Can Teaching Kids Mindfulness Replace Discipline?

Traditional punishments like detention and suspension are often ineffective. Some schools are turning to meditation and mindfulness and seeing real results.

Imagine this… instead of sending your children to their room kicking and screaming, taking away their iPad for a week, or giving them a time-out in the corner, you ask them to spend a few minutes alone to meditate and work through the anger, frustration, stress, or other emotions causing them to act out.

This new form of discipline is now a huge success at several schools, and those schools are seeing some major changes among students.

Can we take these lessons learned from schools and add them to our parenting toolbox? 

Mindfulness versus traditional discipline in schools

According to a recent article in Forbes, traditional punishment in schools, like detention and suspension, are ineffective ways to address bad behavior. This approach creates resentment and damages the relationship between the student and teacher. Students only feel more negativity when they have to miss recess or extracurricular activities they enjoy.

Taking a groundbreaking approach, the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) works with schools to initiate mindfulness programs as opposed to the traditional punishment methods. HLF is a local non-profit in Baltimore committed to nurturing the wellness of children in underserved communities by helping them develop their inner lives through yoga, mindfulness, and self-care. HLF trains teachers and guides schools to develop mindfulness programs on their campuses. It also serves as a resource to programs all over the country by hosting workshops and other training programs.

Successful school programs

Schools all over the country are now incorporating mindfulness into their curriculum, but what makes the schools partnering with HLF so unique is the way they’re using mindfulness to address negative behavior in the classroom. In particular, two schools, working together with HLF, are seeing a huge shift in their students’ behavior.

Robert W. Coleman Elementary School

Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore offers mindful meditation as an alternative to detention. Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the school has a “Mindful Moment Room.” This is a comforting room filled with lamps, decorations, bean bags, and pillows where students can learn how to diffuse their stress and anger.

While in the room, kids who have misbehaved are encouraged to try deep breathing exercises and meditation to help calm themselves down and regain a sense of inner balance before going back to the classroom. They’re also encouraged to talk to a trained staff member about what happened and how it made them feel. The students and staff work together to create a plan to help them use mindfulness techniques to address similar situations in the future. Teachers can refer a student to the Mindful Moment Room to cool down, or students can request to spend time there.

Since the Mindful Moment Room was created at Coleman, students appear to be more relaxed and are able to control their emotions more effectively. To wit, there were no suspensions in 2015 and, as yet, none in 2016. This is an improvement from the four suspensions given during the 2013–2014 school year. 

Patterson High School

At Patterson High School, also in Baltimore, the Mindful Moment Room is a special calm area available throughout the day. Students can request to spend time in the room, or teachers may send distressed or disruptive students there to work through their emotions. Social workers, psychologists, and the nurse all refer students to the Mindful Moment Room for assistance with anxiety, stress, and other emotional issues.

When a student enters the Mindful Moment Room, they’re assigned a “Mindfulness Instructor” who first talks to the student about the situation and then guides him or her through a mindfulness practice, such as breathing exercises and yoga poses. After 20 minutes in the Mindful Moment Room, students return to their class refreshed and ready to go on with their day.

Since the room opened, the school has seen an increase in attendance and a drop in the number of suspensions. Teachers have also noticed that the school is quieter in general, with fewer fights and disagreements among the students.

How mindfulness helps

Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through purposefully paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental way, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the leading expert on mindfulness and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

As we practice mindfulness, we begin to understand our mind-body connection better and learn not to be so reactive to thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. With mindfulness, we develop a quality of attention that can be present no matter what is happening around us. This helps us feel more peace, ease, and balance in our lives and we develop more empathy, compassion, and love.

Mindfulness has gained so much attention in recent years because the research has shown the incredible impact it can have on our lives. Several studies demonstrate that meditation can help children reduce stress and anxiety, increase attention and focus, and improve academic performance. Scientists have actually witnessed individual’s brains thicken in areas in charge of decision-making, emotional flexibility, and empathy during meditative practices.

The best evidence for the positive change that mindfulness brings is to listen to the students in Baltimore talk about how they, and their friends, have transformed from spending time in the Mindful Moment Room:

“I have learned how to calm myself down and focus better in class.”

