Life / Health

Mindfulness training for teens 'brings them back down to earth'

Summer camps are increasingly bringing mindfulness into their teaching spaces to help youth reduce stress and boost attention.

Thomas Shakir and Naomi Panotes at iBme's 2016 Toronto Teen Retreat at the Ecology Retreat Centre in Mono, Ont.

Lee Freedman

Thomas Shakir and Naomi Panotes at iBme's 2016 Toronto Teen Retreat at the Ecology Retreat Centre in Mono, Ont.

Thomas Shakir, 20, was introduced to mindfulness two years ago. Now, he’s hooked.

“I just felt so calm within myself; prior to going to bed, I was just so content, I was looking forward to the mindfulness practices,” he said of his time at Inward Bound Mindfulness Education’s (iBme) Toronto teen retreat in 2015. “I really fell in love with mindfulness and the meditation aspect of the retreat.”

He wants to be a clinical psychologist and use mindfulness as a tool.

“I would definitely use mindfulness-based approaches to treat mental health,” said the University of Toronto cognitive science student. “I think it’s very important and … very powerful and suitable.”

iBme, a non-profit based in the United States, is one of many organizations offering mindfulness retreats and training to youth and adults; this summer it will hold its third teen retreat in Ontario. Educators in Canada are increasingly trying to bring mindfulness into their teaching spaces in an attempt to help youth reduce stress and boost attention. While some don’t show much interest, others claim mindfulness has changed their lives for the better.

Mindfulness is about “paying attention to and knowing what’s happening inside of us and in the world around us,” said iBme co-founder Jessica Morey.

The primary focus of mindfulness for younger children would be to learn how to concentrate and pay attention, help regulate emotions and increase empathy and compassion, said Heidi Bornstein, co-founder of Mindfulness Everyday, an organization running mindfulness programs for youth, parents and educators.

With increased technology, kids are often disconnected from their emotions, said Nilofar Farahani, founder of Mastering Minds, which offers summer camps and other youth programs.

“The mindfulness practices … brings them back down to earth, makes them feel as one, makes them have more empathy for the other children,” she said.

Thomas Shakir leads a meditation session as an exam de-stressor. The session was organized by a group called UMatter at the University of Toronto in March.

Contributed

Thomas Shakir leads a meditation session as an exam de-stressor. The session was organized by a group called UMatter at the University of Toronto in March.

One breathing exercise they do with the children is having them pretend to blow out candles.

“(It) makes them realize … how good it is for them to focus on how that breath is going into their body and that they can use (that) … when they get upset at school just to calm themselves down,” said Farahani.

Bornstein said mindfulness could offer older students self-care and stress management techniques.

Mindfulness Everyday has been working with Grade 9 and 11 students at R.H. King Academy in Scarborough.

Daniel Dudziak, 17, said the mindfulness classes helped with “living in the present moment.”

"It really helps you … realize that there’s just no point in being worried and stressed out,” he said.

Dudziak enjoyed the body scan, where the students would lie down on mats, close their eyes and pay attention to the sensations in each part of their bodies.

Each day after lunch, the school’s PA system would come alive with short recordings from students offering a guided breathing practice.

“In my classes you turn off the lights, you model it as a teacher and participate,” said social sciences teacher Stuart Snyder.

“I find when it finishes, there’s a 15- or 20-second quiet pause in the class where you can almost feel a sense of relaxation,” he said.

Some students don’t participate, but they stay quiet for those who do.

“You invite people to try … but if it really isn’t for you then I would also say to honour and trust your own authority,” said Bornstein, stressing the importance of a “long-range vision” when teaching mindfulness.

“We say (to the teens), ‘You may not find this useful now, but there may come a time in your life when you’ll remember these people who came into your class and taught you these techniques.’”

These are some of the summer camps in and around Toronto that integrate some form of mindfulness into their programming:

Superhero Kids Yoga Camp (run by Yogi Frogz)

When: Aug. 21-25

Time: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Age: 5-10

Location: Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St., Toronto

Leadership and Resiliency Summer Day Camp (run by Mastering Minds and Explore Center)

When: Aug. 14-18

Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ages: 5-10

Location: Explore Playground, 1-385 Enford Rd., Richmond Hill

iBme Toronto Teen Retreat

When: July 18-23

Ages: 15-19

Location: Lakefield College School, 4391 County Road 29, Lakefield, Ont.

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