

Yoga classes have positive psychological effects for high-school students, according to a pilot study in the April Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Since mental health disorders commonly develop in the teenage years, “Yoga may serve a preventive role in adolescent mental health,” according to the new study, led by Jessica Noggle, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Fifty-one 11th- and 12th-grade students registered for physical education (PE) at a Massachusetts high school were randomly assigned to yoga or regular PE classes. (Two-thirds were assigned to yoga.) Based on Kripalu yoga, the classes consisted of physical yoga postures together with breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation. Students in the comparison group received regular PE classes.

Students completed a battery of psychosocial tests before and after the ten-week yoga program. In addition to tests of mood and tension/anxiety, both groups completed tests assessing the development of self-regulatory skills—such as resilience, control of anger expression, and mindfulness—thought to protect against the development of mental health problems.

Teens taking yoga classes had better scores on several of the psychological tests. Specifically, while students in regular PE classes tended to have increased scores for mood problems and anxiety, those taking yoga classes stayed the same or showed improvement. Negative emotions also worsened in students taking regular PE, while improving in those taking yoga. (There was no difference in a test of positive emotions.)

However, the tests of self-regulatory skills were not significantly different between groups. Although attendance was only moderate, the students rated yoga fairly high—nearly three-fourths said they would like to continue taking yoga classes.

Adolescence is an important time for the development of mental health, including healthy coping responses to stress. Several types of school-based stress management and wellness programs have been developed with the goal of encouraging healthy coping strategies and resilience among teens.
One promising approach is yoga, which combines strength and flexibility exercise with relaxation and meditation/mindfulness techniques. Studies have shown benefits of yoga in a wide range of mental and physical health problems, including a growing body of evidence showing positive effects in children and teens.

Although limited by its small size, the study suggests some positive psychological effects of Kripalu yoga for high school students. The results are “generally consistent” with the few previous studies of yoga in school settings. Dr Noggle and coauthors call for larger studies including multiple schools and tracking teens for several years into adulthood. These larger studies will be needed to clarify the psychological and other health benefits of yoga for adolescents—including the possible preventive benefit on development of mental health problems.

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Meditation helps kids pay attention, leading researcher says

Gordon Hoekstra, PostMedia News: Simple meditation techniques, backed up with modern scientific knowledge of the brain, are helping kids hard-wire themselves to be able to better pay attention and become kinder, says neuroscientist Richard Davidson.

Davidson — who will speak Friday at the University of British Columbia on his new co-authored book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain — has put his research into practice at elementary schools in Madison, Wis.

About 200 students at four elementary schools have used breathing techniques to hard-wire their brains to improve their ability to focus on their work.

“It’s so widely popular and successful, the district wants us to scale it up the entire (Madison) school system,” Davidson said Wednesday in an interview.

Davidson, who was inspired by a meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1992 to research areas like kindness and compassion, heads up several laboratories at the University of Wisconsin including the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.

In 2006, Davidson was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Davidson said research has shown why the brain’s circuitry is important in governing a person’s resilience to stress.

Research has also shown the brain is elastic, that it can be shaped by experience and behaviour.

Research, including brain imaging studies, also shows it is possible to cultivate the mind to change brain function and structure in ways that will promote higher levels of well-being and increased resilience, said Davidson. His research is outlined in dozens of articles in scientific journals.

The techniques used with elementary schoolchildren are quite simple. To improve a child’s ability to pay attention — and also improve their studying abilities — a stone is put on a child’s belly, and they learn to focus on their breathing as the stone goes up and down.

The technique can be taught to children as young as four, said Davidson.

“A simple anchor like one’s breath is a centuries-old meditation technique, but it turns out to have some very beneficial qualities in terms of changes in both the brain and behaviour,” he said.

To foster kindness in teenagers, students are asked to visualize a loved one suffering followed by a thought that they be relieved of that suffering.

This is extended to difficult people as well, said Davidson.

This exercise has also been shown to produce meaningful changes in the brain and behaviour, he said.

Elementary schools in Vancouver have also embraced these meditation techniques as part of a program called MindUp that teaches children that it is hard to concentrate when the brain is stressed.

More than 1,000 teachers have trained in the program at the Vancouver school board, and the district has received requests from other school districts, including in Yukon, to teach the program.

Original article no longer available…

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Amidst chaos, 15 minutes of quiet time helps focus students

On a recent morning at Visitacion Valley Middle School in South San Francisco, Principal James Dierke looked out over the school’s auditorium at more than 100 eighth graders. A restless din filled the large room. Bursts of laughter and errant shouts punctuated the buzz. Most of the students seemed disinterested in Dierke’s announcements about the spring’s impending graduation, upcoming field trips, and recent birthdays.

Then, Dierke struck a bell and said, “Okay, it’s quiet time.”

