A Space for Bliss: Co-creating space for collective health and well-being in schools
By BA, MA Laureen Keefer
Given the tremendous amount of stress placed on students’ shoulders today – with everything from school shootings, the coronavirus pandemic, family trouble and economic challenges, to climate change and global conflict – there has never been a greater need for students to have a place they can go to feel safe and to be treated as a whole person.
Co-creating “A Space for Bliss”
With “A Space for Bliss” schools could dedicate one room to be used when students need somewhere to reduce stress and to reconnect to their true self – a place to put into practice mindfulness meditation skills which are becoming increasingly commonplace in education from early elementary through high school.
Initially, students could be invited to help create the space by being involved in the decoration and selection of the types of activities they would benefit from. A primary activity to be encouraged in “A Space for Bliss” would be meditation, a practice that is growing in all age groups. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, ten times more children used meditation in 2017 than in 2012. Surprisingly, meditation was part of the curriculum in just 91 US schools in 2012.
Since the disruption caused to the entire planet during the past year’s coronavirus pandemic, the calming effects of meditation and other stress reducing activities are needed now more than ever!
Students could choose what to name their school’s unique “Space for Bliss”, help decide what to include and help decorate. Here are some ideas to consider including:
- colorful paint or murals
- relaxing art and wall hangings
- calming lights
- healing music
- yoga mats
- meditation cushions w/ audio guided meditations
- comfortable couch and chairs to sit and read
- table and chairs for doing relaxing activities like coloring, origami, jigsaw puzzles
These and other ideas suggested by students would give a diverse student body a little bit of something for everyone.
When students could visit “A Space for Bliss”:
- before school
- after school
- between classes
- during study hall
- during lunch
- During class, with a pass
If a student feels like they are about to explode from the stress, they could ask the teacher for a pass and spend 10-15 minutes in their schools’ own chill-out space. Having this time to become grounded, centered and focus on something positive will help them clear their minds and return to class ready to focus on learning. Having a place of their own that helps them quickly recharge and refocus their energy would go a long way towards improving collective heath and well-being.
Benefits to Students
The 24 Brilliant Benefits Of Meditation For Students (Backed By SCIENCE) is a great article to read when you have an hour to spare (and with a cup of strong tea or coffee in hand)! It is utterly packed full of active links to scientific, psychology, and academic journal articles that provide hard data and facts from years of research on the benefits of meditation for students. The benefits include:
- Improved attention
- Fewer distractions, better focus
- Concentrate for longer
- Lower stress levels
- Cope better with stress
- Helps with exam nerves
- Improved self-esteem
- Greater well-being and happiness
- Better resilience
- Improved social skills
- Greater empathy and compassion
- Improved working memory
- Improved response inhibition
- Meditation might even change the very fabric of a student’s brain
- Improved sleep quality
- Relieves anxiety
- Helps alleviate depression
- Benefits for students with ADHD (probably)
- And even improvements in physical health
- Meditation improves knowledge retention during lectures
- Higher GPA among college students
Follow the link below to the article and you will be amazed at the sheer number of scientific and social science data backed research papers, studies, and journal articles that have been written. If a school needs to be armed with facts galore to be convinced to dedicate one room to the collective health and wellbeing of its students, they will find what they need here:
The 24 Brilliant Benefits Of Meditation For Students (Backed By SCIENCE)
by William Wadsworth | Oct 28, 2020
This type of creative space for meditation and relaxation has been used in K-12 schools throughout the United States and the World. The impact of having “A Space for Bliss” in a school has been positive wherever it has been implemented. It can
- reduce the need for disciplinary action
- increase students self esteem and self awareness, and
- give students valuable skills they can teach their family and community.
Can Meditation in Schools Help Kids?
The answer is a resounding YES! If they are not already doing something to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation to students, then “A Space For Bliss” can encourage every K-12 School to make time and space for this life affirming practice. These and other wellness practices can improve lives so much, the younger the ideas are introduced the better. These stress reducing practices will stay with the students throughout their entire lives, and give them skills they will need to cope in our challenging times.
This article links to a few very powerful multimedia presentations about how meditation in schools can be of great benefit to students of all ages.
Can Meditation in Schools Help Kids? by Don Weyant/Meditation Life Skills
At Tilden Middle School in Southwest Philadelphia, coordinator Regina Young has her own “chill-out room” where students in need can choose from a number of activities to “figure out the best way to recalibrate, de-escalate, and refocus.”
One student in South Philadelphia High got in trouble for answering her phone in class, and came to the “chill-out room” saying “I need a reset!” Apparently the person who called was the same person who had once called to tell her that her brother had been shot, and she answered automatically fearing the worst. “After a little time painting and talking in South Philly’s “Ram Reset Room” – a sunny corner space named for the school mascot with a few tables, some yoga mats, a computer, and a view of miles of rowhouses – the student relaxed and went back to class.
No trip to the dean’s office needed and no disciplinary action. That may seem like a modest achievement. But it represents one of the core goals of Mayor Kenney’s community schools initiative: to use trauma-informed techniques to keep students’ little problems from mushrooming into big ones.”
“Chill-out rooms, trauma training, and more” By Darryl C. Murphy Mar 21, 2018, 12:45pm EDT
This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore has created a “Mindful Moment Room” instead of punishing disruptive students or sending them to the principals office, they go into a peacefully decorated room, sit on plush purple mediation cushions, and “practice breathing and meditation to help them call down and recenter. They are also asked to talk through what happened.”
