Introducing mindfulness to at-risk youth poses special challenges.
Ali and Atman Smith, and Andy Gonzalez of Holistic Life Foundation help children in one of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods find calm and confidence through yoga and meditation. Sam Himelstein, Behavioral Health Clinician at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center incorporates mindfulness with his young patients’ therapy.
All four men participated in last years Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth conference. They offered 4 practical tips to help educators, counselors and parents effectively introduce young people to mindfulness practices.
1. Meet them where they are. They may not be ready to sit upright, or even close their eyes. Start with simple steps, such as focus on your breathing.
2. Make it practical. Let them know that they can return to their breath, or focus on their thoughts no matter where they are or what they’re doing. This will help them practice more often.
3. Clarify the session. For instance, tell them, “We’re going to focus on our breath and notice whatever comes in.” It helps set expectations.
4. Don’t be attached to formality. Setting strict conditions is unrealistic. It may prevent people from wanting to practice.
HLF at TedX
If you’re having trouble connecting with the young people you work with, fear not. There’s hope. It works. Holistic Life Foundation gave a TedX Talk about the effectiveness of their work in the community. HLF started in 2001 with 20 fifth-grade boys. The foundation’s after-school program introduced yoga, mindfulness, urban gardening, and teamwork. In a city where the dropout rate for high school students is routinely higher than 50%, 19 of those first 20 boys graduated and the other got his GED.