Screenshot of the Home Page of the Mindful Life Project website.
Mindfulness training at Belshaw, Niroga Dynamic Mindfulness Yoga at Park Middle
By Allen Payton
During their meeting on Wednesday night, March 22, the Antioch School Board will be asked to vote on a contract to bring The Mindfulness Project into Antioch schools to teach Eastern religion-based meditation at Belshaw Elementary School. The Consent Calendar Item V on the meeting agenda is listed as “Vendor Agreement with Mindful Life Project/YMCA of the East Bay.”
The description of the agenda item reads as follows:
Screenshot of a photo on the Mindful Life Project website.
“The Mindful Life Project empowers students with mindfulness and other transformational skills that build self-awareness, development of natural confict resolution skills, self-regulation, perseverance, resilience, and social-emotional intelligence that enable them to thrive in their classrooms, their schools, and their community. Belshaw Elementary teachers will receive a two-hour training regarding mindfulness for educators. The training will involve teachers learning what mindfulness is, the brain science research, and ways to create an individual practice for personal well-being, as well as simple ways to bring mindfulness into their classrooms. A whole school assembly will be held three weeks after the training.”
According to Wikipedia “Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training. The term ‘mindfulness’ is a translation of the Pali term sati, which is a significant element of some Buddhist traditions.”
The Psychology Today website defines the term as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
That website then provides links to six articles under “Live in the Moment,” including “5 Meditation Tips for Beginners.”
The Mindful Life Project
Screenshot of a photo on the Mindful Life Project website.
In addition, on the website for The Mindful Life Project at www.mindfullifeproject.org it shows photos of children in classrooms, with their eyes closed, sometimes with hands out stretched, in what appears to be states of meditation.
The website claims “Mindfulness is a secular, science-based approach that takes advantage of our brain’s plasticity (ability to change throughout life). Mindfulness is proven to strengthen physiological responses to stress, negative emotions, anxiety and depression, and improve happiness, openness and self-awareness.
Mindfulness enables us to be present, moment to moment, in our increasingly distracted lives. Mindfulness improves social relationships with people and family and can even strengthen the immune system. It cultivates an openness to one’s life experience and a (sic) leads to a happier and more compassionate life.”
Photo collage on the Niroga Educational Services page of the Niroga Institute website.
Niroga Dynamic Mindful Yoga at Park Middle School
The proposed program at Belshaw is in addition to a program run by the Niroga Institute, that’s been implemented at Park Middle School, using grant money, to help with anger management.
On the Niroga website under Educational Services, it explains what they do in the classroom.
“We bring Dynamic Mindfulness to thousands of students every week in K-12 schools and alternative schools, helping children with academic, social and emotional learning. We have developed a comprehensive Transformative Life Skills (TLS) curriculum with 48 brief in-class lessons, systematically building stress resilience, self-awareness, emotion regulation and healthy relationships.”
Last November, the website provided the following background of the founder, Bidyut Bose, PhD, Executive Director of Niroga Institute. However, it has since been edited with portions deleted.
“Bidyut (BK) learned yoga from his father as a child, and later with monks in the Himalayas. A master Yoga Therapist in the Raja Yoga tradition, he is a long time student of Indian Philosophy and world religions. Inspired by Swami Vivekananda, he founded Niroga Institute, a non-profit dedicated to providing affordable, high-quality Yoga instruction and Yoga Therapy to underserved individuals and families. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).”
Swami means a Hindu male religious teacher.
Niroga Dynamic Mindfulness meditation in the classroom. From Niroga.com
Regarding the use of meditation and on what the students are meditating, Park Middle School Principal John Jimno in a November interview stated, “from the experiences I’ve had with the organization, there’s never been a particular theme or word that they focus on.”
“They use a chime to bring focus in the room,” he explained. “Right now we currently have maybe 10 teachers that the trainers are going into the rooms for 15 minutes, twice a week. It’s not just breathing and teaching them, but how stress occurs in the body and implementing a coping mechanism…to be in control of their actions before they act on them. Getting their attention back in a positive way, rather than in anger.”
“They don’t call it meditation,” Jimno added. “I’m Christian and there’s lots of researched based practices. Lots of inner cities, Richmond is using this in their schools. We’re not utilizing the religious aspects of that. We’re using their techniques to calm students down.”
“No time have I even put those two together,” he stated. “At no time has there been an integration of the religion. As a Christian man, there have been things that have inspired me to bring back to teach students differently.”
When asked has the school brought in a Christian organization to teach biblical principles in a secular way, he responded “I wouldn’t be opposed to it.”
Speaking of Bose, the founder of the Niroga Institute, Jimno said, “I’ve met him personally. I’ve been to his house for a meeting. Never once has religion been brought in to any conversation that I’ve had with him or in the trainings we’ve had here.”