Kids are even enjoying what they learn in these creative spaces so much that they actually offer to teach their parents what they’ve learned! Andres Gonzalez, one of the founders of Holistic Life Foundation, who helped set up the Baltimore schools’ “Mindful Moment Room” was quoted on oprah.com as saying, “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.'”
Los Angeles and Bay Area, California
Districts across the State of California have been experimenting with mindfulness meditation, with almost 1000 teachers from Los Angeles Unified school district undergoing training to learn mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, and other techniques’ to improve students’ health. Creating “A Space for Bliss” would make these practices more accessible and present in students’ day to day lives.
“I don’t think there’s a person on the planet who’s not feeling traumatized right now and couldn’t benefit from this,” said Heather Davis Puerzer, a 1st grade teacher at Foothill Elementary in Pittsburg Unified school district. “My kids seem to really get something out of it. Some of them have even started asking for it — that’s how I know it’s working. I know it’s working for me.”
California schools turn to mindfulness to help students cope with stress: Breathing exercises can help students cope with stress and improve their ability to learn, studies say By Carolyn James June 22, 2020
San Francisco, California:
Faced with behavioral and learning challenges, a San Francisco middle school decided to try something new: mindfulness meditation. This is their story.
“Room to Breathe” – Transforming a Public School Community (YouTube)
United Arab Emirates
“Mindfulness is a phenomenon that is becoming widely applied across the globe. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of many prominent leaders advocating for educational progressivism, applies mindfulness in innovative ways to combat chronic pain, stress, and depression.
Mindfulness Trending in UAE Classrooms
Classrooms in the United Arab Emirates are also embracing the mindfulness movement as a technique to bring clarity and focus while promoting the wellbeing and resiliency of students. Dr. Christine Kritzas, a counseling psychologist in Dubai, affirms that mindfulness is fast “becoming a trend in the region.” She states that the popularity of teaching mindfulness is likely to have a “a great deal to do with the fast-paced, transient nature of this region” and that “individuals are desperate and hungry to find coping strategies that will bring some stillness and peace of mind amidst the excitement and chaos that this interesting yet challenging region provides.”
Such fervor in promoting mindfulness may stem from UAE’s higher-than-average rates of depression and mood disorders (Bener, Ghuloum, & Abou-Saleh, 2012; Ferrari et al., 2013).”
Mindfulness Movement in the United Arab Emirates Posted on July 19, 2019 By Shu Jie Ting, CEI Intern
Will “A Space for Bliss” help students in low-income, ethnically diverse schools?
YES! A study was conducted in 2011 on the effects of a 5-week mindfulness training program on students in a low-income and ethnically-diverse school in Richmond, CA. 83% of the students in the school were enrolled in the free lunch program, and the majority of the students were ethnic minorities (53.3% Hispanic, 28% Black, 15% Asian, 4.3%White, and .4% Other). Over time, the students who were offered the mindfulness education and practiced meditation showed improvements in all four areas that were measured:
- paying attention
- calm and self-control
- participation in activities, and
- caring/respect for others.
This study suggests that mindfulness training may improve classroom behaviors among ethnically-diverse and lower-income school children, which may have implications for enhancing the classroom learning environment in schools.
Mindfulness Training and Classroom Behavior Among Lower-Income and Ethnic Minority Elementary School Children By David S. Black and Randima Fernando J Child Fam Stud. 2014 Oct; 23(7): 1242–1246.
Note on my cover images
1. The image on the left side of my cover image is called Psychic Energy System from Sacred Mirrors, by Alex Grey.
2. The image of the meditation room I selected for my header image is taken from a school Mindfulness Meditation room in the United Arab Emirates.
Adopt & Adapt
While the schools mentioned above and many others have built something like I envision “A Space for Bliss” in their schools with the help of grants from local and national non-profits, this idea is so simple and adaptable that it could be co-created in any school with very minimal funding.
- The main requirement would be to find one unused or underused space in the school that could be dedicated to student health and wellness.
- Then one or more teachers with an interest in helping to oversee “A Space for Bliss” would be needed, preferably someone either already very familiar with techniques like mindfulness meditation, yoga, or tai-chi or someone interested enough to learn the techniques themselves before the school “Space for Bliss” is opened.
- Students and their parents could be asked to help co-create the space by donating some of the items needed to decorate, yoga mats, furniture, and supplies for student activities. This way the “Space for Bliss” could be established with very little money needed, and the more the students, teachers and parents contribute to the space the more unique and special it will be for the students who will benefit from it.
- The students could make suggestions for what to name their own unique “Space for Bliss” and vote to pick the one most students resonate with. This is one more simple way that the students would feel a sense of ownership in the space, making it uniquely part of their own community.
- There is a global awakening in interest in these techniques, and in almost every aspect of life it is becoming more common for the holistic approach to be visible and available. This is something almost every school is certain to have teachers and students already interested in, and those trailblazers could help take the lead in co-creating a super blissful respite space that any student will feel at home in.
Perhaps if every school had “A Space for Bliss”, a place where students could check in to get their emotions under control, a place where their true self would be nurtured and honored, and where they would always be seen as a whole person beyond just the mask they wear in school we might notice a dramatic decline in school shootings and other disciplinary problems, a reduction in teen suicides, and many other positive outcomes that would result as the positive effects begin to ripple out beyond the school into the home and community.