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creativity column

Mindfulness is the key to healthy living.

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The speed at which many of us live our lives is accelerating and showing no signs of slowing down. We’re over-worked, over-scheduled, and now, thanks to digital devices and social media you can add over-stimulated to the list. The struggle is real. Thankfully, there are folks in our community who are working to reverse these disturbing trends.

Denise A. Veres, the executive director of the Shanthi Project, based in Easton, teaches more than 1,000 therapeutic yoga classes throughout the Lehigh Valley each year to hundreds of at-risk-youth and trauma survivors, including children in the foster care system, veterans and the incarcerated.

Veres, who became a registered yoga teacher by participating in over 200 hours of yoga teacher training and is school certified by the Yoga Alliance, a governing body for yoga teachers. “Constant distractions can work to over stimulate the nervous system and amp up the fight or flight response. Over time, this overstimulation can lead to anxiety, poor quality sleep, fatigue, restlessness, nervousness, increased irritability, increased susceptibility to infections and illness,” said Veres.

While the Shanthi Project works with a variety of age groups, it’s Veres’ work with at-risk youth in area schools that I find intriguing. “We teach mindfulness to at-risk children because they struggle daily with difficult domestic situations, food insecurity, and crime in their neighborhoods. Their brains become programmed for hyper-vigilance, often resulting in a dysfunctional effect such as nervousness, anxiety, or acting out,” added Veres.

Mindfulness is something that we can all access. When you're mindful, you monitor your thoughts and feelings without judging them. It’s about living fully in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating an uncertain future. I believe that if children learn these coping mechanisms and use them as they mature, they will be better equipped to limit the effects of adversity and stress in their adult lives. As the pace of life quickens, these techniques will become a necessity.

“Unfortunately, lifestyle changes, like eating healthier, exercising, and de-stressing with yoga and mindfulness, can be challenging for a culture that has grown up with quick-fixes like pharmaceutical drugs, fast food, and social media,” warns Veres.

Mindfulness instructor Maureen Wendling, of Allentown, took a ten-week practicum at the Mindfulness Institute at Jefferson University Hospital, with some additional training with the Mindful Schools and Mind-Up Programs best practices training with Denise Veres and the Shanthi Project. She was then sent to teach an 8-week course on mindfulness to first, second and third graders in the Allentown School District. “Each week, it was amazing to experience the progress of the students as they began looking forward to the mindful practice of becoming still, breathing and listening,” said Wendling.

Veres agrees and adds, “With proper reinforcement, the children will continue to grow in their ability to self-calm, be resilient, and healthily relate to others. These are qualities that will be important throughout their lives.”

Yoga and mindfulness are tools that anyone, regardless of age, can use to cultivate self-awareness, enhance their self-esteem, or foster positive emotions, which is critical to leading a healthy lifestyle. I hope that more schools consider adopting these proven techniques by adding it to their curriculum. ‘Shanthi’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘peace’ and I think its time we all give it a chance.

William ChildsComment