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 From NYT: Zen for High Schoolers

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: From NYT: Zen for High Schoolers   Mon Apr 16, 2012 8:38 pm

April 15, 2012 - NYT

Zen for High Schoolers: ‘Notice the Anxiety. Notice the Fear.’
By AIDAN GARDINER


La-keeyatta Steward, 17, sat on a small black pillow one recent Tuesday afternoon, her legs tucked under her. Her meditation instructor told her to imagine her body pulled upward by a string, so she lowered her shoulders and straightened her back.

Then two of her classmates burst in.

“There was a brawl,” called Ian Alsopp, 18, shaking his head. “It went down. It went down.”

Riding the subway after school, he said, he saw about 20 teenagers beat up another boy.

The news startled Ms. Steward and the other high school students at the Brooklyn Zen Center, where they attend weekly meditation sessions meant to help them handle the challenges of growing up in the city.

“This is where you actually use this,” the instructor, Greg Snyder, told Mr. Alsopp. “Notice the thought. That’s fine. Notice the anxiety. Notice the fear. Use the meditation to focus your mind. Are you with me?”

“I’m with you,” Mr. Alsopp said before settling onto his pillow, still fidgeting.

Mr. Snyder is a Zen Buddhist priest who leads the center, a converted loft with pristine white walls and exposed beams set in a small industrial building near the Gowanus Canal. The center’s Awake Youth Project includes weekly workshops in five public high schools and teenager-led sessions at the center.

Now, Mr. Snyder is taking on the tougher task of teaching meditation to Level 1 offenders— students who are frequently put in detention or suspended because they start fights or cause trouble — at Bushwick High School. Administrators at the school approved the program April 5 and plan to start it in coming weeks.

Students in trouble are given the choice of traditional punishments or participating in the meditation program, where Mr. Snyder will teach them how to meditate, understand volatile emotions and curb impulsive behavior. He intends to take the program to other schools as well.

Mr. Snyder is part of a growing group of educators, practitioners and lawmakers pushing to replace discipline tactics in public schools that they say do not improve behavior and disproportionately target minority students, putting them at a greater academic disadvantage.

“If detention or suspension were effective, you’d expect those rates to decrease over the school year,” said Russell Skiba, a professor of educational psychology at Indiana University. “Suspension doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t teach kids anything that would change their behavior.”

The after-school group at the center was founded by Ms. Steward, a student at Jefferson High School in East New York, and some other teenagers after a teacher gave her an assignment to do community service work at the Zen Center; she said she was immediately drawn to meditation.

“You notice yourself and find out what kind of a person you really are,” Ms. Steward said. “I’ve always been happy, but now I think I’m positive.”

Ms. Steward, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, one of six children raised by a mother who works with the mentally impaired, said that meditation helped her deal with tensions at school and with her mother at home.

“It’s hard, because she has to go work with them and then comes back to us,” Ms. Steward said. “Maybe a year ago, I’d have talked back and had a bad attitude, but now I let it go through me and accept it.” (She wrote a short essay for a Web page about the Zen Center’s Sit-a-thon, a daylong meditation session planned for Saturday to raise money for the Awake Youth Project.)

Meditation’s champions do not pitch it as a panacea. But they say it’s worth a try.

“You’re having someone look at this can of worms and having them recognize that can is them,” said Caroline Contillo, director of the Interdependence Project, a Manhattan-based nonprofit group that, among other things, teaches meditation to former prisoners. “What they do with that is up to them.”

On a recent Thursday afternoon session at the Erasmus Hall High School campus in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, a dozen students sat for 10 minutes, eyes closed, as traffic on Flatbush Avenue hissed and rumbled outside. Taxonomy charts and grammatical diagrams covered the walls around their ring of plastic chairs.

A boy unwrapped a chocolate bar, drawing the attention of the girl next to him. She smiled. He put his index finger to his lips.

