Classroom Corner: Mindful March

Mindful March Week cover

05/14/2021

This past year has been challenging for everyone, especially low income groups. Unfortunately, these communities have experienced the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic at a much higher rate - family and friends lost to the virus, financial insecurity, housing and food uncertainty, and a lack of stability in routines. These are the very communities where UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind has always focused their physical education support efforts.

The onset of the virus has challenged SBSM to provide assistance in new ways. With school communities suffering more than ever before, it has become clear there is a need for added mental health care and wellness support.

Sound Body Sound Mind’s support for mental health has historically been based in the notion that exercise releases stress and physical tension, boosts endorphin production, and ultimately promotes feeling good. While the idea of creating a dedicated mental health resource has been floated around for some time, the increasingly dire need for care in our communities has made this a top priority.

In September 2020, the SBSM team began to collaborate with the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) to develop this much needed resource. Mindfulness practices such as thoughtful breathing, meditation, and gratitude have scientific support as a means to reduce stress, improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and well-being.

Diana Winston, the Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC, believes that the collaboration was a great way to expand the reach of mindfulness practices: “I'm so excited we will be offering students mindfulness training through SBSM. I know it will help people navigate these challenging times.”

The partnership between SBSM and MARC has resulted in Mindful March, a digital tool for teachers to bring mindful awareness practices into their virtual classrooms. For five weeks in the month of March, teachers received an email with a resource package that included two video lessons, mindfulness practice instructions, a daily challenge, and reflection questions. The content is designed so teachers can easily plug the instructions into their online learning platforms with videos and lessons specifically designed for middle school and high school students. Additionally, the videos have the option for subtitles in over ten different languages so multilingual or English Learner students can still participate in the lessons.

Wilquin Garcia, a physical education teacher at Sylmar Charter Senior High, shared with us how Mindful March came at the perfect time to assist his students with their mental well-being. “Some of my students are going through so much… Mental health was one of my biggest concerns for [them].” said Garcia. He was excited that the resource was easily adaptable to his teaching style and lesson plans. One of the most useful lessons he took from Mindful March was the practice on mindful breathing. Garcia related this practice to Kobe Bryant’s legacy free-throw shots in a stadium full of noise.

Focusing on breathing was an accessible way his students could become grounded while in crowded apartments or submerged in the chaos of other siblings on Zoom. “These are lessons that students can take with them forever, for the rest of their lives,” said Garcia. After incorporating these lessons, many of his students personally thanked him for caring about their mental health and allowing time for these moments of thoughtfulness.

Although the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges, it has also emphasized the broad need for mental health resources in our society. Matthew Flesock, Executive Director of SBSM, believes that this pilot program only scratched the surface of possibilities to cement mindfulness as a lasting part of the SBSM program: “COVID-19 has permanently altered SBSM to put us on a more supportive path and break us out of our old identity of just opening fitness centers.” He hopes that this pilot program is only the beginning of a journey to promote devoted mental wellness programs in our schools.