Finding Silence in a Not So Silent World

How Meditation is Changing the Lives of Adolescents Everywhere

By Taylor Smith |  Photos courtesy of David Lynch Foundation Television

Healing traumatic stress and raising performance among at-risk populations doesn’t just apply to adults, it also applies to the daily lives and circumstances of many of today’s modern middle and high school students. The science and research behind the impact of meditation on highly stressed or suffering adult populations is well-documented through brain research, and has been incorporated into standard health treatment at hospitals like The Graf Center for Integrative Medicine at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J.

Designed to be both relaxing and environmentally conscious, the Graf Center for Integrative Medicine provides its patients with a team of licensed and/or certified practitioners offering evidence-based meditation, breath work, and yoga services to “promote prevention, reduce pain, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress and anxiety.”

More unusual are places like POE Yoga in Short Hills, N.J., which is offering programs such as its recent Yoga for Young Athletes workshop geared toward teens and adolescents. Standing for “Peace on Earth,” POE maintains studio locations in Fair Haven, Short Hills, and Far Hills, N.J., along with Brooklyn, N.Y. The workshop was the brainchild of Alison Grzyb, a yoga instructor at the POE Yoga Short Hills location. Grzyb says that the intention behind the program is to bring mind-body-breath connection and awareness to student athletes. Grzyb is a former school teacher and counselor with a background in child psychology. She is also certified in kid and teen yoga, and received joga (yoga for athletes certification) training in Toronto.

A mother of two young boys who play competitive ice hockey, Grzyb began noticing that her boys were complaining of tight hamstrings, back muscles, and the mental strain of intense athletic competition. Grzyb surmised that it couldn’t just be her children feeling the physical and mental strains of competitive sports — it must be other young athletes as well. So the idea for the workshop was born. Muscular balance, breathwork, stretching, strengthening of the core, improved concentration, and emotional coping techniques were the focus of the four-week session.

“Children have innate mind-body awareness, but they need a teacher or guide telling them when to exhale, where to place their foot, and which arm to raise and at what time,” observes Grzyb. “That’s my role — I’m their guide.”

“I also want to remind these young kids that it’s not always about social media, being judged by your peers, or the constant presence of competitive sports — your breath is a reminder of that.”

“In the case of my sons, learning to exhale when they shoot the puck, when they exert their power, that’s effective breathwork and mindfulness technique in action.”

Grzyb also wants teen athletes to realize that their breath is free and is always available to them. “When you’re able to control your breath, you’re able to control everything that is going on in your mind and physical body.” These forms of meditation promote improved concentration, which can translate to better study habits, academic performance, and improved coping mechanisms.

POE Yoga is located at 531 Millburn Avenue in Short Hills. For more information, visit poeyoga.com.

Mindfulness in Schools

Rebecca Baelen, a PhD student in education policy at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, is currently working on a dissertation that takes a multi-pronged approach to mindfulness policy and its applications in today’s schools, specifically as it applies to adolescents. Baelen’s entrance into meditation began during her participation in Princeton in Asia while she was a student at Princeton University. While in India, Baelen studied various forms of yoga with a special focus on pranayama breathing, which is “breathing exercises with the intent and purpose of manipulating and changing breath to alter and cultivate certain states of mind.”

While completing the Teacher Prep program offered through Princeton University, Baelen became a certified yoga teacher and quickly added the breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation work into her teaching practices with high school athletes at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville. What started out as a seemingly curious extracurricular activity offered by a student teacher quickly gained status and popularity among both the students and teachers at the school.

Then, while teaching in inner-city schools in Baltimore, Baelen realized that mindfulness education practices for both students and teachers had the potential to develop improved “resiliency, perseverance, grit, compassion, and empathy.”

“When school administrators, faculty, and staff began doing the mindfulness practices themselves, the overall success rate and effectiveness of the program increased among the students,” Baelen says. “This was the difference — I found that students received the highest benefit and change from meditation and mindfulness practices when the teachers themselves were practicing the work.”

Now at University of Pennsylvania, Baelen’s dissertation is focused on teacher well-being. “In order [for mindfulness] to be implemented well, the teachers are especially important,” she emphasizes.

David Lynch Foundation

As CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, Bob Roth is one of the most sought-after meditation leaders in America. He has taught Transcendental Meditation (TM) for 45 years to people including renowned director and creative and visual artist David Lynch. He is also the author of the 2018 New York Times bestseller Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation. Through the Foundation, Roth has helped to bring TM to more than a million students in underserved schools in 35 countries; to military veterans and their families; those living with mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and/or anxiety disorders; prisoners; survivors of domestic violence; and more. Roth is currently the host of the SiriusXM radio show, “Success Without Stress,” and has spoken about TM to leaders in almost all fields of industry.

At a recent Prevention R3 Summit, Roth asked the audience, “Is there an inner? If so, how do we get there.” This suggestion of tapping into an “inner” is at the core of the reason why the David Lynch Foundation believes that TM can help children, teens, and adolescents. A New Yorker himself, Roth describes the waking mind as the “gotta, gotta, gotta” mind, as in “I’ve got to pay my Verizon bill, workout, eat healthy, answer emails, wake up, calm down, go to sleep, etc.”

This state of being is not unique to adults. What the David Lynch Foundation has found through its work in urban school districts is that this same constant state of overthinking, overworked, highly-charged cortisol levels is effecting our youth in numerous ways. “I talk to these children and they are experiencing the same symptoms as many veterans,” says Roth. “They can’t sleep, they struggle socially, they can’t eat, and aren’t sleeping. This race to the top is killing our children. What we are trying to do through TM is to make time for rest and silence as a priority.”

