School Board to vote on expanding Eastern religion-based meditation into more Antioch classrooms, Wednesday night

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 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

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.

“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:

the attachments to this post:

Park Parent Nite – Meditation

boy & girl

3 girls meditating

MLP website photo

Niroga Education Services photo

Niroga website photo

Niroga classroom

18 Comments to “School Board to vote on expanding Eastern religion-based meditation into more Antioch classrooms, Wednesday night”

  1. Just a thought says:

    This is FABULOUS. It is a behavior and skill these young people can keep with them for their entire lives. Love it!

    • Fernando Navarrro says:

      So can meditating on the sermon on the mount. Or understanding and contemplating the 10 commandments. Go ahead. State falsely “separation of church and state”

      you cant have it both ways. Either allow the factual study of all religions or none of it.

      • Just a thought says:

        You are all over-thinking this. It is just allowing them to be centered and mindful – at peace for a few minutes out of their hectic little lives. What lies ahead for them is a hectic, busy world if this teaches them how to connect and be mindful – so be it. I wish I learned it at a young age. This is not about religion. And yes, I agree it should come at home but do you know what some of their lives are like there?

  2. Marty Fernandez says:

    This should be handled at home. I agree with both Mr. Navarro and Dr.Lamont Francies also.

  3. Arne Simonsen says:

    This has no place in K-12 public schools.

  4. Justin LaVasse says:

    If done in the right context:yoga at PE, meditation as personal enrichment and optional this could be OK but to claim thesee practices are scientific will confuse our youth as to what science is.

  5. Clarifying Voice says:

    I think people are confused by the misleading headline. We are not talking about “Eastern-religion based meditation” here. We are talking about a coping mechanism for students to learn how to control their emotional outbursts and meltdowns by taking a moment to stop, focus, and breathe.

    The District has been promoting Character Counts for years. Has anyone been freaking out about this? No. Should you? No. However, it is a fact that the yellow pillar, Respect, is yellow *because* it is fashioned after “The Golden Rule,” a Christian concept. Who wants to march down and start protesting that we are teaching students “Christian-based values” by telling them to respect one another? No one, because that would be stupid.

    Calling this “Eastern-Religion based” is equally stupid and incorrect.

    Bottom line, students are learning anger management techniques. They are learning to take care of themselves mentally and emotionally. They are better behaved, and learning things that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Why is this something anyone thinks should be argued against?

    • Publisher says:

      Clarifying Voice,
      Thank you for reading the Herald and for your comment.
      However, I disagree that labeling it Eastern religion is “stupid and incorrect.”
      It’s clear that yoga, and the type of meditation being promoted and taught in the Antioch schools is based in Eastern religion.
      The article gives clear connections between Eastern religion and what is being taught, labeled as “mindfulness” which is directly from Buddhism.
      Plus, merely look at the inspiration for the founding of the Niroga Institute, a Hindu swami.
      While the YMCA may stand for Young Men’s Christian Association, what they’re promoting is not Christian, but rather Buddhism and Hinduism.
      There are other non-religious connected anger management techniques that don’t promote Eastern religions.
      While there might be some positive effects from it, the school board should open up this effort at achieving anger management to a bidding process to determine which programs are out there that can and should be used in district schools.
      The headline is accurate.
      Allen Payton, Publisher

      • Marty Fernandez says:

        Excellent Allen. Thank you.

      • Clarifying Voice says:

        You are wrong. You are trying to get people riled up with your tactics and it is frankly offensive.

        If I was taught how to be peaceful and loving by a Catholic nun, and then went on to establish a Peace and Love foundation based on what I had learned, would I be accused of teaching Catholicism? Or “Catholic-religion based” ideals? Of course not.

        If a teacher in any of our public schools is also an ordained minister, a Jewish rabbi or a Muslim imam, should we demand our students be taken out of their classes for fear that they are going to be converted? Ridiculous.

        The mindfulness they are teaching in the schools has nothing to do with religion. Period. Just because the man who started the foundation learned meditation from a religious source does not make his foundation religious.

        You are preying on people’s fear of beliefs that don’t coincide with their own. Maybe it is your own fear as well, I don’t know. I would suggest that you actually observe it for yourself rather than pulling your information from Wikipedia. Oh, wait, it must be right; I read it on the internet.

  6. Fernando Navarrro says:

    Well Mr voice (thank you for putting your name on the line by the way)

    What is it ,you think,that the Gospels of Jesus Christ teach exactly in your mind?
    If not peaceful tolerance, self control.. and equilibrium. Yet the mere mention of his teachings bring conniption fits. Yet you expect us as parents not to speak out about this blatant double standard.

