Mindfulness matters

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By Willa Vigneault

Amidst the energy of winter sports and play rehearsals, two new programs have started at high school teaching students to harness their energy in a different way. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 2:15 to 3:30 yoga is taught in the Library Conference Room (LCR), and on Wednesdays, Dr. Elliot Datcher teaches students mindfulness.

Nell Cogan, a Title I teacher, and adjustment counselor Amy Lilavois, have helped to bring mindfulness and yoga programs to the school. “There’s so much research out there about how good meditation and mindfulness are for your attention and ability to take in information,” Amy said. “They’re also just systemically good for your body.”

Elliot said, “I have studied and practiced mindfulness meditation for 30 years. I have learned many things about my mind that have led to significant changes in my life. My life is now much calmer, there is less mental noise, more presence in the moment, better relationships with others, and a greatly improved well-being of mind and body.”

The new yoga programs are being alternatingly taught by multiple yoga instructors. Special Education teacher Kansas Brew is one of these teachers. While participating in yoga workshops around the island, she has had many discussions with talented and compassionate yoga teachers. She said, “There is the common thread of concern as to the rise of anxiety and depression in our human population and especially our youth.” She began to bring mindfulness practices into the classroom, whenever possible and was excited at the chance to open it up to more students.

Lucia Hayman, another yoga instructor who volunteers at the school, saw what yoga did for her as an adult and wanted to give young people the opportunity to practice it. Lucia said, “Yoga helps you find a place of great release and rejuvenation from stress and daily demands. Your whole being gets settled down and grounded which in turn feels peaceful.”

Senior Amanda Mackenzie has been going to the yoga sessions at the high school since the program started. She said, “Yoga has become a safe haven to me. It has helped to keep my mind off troubling things that take away from me living in the moment.” Amanda, however, like many of the instructors, has been disappointed with the turnout. “Most of the time I am the only one in the class,” she said. “And that’s unfortunate because it’s a really helpful class and the teachers are so nice.”

After recent studies showing the use of yoga and mindfulness, the school has opened the sessions up to students as an alternative to detention. Junior Ricardo Andrade, has been to two mindfulness sessions with Elliot. He said, “I think it’s important to help you become relaxed and prepared for the day. It has helped to calm me down and refresh my mind.”

Sophomore Owen Engler said, “It gives me a couple minutes to myself with nothing to worry about. It has helped me to concentrate during the day.”

Advisors are worried, however, that if these programs are seen as an alternative to detention, other students won’t be keen on participating. Nell said, “The hardest part has been trying to engage kids who don’t know what it is or have some reason to think there is a stigma attached. We want them to embrace it because it’s such a useful thing.”

Elliot said, “Our effort is to create a Mindfulness Meditation Program for all interested students. Although it may also serve as an option to detention for some students, it is important to move away from emphasizing, labeling, or placing the stigma of detention on the program, which has a much larger vision and scope.”