“It has taught me how to calm myself and listen to my thoughts”

“I can calm down and breathe. When I’m hyped up or having a bad day, I can relax. It makes me feel better.”

“It helped me deal with so much I was going through. It helped me to be able to talk about my feelings more and to stop focusing on all the drama going on in school.”

“Mindfulness gives me more self-control. It helps me get my mind straight when I’m worried about something.”

“It helped me get over what people were saying. I learned to mind my business and move on.”

“It is a fun place to go and I have learned that there are other ways to release your anger.”

How to use this approach at home

The principal of Patterson High School, Vance Benton, has seen such success at the school that he now practices mindfulness at home with his son every morning before they start their day.

One of HLF’s main tactics is to “use a reciprocal teaching model so that the youth go back to their homes and teach the techniques to their parents,” explains Andres A. Gonzalez, Director of Marketing at HLF.

Wouldn’t you love to see your children deal with their emotions more effectively? Consider creating a calm corner in your home where your children can spend time when they’re irritated, frustrated, or angry.

And while our children are having a mindful moment, maybe parents should do the same.

Swearing is the New Asana: Why Parents Need Rage Yoga

For people who can’t stand the pace and quietude of a traditional yoga class, Rage Yoga offers a faster, louder, angrier alternative.

Since I was very young, I’ve struggled with controlling my anger.

As a little girl, I’d succumb to temper tantrums often. Throughout adolescence, I’d quarrel with my parents, having meltdowns in rapid succession. When I was married, I’d fly off the handle at the smallest of infractions, becoming even more incensed when my former husband refused to engage in an argument. He’d always manage to remain reasonable and level-headed; to stay exasperatingly calm regardless of how irrational or emotional I became.

Instead of this calming me too, however, his detachment and formality only angered me further, making me feel trivialized, childish, and impotent. I doubt his fighting back would have done us any favors, though. The problem, of course, wasn’t him. And it wasn’t my parents, my siblings, friends, or peers, either. It was (and is) me. Me and My Rage.

As a bipolar adult, I still struggle with rage issues. Often. Big-time. I’m impatient, impulsive, and irritable. Plainly stated, I have a short fuse. Excess anxiety makes me hyper-vigilant – that is, I become startled easily. When that happens, it triggers instantaneous anger.

Of course, anger’s actually a secondary emotion to fear. I know this, as I sit here, rationally typing away. But in the moment, I don’t take a beat to carefully consider my reaction and arrive at a more appropriate, healthy response. In my estimation, there isn’t time to employ some anger management coping strategy such as counting to ten, deep breathing, or using “I” statements before I totally lose it.

This temperamental behavior isn’t reserved just for me or unique to those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In fact, I witness similarly demonstrative displays most commonly among my friends with kids. (Just an observation.)

Anyway, the medication that I’m on does take a significant edge off my predominant negative emotion – anxiety – and in doing so it reduces overall incidences. Running also helps a lot because it’s so aggressive, so physical. But anxiety still happens and I struggle. The white hot anger takes control and before I realize what I’m doing or saying, I’ve lashed out, been disruptive or awful to somebody – and that’s never good.

One anxiety reduction method that’s been suggested to me time and time again is that I begin practicing yoga. Honestly, I really would like the physical and athletic benefits of a dedicated yoga practice. I know that yoga would help me with things like flexibility, core strength, and correcting muscle imbalances – all of which contribute to what I’m ultimately seeking: injury prevention so I can keep running. Theoretically, it sounds great!

But as far as the spirituality part goes? The meditative piece? Bringing the hands to the heart’s center, and all that jazz? You can keep it. To me, that seems very annoying, very aggravating; all that slowing down, holding still, breathing deeply, and keeping quiet. Even as I think about a hypothetical practice, I’m growing itchy and annoyed.

Yes, chaturanga dandasanas would do wonders for my delts, but how to proceed with making a yoga practice more appealing to a ferociously angry, rapid mood cycling person, such as myself? And would a traditional yoga practice even work towards eventually reducing my anxiety, that is, if I practiced regularly? Would it actually help even out my moods, grant me more patience, or make me less likely to go ballistic at the slightest affront?