    I ask my self why liberals tend to gravitate towards eastern dogmas yet run from Christianity. If this were written up in a mathematical equation we can only conclude that not all spiritual dogmas are the same (just like it says in the bible)

    Makes one say ,hmmmm.

    Nice try sneaking it past us. But not on this parents watch.

    • Clarifying Voice says:

      It is clear that you are the exact sort of person that Mr. Payton is targeting. I’m sorry that you are confused.

      You presume that because I point out that there is nothing religious about the mindful practices being taught at the schools that I am gravitating towards eastern dogma and running from Christianity. I have no problem with Jesus. I have a major problem with the arrogance of many of his followers.

      In fact, when I was a student at Antioch High School, I started a bible study club that was attended by a dozen students weekly. So much for your presumptions.

      I don’t care if there is prayer in schools. I don’t care if there is a weekly gathering of Jews for Jesus, Mormon Club, Catholic Crusaders or any other group who wants to meet. That isn’t the issue.

      The issue is that spiritual dogma is not a part of what they are practicing with this mindfulness, as Mr. Payton intimates, and that is what I tried to CLARIFY. That you cannot understand that is truly disappointing.

      • Publisher says:

        Clarifying Voice,
        Just to clarify, I’m not “targeting” anyone. I wrote an article about something new and unusual occurring in our schools that some residents are concerned about, in the education process of Antioch students.
        My main issue is that there wasn’t an open RFP or RFQ process to seek out any and all other programs for anger management, and to not just accept these two that came along from other school districts, and with clear roots in Eastern religion.
        Allen Payton, Publisher

      • Fernando Navarro says:

        What you are not getting is that we are not falling for the distractive use of the word “mindfulness’ to redirect the fact that it is in fact meditation. to couch this as just breathing techniques is really disrespecting our collective intelligence!

        why do liberals always have to sneak around the ‘back door’ by deception what can’t be shown in broad daylight, Why? because if it were shown in its true light there would be no honest support.

        it is a classic case of death by a thousand slashes.
        it’s moving the camel into the tent a millimeter at a time.

        reminds me a lot about how we ended up with recreational marijuana. it had to be inched in..first as medicinal then once in the door..ta da! recreational. heck, they are now advertising marijuana gummy bears. so I guess the end goal has always been to reach our kids!

  7. Dr. Carl Erikson says:

    It is wrong to label this sort of meditation ‘religious’. It is far from that. Learning to quiet the mind and to focus is an essential life skill that has tremendous benefits for everyone in every area of life. Meditation and mindfulness most certainly belongs in schools. All schools. Learning and grades improve as well as critical thinking skills. I teach every one of my university students mindfulness and meditation. We begin every class with a short meditation. It makes a huge difference for the students. Reducing stress and increasing self-awareness through meditation and mindfulness is the best preventive therapy available. But there is also something intangible that can occur when meditating that causes a ‘shift’ in one’s reality to a more positive life experience. I can only recommend getting started and staying with meditation and seeing what the results are. Sometimes it is not possible to attend a class but it is often it is helpful to have some instruction for meditation. I usually suggest they start with these two guided mindfulness training mp3s, Meditation 1 and Meditation 2 by Jon Shore at Shore produces many others as well for different purposes. It takes consistent practice but the results are well worth the small effort required.

    • Publisher says:

      Dr. Erikson,
      Thank you for reading the Herald and for your comment.
      Where does “mindfulness” and this form of mediation originate? Hinduism and Buddhism.
      There is nothing wrong with meditation, as Christians too are encouraged to meditate on scripture from the Bible. But, what are the students being taught to meditate on? Their past, their present problems, their future goals and desires?
      Who is the one teaching this meditation at Park Middle School? A man who is admitted to be a student of Eastern religion and who was inspired by a Hindu religious man, known as a swami, to form his institute.
      Try all you like to downplay this, and the school board members can, as well, as merely breathing exercises. But it’s clear what the foundation of this teaching is, namely Eastern religion, thus opening students to a spiritual matter that should either not be in the schools or equal time should be given to the Judaism and/or the Christian faith, upon which our nation was founded.
      The school board and district personnel need to be very aware of what’s really going on here. While the intent and goal of the district may be great – anger management among students, there’s another agenda at play, here.
      Allen Payton, Publisher

      • Marty Fernandez says:

        Thank you Allen. So right. And the way the district has done it, back door or not is wrong. The proper channels for bidding for any program must be followed. Once again the school district is making up its own rules as it goes along.

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