Kids and Meditation
In recent years, meditation has become more widely recognized by medical professionals as a particularly beneficial practice for children with ADHD and sensory issues. As its popularity grows, some school districts and community organizations are incorporating elements of mindfulness and meditation into their curriculum.
Meditation is appealing as it can be practiced by all ages and professions, and at any point in one’s daily routine. Says Borgioli: “There’s no right or wrong way.”
During the school year, Borgioli runs a weekly drop-in meditation workshop during lunch at Haverhill High School. The students — a mix of boys and girls — talk about what’s on their minds and practice centering exercises and breathing.
Through her work with the high school, Borgioli developed a weeklong summer camp for teenage girls that aims to use nature, art, yoga and meditation practices to teach empowerment, build confidence and develop a sense of sisterhood among participants.
Autumn Mulloy, 16, of Haverhill, took Borgioli’s “Tree Huggers Excursion Camp” last summer and returned this year.
Mulloy, who attends Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School and plans to become an acupuncturist, says she relies on her meditation skills when she becomes stressed with everyday life.
“I know it’s something I can do and it brings me back to level-headed,” she says.
In 2015, Family Services of the Merrimack Valley in Lawrence used grant funding to train staff and implement an evidence-based meditation curriculum called Learning to BREATHE, a course designed by Penn State University research associate and Professor Emerita Patricia Broderick.
During 10-week sessions, a group of disadvantaged teenagers is introduced to the practice of mindfulness.
As a result of the strategies developed during these sessions, the participants are able to manage emotions better, says Lori Howe, chief operating officer of Family Services. Through mindfulness, she explains, participants gain the tools to approach a situation with more awareness of their actions.
A participant becomes able to recognize if he or she is getting agitated or angry with a situation before an outburst occurs, Howe says, and learns how to use that realization to slow down the process and make a choice of how best to react to the situation, rather than acting on impulse.
Throughout the training, participants take the lessons of mindfulness outside of the class and integrate what they’ve learned into their lives, Howe says. “It becomes something that you do all throughout the day.”
Gail Lachs, the owner of Windsoul Studio in Tyngsborough, sees the same reactions at her yoga and healing arts center. Parents will often comment that their children turn to breathing techniques from her class when they are feeling frustrated or annoyed by a sibling, she says. She gives the techniques names that kids can easily recall, such as “bunny breaths.”
Meditation soothes the nervous system, and it’s an important practice for children to learn in order to self-calm, Lachs says. In today’s world, full of electronic stimulation, meditation is a way to step back, breathe and relax. It soothes the nervous system and produces a physiological response, Lachs says, allowing a person to feel better.
“As far as I’m concerned,” she says, “these are tools for a lifetime.”
Giving Tree Yoga & Wellness
Family Services of the Merrimack Valley
Photography by Kevin Harkins