Can Mindfulness Save Philadelphia?

I subscribe to Fast Company‘s many e-newsletters and they are always really informative. Today, the article “What Our Recent Obsession With Mindfulness Really Means” was featured and, since I am particularily interesting in increased mindfulness as a way to manage my adult ADHD, I clicked through.

People have adopted mindfulness for a variety of reasons, the least of which is because a few successful people attribute their success and subsequent wealth to being mindful. The article says that the topic of mindfulness is all over Amazon and Google search requests and is one of today’s top buzz-words related to business productivity. Then it goes on to say why that’s missing the point.

This is the point, “Everybody needs meaning and purpose, and they cannot be bought with money.” Meaning and purpose are well-known to create better life quality and both are available regardless of what your economic standing is. But, you do need guidance and the earlier that starts, the better.

Take, for instance, the students at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto, California, an example referred to in the article. The students are very poor, half being homeless, and many suffer from PTSD. Typically, this results in behavioral issues. The article says, “it’s not that these children are unable to learn, it’s that very often they are unavailable to learn… They’re not able to focus; they’re so fixated on other things that are going on in their lives that it’s difficult for them to be able to find space for learning.”

The school, with the guidance of Stanford University researchers, is using methods of mindfulness–yoga techniques, calming exercises, and focused breathing–to help students. After applying these techniques regularly, the students are improving their behavior at school and getting fewer suspensions. One can hope that this will extend into their adult lives as well.

When you read about success stories of inner city, at-risk youth, who beat the odds and became succeessful, they are almost always those kids who can push aside whatever trauma they’re experiencing and focus their energies on their goals. For those who aren’t born with that ability, mindfulness may be the key to helping kids get beyond the challenges they face.

Philadelphia has no shortage of kids who are exposed to the worst conditions. Naturally, they often behave badly. Without intervention, they grow up into adults who also behave badly. But, what if mindfulness was part of their daily curriculum? What if they could be taught to think first before acting? What if we don’t assume they should know better and instead teach them to think about the impact of their behavior on their future, their parents, and their community? Could mindfulness be a way to emotionally combat poverty and violence and also encourage success?

The Pumpkin’s school hosted a one-day workshop for mindfulness. We’d love to use the techniques to help her learn to live without medication so we signed her up for the workshop. She liked it, and I think she would have found the techniques useful, but one day is not enough to develop habits. Given the chance to practice mindfulness everyday with proper guidance, could it be a way to eliminate the need for pharmaceuticles in treating behavioral challenges? Can mindfulness help kids be better students?

It’s a very interesting idea that I hope is explored further.

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