Taking a Breather

February 10th, 2015

Phew! This year has been pretty intense so far, hasn’t it? All across the island, people and organizations and communities are launching themselves into new projects. The University of the West Indies has been going full throttle with important seminars and lectures we don’t want to miss. The question is how to find that elusive “balance” that we often talk about – before everything goes galloping off into the distance with some of us chasing after it. Stop! Slow down!

So let’s slow down and catch our breath. In fact, let us breathe deeply. This is what I plan to do, at least once a week, throughout this year. “Watch your breath,” as our teacher of kundalini yoga reminds us during pauses in our class. Breathe in, allowing the air to fill our lungs right down to our stomach. Breathe out (sometimes noisily) through our nose, pushing all the air out again. It’s amazing how we take breathing for granted. We don’t even think of it and we don’t make the most of it, so that it reaches every part of our body – including the brain, of course.

The average Jamaican is vaguely suspicious of yoga and similar practices, although their popularity is growing. Many Jamaicans don’t really understand the mind-body-spirit connection too well. The three are strictly separated in many Jamaican rituals (although when I see footage of some evangelical churches on television, with the pastor rampaging and wiping his sweating brow and congregation members jumping and throwing themselves on the floor “in the spirit,” it looks pretty energetic to me).

Let me take it a step further. We adults are fully aware of how stressful our daily lives can be. Social activities like going out to parties and shows, drinking alcohol or consuming other substances – even going to one of those action-packed churches – apparently allow some of the pain to dissipate. These activities might well cause other undesirable health effects, however. If you drink yourself silly and wake up in the morning with a fearsome headache, you may wonder whether this has helped to reduce any of your stress; or whether it has merely produced a distraction, or perhaps a numbness. Nevertheless, we will do it all over again next Friday night.

Children's yoga at Trueself Centre of Being in Kingston. (Photo: Their Facebook page)

Children’s yoga at Trueself Centre of Being in Kingston. (Photo: Their Facebook page)

So I have a proposal – for adults and, may I suggest also for younger Jamaicans. Take twenty to thirty minutes each day to completely “tune out.” Find a quiet space – as quiet as possible. Use that space to simply clear your head of all that nonsense that accumulates in it throughout the day. It could be in the middle of the day, or at the end. I guarantee you, within a week it will change your life (now I am starting to sound like one of those motivational speakers selling some “magic bullet” solution to all our problems!) It should include the aforementioned breathing exercises, and some meditation.

Dr. Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey… They're quite a combination. (Photo: oprah.com)

Dr. Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey… They’re quite a combination. (Photo: oprah.com)


But listen. If you think meditation is easy-peasy, think again. It takes amazing concentration and focus. You have got to be comfortable and quiet (although you can to an extent mentally shut out extraneous noise). Headphones and very quiet music might help. About five minutes in, you suddenly develop an unbearable itch on your left ankle, or a fly lands on the end of your nose. It’s hopeless; you have to either use all your mind power to ignore these distractions or scratch that itch. And start all over again. You can do one of the Oprah and Deepak things that come up regularly – three weeks of daily meditation online. They start off with Oprah’s rather chirpy voice as an introduction, and then Deepak starts to do his thing, in comforting, mellifluous tones (I love the way he talks about the “soft bell” that starts and ends the sessions). These are free, but if you want to go back and do it again you have to purchase a CD. Recommended, though.

Now, a few years ago I was visiting Alpha Boys’ School for homeless boys (at that time still taking boarders). There was a small building set aside, which the principal explained was a room for boys who were just overwhelmed and needed to calm down to go and sit quietly. There were a few books to read, some religious texts and very little furniture. Just sit down cross-legged and “chill out,” was the idea. I thought it was a good one.

Now, why not transpose this into the average school day? Start a pilot project with one or two classes in a few high schools. At a specific time each day, the students gather in the quietest possible spot in the school, without disturbance or interruption, for twenty minutes or so, with an instructor. Deep breathing at the beginning and end of each session, some stretching and a few minutes’ meditation in between. No talking!  After one or two school terms, it would be interesting to evaluate the students’ performance in class, and in particular their behavior towards others. The results might be surprising.

