If you’ve tried either of these you may find that they are filled with adults, people with authority, parents, teachers and general ‘somebodies’ and it isn’t very easy to relax and be yourself. Have you ever found a class that is just for teens, guided gently by a teacher who has empathy and a working knowledge of the pressure on our teenagers today?
This is the aim of Circles of Light. In 2013, I was sent to London by my school, Tanglin Trust School, on a course called ‘Mindfulness in Schools’ led by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He was well-known, but not as recognised and celebrated as he is now. He spoke powerfully at that two-day conference about the huge numbers of our children who are medicated for anxiety and depression. If we don’t teach them how to regulate their emotions, he said, we will soon have a generation of young people who cannot function without their medication. He brought in the concept of the ‘dot b’ moments and gave children strategies such as counting when they felt angry or stressed. He suggested we notice little things, look out of the window on the bus journey and see the world around us, appreciating little things.
I presented it to the staff on my return and Tanglin took it into its ethos, bringing in wellness awareness. Now it is common practice across all schools, though I find that our students still struggle to access the calm, serenity and sovereignty over their own minds and bodies that they need. I was pleased to play a significant role in bringing ‘Mindfulness for Schools’ to my school, but what I found most important of all was just simply doing it. It needs to be daily practice.
I felt such a deep empathy for the students in my care.
My classroom had dimmed lights, soothing music and we often began with ten minutes of breathwork, lying down on the floor before the lesson starter. The effect was instantaneous: all the lunchtime playground issues were forgotten, their bodies soothed and their minds calm. Now they were ready to focus on the work ahead. In my pastoral role I recognised that children have so much emotional stimulation – relationships with peers that were supercharged by Snapchat or instagram, the pressure to be seen on social media, relationships with and within their families, and that is before we even got anywhere near the academic pressure.
My observations and experience were that at IB and A-level, by the end of term one, the first year students were like rabbits-in-headlights, frozen in complete bewilderment at the volume of work before them, a huge jump from the GCSE they had just finished, unable to find a path through it all. By the second year, with deadlines looming for Extended Essays or Projects and Oral Presentations, university applications and the reality of predicted grades, they seemed to start and end the day in a state of sheer panic. Sometimes all I could think to do was to take them into my office and count whilst they breathed in and out, forcing them to ‘just breathe.’ It was short-lived but it did make them realise the importance of conscious breathing. This I learned through my yoga teacher, a master of yoga called Dr Kajal. Each week, he took me through breathing practices such as Ujayi breath, Nadi Shodana, and Kaplabhati.
Our teenagers are so precious, they are the next generation, our future leaders and decision-makers.
We need to give them the power to self-regulate, to act with calm and with true guidance from Spirit to whom they have learned to listen in the quiet of their own mind. We need them to be kind to themselves in order to be kind to others. We need them to do the things they love, follow their passions and interests and be creative so they can create new and wondrous things. The cliche ‘listen to your heart’ is never more needed than right now in this time of junk light, over-stimulation and a never-ending outpouring of immense pressure.
Circles of Light intends to offer them all these opportunities, in a place away from adults, away from social media, plugged in only to the earth and their very own hearts.