Meditation in Public Schools – Toronto, Canada

Meditation in Public Schools

Toronto, Canada
By MahaJyoti Glassman

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Well, right when you think you have done it all, someone lights a fire under you and asks you to do something unimaginable. Sound familiar? I was the honored recipient of such an invitation this month when I paid a visit to Pauline Junior Public School in the most multicultural city I have ever been blessed to visit.

My Mission: To provide a Quiet Time Exercise, including meditation, in 13 classes (preschool through sixth grade) + two teacher in-services + one parent evening.

After taking a toolkit inventory to ascertain if I possessed enough mantras for this task, I forged ahead. I found myself inspired by this school that had recognized that of all the practices of yoga, meditation is the one that has been the most clinically researched and evaluated by hospitals and health organizations throughout the world. In the U.S. alone health professionals have prescribed meditation, yoga, or some other mind body therapy to over 6 million Americans, roughly a ratio of 1 to 30.

So how could I say ‘no’? I designed a 20 page Quiet Time Exercise program which included:
1) A diaphragmatic breathing exercise (the Balloon Belly Breath),
2) Simple repetitive yoga based standing poses that can be practiced in any classroom (Moving Meditation),
3) A 3-5 Minute Guided Meditation for every class.

Experiences were sequenced in the guidebook from simple to complex to accommodate the incredible age span. Other experiences included in the QTE Booklet include: Student Participation in Leading and Classroom Activity Extensions, Vocalization, Applicability of Breath Awareness in the Lives of Students, and a 2-month Lesson Plan.

To my astonishment the QTE implementation was received enthusiastically in every class by every student. I watched each class with fascination as I facilitated the QTE experience for each grade level, starting with the Belly Balloon Breath. After each practice of 4-6 rounds of a Moving Meditation, students stood in Mountain Pose, breathing in, breathing out, and counting to 10 silently. Three Moving Meditations were presented to each class. (There are 12 in the QTE Toronto Guide). In the classes where we practiced a variation of one of the warrior poses, students would chant “I can do this” and “We can do this”….and they would SMILE! It was rare that any student was able to resist the flow of the Moving Meditation.

And then we moved ahead to the Guided Meditation. These range from 3-6 minutes in duration. One per class was implemented. (There are 10 Guided Meditations in the QTE Toronto Guide). Beginning with the seated Flying Breath to calm the body mind, every student relaxed into the Guided Meditation in a seated position of their choice. Preschoolers, Kindergarteners, and many First Graders preferred lying on the floor. I watched in amazement in each class as I noticed the energy level shift, the waves of calmness ebb in, and the surrender to complete relaxation take them in the end. You could actually see the brain waves change! When asked how they felt, the answers were always the same. “I feel calm. I’m relaxed.”

There was one class where the teacher took me aside to tell me that there was a child with disabilities in her class. “He will be disruptive through the whole meditation,” she expressed apologetically. How did he respond to the QTE? How disruptive was he? HE WAS A GEM! He LOVED it! Although he was physically unable to engage in the Moving Meditation, he tried his best. He was calm and didn’t make a ‘peep’ through the Guided Meditation. He visibly enjoyed the flow of the experience just as much as his classmates. The teacher was pleasantly amazed.

Before I leaving each class, I would extend a ‘wish’ to them. “I wish you a happy day”. “I wish you a day filled with smiles.” “I wish you a blue sky day.” Then I would invite each student to turn to someone and extend the wish to a friend. I guess they don’t get to send wishes to their friends much….because they couldn’t stop….. Ahhh.

The teacher in-services went well and there were almost 30 parents at the Parent Evening who braved the pouring rain. The school was kind enough to provide childcare. They were very participatory. I shared an example of Moving Meditation and Guided Seated Meditation with them. We chatted about how breath techniques can calm the mind and bring emotional balance and how meditation contributes to ‘emotional and intellectual fitness’.

All in all….a wondrous experience that I shall always treasure. I would like to take a moment to thank Archita, Ravi, and Didi Ananda Hiteshana for their loving support in making this wonderful experience possible!

If you are an NHE educator and would like a copy of the QTE Toronto Guide, please write to amgk.liaison@gurukul.edu

“Sá vidyá yá vimuktaye - Education is that which liberates”