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We live in some hyper-connected times; stress levels are on the way up as attention spans are on the way down. Last year, after learning about the powerful impact meditation was having on students at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, we decided to give it a try in our health classes. In the second semester, we wanted to try a more structured approach, so we started using Smiling Mind, a free online resource from Australia. At first, the idea of meditation might seem a little strange to the kids, so we introduce the concept by showing them this short TED talk by Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace.
He does an excellent job of explaining what mediation is in a way that kids can understand. Starting a meditation practice might seem daunting, but with so many tools like this available online, any classroom teacher can implement their own practice right away. Middle school boys can be some of the most resistant, so try a little positive peer pressure and show them this clip from ESPN news about mindfulness in the NBA. The growing body of research is impressive, and this article from the SF Gate highlights even more positive ways that meditation is impacting kids, especially in some of the tougher areas. Next week: Mental Health — the latest tools, resources and lessons to support your curriculum… and your students. Are you whole-heartedly contemplating adding the practice of stillness and awareness into your life? Do you already have outcomes or plans listed in your head or maybe even on paper about what you are going to achieve via your practice? For the first week I would suggest sitting for 5-10 minutes per day ideally at the same time.
When I was teaching in Alabama, a truly endearing student entered class with this exact question.
The Pali word for mindfulness is Sati, which actually means activity and is also translated as awareness. While reading many explanations of mindfulness, I came to realize that a better understanding of mindfulness requires a tremendous amount of reading and comprehension.

So where does that leave the average person, like you and I, in terms of gaining a better understanding? Anapana Sati, the meditation on in-and-out breathing, is the first subject of meditation expounded by the Buddha. I think this is highly relevant that it was Buddha’s first teaching on meditation, because all things begin and end with the breath. And while I do think that complete comprehension of mindfulness goes far beyond mere words, I feel confident that the breath can lead us to that deeper understanding. If we can train our minds to be constantly aware of this breath, we become more and more mindful of thoughts and feelings (physical and emotional) that arise and fall away. We all know that we are constantly breathing, now all we have to do is pay attention to this.
Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Equipping students with the skills needed to slow down and be mindful can help them as they struggle to find focus and calm in a world full of constant distractions. Since we didn’t have time to implement the full Quiet Time program that they use, we started with a modified version, doing five minutes at the beginning of each class. It’s a guided program, broken down by age range, and takes the kids through ten different levels, with meditations ranging from anywhere between 5-7 minutes long. Headspace is also a great app to use, but after you get to a certain level, you need to pay to use the program, whereas Smiling Mind is completely free. It’s nice for the older kids in that it’s broken down by intent – compassion, welcoming the day, dealing with anxiety — and has a timer for silent meditations, which they really enjoy. On Edutopia, there is even a bank of downloadable resources, including a letter to send home and a primer for teachers.
When I shared it with my kids, they were able to come up with some great connections as to how meditation can help athletic performance, and a few of them even tried the Smiling Mind Sports Program at home.
Truancy and suspension rates are down, test scores are up, and most importantly, these kids have a healthy coping skill that they can use for life.

Typically in my group classes it takes a minimum of four classes for some sort of ah-ha moment.
Even some of the most scholarly Monks that have written essays on this subject often say that much of the understanding is beyond words. If you have no breath, then there is no thought, no feeling, no sensation, no desire, no clinging, no attachment. The feedback from the kids was fantastic and you could really notice a shift in the energy after they were done.
It’s great for anyone who is just beginning their practice, and it’s an amazing tool for teachers as well. I can't even begin to describe the monumental blessings that meditation has fostered in my life.
Now, as you may know, I always recommend group classes because they accelerate the meditation experience.
I believe that some level of struggle is part of the process as our thoughts are so commanding and demanding. Again, meditation is not about rushing or trying to get somewhere, yet doing work with others in a trusting environment deepens your practice quicker. If you start with a checklist, you are setting yourself up for challenges, for the inability to relax into what is and to then open yourself to the unexpected.
However, the more you watch what you are struggling against in calm, the more peaceful it will all become.
Patience in yourself, patience in learning how the practice fits into your schedule, patience in possibly changing your schedule, patience in being frustrated, patience even as you find more peace, etc.
It's like going from an old 1950s black & white TV to a high-def 60-inch screen with the most awesome sound system and theater seating to boot.

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