The past few years have been monumentally difficult for everyone as the world weathers the ups and downs of the pandemic. Perhaps no two groups have been more negatively impacted than children and teens. With school closures, canceled once-in-a-lifetime events like proms and graduations, and the fear of illness (or death) swarming about, children and teens are more in need of an outlet for stress relief than ever before.
Art of Living Foundation, a volunteer-based, humanitarian and educational organization founded in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, delivers SKY (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga) Breath Meditation practice with highly remarkable, measurable results. Their partner organization, the International Association for Human Values, brings the benefits of SKY Breath Meditation to the younger generation through SKY programs in schools and SKY Kids and SKY teens programs for the general public.
SKY Breath Meditation in a School Setting
As kids and teens head back into classrooms, administrators and instructors seek ways to make the transition to in-person instruction as smooth and stress-free as possible. By integrating the SKY meditation instruction into a regular school day, the practice becomes part of the standard curriculum.
SKY Schools (skyschools.org) teaches programs to children and youth age 5-18 (K-12) within school settings, and SKY Campus Happiness (SKY Campus Happiness Program | North America | Breathwork & Meditation) teaches on university campuses.
The application differs slightly for college students vs. high school and elementary school students, but all courses feature comprehensive training and opportunities for daily meditation focus.
Within schools, the program includes three components:
1) Comprehensive SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) curriculum (typically integrated into PE or Health over 3-6 weeks)
2) School-wide “resets” (breathwork and guided relaxation breaks that can last from 3 min to 15min at whatever interval the school chooses)
3) One-on-one or small group support (SEL and Breathwork Coaching) for students who need it.
Select teachers are mentored and taught the program to become facilitators at the schools.
“The goal is not just to teach youth tools they can use, but to create an entire school culture of wellness and self-care, where people know how to manage their stress and support others towards the vision of a stress-free, violence-free school community.” says SKY Schools Executive Director Elan Gepner-Dales.
The Effects of SKY Breath Meditation on Learning
There are a myriad of positive results that can be expected when SKY Breath Meditation is integrated into school instruction. In buildings that have integrated these practices over the years, dramatic shifts in a range of markers, from reduction to behavioral incidences and self-harm, to improved academic success, have been noted.
“The premise is simple. When people are relaxed and happy, teaching and learning is much easier, people connect and support each other, and everyone has greater success,” explains Gepner-Dales.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 school shutdowns, kids and teens have had to build a tough resilience and become accustomed to pivoting on a dime in the way they learn. SKY Breath Meditation programs have led to an overall shift in school climate. In addition, the instruction can also be given virtually and reach kids and teens who may not yet be back to in-person instruction.
The main focus of the instruction across all age groups is the concept of taking responsibility.
“The first learning is how to take real responsibility for our stress and emotions, which ends up impacting our relationships, choices, and actions,” says Gepner-Dales. This training that includes empathy and self-empowerment leads kids and teens to cast off a victimization mentality in favor of effective stress management, no matter what changes occur.
A Gift For a Generation in Upheaval
“In our experience, the number one reason parents register their children for the SKY courses is because they themselves experienced SKY, “says Gepner-Dales, “They realized that these tools are extremely effective and that these skills are one of the biggest and most critical gifts that they can provide for their children.”
It remains to be seen what effect the COVID-19 experience will have on this generation of kids and teens down the road. In a way, they are all experiencing a simultaneous generational trauma that needs to be addressed at home and in the community. Integrating a SKY Breath Meditation curriculum is one way of leading kids and teens in healthy coping mechanisms for an uncertain time.
Working Towards Nationwide Adoption
Currently, SKY Schools is active in 35 schools across the US and has worked with 227 since 2006. The deepest integrations are found in Pomona, CA, and Freeport, New York. There are robust programs in SFBA (particularly San Jose, Alum Rock school district), Milwaukee, New Jersey, and Washington DC.
As more children and teens return to school buildings as COVID-19 wanes, administrators, teachers, and parents alike will need to be prepared, armed with the best defense against stress, depression, and anxiety that often comes following traumatic upset. Weaving SKY Breath Meditation into standard school instruction is a tested and proven effective way to teach coping mechanisms and instill calm. To find a program for yourself, you can visit artofliving.org, or reach out to skyschools.org to set up a program for your school.