Afterward, Mr. Snyder, a tall man with a round bald head and an easy smile, asked the students to describe their meditation experiences.

“For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could relieve the stress on my shoulders,” said Jerome Barrett, 17, a broad-shouldered former football player. “I felt cohesive.”

His classmates giggled. Then they discussed the process of feeling angry. The descriptions tumbled out.

“It feels hot,” said one boy.

“Your head hurts after,” said another.

“It takes you over,” said a third. “ It becomes its own person.”

“The only thing that is keeping the emotion alive is your own thoughts,” Mr. Snyder said. “You keep churning it over and over again. Your thoughts do not care about you. They only want to perpetuate themselves.”
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: From NYT: Zen for High Schoolers   Tue Apr 17, 2012 12:05 am

Thanks for sharing this piece, Josh.
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Ikuko



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PostSubject: Re: From NYT: Zen for High Schoolers   Tue Apr 17, 2012 6:33 am

I ran meditation classes in the young peoples psychiatric wards where I was education consultant.
It didn't cure anybody,but was a useful part of my repertoire of activities with very disturbed criminals.
A good idea as long as you keep.it in perspective.

Thank you Josh for another interesting post.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: From NYT: Zen for High Schoolers   Tue Apr 17, 2012 7:18 am

In the U.S. and Canada, there are a few movements to share various forms of mindfulness in the schools - but for the most part, it has to be free of any religious language or tradition. So it comes in through the gate of stress reduction, relaxation, focus, and what is often called SEL - Social and Emotional Learning. The actress Goldie Hawn has a foundation called MIND UP. Sometimes forms of mindfulness are combined with simple yoga. For the public schools, none of this can have any religious content. The private schools can do what they want.

There have also been some books written about being a mindful teacher or mindful education.
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Ikuko



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PostSubject: Goldie Hawn   Tue Apr 17, 2012 2:17 pm

Thank you for reminding me about Goldie Hawn's enterprise.She is a lovely bright soul.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: From NYT: Zen for High Schoolers   Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:20 pm

I know Goldie. See her at various Dalai Lama events and she sometimes comes to TED, though she wasn't there this year.

Her book is called 10 MINDFUL MINUTES

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/goldie-hawns-therapy-stressed-kids-14621489

Goldie Hawn, Actress Turned 'Happiness Expert,' Says 'Brain Breaks' Help Kids Learn

By LAUREN EFFRON (@LEffron831)
Sept. 27, 2011


Goldie Hawn, the sunny, comedic actress turned influential "happiness expert," has been working to revolutionize the classroom environment by incorporating mediation and "brain breaks" to make kids better students.

"It's not anything magical. It's all biological and neurological," Hawn told "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden. "So let's just take a breath and take a break. Teachers need it. Kids need it."

Hawn has spent the past 10 years studying cognitive function and how the brain works. Founder of the Hawn Foundation, the 65-year-old star worked with neurologists and psychologists to create the MindUp program, a plan to help a generation of stressed-out kids manage their mental energy. Her book, "10 Mindful Minutes," outlines the elements of the program as sort of a guidebook for parents and teachers to use with kids.

"I wanted to write something that was sort of instructive, in a way," she said.

A regular mediator herself, Hawn's MindUp program suggests that children should have two-minute moments of self-reflection and meditation three times daily, with the idea that it will calm kids and allow them to focus better.

"You go inward for a while. It's important to do that ... it helps relax your brain and strengthen your brain," she said. "It gives great context into behavior, emotions, ways of forgiving themselves by understanding their brain, reactivity, stress, how to reduce our stress, how to recognize it."

While meditation is part of the program, Hawn said, the idea is less spiritual than physiological.

"This is brain fitness," she said. "This is something that we have not done for our children. We know way too much about the brain to keep them in the dark."

Children are stressed, Hawn says, because they are under pressure to perform well in school and they are over-worked and over-scheduled. In short, it's vital to find time to just breathe.