Probably not, actually. Come to think of it, I know several yogis with a dedicated practice who are angry and impatient as all get out. Ultimately yoga is about union, not separation, yet they are divisive, narrow-minded and just kinda…mean. But I’ve been hearing about all these alternative forms of yoga popping up and one particular mutation, er, interpretation caught my interest: “Rage Yoga, a brand-new, unconventional type of yoga practice developed by Lindsay Istace of Calgary, Canada who uses screaming, swearing, and heavy metal music during workouts.”

You don’t say. Tell me more…

The official website defines Rage Yoga as “a practice involving stretching, positional exercises, and bad humor, with the goal of attaining good health and to become zen as f*ck.” The classes are based on the Vinyasa flow, which I don’t really know much about other than it’s continual movement from one pose or “asana” to another, rather than holding the poses for a period of time. So it’s faster-paced and “fitness-y.” And there’s screaming. And swearing. And loud music. It’s, essentially, venting.

I like what I’m hearing so far.

Rage Yoga is the only yoga I could deal with at this point in my life. That said, “at this point in my life” is I’m a single gal with zero dependents. I have the theoretical luxury of visiting with my nieces and nephews, patting them on their cute behinds, and then high-tailing it outta there as soon as pre-naptime fussiness begins, or worse, the full-blown meltdown.

But we’re all human, and as such we can relate to occasional feelings of edginess and hyper-vigilance, right? Ultimately, this type of yoga class sounds really cathartic and definitely worth trying. Since these classes are only offered in one Canadian city, those of us elsewhere will have to settle for the six-week online courses slated for this summer, but I’m sure copycats are close behind. Better yet, YOU could start a Rage Yoga studio yourself! If you do, let me know. I’m game for some screaming, swearing downward dog.

This is the Yoga Class Parents Actually Need

If the goal of yoga is to quiet your mind, some of us have a whole lot of work to do. Unless of course we just incorporate the chatter into class.

I’ve been thinking about my relationship with yoga and I’ve decided that I’m not sure that yoga really gets me.

I know what you’re thinking, yoga has been around for thousands of years and while I can argue that I have too, I can also attest to the fact that I often have to stifle my LOL’s when instructors talk, or I stop listening because I’m busy planning my day. I’m sure this is not what I should be doing during class, but I can’t control myself. Which really is the point of going to yoga anyway. But what can I say? Our relationship is complicated.

Practicing yoga is mentally challenging for me for a few reasons: 

1 | I only communicate with dense sarcasm and cynical wit.  

2 | When my mind is quiet, my “to do” list is loud.  

3 | I desperately want to achieve peace, so my inner yogi and my inner mom are at constant odds during my practice.

I mean, during almost every yoga class I decide I’m going to stop drinking coffee and start drinking green tea, never yell at my kids again, and give up wine so I can treat my body like a temple. You know, or some shit like that. Approximately 30 minutes after returning to my family, I’ve already destroyed my temple in an attempt to maintain my sanity.

To be clear, I love my chaotic mom life. I love teetering on the edge of outrageous fun and sudden melt-down. I love making memories and allowing my crazy kids to be crazy!

So, I think I know what parents need. If I was a yoga instructor, I’d teach only moms and dads looking to escape the chaos for an hour. I’d call it Real Yoga for Real Parents, and this is what I’d say:

Come stand at the front of your mat. Breathe in, and allow the thoughts of the day to swirl through your body, but try and keep them in some sort of order. Remember that you’ll get to that stuff, but you won’t get to it right now. Stop making the grocery list. There is no way you’ll remember everything that you are supposed to get right now. And you know you’ll forget the one thing that you really needed anyway. Let the groceries go out with your breath.

Breathe in and allow yourself to be filled with love and gratitude. Be grateful for giving yourself the time to come to yoga today. Be grateful for the love you are receiving from the universe, and from everything. Forget about that time that your child called you a “butty-butt-butt-head.” He didn’t really mean it. And let go of the fact that all you were doing was trying to get him to eat peanut butter toast. That he asked for. Before he realized he wanted a hard-boiled egg exactly like the one you made his sister. In fact, he wanted that exact one.