Asked about the photos of students with hands folded and eyes closed in prayer and who are they praying to, he said, “It’s a centering posture, not necessarily a prayer posture.”
“We asked several questions of them and asked how they can apply it in music and in stretching in P.E.,” Jimno added. “It builds grey matter in the brain when you implement these techniques.”
Photo on the Niroga Institute website. Niroga.com
“The people who are coming on campus are not Eastern religion people,” he explained. “It’s been very pure, centered around making the climate calmer and help the students. It’s very separate from the wellness room. It’s about counseling. This is about meditation. But, we want to incorporate the breathing techniques into the wellness room.”
“It’s new and very big, right now,” Jimno stated. “It’s big in Richmond and Oakland. It’s funded by the Youth Justice Initiative grant through the county.”
“Last year it was used for trauma training and how it affects student behavior,” he said. “This year it’s more about bringing services to the campus community, wellness room, to get help for an all-day fix, to give them an outlet, rather than a punishment based system, to integrate them back into the classroom.”
“We’re working with the Lincoln Center for mental health therapy and, incorporating the Dynamic Mindfulness,” Jimno continued.
“In the first quarter of our school year, compared to the first quarter of last school year, we saw a 78% reduction in our suspension rate,” he stated. “Most of that was due to the wellness room and the trauma training, and the fact we added a counseling component, of a non-consequence solution.”
The flyer promoting the event at Park Middle School on Dec. 6th.
Navarro Calls for Equal Treatment
A flyer was distributed in November stating “Park Middle School presents Niroga A Parent & Family Night of Meditation & Relaxation,” held in the Multipurpose Room and Wellness Center at the school on Tuesday, December 6th.
Superintendent Stephanie Anello and all five board members, at the time were asked if they were aware of the event, why the school was sponsoring an event promoting Eastern religion and on what those in attendance would be meditating.
Then-Trustee Fernando Navarro was the only board member to respond.
“If we’re going to be neutral and they’re not going to allow Christian or any other religious-based organizations from bringing their philosophies onto school campuses, then advocates of Eastern religion shouldn’t be allowed to, either,” he stated.
“Frankly, they’ve reopened a door that constitutionally allows you to pray in school,” Navarro continued. “Because it’s separation of state from church, not church from state, where the state bullies a church or prevents the practice of religion thereof.”
“I got a heads up when Mr. Jimno brought it up at the Board meeting, last night,” He explained.
“Maybe we should have Christian prayer groups, Bible study during lunch or after school,” Navarro added.
Anello Defends Program
Superintendent Stephanie Anello and three of the board members, at the time and who continue to serve on the board, were asked if there are any other organizations to provide such services, that aren’t based on Eastern religion, and if there was a competitive bidding process, such as an RFQ (Request For Quote) or RFP (Request For Proposal), for using the funds from the justice grant, Anello responded.
“My understanding is that all meditation was inspired by Eastern religion but is used for a myriad of purposes,” she replied. “Per Ed(ucation) Code, a competitive bidding process was not required. The practice was implemented at the beginning of the school year. Mr. Jimno credits the 78% drop in suspensions due, in part, to this practice.
She was then asked about the district’s policy with regards to bringing in a religious affiliated philosophy into Antioch public classrooms and schools, and for schools to sponsor such activities, even if they are after hours at the campuses.
“Park Middle School like many schools across the nation, are practicing mindfulness. Mediation is just a piece of Mindfulnes,” Anello responded. “Meditation, although inspired by Eastern religion is a practice that transcends religion.
None of the board members responded to the questions.
Pastors Speak Out
When asked for comment about the Dynamic Meditation program, Pastor Larry Adams of Golden Hills Community Church in Antioch and Brentwood said he wasn’t going to fight it. But, rather he wanted equal time to have representatives of the Christian faith to be able to also go into the classrooms to share with students meditation on the Bible and praying to God, “who created them and knows all about them.”
Antioch pastor Dr. Lamont Francies of the Delta Bay Church of Christ shared a similar viewpoint.
“After doing research on the program at PMS, I would not implement the program,” he said. “I believe that if this program is implemented in public schools using public dollars that there must be an equal opportunity given to Christian based interventions.”
“I do not believe that schools can be void of culture, values and various beliefs. In our public schools we have educators that represent a diversity of culture, values and beliefs,” Francies continued. “I personally believe that if Christian prayer was being implemented in a public school, that it would have made national headlines. If AUSD endorses this mindfulness program, I believe they should offer a Christian alternative and let parents and students choose.”
The Antioch School Board meets at 7:00 p.m. in the Antioch Unified School District Office Board Room located at 510 G Street in downtown Antioch. Members of the public will have the opportunity to speak on this and any other agenda item and during public comments. To see the entire meeting agenda, click here: http://www.boarddocs.com/ca/ausd/Board.nsf/Public