This is part of a series about Mission Thrive Summer, a program of the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm that empowers youth with skills and knowledge for a healthy life.
Creating a safe space, breathing deeply, and focusing on positive thoughts isn’t easy. By practicing simple mindfulness techniques, students in Mission Thrive Summer learn to deal with stress and find healthy alternatives to cope with life’s challenges.
“Does anyone know what meditation is?” asked Brandin Bowden, Senior Community Programs Manager at the Institute for Integrative Health. Since the first week of Mission Thrive Summer, Brandin has been teaching students various mindfulness techniques such as how to control their breath and how to sit quietly without becoming distracted by racing thoughts.
Before asking students to close their eyes, he explained that meditation can give them a space to slow down and to concentrate on finding compassion.
Sitting in a circle with eyes closed, their backs to each other, and their feet planted on the floor, Brandin led students through an easy breathing exercise; inhaling through their nose followed by a deep exhalation through the mouth.
Once the energy in the room settled, Brandin recited a loving kindness meditation: “May I be happy, may I be well,” he said in a calm voice. “May I be safe, may I be peaceful. May I have joy in my life.” The purpose of this meditation is to encourage students to feel compassion for themselves, then to extend that compassion to others.
After the meditation, Brandin asked students how they felt and challenged them to find compassion for other people, especially those who they have difficult relationships with.
“Why would I wish for peace and tranquility for someone I don’t like?” asked one student. Brandin explained that compassion helps you to not harbor negative feelings.
Mindfulness techniques help students understand that they have options when they are stressed, they don’t have to react in the moment, and they should take the time to figure out what is happening with their bodies.
“We show students that there are healthy ways to assess when they’re stressed out,” Brandin said. “We teach students about the physiological changes that go on in their bodies when they get stressed. They know that mindfulness techniques can help stop the fight or flight response.”
Following the loving kindness meditation, Brandin led students through an exercise that taught them how to give and receive praise and recognition.
“Praise feels good when you deserve it,” said Ali Bellinger, a student at Reginald F. Lewis High School. “But it’s weird if you don’t deserve it.” Students were asked to write down praise for other members of Project Thrive. Brandin explains, It’s as important to be able to receive praise and recognition as it is to give it.
Following the praise exercise, students prepared for the upcoming community Health Expo where they host interactive booths based on the life skills they learned during Mission Thrive Summer. “Coming into the program I didn’t know how to cut properly,” said Malcolm Heggie, a student at City Neighbors High School whose booth will demonstrate knife skills. Malcolm plans to discuss food safety and demonstrate to guests how to properly set up a cutting board.