A record number of youth are dying by suicide, which is now the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10-24 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education (2021), calling this a “mental health crisis,” cites numerous statistics about the increase in emergency department visits in the first year of the pandemic, combined with significant increases in eating disorders, mood disorders, depression, and self-harm.
In a report, Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs, the U.S. Department of Education (2021) made seven recommendations, two of which are particularly relevant to our 3HO community:
Explaining these needs, the report suggests the need to prioritize stress reduction and mental and physical wellness routines such as daily opportunities for movement, yoga, mindfulness activities, meditation, and any additional calming routines to promote self-regulation (e.g. lights off, breathing drawing) (p.20).
That report also includes a recommendation to “build routines within daily schedules for social time, self-care, and program or school-wide calming strategies.” This fully supports what many of us have been trying to do for many years—to make yoga-mindfulness-meditation an integral part of the academic school day.
Kundalini Yoga Teachers Can Help Address These Needs
Even as the U.S. Department of Education is calling for the integration of “calming strategies”—this is a first!—there are concomitant reports of teacher burnout, attrition, and staff shortages. Teachers are opting to retire and find less stressful ways of earning a living. Knowing this, we are reaching out to the 3HO community to enlist your help to consider how you could approach local schools to offer your services. We know that other mindfulness and yoga groups are also doing this. However, many of us find that Kundalini Yoga offers something more powerful. We want to see Kundalini Yoga in schools for students and staff.
Now is the time! If Kundalini Yoga teachers actively pursue relationships with schools right now, we could make a critical difference for so many children, so many families, and so many educators. In our book, Cultivating Happiness, Resilience, and Well-Being through Meditation, Mindfulness, and Movement: A Guide for Educators (Mason et al., 2021), we lay out a plan that builds off the Yoga for Youth program, and the work that Jeff Donald has been doing in a large urban school district in Maryland. The book, co-published by the Kundalini Research Institute, has its seal of approval. It also provides ideas for adapting Kundalini Yoga for various age levels and circumstances, how to ensure that you are presenting a “secular practice,” and a brief primer on some of the research for its use with youth, strengthening attention, focus, and academic learning, and decreasing disruptive behaviors.
In our book, Jeff describes how he became a Mindfulness Coordinator and developed a program of integrated mindfulness and Kundalini Yoga lessons for his district. Today, as we continue to handle the impact of COVID-related challenges in schools, Jeff is now hiring “wellness coaches” to help integrate Kundalini Yoga, breathwork, meditation, and mindfulness into schools. He is reaching out to the Kundalini Yoga community in search of more Kundalini Yoga teachers in the DC metropolitan area who might be interested in providing support as paid staff in his district.
We want to network to build on our mutual strength, experience, and capacity to make a revolutionary impact to support our children and our schools. In the Kundalini Yoga community, we have learned so much about the power of our technology, as so many of us have practiced the Kundalini Yoga discipline, rising early in the morning with a dedicated practice. As we have practiced, we have turned around our lives and the lives of our students.
We envision, not only students who practice as we teach kundalini, but students whose lives are turned around as their brains are essentially rewired. There is neuroscience supporting how higher cognitive centers of our brains light up with breath and movement! (Engström et al., 2010). See also research by others such as Hagen and Nayar (2014).
What Happens Over Time: Positive Experience = Positive Memories
Imagine a youth who is stressed out – anxious, depressed, and possibly even suicidal. With Kundalini Yoga experiences in schools, we have the opportunity to introduce feelings of happiness, wholeness, and well-being. Over time, with practice, as our brains are rewired, with adequate practice and support, many find that they begin to gravitate to a more positive outlook on life. Even in the midst of the darkest turmoil, we may find light with our breath, with a grateful, heart-centered awareness of our lives. Using music and mantras, along with rhythmic movement, we stimulate the pituitary and hypothalamus glands and have essential survival tools for this age.
Chris and the co-authors of this article have been practicing Kundalini Yoga for decades. During that time, our individual positive experiences have grown exponentially, even as we have experienced the stress and isolation during COVID, the growing concerns about the state of our planet, and the societal divisiveness increasing racism, discrimination, and threats to our democracy. We have been stressed. The trauma and stress keep on coming. However, from centeredness, we fully acknowledge all that is wrong, yet maintain an awareness of all that is also good. . .the paradox, the yin-yang, as we travel on our inward journeys.
For youth who are most troubled right now, their number one need is to have positive experiences, to know they are loved, and that someone is listening to them and helping them find joy. We know that we can most help them by honoring their voices and guiding them without the constraints of putting academics first. Academics first is simply out-of-sync with the needs of the universe – the needs for humanity, for life, for all species on this planet.
Do you remember a time after breath of fire when the blue sky seemed just a little bluer? When the fragrance of spring flowers seemed just a little sweeter? When a cool afternoon breeze seemed just a little more refreshing? With Kundalini Yoga we can “accelerate happiness” by accelerating these positive, mindful experiences.
And one by one as these positive experiences grow, our memories shift – the positive shift towards a feeling of wholeness and mind-body-spirit connectedness accumulates at the cellular level. As our bodies are refurbished, as oxygen is better distributed in our bloodstream, as our glands begin to hum along in harmony, it Is easier to feel at ease, to feel a sense of peacefulness.
Memories. We can help create echoes of happiness that will resonate not only at an individual level but at a planetary level. Please join with us.
Watch for announcements for ways to be involved in our Yoga in Schools program.
Note: Christine Mason is also known as Ravi Kaur, Jeff Donald is known as Dharma Atma, and Tim Mills is known as Simran Randeep. Please contact [email protected] to learn more about how to support this work, including how you might work with Jeff’s district. You can also join the HeartMind Community (send an email to Chris) for our monthly HeartMind eNews, with updates on alleviating trauma and integrating these practices in schools.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021, December 2). Leading cause of death. https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/LeadingCauses.html
Engström, M., Pihlsgård, J., Lundberg, P., & Söderfeldt, B. (2010). Functional magnetic resonance imaging of hippocampal activation during silent mantra meditation. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 16(12), 1253-1258.
Hagen, I., & Nayar, U. S. (2014). Yoga for children and young people’s mental health and well-being: Research review and reflections on the mental health potentials of yoga. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5, 35. https://www.frontiersin.org/ articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00035/full
Mason, C., Donald, J., Kaur, K., Rivers Murphy, M, & Brown, V. (2021). Cultivating happiness, resilience, and well-being through meditation, mindfulness, and movement: A guide for educators. Corwin Press and the Kundalini Research Institute.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (2021). Supporting child and student social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs. Author. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/students/supporting-child-student-social-emotional-behavioral-mental-health.pdf