A visitor stepping into the dark small gym, lit only by faint yellow Christmas lights strung on the ceiling, would be pleasantly surprised at the sight of one hundred or so students practicing yoga. However, eleven years ago–when Ann Richards was just in our beginning–the visitor would have been startled and speechless.
Over the past decade, mindfulness has earned a huge presence in American media, health, and schools. ARS was at the forefront of that shift in American culture, teaching mindfulness to one of the country’s most challenged student bodies. ARS has shown us mindfulness in a multitude of ways: Fitness Friday, yoga, No Homework Weekends, mindfulness breaks, Toxic Dump journals in Ms. Shireen Dadmehr’s Calculus class.
So, what’s the reason for the culture shift? Why did everyone suddenly stop thinking yogis were weirdos and start following their paths to modern day enlightenment? Research began showing the benefits of mindfulness.
Various studies showed that people increase their concentration levels with physical and mental mindfulness, can lose weight by implementing mindfulness strategies, and that yoga is a better way to prevent health complications than other forms of exercise. Some take the research and argue that mindfulness meditation can alleviate political polarization in America, while others point out that only the socioeconomically privileged enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. This is a grey area, and you can agree with both arguments at the same time.
Criticisms of mindfulness often target the time-consuming, cross-legged, downward facing dog approach. However, the proven benefits of mindfulness can result from any form of the practice that suits each person individually; writing practice is a form of mindfulness, playing soccer and running are my personal forms of mindfulness, and it can truly take any form that is effective for you. For example, as former ABC News Anchor Dan Harris explained in an interview with NPR, mindfulness is different for everyone: “There are lots of ways to increase your well-being, and meditation is one of them — but not the only one.”
As a stressed senior applying and getting into college, I am pressured by concerned family and friends to worry about my ability to succeed next year in college: completing more challenging and self-paced classes, taking care of myself if hurt, and keeping myself sane in times of loneliness or stress. Most students in college-prep schools learn how to deal with the first worry of college rigor in class, and many people learn how to deal with the second at home.
However, the third worry is becoming more stressed as mental health awareness increases. Luckily, I attend ARS, which prepared me for all three worries of independent survival in college. We are not a college prep school in just the traditional sense, preparing only for the academic rigor of college. ARS is a college prep for the whole student: academically, socially, physically, and emotionally.
As students,we get overwhelmed or disappointed and we must learn to deal with these emotions independently or be able to access the resources that help us cope. As students, we are meant to experience the different forms of mindfulness offered to us and evaluate which ones work for us, so that when we are overwhelmed and on our own in college we have something to calm us down.
In high school, and even middle school at Ann Richards, we have all had the many breakdowns that come with our tough workload and many extracurriculars. Our school gives us a lot of tools to deal with these. When I was in sixth grade I did not know what to do, so I just cried and accomplished nothing. Over the years, I have tried the techniques given to me by Ann Richards: taking deep breaths, going on a walk outside, working out, writing, being creative, and planning. As a senior, I use almost all of these. I work out almost every day, I draw (and write when I am especially pent up) I breath deeply on an hourly basis, and I plan out my hours every night when I get home.
No Homework Weekends are important because they allow us to take a break and realize that school is just school: one aspect of our lives. We need to go outside, spend time with friends and family, read a book for fun, or learn a new language. Although No Homework Weekends do not work for AP classes–those teachers just assign the work a class period early and make it due that next week–it does allow students to do that work early and earn a free weekend, and it gives middle schoolers and early high schoolers more freedom. Even if I am doing homework on No Homework Weekends, it is on my own terms, and I am doing it–as much as I hate to say this–as a form of relaxation.