Allow yourself forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness for not having the foresight to have predicted that whole egg issue. Breathe out love for those tiny little dictators. Empty the breath completely from your body and with it, allow all of your thoughts of toddler frustration to leave you. Just for now. At home, it’s their time. It’s their time back there. Right here it’s your time. It’s your time right here. That’s all over the second you ride your people-wagon back home. (Ha ha! Man, I love The Goonies.)

Breathe in, and let your arms hang at your sides. Turn your palms slightly forward. Drop your shoulders and allow them to separate. Let your collar bones widen and your shoulder blades draw together and roll down your back, as if you’ve never carried a 40 pound sleeping child on your left shoulder for a half mile, just to have them wake up the moment you lay them down on their bed.  

Let your shoulders fall away from your ears. Aligning them with your hips, your knees, your ankles. Drop your left hip, which might feel awkward given that you’ve had a baby propped up there for the the past five years. So, you might need to literally push it down. Like, with your hands.

Feel the energy draw down through your legs and through your feet. Draw your arches up, but let the balls of your feet and your heels be grounded. Breathe out and plant yourself in the earth and feel comfort in your connection there. Don’t worry, there are no toys to clean up here, and no spilled milk to wipe off the counter.

When you breathe in, let the silence and peace spread throughout your entire being. Don’t panic. Nobody is behind a closed door spreading your $50 body lotion on the mirror. Well, maybe they are, but if they are it’s clearly not your fault because you are not responsible for them right now, you’re here. At yoga.

As you breathe out, try not to be so pissed. Because the whole lotion thing is obviously your husband’s fault. He’s probably checking some damn sports score instead of playing with his precious children. But listen, you don’t even know if this scenario is real and thus, there is NO need to allow him to ruin this time that you’ve carved for yourself. No sir. He is NOT taking this from you. NOT THIS TOO. Peace, dammit. Breathe it alllll out.

On your next inhale allow a slight smile to cross your lips. Allow your mind to let go of any chatter that gets in the way of attending to your breath. It’s inevitable that you’ll remember an urgent task you absolutely must complete immediately after class is over. But, you don’t even have a crayon to write with right now, so worrying about it for the next hour will only be punishment for yourself. C’mon. How important are those well-child checkups anyway?

On your next inhale, allow that love to spread throughout your whole body. Give yourself permission to allow your mind to wander during your practice, but assure yourself there is nothing different that you should be doing right now except what you ARE doing. Which is yoga. Remember? Breathe in and breathe out. You’re just doing yoga. That’s it. Come on, now. Seriously. You can do this. You can only think about this. Shh. You don’t hear a baby crying. Shhh. That’s a mirage.

You made it through the whole practice and you did it for yourself. I’m so proud of you. I know it’s hard, but it’s time to return to the busy-ness of being a mom/dad/human. In those moments when you feel like no one is listening to you – even though you have calmly repeated yourself 5 times, and your child still hasn’t put on their fucking socks – try and remember this moment.

Channel your inner Zen, look deeply into your kid’s eyes and say, “Please put your socks on.” one more time. Then, inhale and exhale for good measure. 

You did it. You are so rad.

Namaste, bitches!


White Woman Writes Yoga Essay

“By the time class started, I was already miserable. I wanted a popsicle. I wanted a margarita. Mostly, I wanted the class to be over.”

When I was thirty, I had a baby. It was supposed to be the beautiful start of an idyllic young motherhood.


Then my mom got sick. Then my dad got sick. Then my dad died. Then the dog died. Then the cat died. Then my mom died. And then. And then. And then I was gone. Gone from joy. Gone from vitality. Gone from giving a shit. Gone from pants without elastic. Gone.

Once in a while, I’d try to coax some endorphins into my bloodstream by working out at a gym with all the half-assed effort of my kids unloading the dishwasher. I hated the gym. It had nothing I needed. No love. No help. No humor. The gym had only two things: out-of-date glossy magazines and Barry, the weight-lifting giant.