And just like that, a hush fell over the auditorium. Students straightened their backs and closed their eyes. Some bowed their heads. Others rested them on the backs of …

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The Buddha Walks Into A Bar, by Lodro Rinzler

Cover of Lodro Rinzler's book, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar

The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation is the literary debut of 28 year-old Shambhala Buddhist teacher, Lodro Rinzler. The book is aimed at “Generation O” and makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge or experience of Buddhism. Having said that, despite being a ‘young Buddhist’ I have almost a decade of experience of Buddhism yet I still found this book enjoyable, useful, and interesting.

I must admit, I did wince slightly at some of the expressions in the book, such as “Sid said…” when referring to the Buddha, but perhaps this is due to not being so ‘down with the kids’ these days. However, the cringe-effect quickly passed and I found Rinzler’s approach to be both down to earth and inspiring at the same time. The introduction clearly sets out the book’s purpose as a guide for (young) people who have sex, drink alcohol once in a while and still get annoyed at life when it doesn’t go our way. The book also discusses how to apply the Dharma to these daily issues that pervade our lives by living life to the fullest and being more in the “now” (and not necessarily having to give up those things that you enjoy. I think this is a reassuring message for young people interested in Buddhism.

I run monthly events for young people at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. There has been some resistance and challenge from people who are too old to come along, asking why young people need their own separate events, and this is why: Early adulthood is a time when people are exploring their identity and role in society. Young adults, from teenage years even into their twenties and thirties, may be still going through the process of separating from their parents by exploring, pushing and defining their own boundaries, beliefs and ideologies. What is needed is not any perceived imposition of more rules or boundaries, or anyone telling them how they ought to behave. What this book does well is to avoid that; it acknowledges in the first chapter that we might have the intrusive thought “Brett is a real asshole” [sic] while meditating. Rather than discussing the negative implications of having such thoughts on a prolonged and regular basis, Rinzler simply gives advice on how to use meditation practice to break free of our habitual responses in a playful and realistic way.

To give you a flavour of the playful and realistic character of the chapters, here are some the chapter headings: Being Gentle with Your Incredible Hulk Syndrome; Sex, Love and Compassion; How to Apply Discipline, Even When Your Head gets Cut off; Singing a Vajra Song (in the shower). Each of these chapters appears in one of four parts of the book: The whole book is divided into four parts: 1. First, get your act together, 2. How to save the world, 3. Letting go into space and 4. Relaxing into magic. Each part explores a different ‘dignity’ of Shambhala Buddhism: the tiger, the snow lion, the garuda and the dragon. The qualities of the tiger are discernment, gentleness and precision. This part of the book guides us in discerning our intentions and motivations in life (discerning our mandala), and working with difficult emotions and includes some instruction some shamatha practice that is simple enough for a beginner, starting with just 5 minutes.

Rinzler also emphasises the importance of inhabiting the present moment, and making the most of it by taking care of the details of our home, our finances and even our clothes, in a way that is relevant to young people. In the next part, the snow lion represents open heartedness and positive emotion; her qualities are applied particularly to sex and relationships, and we are introduced to the six paramitas (perfections) and the practice of loving kindness meditation. Following on from this, the garuda makes its entry. The garuda is an outrageous mythical being (half man, half bird) who flies above the earth and embodies the quality of fearlessness. Here we come to recognise the nature of fear, impermanence, groundlessness and to ultimately develop equanimity. This part of the book guides us leaning into the less comfortable aspects of life, letting go of attachment and creating a greater sense of spaciousness with our jobs, family, money, gadgets, social life, et cetera.

Finally, we are introduced to the magical dragon, and her qualities of authenticity, humour and delight. I loved this part of the book; I’m currently writing my PhD thesis and can get a bit cranky at times! The dragon has at some dark times inspired me to let go and be a bit lighter, and to be more accepting when I’m not feeling at my best. This part also contains the story of Milarepa, who caused much harm in his lifetime but still managed to attain enlightenment. Reading the story reminded me that we can all transform ourselves and shine light into the darkness. There is a lovely simple exercise here for opening the heart and mind, which can be really helpful when feeling as though one is in the middle of a maelstrom!

Overall, I found this book enjoyable, engaging and inspiring. I think I would have liked to see a bit more of a health warning along the lines that although the practices in the book are great and can be really effective, they aren’t always easy to do, and that deeper effects tend to be cumulative. Having said that, I loved the book and think it’s a great introductory read for a younger person who would like to know more about Buddhism, or just life in general. There is no pressure from the book to become a Buddhist; in fact this is even stated in the introduction. We’re actually planning to use some of the ideas from the book, combined with Sangharakshita’s System of Meditation’ as a theme for our Young Sangha activities at Brighton Buddhist Centre, so there’s a recommendation!

