Lowell Whiteman Primary School students Hailey Gray, front, and Dominique Katthain meditate as part of their school day.  The school has two, 20-minute meditation periods each day.

Photo by John F. Russell

Lowell Whiteman Primary School students Hailey Gray, front, and Dominique Katthain meditate as part of their school day. The school has two, 20-minute meditation periods each day.

Meditation soothes Lowell Whiteman students

LWPS conducting meditation exercises twice a day

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Dan Swanson, the co-director of the TM Center of Boulder, rings a bell signaling the start of meditation.

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Teacher Kate McFee leads her class through a 20-minute meditation period at the Lowell Whiteman Primary School.

— Nancy Spillane wants to spread the serenity.

As director of the Lowell Whiteman Primary School, Spillane has seen the success of a new type of teaching method that uses Transcendental Meditation to instill a sense of concentration and focus in the school's fifth- through eighth-grade students.

Practicing for 20 minutes twice a day and instructed by meditation coaches from the Transcendental Meditation Center of Boulder, the students are in their second year of using meditation in the classroom.

Spillane, who has been an educator for about 30 years, said she first saw the results of the meditation technique on TV a couple of years ago, when an interview with administrators in Detroit and Fairfield, Iowa, convinced her to take a look at bringing meditation into her school.

"I stayed away from the research the meditation centers put out, and I found research from medical schools and journals," she said.

Several journals, including "American Journal of Hypertension" in 2004 and the American Medical Association's "Archives of Internal Medicine" in 2006, have found benefits from Transcendental Meditation, including a decrease in blood pressure and increased concentration in students.

Spillane also visited a school in Iowa where the technique was being practiced.

"I felt that if we didn't do this in school it would be a disservice to the students," she said. "In my mind, we would give it a two-year trial to see if we could find a difference in our students and staff, and we started to see a difference in days."

Relaxing the mind

The meditation time is used for students to sit with their eyes closed and repeat a personalized mantra - given to them by the coaches - as they relax and establish what is claimed to be a fourth state of consciousness, something called "restful alertness."

Dan Swanson and Gail Lynch, co-directors of the Boulder meditation center and coaches for the school, teach each group of students how to properly meditate, then visit once a month to check their progress and technique.

The David Lynch Foundation, an organization set up by "Mulholland Drive" film director David Lynch to bring Transcendental Meditation around the world, funds the program at the Lowell Whiteman Primary School.

This is the second school Swanson and Lynch have worked with, and they said three other schools are in talks to bring meditation into the classrooms.

"It's doing exactly what the research said it would," Spillane said.

Parents have reported lower stress at home, and students have become better test takers, she said. Overall test scores have not been compared yet because the students have not been tested two years in a row on the meditation regimen, but Spillane said individual test scores have increased across the school.

"Some of that we can attribute to them maturing, and some we can attribute to TM," she said.

Seventh-grader Patrick Mill said the meditation time is an important part of his daily routine because it allows him to unburden himself from daily concerns.

"It's definitely helpful when you sit to relax : you forget about your school problems or after-school problems," he said. "You get all the stuff off your mind, and you feel more energized, but not in a crazy energized way."

The technique also has helped in the family life for some students, such as eighth-grader Aly Bemis.

"My mom and I argue a lot anyways, but (now) it's a lot easier to slow down and understand her side," she said.

The younger students in the school, from kindergarten to fourth grade, practice quiet time every day before they are taught the meditation technique in fifth grade.

Many of the benefits claimed from Transcendental Meditation are quantifiable, but some of the benefits go beyond the school. According to Transcendental Meditation literature, enough people practicing the technique can even bring about world peace as it is exuded by meditation practitioners and transferred to everyone around them.

But for seventh-grader Quinn Cain, the results are physical.

"It helps me in sports; you feel more energized, and you understand (the game) better," he said. "I'm a better hockey player."

The program is not affiliated with any religion, but Spillane said she would like to proselytize the method to other schools in Routt County.

"One of our goals really is for this to spread to as many children in Routt County as possible because, boy, it's really a great thing for children," she said.

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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