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Is Teaching Mindfulness in School a Good Idea?

19/06/2014 11:03 BST | Updated 18/08/2014 10:59 BST

Anyone look back at your tween and teen years and reminisce about how incredibly awkward and uncomfortable you felt in your own skin? Anyone, in conjunction, also realize that those quirks you felt so odd about back then have actually made you the unique person you are today? Anyone think how sad it was that you wasted all that time and energy worrying about what others thought about you? Well...I sure as hell do.

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This summer I'm teaching a Girls' Lifestyle Camp to middle school students. The first half of class each day is filled with hair, skin, and nail care tips, demos, and practices. The classroom turns into a mini salon where the girls get to do each other's hair and nails, which is not only super cute to watch, but an excellent way for them to bond with one another. The second half of class each day is devoted to mind and body. This is where we talk about the heavy-hitting issues of adolescence such as self-identity, self-image, confidence, & being healthy physically and mentally.

I finished the first week already and have been pleasantly surprised thus far by the girls' receptivity to the second portion of class. We've done yoga, Zumba, pilates, and meditation. They've been game for it, most of them participating whole-heartedly. At the end of each class, I give the girls 20-30 minutes of journaling time. Their journals are completely confidential and only for their eyes to see; in fact, I lock them up everyday after class is over. I allow them to write about whatever they choose, but I always provide prompts for them to write about if they'd like to. The prompts include questions like:

"What stresses you out? How do you handle this stress? Where/how do you feel it?"

"What makes you feel awkward or self-conscious? Why?"

"How do you express yourself? Do you have hobbies or creative outlets?"

I ask questions that encourage the girls to form self-awareness. To my pleasant surprise again, the girls have taken to the journaling like moths to a flame. Originally, I was only going to make them do this for 15 minutes, but then I noticed that a few of the girls couldn't stop writing, and I've extended the time to about 30 minutes. A few of my girls write voraciously until the very last minute of class each day. This past Friday, we unfortunately ran out of time to journal, and one of the girls, who I had thought wasn't that into the journaling portion of class, inquired about it. When I told her we ran out of class time, she was disappointed. I was blown away...and I couldn't be happier or prouder.

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It's so important to me to give these girls a safe environment where they can start realizing their own unique wonderfulness. I never had anything like this available to me in middle school where my anxiety and OCD started running rampant. I told the girls this as well; I've been completely open and honest with them about my struggles in middle school and let them know that I'm providing them tools now that they can use the rest of their lives. I told them if I had known about meditation, self-awareness, mindfulness, and self-acceptance, I probably wouldn't have such a heavy case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and OCD now as an adult. I also want them to realize that it's okay to feel different, it's okay to feel uncomfortable, and it's okay to ask for help. If I hadn't been so ashamed and embarrassed of my own differences as a kid, I could've reached out for therapy a long time ago and probably eradicated a lot of my anxiety early on. I so badly want these girls to know that they aren't alone, and they should be proud of who they are, awkwardness and idiosyncrasies included. These so-called oddities are what make each of us uniquely our own selves; it's our so-called imperfections that make us perfectly who we are.

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Images: 1st: meditationformindfulliving.ca, Google Images 2nd: aarathiselvan.com, Google Images