"An optimistic mind, an optimistic environment, actually opens the mind and helps children learn," she said. "When they're learning in a stressful environment, fearful environment, it shuts down their ability of their executive function."

The program is now being used in hundreds of schools in the United Kingdom and United States.

Hawn's fascination with how the mind works began with her own personal reflections. Growing up in a suburb of Washington, D.C., Hawn said she originally wanted to be a professional dancer. She started her career performing ballet and then later moved into doing television and film. Hawn won her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1969 film, "Cactus Flower," but while she played happy-go-lucky characters on-screen, she was struggling to cope with being famous off-screen.

"I went through periods of, you know, real happy and then other times, I sort of lost my smile," Hawn said. "I just wasn't doing what I thought I was going to do in life. … I really became, I think, destabilized, really, because it wasn't my expectation to be in front of the camera that way. I mean, I was a dancer. I thought that's what I was going to do.

"I was having anxiety attacks, basically, and panic attacks," she continued. "That's when I really started delving into what was really going on with me. ... I really delved into self-discovery, various and sunny things that actually brought me peace, understanding and even cognitive understanding of what was going on about my life."

Goldie Hawn's Advice to Parents: Be Happy, 'Children Mirror Who You Are'

Despite her successful career as an actor and comedian, Hawn said she began researching brain function after the 9/11 terror attacks. "I really thought that at that point the world would never be the same again, that our children were going to be inheriting a lot of issues, a lot of problems," she said. "I thought 'what can I do? What can one person do to change the way things are?'"

Hawn said when she saw statistics on increasing depression, suicide and dropout rates among students, she decided to create a foundation to help "bring optimism back into the classroom."

Working with children has been a natural fit for this mother of four, whose children include fellow movie star Kate Hudson.

"I'm very proud of Katie. She really, really is comfortable in her own skin. She likes being who she is. ... I think all our children like who they are," Hawn said, "We're a big, laughing family."

Hawn's advice to other parents was to encourage them to find those "10 minutes for yourself," because the secret to raising happy children is to be happy.

"Children mirror who you are," she said. "If you're happy, if you show them smiles, if you show them good attitude, if you show them kindness, understanding, fun. … They just replicate it."

Even though her last movie was "The Banger Sisters" in 2002, it's not hard to remember that Hawn's glowing personality is what made her a movie star. She is working on an upcoming film.

"There is something right now for [Diane Keaton, Bette Midler] and I to do together," she said. "We have not seen it yet. It's not 'First Wives Club 2.' I think it's too late for that, but it is some other funny idea for a movie, so we will see what happens."
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: From NYT: Zen for High Schoolers   Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:38 am

April 20, 2012 - NYT
Putting Meditation Back on the Mat
By CAREN OSTEN GERSZBERG


SEATED cross-legged on a black cushion atop a yoga mat, I struggled to keep my eyes closed and repeat the Sanskrit mantra in my head: ham-sa — I am that. Outside, on Third Avenue, police sirens wailed and cars honked as I tried to sit still in a room with eight other meditation students, keeping my breath slow and steady. Just as I was about to lose the focus on my breath, a soothing voice nearby chimed in: “You can hear the noises without getting attached to them. The attention comes from the inside.”

The voice belonged to Michael Bartelle, a tall, slender yoga and meditation teacher. The city kept up its racket, but for the next 18 minutes, Mr. Bartelle thoughtfully guided our midday meditation, occasionally offering encouraging comments. It was part of a one-hour class at Ishta Yoga that included movement and breathing exercises.

Ishta Yoga, with studios in Greenwich Village and on the Upper East Side, is one of a growing number of yoga centers in the city that are reporting increased meditation on the mat.

The asanas, or poses, of yoga are traditionally meant to prepare the body for meditation. But as yoga has been consumed by the gym and physical fitness industry in recent years — to the tune of an international yoga championship — many people have come to yoga for the workout, period.

Still, once they are there, they are often introduced to meditation, as well.

