This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Mindfulness is a buzzword used more and more frequently in youth programs, but what does it really mean?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something,” but for Amy Perez, the new mindfulness director at Mighty Writers, it is a lot more than that.
“For me, mindfulness is a way of being. While it can be defined as a tool to help with mental focus, presence, and awareness, mindfulness also embodies the presence of the body. Being mindful means being present, in the moment, and not being overly reactive or getting overwhelmed with things in the past or future,” Perez said.
Mighty Writers is an after-school program that offers free writing programs to neighborhood children, from toddlers to teenagers. It has seven locations — six in the greater Philadelphia area and one in Camden, New Jersey.
Mighty Writers uses practices such as journaling, yoga, and meditation during its programs to help the students focus.
“The kids come in to us during after-school hours, or after 3 p.m., and when they are coming in from a long day of school and being there for eight hours, they tend to come in scattered,” said Perez. She says that the mindfulness helps to make the students “a bit happier” and “enhances their views of the world around them.”
The Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) is a national, not-for-profit organization aiming “to improve the lives of a generation of children and young people by making a genuine, positive difference to their mental health and well being.” MiSP says that mindfulness can be used to help reduce stress and prevent recurrent depression.
Perez echoed this and added that for students, practicing mindfulness “is a new way to feel, it’s a new way to see and to listen to themselves. It really does allow them to understand the concept of compassion, kindness, stillness, and acceptance as well.”
Although many people associate mindfulness with yoga and meditation, Perez emphasized that it “can be practiced anywhere at any time. While it can certainly be practiced under meditation, I recommend [always] being fully aware of your thoughts and open to whatever arises.”
Mighty Writers added these programs as research about the benefits of mindfulness grew stronger and more conclusive. Additionally, they said that their participants’ parents wanted it more and more. According to Perez, there are positive changes happening for the students, and parents are noticing.
She highlighted that some introverted students were talking more and that some were taking on more leadership because of their newfound sense of self.
Besides Mighty Writers, schools all over the country are trying to emphasize the core concepts of awareness, as well as stopping and stepping back.
MiSP argues that “being able to step back from the busyness of habitual activity and the relentless chatter of the mind” provides “greater space and clarity to make choices that support well-being in many ways.”
Said Perez: “Mindfulness is a practice that becomes natural after some time. … If [mindfulness] is practiced every day, it will unleash curiosity.”