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Mindfulness exercises gain momentum in Island schools

Janine Bloomfield was trained as an ecosystem ecologist — working in climate change and environmental policy — but about 14 years ago, she found  herself in another field.  Bloomfield began practicing “mindfulness,”  a state of active or open attention on the present. She was initially interested in it from a philosophy and theology standpoint, until her son entered Mercer West Elementary and Bloomfield decided to share the practice with others, young and old.

Bloomfield explains it from her background in research: “If you’re going to take a sample of something you have to determine exactly what’s there. You’re not going to determine ‘Well, I like that sample better than the other’…You can also apply this to emotions, thoughts, feelings, pain, the whole spectrum of the human experience. That’s the power of it.”

Mindfulness lessons are gaining momentum in the Seattle area. Bloomfield teaches in West Mercer; Island Park recently began piloting classes and Crest Learning Center has also accepted volunteers. This spring, the district’s Parent Teacher Association will discuss incorporating it more thoroughly into district curriculum.

Bloomfield says the program transitions seamlessly into much of what students are already learning about emotional self-regulation and conflict resolution on the playground: “An element of the classes is bringing in compassion and kindness...What does it mean to notice another person? What does it tell you about the way they look or the way they’re holding themselves?...We’re teaching kids to think before they react.”

Bloomfield teaches in small 15 to 20 minute segments. She begins each session by ringing her chime, a small, tubular instrument that rings like a bell that encourages students to focus on their breath and the reverberations of the sound. Bloomfield then goes through any number of exercises. In one, she’ll hand students an ice cube, ask that they hold it in their hand and process the sensation without attaching assumptions like “cold” or “pain” to the experience.

Many credit our technology saturated culture with the popularity of mindfulness. As it becomes harder to unplug, it becomes more important to teach simple meditation exercises. And teachers are taking note. Bloomfield has heard from teachers who say their kids are more focused in the classroom, can better handle stress before a test and boast of results at home.

Though it’s been embraced by religions like Buddhism, Bloomfield is quick to point out that it is a secular practice.

And the benefits are far-reaching. Bloomfield is launching a start-up with her husband, called Coherent Knowledge Systems, a software company that uses artificial intelligence. The last year has been a steep learning curve but she says mindfulness exercises have helped: “To really be present is what needs to happen in a start-up. That’s how you function in something that’s continually changing.”

Want to learn more? Tomorrow a panel about the benefits of mindfulness will feature, among others, Brody LaRock, assistant principal at John Hay Elementary, formally of Mercer Island High School, Sivie Suckerman, a mental health counselor at Island Park and Lynne Brazg of Parenting with Purpose. For more, visit mindexplorekids.org and the calendar on Page 23.

 

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