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Mindful Moments: Holistic Life in Baltimore

Holistic Light Foundation. Baltimore Maryland. Photographed for Mindful Magazine

Mindfulness has officially gone mainstream. Oprah Winfrey, Congressman Tim Ryan, and even major corporations like Google are using mindfulness practices to help them shape the way they think about their lives and their business.

But what exactly is it? Psychology Today characterizes mindfulness as “living in the moment and awakening to experience.” It is a “state of active, open attention on the present.” When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. In short, mindfulness means not letting your life pass you by.

Psychology Today characterizes mindfulness as “living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

In 2014, The Rockefeller Foundation gave a grant to the Holistic Life Foundation, a Baltimore based 501(c)(3) working to bring mindfulness and yoga into Baltimore’s inner-city schools. Founded by brothers Ali and Atman Smith and their good friend, Andres Gonzalez, the Holistic Life Foundation has successfully started two “Mindful Moment” programs—one at Patterson High School and one at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School.

Patterson serves a student body of more than 1,000 young people, including some of the district’s most at-risk students. Before the integration of the Mindful Moment program, the school experienced a 4-year graduation rate of only 86 percent, as well as suspension rates of up to 16 percent of the student body. More than 60 percent of students were absent for more than 20 days each year, and the school’s test scores fell far below the Maryland average.

Now, students at Patterson High School begin and end their day with a 15 minute yoga and mindfulness-based practice that is broadcast over the PA system. The sequence is designed to help students center and focus, as well as release stress, anxiety, or any other negative emotions that are brought to school from experiences at home or in the community. The end-of-the-day sequence helps students calm and center themselves for the last class of the day.

Holistic Light Foundation. Baltimore Maryland. Photographed for Mindful Magazine

In addition to these broadcasts, the Mindful Moment program includes a designated room to serve as a safe haven of sorts, where students can learn about and practice stress management through mindfulness practice. The Mindful Moment room staff also visit classrooms and walk the halls between periods to connect with students.

Holistic Life recently had a chance to put the same mindfulness and meditation techniques at use at Patterson to practice on a much bigger scale during the riots this past spring in Baltimore. When the founders saw what was happening in the neighborhood, they realized that their meditation and mindfulness skills could help the community deal with the recent events. Thus was born the “B-More Love” event, a community-wide meditation event to help mediate the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aftershock of not only the events of April 27th, but the decades of trauma and stress that the people of Baltimore have endured.

The meditation was held in West Baltimore, in view of Mondawmin Mall, several burned out stores, and downtown Baltimore. People from all walks of life attended, many of whom had never been to that section of West Baltimore before. Holistic Life Foundation’s three co-founders each led the large group through a guided meditation. The event was a great success, and demonstrated the broader potential for using mindfulness and meditation to help heal entire communities.

The Holistic Life Foundation’s work to support mindfulness in young people and communities is giving people one of the keys to personal resilience, while at the same time paying multiple dividends. The ability to bend instead of breaking under stress not only benefits the individual—it has positive effects for the communities as well. And we know from experience the importance of social cohesion in helping communities bounce back better after a shock or stress.

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