6/16/2007 – *New York Times* includes an article: “In the Classroom,
a New Focus on Quieting the Mind” by Patricia Leigh Brown.

Here’s the article:

The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce
mindful awareness.

With the sound of their new school bell, the fifth graders at Piedmont
Avenue Elementary School here closed their eyes and focused on their
breathing, as they tried to imagine “loving kindness” on the playground.

“I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” Alex Menton,
11, reported to his classmates the next day. “The mindfulness really helped.”

As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are
trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as
mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from
Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests.

Mindfulness, while common in hospitals, corporations, professional
sports and even prisons, is relatively new in the education of squirming
children. But a small but growing number of schools in places like
Oakland and Lancaster, Pa., are slowly embracing the concept — as they
did yoga five years ago — and institutions, like the psychology
department at Stanford University and the Mindfulness Awareness Research
Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, are trying to
measure the effects.

During a five-week pilot program at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, Miss
Megan, the “mindful” coach, visited every classroom twice a week,
leading 15 minute sessions on how to have “gentle breaths and still
bodies.” The sound of the Tibetan bowl reverberated at the start and
finish of each lesson.

The techniques, among them focused breathing and concentrating on a
single object, are loosely adapted from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the
molecular biologist who pioneered the secular use of mindfulness at the
University of Massachusetts in 1979 to help medical patients cope with
chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Susan Kaiser Greenland, the
founder of the InnerKids Foundation, which trains schoolchildren and
teachers in the Los Angeles area, calls mindfulness “the new ABC’s —
learning and leading a balanced life.”

At Stanford, the psychology department is assessing the feasibility of
teaching mindfulness to families. “Parents and teachers tell kids 100
times a day to pay attention,” said Philippe R. Goldin, a researcher.
“But we never teach them how.”

The experiment at Piedmont, whose student body is roughly 65 percent
black, 18 percent Latino and includes a large number of immigrants, is
financed by Park Day School, a nearby private school (prompting one
teacher to grumble that it was “Cloud Nine-groovy-hippie-liberals
bringing ‘enlightenment’ to inner city schools”).

But Angela Haick, the principal of Piedmont Avenue, said she was
inspired to try it after observing a class at a local middle school.

“If we can help children slow down and think,” Dr. Haick said, “they
have the answers within themselves.”

It seemed alternately loved and ignored, as students in Ms. Graham’s
fifth-grade class tried to pay attention to their breath, a calming
technique that lasted 20 seconds. Then their coach asked them to
“cultivate compassion” by reflecting on their emotions before lashing
out at someone on the playground.

Tyran Williams defined mindfulness as “not hitting someone in the mouth.”

“He doesn’t know what to do with his energy,” his mother, Towana Thomas,
said at a session for parents. “But one day after school he told me,
‘I’m taking a moment.’ If it works in a child’s mind — with so much
going on — there must be something to it.”

Asked their reactions to the sounds of the singing bowl, Yvette Solito,
a third grader, wrote that it made her feel “calm, like something on
Oprah.” Her classmate Corey Jackson wrote that “it feels like when a
bird cracks open its shell.”

Dr. Amy Saltzman, a physician in Palo Alto, Calif., who started the
Association for Mindfulness in Education three years ago, thinks of
mindfulness education as “talk yoga.” Practitioners tend to use sticky-
mat buzzwords like “being present” and “cultivating compassion,” while
avoiding anything spiritual.

Dr. Saltzman, co-director of the mindfulness study at Stanford, said the
initial findings showed increased control of attention and “less
negative internal chatter — what one girl described as ‘the gossip
inside my head: I’m stupid, I’m fat or I’m going to fail math,’ ” Dr.
Saltzman said.

A recent study of teenagers by Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, Calif.,
found that meditation techniques helped improve mood disorders,
depression, and self-harming behaviors like anorexia and bulimia.

Dr. Susan L. Smalley, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. and director
of the Mindful Awareness Research Center there, which is studying the
effects on schoolchildren, said one 4-year-old noticed her mother
succumbing to road rage while stuck in traffic. “She said, ‘Mommy,
Mommy, you have to sing the breathing song,’ ” Dr. Smalley said.

Although some students take naturally to mindfulness, it is “not a magic
bullet,” said Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at
the U.C.L.A. center. She said the research thus far was “inconclusive”
about how effective mindfulness was for children who suffered from
trauma-related disorders, for example. It is “a slow process,” Ms.
Winston added. “Just because kids sit and listen to the bell doesn’t
necessarily mean they’ll be more kind.”

Glenn Heuser, who teaches a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class at
Piedmont, said one student started crying about a dead grandparent and
another over melted lip balm. “It tapped into a very emotional space for
them,” Mr. Heuser said. “They struggled with, ‘Is it O.K. to go there?’ ”

Although mindful education may seem like a New Yorker caricature of West
Coast life, the school district with possibly the best experience has
been Lancaster, Pa., where mindfulness is taught in 25 classes a week at
eight schools. The district has a substantial poverty rate, with 75
percent of students qualifying for free lunch.

Midge Kinder, a yoga teacher, and her husband, Rick, started the program
six years ago at George Ross Elementary, where their daughter Wynne taught.

Camille Hopkins, the principal, said initially she was skeptical.
Growing up in South Philadelphia, “I was never told to take an elevator
breath”– a way of breathing in stages, taught in yoga — “or hear the
signals of chimes to cool down,” Ms. Hopkins said.

But the stresses today are greater, she conceded, particularly on
students who lived with the threat of violence. “A lot of things we
watched on TV are part of their everyday life,” she said. “It’s ‘Did you
know so-and-so got shot over the weekend.’ ”

In after-school detention, children are asked to “check in with their
feelings,” Ms. Hopkins said. “How are you really changing behavior if
they’re just sitting there?”

Yolanda Steel, a second-grade teacher at Piedmont, said she was hopeful
that the training would help an attention-deficit generation better
manage a barrage of stimuli, including PlayStations and text messages.
“American children are overstimulated,” Ms. Steel said. “Some have
difficulty even closing their eyes.”

But she noted that some students tapped pencils and drummed on desks
instead of closing their eyes and listening to the bell. “The premise is
nice,” Ms. Steel concluded. “But mindfulness can’t do it all.”

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