‘We Breathe!’ The Power of Calm Classroom by Linda Hulen at Bowman Elementary

What do we do in this new reality of quarantines, hunker downs, alternate work sites, and social distancing? When the numbers of sick and dying are exponentially increasing, alongside more and more friends and family losing their jobs as businesses close? How do we deal with the unprecedented changes that COVID-19 and Coronavirus cause in our daily lives? When stress, anxiety, and fear loom constantly, and normal as we’ve known it no longer exists.

We breathe. We breathe without thinking. Automatically we breathe, unless we are one of the unfortunate souls caught in the worst of Coronavirus.

Our automatic breaths in times of stress are quick and shallow, high in our chests. In times like these, as we try to make sense of everything that’s happening, our bodies are on high alert. We are in survival mode, primed to fight, to run, or perhaps to freeze in submission.

Time for a reset. Breathe!

Even though much is beyond our control, we can control our breathing. We can offer our bodies, our nervous systems, a path out of chaos, a path to calm, a mindful connection with humanity, even gratitude for being alive, right now, in the present moment.

For the past five years, I’ve practiced mindful breathing with my 5th and 6th graders every day in school. I wanted them to recognize their breath as a powerful, important tool they could use at any time through the day to relax and reset their minds and bodies, something I had learned through years of yoga.

We use techniques from Calm Classroom, a series of short mindfulness-based interventions developed by Joy and Jai Luster, founders of the non-profit Luster Learning Institute based in Chicago.

Our Calm Classroom happens first thing in the morning and again after lunch recess. My teaching partner Michael Still and I alternate leading the practices in the beginning. Students soon start asking to lead, and we add their names to the Calm Classroom calendar.

Ours is a large class of more than 50 students, and total participation by each individual every session rarely happens. Our expectation is that each person sits quietly so not to disturb the others who are fully practicing. And then comes the time, when everyone is breathing together, focused and mindful of being present in the moment, that magic happens in community.

In a midyear survey to gather feedback about student perceptions and embodiment of the breathing, focusing, concentration and stretching activities we practice during Calm Classroom, a number of students responded that they use breathing techniques outside of school. Their self-reporting included mindful breathing at home when they are frustrated, with family, during sports to focus, and after exercise to “calm my heart down.” This seems to show that students were gaining tools to use from their Calm Classroom practice and that the breathing techniques were giving them a “greater sense of self-awareness, mental focus and emotional resilience,” as promised by the Lusters.

This past Monday, we met with our students on Zoom, the first time most of them had seen each other since leaving for spring break nearly three weeks earlier. They had lots to share and questions to ask. One of the last girls to speak asked if we could do Calm Classroom on Zoom.

So we did. We settled in and breathed together with Bell Focus, one of their favorite techniques: one…two…three strikes of a chime…then the magic silence of breathing together in community.

Calm Classroom is but one of many portals to mindfulness, a practice emerging with urgency in our COVID-19 world.

Here are a few sites with breathing and mindfulness activities to check out.

Calm Classroom Instagram with posters, poems and cartoons; action-oriented, including real techniques and activities that you and your students can practice right now.

New in response to COVID-19: a Free Calm Classroom e-book with scripted techniques & audio recordings for preschool-12th grade students and adults, Calm On-the-Spot techniques that can be practiced in just a few moments, and Adult Wellness Activities

Calm Classroom Web Site with links to trainings.

Kids Yoga Stories with links to a blog and free resources dealing with breathing, grounding and calmness.

Yoga Calm founded by Lynea and Jim Gillen, registered yoga therapists, researchers and educators, this well-organized site is rich with information about breathing, brain/mind science, mindfulness and more, accessible from this blog link.

Little Flower Yoga offers mindfulness and yoga for schools and offers a wealth of information in this resources page including “5 Ways to Help Children with Coronavirus Anxiety.”

Mindful Schools has a special offer for educators now during the COVID-19 crisis, along with many links to useful information.

Cosmic Kids Yoga, a wonderfully fun place to explore hosted by Jamie with links to her videos. Cosmic Kids Zen Den has recordings of mindfulness activities.