Breathe in and with your hand on the base of your throat, chant “om” for as long as your breath allows.
“This vibration that you feel is sending a signal to a nerve in your body that’s telling your body to calm down,” yoga and mindfulness instructor Lisa Levine told second graders at Coman Hill Elementary School. “When you chant ‘om’ and are making this vibration, it has a calming effect. You can really chant anything.”
And they did, with students offering one-syllable words to chant, like fish and foot. “You can use any sound but hopefully it has a calming effect,” said Ms. Levine, of The Well Center in Armonk.
She then asked students if they ever got angry and reacted in a way they would regret. Wouldn’t it be great, she asked, if our bodies had a pause button? To practice pausing, Ms. Levine led students in a game in which they were instructed to do the opposite of the direction she gave. When she said “wiggle,” students were supposed to sit down, and vice versa.
“When I say something, your body is going to want to do it, but you need to pause and
think about what I’m really asking you to do,” she told them. “We need to practice pausing before we react so we can think, take a split second and use one of our tools or think and then we can respond in a better way.”
The activities on December 1 were part of a mindfulness program led by Ms. Levine for all second graders this fall. The students participated in a weekly class for four weeks that included yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation, movement, mantras and affirmations.
The goal of the program, made possible by a generous insta-grant from the Byram Hills Education Foundation, was to help increase students’ awareness of their bodies, boost self-esteem and strengthen their emotional regulation and well-being. Several sessions took place outside on the new BHEF-funded patio while the others were in the gym and classrooms.
Second grade teacher Pui Cheung, who secured the BHEF grant, said the students benefited greatly from the program.
“The kids have enjoyed the time to slow down, to focus, and to connect with their own bodies,” Ms. Cheung said. “They are learning that they can take control of their bodies and how they are feeling. The kids feel empowered.”
When her whole class takes a mindfulness break, she said: “I can call on any of my students to name and lead a technique. Each student has a favorite one, so with a handful of student leaders, the whole class gets to practice a variety of favorite techniques.”
The second graders have been enjoying the classes and said they are using the calming activities at school and at home with their families.
“It’s very relaxing and it helps me calm down,” Leah Seidman said. “We sometimes close our eyes and we breathe in and take a moment to think about things. It helps me get ready for the next thing that we’re doing.”
Her classmate Natalie Lerner said: “I like that it calms your body down. When you’re full of energy, it teaches you how to take a deep breath and calm down.”
Spencer Ostrov enjoyed the outdoor yoga, including learning the warrior pose. He said he’s “learning to be calm,” which is important “because if you’re not calm then you’ll be very excited and do things without thinking.”
Charlotte Landesman said she has learned how to calm down easily and said the best part of the mindfulness program is “that it’s fun.”
Ms. Levine said the classes provided simple techniques that can be done easily in the classroom to help students change and regulate how they’re feeling in a given moment. She said the second graders did a great job.
“They blew my mind,” she said. “They were incredibly insightful and amazing.”
Principal Peggy McInerney was pleased to see the students fully engaged in the mindfulness classes.
“We’re so grateful to the BHEF for supporting this program,” Mrs. McInerney said. “I hope our children are able to carry what they learned into their day-to-day experiences.”