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@ Mindfulness at Robert C. Parker School

Here is a wonderful blog by Meg Taylor Head of Robert C. Parker School (1) on how the school is introducing mindfulness in various modes. Focusing on breathing (2) is a popular mode in the elementary grades, now being extended to the middle school.

” Learning to channel attention to productive tasks, to sustain motivation when work becomes demanding, and to handle the frustrations of sharing, learning, and communicating with peers are skills that depend on the ability to understand and manage emotions.

As one part of our effort to help children build emotional resiliency and self control, we use mindfulness techniques with them every day. Our faculty has worked with C S Rao (3), a grandparent in our school, to learn a form of breathing (2) that allows us to quickly relax and tune out distractions. He calls it ‘Counting Breaths’ (2) and it has the effect of feeding oxygen to the brain, calming emotions, clearing a busy mind, and giving a sense of peace and focus.

Teachers have adapted CS’s ideas for classroom practice. In Pre K 3, a chime is rung and children breathe smoothly and quietly, as the chime sound diminishes.

In Pre K 4, students use the image of falling leaves while they breathe.

In K-1, Liliana has adopted the language “going into your silence” as children sit quietly in both mind and body and breath slowly.

Grade 2-3’s practice taking five slow clearing breaths as do the 4-5’s. (4)

This year middle school teachers are going to teach the students CS’s method of using the fingers to count breaths. As CS says, the technique can be used anytime – when you can’t sleep at night, or if you are feeling anxious (5). And it works! I use it in the middle of the night when my mind is racing (6).

The effect with children is very positive. They have a strategy to calm themselves that they can use anywhere. It is a great tool for successfully negotiating frustrations, stress and anxiety and gaining attentiveness and focus. Having the ability to be mindful gives children confidence that they can handle difficult things (7). That is a gift for any individual.

You can read more in this complex and fascinating article “Why Teaching Mindfulness Benefits Students’ Learning”, in Mind/Shift (8).”

(1) Perspectives on Parker Blogspot
(2) How Can I Focus On Breathing?
(3) Suryanarayana Chennapragada
(4) Breathing breaks in the classroom – Report by Lynn Schuster
(5) Daytime practice
(6) How to Enjoy Quality Sleep and Conquer Insomnia?
(7) Benefits for Mind, Body and Relationships
(8) “Why Teaching Mindfulness Benefits Students’ Learning”  Post in Mind/Shift

Related pages
Training children

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@ Calm serenity is the human base-line emotional state – Alfred’s progress

Please see (1) to know about Alfred.

“I have not sent you much lately but it is not because I have neglected my meditation practice. I am still at it for about an hour a day and continue to reap the rewards. Here is a short essay that, I think, encapsulates where I am at currently.

The Purpose of Meditation
Because of the strong interest I have developed in meditation I had begun to read about it. Some of what I read has been rewarding in that others have expressed insights that I had arrived at independently. This makes me feel that I am on a good path. However, much of the literature is contradictory and can create confusion. For example some practitioners of mindfulness meditation insist that you should be in a sitting posture and your eyes should be open. Others say any posture that is effective can be used and the eyes can be shut. Confusion sows doubt and doubt erodes successful effort. So, for now, I have stopped reading and am following my own path.

My path
What keeps me most focused is always bringing back to mind the purpose of my meditation. This purpose was always there but, with practice has clarified. I believe that the calm serenity I often achieve through meditation is the human base-line emotional state. When the business of life overwhelms us this tranquility is superimposed upon by agitation, excitement and stress. I also believe that emotional honesty and wisdom are best accessed from the tranquil base-line state. This fairly simple premise is the purpose of my mediation and by keeping it in mind I can redirect my attention appropriately when I stray.”

(1) Alfred

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@ Meditating while traveling – Alfred

See (1) to know about Alfred. 

Returned from a 3 week trip bike riding in Ireland. I was able to meditate daily for the entire trip except the big travel days going and coming. Meditating while traveling gave me several insights.

I began to see the trip as a scale model of my life at home. When at home, I have the usual stresses focused around work, money, relationships and managing things, both physical and mental. At home, meditation helps me keep all of this in perspective and adds a calm cadence to my daily life.

When I travel, I disregard most all of these usual stresses and replace them with a new set. Will the plane be on time for my next connection? Will the rental bicycles be satisfactory? Will I be able to drive on the left side of the road without becoming a casualty? Will tomorrow’s 40 mile bike ride be in a torrential rain storm? These worries loomed large at the beginning of the trip, but as things unfolded and, for the most part worked out well, the stress was reduced. As the stress lessened, I found it easier to still my mind in meditation.

When I returned home, I had over 70 items of mail to deal with, 234 emails, text messages and a host of other things that demanded my immediate attention. Thrust back into the maelstrom of my life, I found it hard at first to still my mind. But in a few days, as order was restored in my routine, my meditation practice returned to the way it was pre-trip and I found calmness easy to access and also some progress almost every day.

The point of all this is that problems always exist in life but the way you perceive them can vary widely. Assumptions about the way things are, is often largely illusionary. It is really a choice we each have, to be crippled by our way of thinking, or to see things more philosophically and not let our perceptions destroy our mental well-being. Often times we feel frustrated or weak because we allow ourselves to adopt an unhealthy attitude. With practice I believe you can change your moods like you would change an article of clothing. Adopting a more patient and thoughtful mood allows us to keep our challenges in perspective. It allows us to see that, no matter how difficult a situation seems, it too will pass.

(1) Alfred
His previous posts

Related pages
How to  drive like a Buddha
My mind related articles relevant to the last para above

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@ Silencing loud thoughts – from Alfred

See (1) to know about Alfred.

