Meditation & Yoga: a restorative step forward

A primary school in West Baltimore, Maryland has gotten it right. Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has introduced meditation and yoga as an alternative form of discipline to practice mindfulness, teach good habits to children, and create healthy relationships, not only between students, but with teachers as well, creating a harmonious school environment with blissful students in them.

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Students practicing meditation and yoga.

image source: Holistic Life Foundation

Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has created waves in alternative education, especially with their approach to discipline. Instead of kids staring at blank walls in detention or being suspended and having to miss school, kids are sent to the “Mindful Moment Room”. The room is kitted out with pillows, salt lamps, and beanbag chairs to create a peaceful environment. Rather than being sent to the principal’s office, children are sent to the Mindful Moment Room to calm down, breathe, and re-centre. Trained staff facilitate this meditative time and help kids talk through what happened, how it made them feel, and then assist them in creating strategies to help during similar situations in the future.

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The Mindful Moment Room in Robert W. Coleman Elementary School.

image source: Holistic Life Foundation

This approach to teaching good behaviour is relational. Teachers and students work together to create a more positive environment at the school, where children feel appreciated and calmer. Through the use of breathing exercises, meditation and yoga, children create better, healthier habits in coping with stress, trauma, frustration, anger, and anxiety. It’s a restorative approach to discipline as it builds up relationships and prevents the misdeeds from occurring again.

This is a contrast to the more conventional approach to discipline, which studies have found to be ineffective in addressing bad behaviour. When kids are severely punished, humiliated in front of their peers, bored in detention, or are suspended and have to miss school, it only breeds more negativity within a child. Resentment and unwholesome relationships become the foundation of interactions between teachers and children or between peers.

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image source: Holistic Life Foundation

 

This revolution at Baltimore schools have been made possible through teaming up with a non-profit organisation Holistic Life Foundation. The organisation aims at “empowering communities through yoga, mindfulness & self-care practices”. Holistic Life Foundation trains teachers to set up systems within their schools to carry out mindful education. The organisation’s other activities include a tutoring and mentor programme, building vegetable gardens with students, as well as teaching children about the environment and how to sustain it. Their approach to education is holistic, focusing on the emotional and spiritual needs of children, not just academic. This has proven to have positive effects.

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Holistic Life Foundation teaching children to create vegetable gardens.

image source: Holistic Life Foundation

 

Primary school teachers in Minnesota that facilitate small meditations at the beginning and end of their lessons have found students to be less distracted and hold a longer attention spans. Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has had zero suspensions since 2015 and their attendance has increased. Principal, Carlillian Thompson told Holistic Life Foundation,

“With the first year being so successful, I started seeing a difference in their behaviours. Instead of the students fighting or lashing out, they started to use words to solve their problems. […] We see the success rate of those students who began in the program now. They are middle school students who are very successful; they come back and participate in the program.”

 

The list of benefits for kids who practice meditation and yoga are endless. There are benefits for the body, such as the improvement of digestion, circulation, balance and coordination, as well as the strengthening of the immune system. There are benefits for the mind, such as improving memory, boosting creativity, reducing stress and balancing energy, whether it be too high or too low. And, most importantly, there are benefits for the spirit, as an overall sense of well-being and positive lifestyle is a result from continuous practice of mindfulness and yoga. The incorporation of Holistic Life Foundation’s practices within a school-environment will radically change the institution.

MG_4563image source: Holistic Life Foundation

 

Schools in South Africa have also been exposed to mindful meditation through the campaign iMeditate Africa, which has been up and running since 2013. Volunteer, Samantha*, who joined the group in teaching students at schools in the Western Cape “the art of doing nothing”, taught powerful breathing exercises and guided meditations. She emphasises the importance of meditation, saying,

“Meditation is a powerful way of eliminating stress from your life and dealing with any overwhelming emotions that you may have. It’s important to live in the present […] and that’s what meditation does. It also just allows you to concentrate and focus better and gives you energy.”

In a city like Cape Town, where violence and abuse is rife, we have something to learn from children like these. Atman Smith, one of the three co-founders of Holistic Life Foundation, says that

“It’s a serious cycle in most inner cities where people don’t know how to resolve conflict peacefully. That’s why there’s so much violence and abuse, you know. […] I see in us teaching these kids meditation and giving them the tools to self-regulate, it’s going to change the social construct, the dynamic of how the inner city is thought of.”

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iMeditate Africa leading young children through a guided meditation.

image source: Samantha* (photo taken with consent and used with permission)

 

Kids are engaging with themselves through introspection. A Baltimore student in grade four said that meditation calms her “when [she] has attitude”. Fortunately, the positivity does not just exist within one person. The effects have a way of influencing all those around you, such as the parents to these mindful kids. Andres Gonzalez, another co-founder of Holistic Life Foundation, was told by a parent, “I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, ‘Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.‘”

 

They say that children are the future. Well, things are looking up.

 

 

Kids explain mindfulness – Mindful Aotearoa

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*name of iMeditate Africa volunteer is left anonymous to protect their identity

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