“Yoga is the gateway that opens the door for people to try modalities that they normally wouldn’t,” said Beth Shaw, founder and president of YogaFit, a fitness education program, based in Los Angeles that trains many of the yoga teachers at the city’s more than 50 New York Sports Clubs. A team from the clubs recently discussed with YogaFit the possibility of a meditation workshop at its annual conference for fitness professionals, which will be held in November in New York.

Cyndi Lee, the owner of Om Yoga near Union Square, which recently announced it would close its studio in late June, has an explanation for the seemingly greater enthusiasm for meditation among yoga students.

“The yoga community in New York City has matured,” Ms. Lee said. “I remember a time when we started with five minutes of meditation and a woman got annoyed and said: ‘I want to move. I want to sweat.’ Now they want to meditate.”

In August, Om Yoga introduced a meditation teacher-training program and has been running twice-weekly meditation classes. The Integral Yoga Institute, Jivamukti Yoga School and Pure Yoga, all in Manhattan, are among other centers reporting more students in their meditation classes.

At Ishta Yoga, Alan Finger, the founder and co-owner, said: “There’s a flood of more people wanting more meditation. I used to have about three classes a week — I stepped it up to five.” (A sixth is taught by Mr. Bartelle, alternating with Peter Ferko.)

Mr. Finger says that students often get a sense of what meditation is like by being in savasana, or corpse pose, at the end of a yoga class.

“At first, when people are in savasana, they may have a little snooze, but as they come and get more into it, they start to feel a different presence and say, ‘That was like meditation,’ and they start to explore more.”

Though most studios charge a fee for meditation classes that involve instruction, some, like the Jaya Yoga Center in Brooklyn, include meditation on their schedule simply to provide a time and space for people to come and sit, free.

“When people come in after a day of work or wake up in the morning, they are happy to shift their attention to something that’s a little more relaxing,” said Carla Stangenberg, who owns one of Jaya’s studios and co-owns the other. “Focusing on the breath and some phrases just calms you down, especially in New York City, where everything is just spinning around.”

A staff member keeps the time, and the rest is up to you and your breath. But why not just do it at home if you’re not getting guidance?

For many people, meditating in a group provides a deeper, more satisfying experience.

“Meditation is kind of like a dance class in that it’s better with other people,” said David Grotell, a student at my Ishta Yoga class. “There’s something about the energy. It would seem that if you’re not talking to people you’re not in contact, but you somehow feel close to others when you are meditating in a way that is not obvious.”

The heightened interest in meditation in yoga studios may be part of a larger movement toward the practice, which is clearly more mainstream than during the transcendental meditation craze of the 1970s.

When Sharon Salzberg, a meditation expert and teacher, began giving meditation workshops at Tibet House in the Flatiron district in 1999, about 30 people were in attendance. This winter, her class filled the room to its capacity, 135 people, with the overflow crowd finding space to sit on the floor.

“Meditation is no longer seen as fringe, esoteric and weird,” Ms. Salzberg said. “Its main association is now its link as a stress-reduction modality, and not just for coping, but also for flourishing.”

The Art of Living Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization, once offered a single meditation workshop a week at its office in Midtown; it now has four a week because of rising demand.

In addition to offering workshops at its Manhattan office, I Meditate NY, an initiative of the foundation, has teamed up with partners to offer meditation at various branches of the New York Public Library and at Whole Foods’ Wellness Club in TriBeCa. The next event, currently in its planning stages, is a meditation workshop in Central Park.

City College of New York is scheduled to begin a 10-week evening class next month called Introduction to the Organic Meditation Process. Part of CUNY’s Continuing and Professional Education Program, it will be open to those with and without meditation experience.

“Meditation helps you learn how to not be controlled by your emotions,” the teacher, Antonia Martinez, said. Or as Ms. Lee of Om Yoga put it, “People are realizing that meditation is a way to work with your mind, and the benefits are said to bring strength, stability and clarity.”
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