Title: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation
Author: Lodro Rinzler
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-590-30937-7
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

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Monks teach meditation to incarcerated teens

Melissa Russo: Some of New York City’s angriest teens are learning the way to a more peaceful path with a little help from the Buddha.

Inside the Crossroads Juvenile Detention Center in Brownsville, the contrast between the street kids in their orange detention suits and the monks in their brown robes could not be more pronounced.

The group of monastics files into the facility, and they’re unlike anything these kids have seen in their neighborhood: soft-spoken, barefoot and bald.

“It was pretty interesting,” said one 15-year-old. “I didn’t think they were real.”

“When I saw them walk through the door, I was …

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“Now I Know That Silly Hopes and Fears Will Just Make Wrinkles on My Face” by Sally Devorsine

This lovely children’s book has been test-driven by my five-year-old daughter, and found to be engaging and illuminating. In my amateur estimation it would be suitable for children considerably older — at least up to the age of eight or nine.

Now I Know (the full title is “Now I Know That Silly Hopes and Fears Will Just Make Wrinkles on My Face”) is the first of a series, also called Now I Know, described as a “Collection of Retro Cool Wisdom for Kids.” This series of children’s books is written and illustrated by Sally Devorsine, who lives in Bhutan, where she teaches a western school curriculum to young monks.

Title: Now I Know That Silly Hopes and Fears Will Just Make Wrinkles on My Face
Author: Sally Devorsine
Publisher: Chocolate Sauce Books
ISBN:
Available from: Chocolate Sauce Books as a e-book or hardback, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

The series and endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the first book includes a brief commentary by the French-born Tibetan Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, who is a well known author in his own right, and a friend of the Dalai Lama and of neuroscience researcher Richie Davidson.

The Now I Know Collection intends to apply ancient wisdom “to help kids young and old solve real-life issues in today’s complicated world.”

We follow the adventures of Megan, a young girl who loves meeting new people and who has a strong streak of kindness and consideration toward others. When a new girl, Hazel, arrives in class, Megan is quick to befriend her and to show her around, but unfortunately she neglects her existing friends.

As part of her “induction tour,” Megan introduces Hazel to the “Testing Tree,” which the local children use in competitions in order to see who can climb the highest. When Hazel succeeds in climbing higher than anyone before her, she suddenly becomes the “popular girl,” and Megan feels isolated and resentful.

Fortunately Megan has a kind and wise advisor in the form of her teacher, Ms. Sage, who helps her to understand that she has built up a “storyline” in her head, in which Hazel is her “best friend” who has abandoned her. But Hazel has made no such promise, and is unaware of Megan’s hopes. Ms. Sage helps Megan to see that her thoughts about the situation, rather than the situation itself, is what’s causing her suffering, that her old friends are missing her, and that in fact she did a good think by helping Hazel adjust to her new school.

Once she lets go of her resentment, Megan actually talks to Hazel and finds that their friendship still exists (it always has, except in Megan’s head!).

Now I Know is well-written, lively, and beautifully illustrated. There are some questions at the end to help children reflect a little more deeply on the lessons of the story, and also a quote from the 12th century teacher, Langri Thangpa, on seeing those who hurt us as our teachers (although of course in this case it was Hazel who hurt herself.

The book manages to convey a message without seeming preachy. The tale effectively illustrates how we can create our own suffering through the storylines we spin for ourselves. Of course in this particular tale, no one did anything harmful to another person. Hazel never purposely abandoned her friendship with Megan, and so no betrayal was involved. Some readers may play the “yes, but…” game, where they wonder how this teaching would apply if Megan really had been deserted by her new friend, or if her old friends had shunned her permanently. And indeed such things are a daily reality for many children. But one children’s book can’t address every painful situation that can arise in young people’s lives, and it would be unfair to do so here. The basic principle that our thoughts can create suffering from nothing, or magnify a genuine suffering, can be applied by parents as they help their children to navigate life’s emotional challenges.

The fact that one children’s book can’t address every painful situation that can arise in young people’s lives is a good reason for having a series like Now I Know, and I look forward to reading other books in the series to my children.

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Relax, kids: Meditation touted as stress buster for children

Tralee Pearce: I haven’t studied enough. I’m going to fail the test. My mom’s going to be mad. Maybe I’ll skip class.

Thoughts like these can quickly gallop out of control in kids’ minds, but what if there was a way they could clear them away? Enter the three-minute breathing meditation, which can be done anywhere, whether it’s on the bus or in a school hallway.

It’s one of the cornerstones of the increasingly popular practice of mindfulness, a blend of Buddhism-inspired calm and cognitive-behavioural therapy. Used as a therapy for adults for about 30 years, it’s now moving into the world of kids …

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