I grew up in the highly competitive world of gymnastics, a world that strives for perfection and constantly pushes you to your limits. My leg constantly shook—a barometer of my internal state. I was shy, anxious, and uncomfortable in my own skin. All I wanted to do was to fit in with the cool kids, even if this meant starving myself, as they did. When I think back to this time, I now realize the enormous pressure I faced and the lack of tools available to help me deal with it.
That’s why I am so grateful for people like Denise Druce and Trent Hendricks, who have started offering mindfulness practices to a population that truly needs it: kids and teens.
How a Personal Practice Led to a School Program
Denise is a mover and shaker in the Salt Lake City yoga community. She is a yoga teacher, a teacher trainer who requires her students to implement a service program before getting certified, and the director of the first-ever yoga teacher training for women at the Utah State Prison.
Trent, principal of Valley Junior High in West Valley City, UT, first met Denise through regular meditation classes. As he began to experience the benefits of meditation, he decided he had to share this valuable practice with his teachers, who dealt with a variety of daily stressors.
So Denise and Trent teamed up. He asked Denise to teach basic mindfulness tools, like movement and intentional breathing, to his faculty. Secretly, Trent hoped that once teachers incorporated these practices into their own lives, they would organically trickle into everyday interactions with the students.
Trent eventually suggested implementing “a minute of mindfulness” at the beginning of every class as a way for students and teachers to practice quieting their minds before settling into lessons. After a relatively short amount of time, the teachers noticed a shift in the students. In fact, on the days they didn’t offer a “mindful minute,” teachers had a harder time reining in their attention.
One passionate ESL teacher, DeMarie Hoover, has been diligent about implementing this into her classes. “I didn’t have any resistance with the kids. At first, they were a little giggly when I taught them the 4-7-8 Breath,” she said, noting that it’s her favorite breathing technique because it eases her anxiety, “but by the second time, there was no giggling.”
It’s quickly becoming part of the normal routine. “Yesterday I forgot to do it during 5th period, and the kids were so squirrely. I finally asked them, ‘Guys, what’s going on?’ and they’re like, ‘We didn’t do the one minute!’ We then did it, and the last 10 minutes of class was better,” said Hoover.
Jeremy and I participated in Trent’s first Mindfulness Assembly, which coincided with the start of school. Since last year’s trials were so impactful, his idea for the gathering was to kick off the new year with a schoolwide intention toward mindfulness. He invited Denise to lead the kids and teachers through a few minutes of movement and mindfulness practices outside on the field. It was impressive to watch Trent and Denise wrangle the attention of a couple hundred students and teachers.
The students then moved into the school auditorium, where they practiced one more Mindful Minute before moving on to other orders of business.
What Students Say About Mindfulness
Afterward, we spoke to some of Ms. Hoover’s students to see how they felt about the assembly and the mindful minutes they’ve been clocking. My heart was beaming; I was blown away at the remarkable statements from these kids:
“It makes you feel fresh,”
“Makes you happy.”
“Takes away anger.”
“Helps you feel more confident.”
“It makes you feel a lot more different, it makes you have this weird feeling inside your body, like emotional.”
“It makes me feel calm, cool, fresh, and sometimes tired.”
“If we don’t do it, then we just are like, ‘Nah, I’m outta here, I don’t want to do this.’ But when we do it, we focus better.”
We then asked if they practice the mindful moments outside of class. “I was pissed at my sister,” one student stated, shaking his head. He then showed us how he took a deep breath and told himself, “I gotta let that go.”
Why Kids Desperately Need Mindfulness
I used to teach kids yoga, and time and time again I witnessed just how much they truly need it, and how receptive they are to the tools. A lot happens in kids’ lives that is outside of their control, so it is understandable that they experience anger and anxiety. Mindfulness gives them a sense of authority and power in themselves, which they may not otherwise find. It teaches them to be aware of their feelings and reactions, which trickles into their actions, their relationships, and their lives. The power of taking even just one minute of silence has dramatic ripple effects. Jeremy and I encouraged them to practice it more in other areas of their lives, as well as to try it with their families.
Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future
When I pause for my own minute of mindfulness and reflect on the challenges kids face and how Valley Junior High is profoundly impacting the lives of its students, I get excited—not only thinking about how this is currently helping them, but how it may shape their futures. I get excited thinking of them as adults, hopefully living as and being examples of mindful people in society.
Imagine if at a young age you were taught the tools to quiet your mind, balance your emotions, or take a breath before reacting. What kind of impact would of this have had on you?
If just one minute of mindfulness is this powerful for 7th and 8th graders, how powerful is it for others? I think about myself, my yoga students, and my friends who have dealt with anxiety throughout their lives, and how it can get debilitating as we age if we never learn simple yet powerful tools to find peace. Instead, many of us learn to cope through activities that numb the sensations until one day everything erupts into a full-blown panic attack.
I know from experience how challenging it can be to rewire the brain’s anxiety patterns. The good news is that can be done, and the even better news is that more and more kids are learning these tools at fundamental and critical times. They have a headstart and the ability to completely transform their futures.
Wow! Now THIS is the future of yoga!