  • Breathe as if breath was a wheel turning slowly. No end or beginning – the transition between breathing in and breathing out, infinite and smooth.
  • Meditation is not work. It is not like stacking fire wood where there is a beginning middle and end. It is a gift you allow yourself. Like eating a bowl of ice cream when you eat it slowly savoring each taste.
  • The goal of meditation is not to stop thinking. Thinking is like breathing and is always there. You can think differently however. You can silence loud thoughts that demand your attention. Redirect your thoughts towards physical sensations. Think of the sound of a woodland stream and imagine you are the water. Try to feel all parts of your body at once. Let these quiet thoughts put you into a calm and tranquil place.

(1) Alfred

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* Breathing breaks in the class room

This is a report from Lynn Schuster, a dedicated and innovative class teacher for grades 2/3 in Robert C. Parker School, Wynantskill, New York State (1). On my request, she shared with me how she developed the basic  technique of ‘focusing on breathing’ (2) to suit the needs of her students and herself in the class room. It is a wonderful model that has brought out the immense potential of this simple technique!

“I was introduced to ‘Counting Breaths’ along with my 2nd-3rd grade students four years ago. I watched my students, and felt myself, relax tremendously within a matter of moments as C.S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) taught us the technique. The practice is now an essential part of the daily life in my classroom. We begin our ‘Morning Meeting’ each day, by “going into our silence.” Students are asked to “unplug” from their friends and to give themselves the opportunity to breathe quietly. We sustain this silence for at least three minutes. This year, I conclude this silence with what I’m now calling our five magical breaths. I count and students follow as we breathe deeply, a minimum of five times, together.

Even children who find quieting down extremely challenging can achieve silence through the peer influence that comes with group practice. I sometimes have to be patient and wait until we’ve all quieted down. In the afternoon when focus can be difficult, I usually have to add in soothing words of encouragement and very deliberately lead them through our counting out a minimum of five deep breaths. I will roam the room, praise individuals and the class. Everyone comes around.

This year, I’ve consciously incorporated breathing breaks throughout our day—at every transition and before starting anything new. This translates into a minimum of 5-6 breathing breaks a day. This year, I also committed to pausing what we are doing when I see even one student getting antsy or moody. In the past, I would have plowed through my agenda and put up with interruptions or a less-than-focused atmosphere. It has been proven to me through my commitment to taking breathing breaks that these breaks do only take a couple minutes. BUT their impact is profound and can carry through big chunks of time. Breathing together brings almost every child immediately into a relaxed mindset. I feel impatience and stress wash away too. We become a community again, working together.

I must thank YOU for teaching me to pause, breathe and help my students relax. I used to think the fun and laughs we had–and the connection/trust I strive to create with each student–would ensure focus when the time required it. But from your guidance and teaching, I saw that I needed to do something more. You’ve changed the way I live in the class and made me pay closer attention to what’s really happening in front of me.”

+++

I am grateful to Lynn for developing this great class room model of the technique. She helped me realize the dream I have been nurturing since the year 2002, ever since I realized the great potential of this technique in helping children calm themselves and focus.  I am  also grateful to Meg Taylor, Head of the school who let me, an uncertified and unlicensed person, experiment with this technique, unknown in the educational field and for creating an environment that lets such innovations flourish. I am happy they both let me publish their names.

I dream of more teachers drawing inspiration from this model and developing their own versions. They will be helping their students develop self awareness, the ability to calm themselves whenever they become aware of their anxiety or stress and act with self control. I feel these skills are more fundamental than reading, writing and counting and will be of immense help to them throughout their life.  Parents can also use this model at home to reinforce the class room experience. I feel when these children grow up, they will become better moms and dads with this additional technique in their parenting tool kit.

When I was working in a paper mill in India, I used this technique when I conducted small group meetings.  We all breathed together for a couple of minutes in the counting mode. It helped us focus better and be good listeners.

(1) Robert C. Parker School
(2) How can I focus on breathing?

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Relevant pages
Endorsement by Meg Taylor – Head of sdchool

Parent page: Training children in ‘Focusing on breathing’

* Focus on the Message or the Messenger?

We see this situation often. Consider these scenarios.

  • A sufi teacher (1)  was pointing his crooked index finger, bent due to arthritis, at the moon. He was asking his student to look at the beautiful full moon in the sky. The student was focusing on the crooked index finger. He could not see the moon as he could not detach his attention from the finger. The communication between them was a total failure. Who is responsible? Who is the loser?
  • I receive a partially damaged and dirty envelope from the tax department. I feel like throwing it in the trash bin. But then….What if it is a notice of an audit of my tax return? Or it has a check for the tax refund? Should I ignore the dirty condition of the envelope and open it, pull out the letter and then toss the envelope in the trash bin?
  • I parked my car crossing the dividing line between the two parking spots, close to the entrance of a famous temple and went inside with my family. The adjacent parking space was wasted, as it was risky for any one to park in that narrow space. That being a week end, there were many visitors and the parking was very tight.  When I returned after the worship, I found a paper under the wiper of the wind shield with the pungent message “Stupid! Don’t you know how to park?” I felt very bad. Should I curse the hot blooded person, may be a youngster, for his crude message? Should I regret my negligent parking, depriving another devotee of a convenient parking space? Should I etch this incident in my mind and not repeat the parking negligence any time in future? Should I thank the youngster for teaching me an important lesson that I definitely needed, though in a crude manner? Could I have realized my inappropriate action affecting other people on my own, if I did not get that crude message,from whoever it may be?

(1) Sufism is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a Sufī.

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Parent page: Articles on ‘Relationships’