Taking a breath: What Colrain kids learn about ‘mindfulness’

  • School Counselor Jana Standish, at left, practices mindfulness meditation with the third-graders of Colrain Central School. The exercises in quieting the mind and learning to focus on the present is now part of the school’s Circle Talk sessions. Recorder Staff/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

COLRAIN — A Tibetan singing bowl chimes as hushed third-graders sit cross-legged on a carpeted floor, focusing on stillness and rhythmic breathing.

“Mindful bodies on,” school counselor Jana Standish instructs them. “Think about your breathing. We can do it for a whole minute.”

After the minute is up, Standish asks, “How do you feel?”

“Tired,” says one girl.

“Tired,” another agrees. “Can I take a nap?”

“One of the things mindfulness is really good for is relaxing,” says Standish.

For several years, Standish has been providing a social learning program called “Circle Talk,” which teaches Colrain Central School children social skills and how to interact with others in ways that are helpful to themselves and others. Circle Talk includes teaching children empathy and compassion, and gives them a chance to practice manners in a school environment.

But this is the first year that Standish has added a “mindfulness” component to teach children how to calm themselves and focus on whatever they’re facing in the present — whether it’s an upcoming spelling test or something that made them angry.

“Every class has had a presentation, so they know how to access meditation techniques,” says Standish, who has taken several courses at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne over the years.

“Think of how many things kids and adults have coming at them: learning and the temptations of the screens. So being able to just take a moment to pause can be good,” Standish explains.

“Children have so many activities — things they’re expected to learn and memorize. They’re taking in so much information,” Standish says. “Being able to put the ‘pause’ button on for a few minutes is so helpful — just taking a little time to pause and feel your breathing is helpful.

“Being in the present means there would be less worrying about the past and less worrying about the future — because worrying is (about something) in the future.”

This is the first month that the children have started doing mindfulness meditation in the classroom, following a demonstration before the whole school in November. When asked how many use these techniques outside the classroom, more than half the class raise their hands.

Two girls say they are starting to use mindfulness methods to relax before gymnastics meets. Ohia Dellert says she has used it before going to sleep and before going on the balance beam for a gymnastics competition. Some students say they’ve tried the meditation exercises to calm down before a spelling test or while bored when traveling on the school bus or in a car. One boy says he uses the technique when he gets angry. Three say they use the relaxation technique when they go to bed.

So far, the class has talked about meditation’s effect on stress-reduction and the brain, how to listen mindfully and even “mindful eating,” in which the children slowly ate tangerine segments, fully focusing on the flavor, aroma, juiciness and texture. The students asked if they could do more mindful eating again in their classroom this year.

Standish read them a story from a picture book called “What Does it Mean to be Present,” by Rana DiOrio. “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift,” says the book. “That’s why it’s called the present.”