Brain Research Has Been a Game-Changer

According to Roth, there are three types of meditation. The first, focused attention, is a concentration form of mediation that uses focused thought (or focusing on a word, phrase, place, etc.) to calm the body. The benefits are improved and sustained concentration abilities, which produces gamma brain waves. The second form of meditation is open monitoring or mindfulness. This practice involves dispassionately disengaging from your thoughts and surroundings. An example would be the act of observing your changing thoughts and moods as waves that simply rise and fall with the tides. This form of meditation (which is also cognitive in nature) produces theta brain waves. As a tool, mindfulness can be a highly effective coping mechanism, and is taught in many yoga and recovery centers.

The third form of meditation, which Roth teaches and on which the David Lynch Foundation is based, is self-transcending or Transcendental Meditation (TM). In TM, the individual is not attempting to tame or stop their thoughts, rather, they are seeking to settle their mind into a state of innate inner calm that exists below the ocean tides within all of us. Roth and TM practitioners believe that at “the bottom of our inner ocean,” lies complete stillness and bliss. TM produces alpha 1 brain waves, which indicate a calm and alert state of mind.

Research has proven that the rest experienced after a 20-minute TM session has the ability to reduce cortisol levels in the body by 30-40 percent, and is deeper than the deepest sleep. Cortisol is a harmful hormone secreted by the adrenals that fuels stress, anxiety, racing thoughts, agitation, weight gain, and memory loss.

When asked about the application of TM for teens and adults, Roth says, “I’m a big advocate of equipping children and adults with the tools to find the kind of inner calm that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

He adds, “TM is not a philosophy or a belief system. A 10-year-old child with ADD can master it.”

Quiet Time Program

The David Lynch Foundation’s Quiet Time program seeks to improve academic performance while reducing stress and violence among school children and young teens. According to the Foundation, “Quiet Time provides students with two 15-minute periods of TM each day to help balance their lives and improve their readiness to learn. This school-wide program complements existing educational strategies by improving the physiological underpinnings of learning and behavior.”

James S. Dierke, executive vice president of the American Federation of School Administrators, says, “The Quiet Time program is the most powerful, effective program I’ve come across in my 40 years as a public school educator. It is nourishing these children and providing them an immensely valuable tool for life. It is saving lives.”

According to davidlynchfoundation.org, the Quiet Time program has resulted in a 10 percent improvement in test scores and a narrowing of the achievement gap; reduced ADHD symptoms and symptoms of other learning disorders; an 86 percent reduction of suspensions over two years; a 65 percent decrease in violent conflict over two years; a 40 percent reduction in psychological distress, including anger management, anxiety, and depression; improved creativity and creative thinking; and improved teacher retention and reduced teacher burnout.

In the Quiet Time program, TM is taught in schools over a period of four days for one hour each day. TM teachers are brought into the schools and for the first day, spend one hour with each child individually. Over the next three days, TM is taught to the collective classroom. During the school-wide Quiet Time sessions, the day starts with 15 minutes of silence and ends with 15 minutes of silence.

The faculty and staff don’t hesitate to get in on the action as well. Roth says, “it isn’t unusual to find the faculty lounge turning into a meditation space after school is over.” In fact, TM has been found to significantly reduce teacher burnout and stress, which is a big issue in most schools, both urban and suburban.

David Lynch

David Lynch started his Foundation in 2005 after having practiced TM twice a day, every day, since 1973 and experiencing “unlimited access to reserves of energy, creativity, and happiness deep within.” TM has, in short, fueled, informed, and shaped Lynch’s artistic and creative work and practices. “TM is, in a word, life-changing for the good,” says Lynch. The Foundation is actively working to teach TM to everyone from young children to disabled veterans, and women and girls who are victims of all forms of violence.

Lynch says, “If you don’t already mediate, take my advice: start. It will be the best decision you ever make.”

TM Applications for Addiction and At-Risk Kids

Roth emphatically states that “all kids are at-risk kids when it comes to stress and depression levels.” He goes on to say, “the brain doesn’t distinguish between bullets and cyberbullying.” In this sense, a child can experience the same levels of extreme stress in an urban setting as they can at an elite private school in an affluent area. In other words, when a child’s brain is threatened, it looks and feels the same to both children.

Addiction is a wide-spread problem among many middle and high school students, and it doesn’t always involve drugs or alcohol. Addictive behaviors are essentially self-medication made manifest, and can take the form of eating disorders, cutting, or extreme sexual promiscuity.

“Abstinence is not a sustainable solution,” says Roth. That’s where the David Lynch Foundation believes TM comes in, because it “overrides the addiction by doing what pharmaceuticals can’t. It’s an important tool in the toolbox for today’s youth.”

“Are we going to sedate every child?” asks Roth, referring to those who are quick to solve their child’s problem with additional drugs. “Meditation is no longer a luxury — it is at the core of what young people need.”

Get Involved

Thanks to the David Lynch Foundation’s work and research, children, teens, and adolescents are finding the peace and stillness they need to survive, thrive,  and recover. The Foundation’s goal is to bring TM to millions more students across the globe, and “allow meditation to replace mayhem with the help of TM.”

For more about the David Lynch Foundation or to donate, visit www.davidlynchfoundation.org. To learn about other ways to make a difference in the lives of today’s youth, contact Ina Clark at 212.644.9880 or email ina@davidlynchfoundation.org.