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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 78 out the YMCA program and was impressed. “If we asked kids to just sit there, be quiet, and follow their breath,” he told me, “they wouldn’t get into it, but I saw these kids really having fun with the poses and then becoming relaxed and quiet—abnor- mally quiet!” Greenberg asked the Holistic Life team whether they would be willing to have their program studied, “recognizing that a study might not demonstrate changes in the developmental trajectories of risk or well-being—it might just show that the kids are having a good time.” A pilot study was set up at four Baltimore public schools, led by Tamar Mendelson, a clinical psychologist in the mental health department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who develops and tests interventions for underserved populations. The study worked with boys and girls in the fourth and fifth grades, and tested the effectiveness of a twelve-week program during the school day, which involved mindfulness and yoga-based movement. Forty-five-minute sessions were held four times a week, with two instructors leading about twenty- five students per class. Mendelson was impressed with the way the classes were structured, “beginning with the most active movements so they could release some of their excess energy and ending with students lying there in silence, a silence that is so rare in their lives.” These children “are exposed to high levels of chronic stress, and research shows that those kinds of ongo- ing stressors can impair kids’ ability to regulate thoughts and emotions,” Mendelson said. “We think this kind of program has the potential to help kids increase their ability to control emotions and intrusive thoughts, and put themselves on a more positive pathway.” The findings of the pilot study suggest that the program had a positive impact on problematic responses to stress, including rumination (continually thinking about the same thing), emo- tional arousal (being overly reactive emotionally), and intrusive thoughts (having thought patterns that create ongoing anxiety). Mendelson also reported that the principals and teachers who participated in the pilot study “were uniformly supportive of do- ing this kind of work with students.” now, Mendelson and Greenberg have designed a study that would use a larger population, extend over three years with follow- up assessments, and measure more factors, including improve- ment in overall health from the physical exercise at the core of the program. The pilot study prompted Holistic Life to develop a consistent curriculum and organize it into a manual, so that others would be able to use its techniques to benefit children at risk. “We would just naturally end up talking with the kids about certain issues in their lives, but we needed to make these topics a little more structured in the curriculum, so others could do the same thing,” Ali Smith said. “We’d love to have this expand to other parts of Baltimore, and then to other parts of the country. We would like to be able to help as many people as we possibly can.” ♦