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Op/Ed: The need for mindfulness, yoga, meditation and extended play in schools

"I understand that standards, curriculum and assessments are important in our schools, but learning how to live life with purpose and clarity is truly the essence of being educated."

Dr. Michael Hynes Patchogue

I’ve had the good fortune to work as a school administrator since 2004. If someone told me 12 years ago I would become an advocate for implementing yoga, meditation, mindfulness and increased recess time into a school system, I would have said to that person they have mistaken me for someone else.

My training and schooling was steeped in educational psychology and organizational learning. I was always searching for increased results in student tests scores because scoring well on assessments was something we needed to measure during the NCLB days.

The truth is, a series of events in both my personal and professional life have led me to say with one-hundred percent certainty; high student test scores is not the purpose of schooling.

I believe the purpose of schooling is to become educated and to improve your wellbeing as a person. Twelve years later, I am proud to share, not only has my school district implemented yoga, meditation, mindfulness and increased recess; but this has made the deepest impact on all our students.

Few people would deny that the educational landscape has changed dramatically over the past 12 years. Educators now exist in a school system that measures everything. Most notably, we measure student, teacher and principal performance. School systems have been forced to standardize everything from curriculum and assessments to our children and educators. By doing so, the by-product that remains for many of our students and staff members are lives that rarely enjoy the present moment.

In a research article by Meiklejohn, Phillips, Freeman, et al. (2012) entitled Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education, the author’s share that research in neurobiology of mindfulness suggests sustained mindfulness practice can enhance attentional and emotional self-regulation.

That alone makes this a worthwhile venture.

A personal example I’d like to share before I began my journey into mindfulness training is a place I never want to revisit. I found myself psychologically dependent to my smartphone for everything. My Type A personality checked emails constantly throughout the day. Not only did I check emails all day long, I consistently used my smartphone during meetings or when I attempted to work on district wide projects.

The truth was, I was never present in the current moment. I was consumed with what already happened in the past and worried about what needed to be completed in the future. Unfortunately this happened both at home and at work and it was a vicious cycle, a cycle that reinforced itself every hour of every day. I was aware of this problem for quite some time before my mindfulness journey but I had very few solutions to offer myself.

To be proactive, I found a mindfulness coach. I have been working with a mindfulness coach over the past several months and it has changed the way I operate both at home and at work. My coach has shared that mindfulness training is a form of mental fitness. If used correctly, one can improve our health, focus, productivity, clarity and joy.  Not only did I want this for myself, I wanted this for my students and our staff in my school district. I wanted our students to learn how to self-regulate if they became too stressed and to also experience a new sense of awareness in their lives. I understand that standards, curriculum and assessments are important in our schools, but learning how to live life with purpose and clarity is truly the essence of being educated.

Like it or not, we live in a day and age where children and adults have access to technologies that are addictive by nature. Some technologies also remove us from living in the present moment. In some cases, they can leave some students emotionally and socially paralyzed. I have seen this manifest in different ways in the schools, such as through anxiety, depression or not being able to relax.

A K-12 student today as compared to when I was a student in the 1970’s and 80’s experiences a completely different education. It comes at a much faster pace and our children have very little time to focus on soft skills such as being introspective and reflective.

I am proud to say my school district has embarked on a whole child journey. The most important ingredients revolves around our extended recess time (we increased recess from 20 minutes to 40 minutes), yoga, meditation and mindfulness work for students K-8. Our staff members have been participating in yoga and mindfulness activities as well.

At this stage, it is impossible to ignore our qualitative findings. Teachers and administrators have noticed more joy in our classrooms. Parents have shared with me that their children are less stressed and more focused both in and outside of school. School administrators have highlighted that discipline referrals have decreased.

Most importantly, I believe our students are finally learning how to live in the moment.

Implementing a whole child and mindfulness approach in our schools is something I am extremely proud of. If I had a choice between increasing the use of technology in our classrooms or increasing our mindfulness practices, it wouldn’t be close.

Mindfulness and meditation improves our overall wellbeing.

What’s more important than that?


Photo: Michael Hynes playing at a table with students at River Elementary School.

(Credit: Patchogue-Medford School District courtesy photo)

About the author: Michael Hynes

Dr. Hynes is the Superintendent of Schools in the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island.