We are pleased to bring you the first in a series of interviews about our UCSD Center for Mindfulness Youth and Family Mindfulness Programs. Through these interviews we hope that you will get to know our teachers and learn about the important work in which they are engaged.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Lorraine about .b (the MiSP curriculum) and her work with teens and families.
How would you describe .b?
.b is a uniquely-designed experientially-based curriculum, which utilizes video and media as a teaching tool in the classroom. The MiSP website offers a description of the program as, “… 8 lessons, each teaching a distinct mindfulness skill, and each designed to do so in a way which entertains young minds as well as helping them to flourish.” Lessons are 35 to 45 minutes each and teach through a variety of culturally relevant images, wording, and formatting specifically designed to catch the interest and attention of teenagers. The presentation catches interest and attention while the exercises throughout the lesson cultivate awareness. The program excels in the way that it cultivates awareness and purposeful attention through thought and sensation. It engages multiple senses and teaches using a variety of different learning styles. It really utilizes and incorporates sensory experience: visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.
Can you give an example of how you have seen mindfulness training affect teens?
I have been leading our teen group here at CFM for four years and through that I have seen lots of very rich experiences. After just a few weeks of learning the practices, teens will begin connecting the dots. We will do a meditation, or an exercise, and kids will begin to share their experience of how this “mindfulness stuff” is affecting them at school or at home. They will often say things like, “I notice how I can get out of the “hole” much easier when I pay attention to what I am experiencing. I am less likely to react and get myself into trouble.” In mindfulness, we teach awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations and their affect on behavior. When teens can learn to pay attention to their present moment reality, they have a better chance of identifying their reactive patterns and making better choices. Teenagers can get “caught up” in the moment and without realizing it, jump on a runaway train of high drama, which can intensify and lead to - as Jon-Kabat Zinn says - catastrophic thinking. For teens this can be more problematic if they have poor impulse control and under moments of high-stress act-out or act-in. Helping them connect to themselves and not react to their “story” is a particularly powerful experience for them. We often see greater self-regulation as they develop greater awareness. As a result, there is a shift from a stressful, worrisome or tearful place to a place of awareness, mindful presence and a greater freedom to choose.
How has mindfulness affected your life?
Mindfulness helps me discover the joy in my own life every day. I find a greater appreciation for the more subtle and quieter parts of my life, which had eluded me before I began my practice. It is from here that I try to teach, especially with teens. They are so alert and naturally aware and they demand authenticity from their teachers. If I can embody presence and a sense of joy, through my own practice, then I think it is a way of reaching others.
Why do you want to teach mindfulness to kids and teens?
It’s inspiring, it’s transformational, and it’s real. I think mindfulness combats pain and suffering.
Helping kids to change their lives has many rewards. I started this program because I saw the detrimental effects of stress on my own teenage daughter. As she and other teens have gone through our program, I have had the privilege of witnessing powerful changes that have been truly inspirational to me.
Lastly, what is next?
The Youth and Family Programs is currently offering a one day Teacher Training Workshop on stress reduction through mindfulness. We are interested in expanding this workshop into a curriculum for teachers, who are interested in offering a mindfulness program to their students in the classroom. There is a good deal of research as well as many anecdotes from students to support the benefits of a mindfulness curriculum in the schools. However, we are here to support teachers and educators as well. When teachers come to our workshops, we see the impact of stress on their lives, both personally and professionally. Mindfulness can provide support and relief to the challenges they face each day in the classroom. It offers a way of attending to the stressors through a momentary shift in awareness, which offers choice…the freedom to choose in each moment.