Before you start thinking this is a lot of “New Age” nonsense, I would have you know that a study by Brown University last year showed that a kind of meditation called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction affects the “alpha waves” in one’s brain and helps you focus. It also helps relieve chronic pain, depression and anxiety. In fact, the brain of a person who meditates actually looks different from the brain of someone who ploughs through life without ever taking time to breathe. There have been several studies that have shown positive results when a person meditates. The same applies to children as it would to adults. Who knows – it might help reduce crime, and those schoolboy fights that sometimes end in tragedy.

A lively group of schoolchildren. Sometimes we just need to tone it down a bit...

A lively group of schoolchildren. Sometimes we just need to tone it down a bit…

Have you ever been to a school in the middle of the day, during lunch break? The noise assaults your ears. While some students retreat quietly into corners, others (boys and girls) engage in tussles and shouted arguments – half laughing, half serious, pulling and tugging on each others’ clothes and hair. We have seen this kind of behavior as it spills out onto the streets – and in Half Way Tree Transportation Centre, for example, causing consternation among us grown-ups. “They’re like wild animals!” we exclaim.

Well, we don’t have to go into the chakras or kriyas, or start chanting or standing on our heads. Suffice it to say that if we all just gave ourselves a chance – a little time out with ourselves – we might find that “balance” we so desperately seek.

And for our children, it could give them a little anchor to hold onto in a turbulent and confusing world. We could do with that.




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4 Responses to “Taking a Breather”

  1. roslyn says:

    mindUP is practiced in many elementary classrooms in Vancouver BC. Some schools have whole programs. Most classes have a short break of two of MindUP during the day. Short. Involves a chime. closed eyes .. meditative posture. Breathing and relaxing and letting go

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    That’s amazing. That is exactly what I was thinking of. Something short and simple. Perhaps mindUP might like to come over here and get a program off the ground in schools… Thanks for letting us know about this!

  3. Mangaljot says:

    Thank you for this great article, well done, bless you and thank you.

    It warms my heart to read you ~ as all those who practice it, we know that some daily quiet time for silence/breathing/yoga/meditation is just transformational. And it is clear that creating such time & space in schools would make a huge difference to children’s lives wellbeing and consequently future success.

    You have beautifully covered all the aspects, benefits, pros and sadly blocks to implementing such tools to uplift our youth, so I am not going to repeat, but I will insist that the children desperately need it and our future as a society demands it.

    If we do not go within, we simply go without,
    If we do what we’ve always done,
    we’ll just get what we always gotten,

    No Yoga No Peace ~ Know Yoga Know Peace

    Time to drop the fears, doubts and suspicions,
    now its not rocket science if we can try other ways,
    tried, tested and proven to be effective in many ways,
    are we so foolish and close minded that we won’t even try?

    No and no more, has to be our answer at this time.
    Enough, Now is really the time for change, real change.
    Not just some pretty talk or sharing of intentions, but an urgent need to unite in meaningful actions.

    Our motto “Out of Many, One People” needs to put The Oneness & One Love into Actions now.
    And here in Commodore Portland, we have come up with some ideas and solutions.

    Oneness Wellness Farm is a Purpose-Driven business committed to positively impact and uplift the lives of many through its Love In Action projects. for more info http://onenesswellnessfarm.com/loveinaction/

    As a Nation on a Mission, Jamaica needs to express One Love in action.

    Love In Action is to be part of the solution ~ if you have any ideas, suggestions or would like to help, we would love to hear from you.

    Love to All, Peace to All, Light to All

  4. EmmaLewis says:

    Thank you very much for telling me (and readers) about the Oneness Wellness Farm. I will take a look at your website. Our children do very much need to be able to be quiet, breathe and focus – as well as we adults, of course! Warmest wishes to you and thank you for your very inspiring comments.