Barry was so moved by watching me throw my back out on the elliptical machine, fall over sideways, and bust my face open on the floor, that he asked me to be his third wife. I was insulted. Clearly I’ve earned my place as first wife, Barry. Have you seen my bicep curls? My lunges? I can easily bench press your other wives – assuming they are eight pounds each. Do they know about this plan, by the way? And about each other? Also, could you call 911? Because I am bleeding out down here.

I left there that day like a drunk stumbling out of a bar in the middle of the day, surprised to be greeted by the bright sun. Whatever I needed – whatever it was that would help me feel better, whatever future there might still be for me beyond diapers and dying – was not in that gym.

And I would never, ever go back.

Two days later, I walked into a yoga studio and signed up for my first Bikram yoga class. Yes, that yoga. Steamy, 105 degree, 90 minute, mirrors-on-the-wall yoga. I’d been to other yoga studios, but I’d never seen this.

The place was packed with people. People who were fat, young, old, fit. People with big bellies, long hair, no hair, back hair, brown skin, tattoos, thick thighs, six-pack abs, and accents. A recovering alcoholic. A grieving mother. A veteran. A brain surgeon. A widower. Lawyers. Bartenders. College students. High school drop-outs. All there in that hot room. All kinds of bodies, all kinds of people.

By the time class started, I was already miserable. I wanted a popsicle. I wanted a margarita. I wanted a lot of things. Mostly, I wanted the class to be over.

But no.

Despite my hand gestures indicating to the teacher that she could freaking wrap it up with the stupid yoga already, she persisted. She said supportive things. She called people by name. She helpfully told Amanda her hips were level. Awesome. Maybe I can rest my plate of nachos on Amanda’s level hips? Maybe we can rename her Duh-manda? Maybe I should knock Duh-manda over and drink her ice water while she cries?

We were guided through each posture with clear, simple instructions: step your right foot out to the right. Bring your arms up over your head sideways. Put your hands on your lower back. I could take all of these directions. I could hang on in this heat. I could do what the teacher told me to do. Until she said this: Find your eyes in the mirror, see yourself.

Find my what in the where? Uhh. No.

Maaayybe, crazy teacher lady, you could find the window and open it? Maybe I could find your face and punch it? Maybe I could find the door and leave?

But I didn’t leave. I couldn’t leave. Because there it was. What I could not find at the gym. What I could not find in the hours of my days. What I was sure had died with my father, and again with my mother. Right there. In the mirror.

My self.

Not the mom, the daughter, the sister, the wife. Myself. Me. Sweaty, thirsty, and kinda pissed. But definitely still there. I went back the next day. And the next.

And on and on, and so what? Another middle-aged, white woman writes a self-realization yoga essay in the middle of the night between glasses of wine and checking Facebook. The end.

But listen: I ain’t no yogi.

My practice is basically a montage of me falling out of every posture and mouthing “fuck this” again and again. My meditation is the unquiet:

What’s for dinner?

Why did I yell at the kids this morning?

Mascara is sliding down my face. I thought it was waterproof. That’s stupid. Probably has bat poop in it.

I wish that guy would stop mouth-breathing like a dehydrated cat. I bet he smacks his food too.

Why did my mom die and leave me with SO MANY turtlenecks? Good GOD, how can one woman have ALL the turtlenecks?

Hey, let’s cry. No one will notice. It looks like sweat. I bet that dude over there is crying right now. Crying cuz he smells terrible. Burn those clothes, ok bro?

Holy shit, are we still in this posture? We’ve been down here for 6 hours. We’re gonna die down here.

But, between free associating every ridiculously predictable detail of my easily stereotyped existence and trying not to run from the room, I practice finding my eyes in the mirror. I practice seeing myself.

The truth is, though, I mostly don’t find my eyes, or see myself. I see a cute guy, or a nice woman I might adopt as my grandmother. I see my ankles, or the top of my head. I see the lights, the floor.

In those elusive moments I do truly look, what’s reflected back is never just me alone in an empty space. It’s a whole room full of people, all of whom have a story, all of whom made their way here to practice surviving.

And I remember that if we are going to feel better, if we’re going to be better, we can’t avoid ourselves, or each other. We have to come here and learn how to be crowded in next to one another, uncomfortable in the heat, distracted in the fog.

We have to try again. And again.

We have to find our eyes in the mirror, and see.