Urban Zen in the Schools

SharonSharon Collaros, an Urban Zen Integrative Therapist, teaches multiple Urban Zen classes a week to the teachers and administrative staff in public schools in Columbus, Ohio. Urban Zen was originally designed to support patients, their family members and their medical care givers in hospital settings. But it is finding its way into various other high-stress settings, in this case supporting the important work of caring for and educating children. Urban Zen classes include gentle yoga movements, restorative yoga poses, breathing exercises, body awareness meditations, aromatherapy and Reiki.

Chris, a master school teacher and a principal in the public education system, values safe and compassionate learning environments where resilience, curiosity, excitement and joy are stoked; and where it’s safe to make mistakes. This is his path. This is his dharma. Chris is my husband. He offers his students the gifts of presence, inquisitive conversation, meaningful questions and enthusiastic feedback. This kind of learning environment is carefully nurtured and requires time for reflection. Unfortunately the time and value system it takes to foster this culture is under fire, and teachers and children are feeling the effects. And so he invited Urban Zen sessions into his school to support his staff and, by extension, the children in their care.

In many ways the work of the teacher is similar to the work of nurses and doctors. Both are highly relationship driven. Dozens and dozens of decisions made daily have the potential to alter a life forever in both the classroom and the health care setting. And each challenge faced, each decision made is slightly different from one another. Each one requires presence of mind. When one thinks of the responsibilities held by those who guide children in schools or care for the sick in the hospital, one might decide the job is “not for me”. Urban Zen and its mindfulness practices offer educators a way to stay whole and move through their days with increased steadiness, readiness and ease.

The University of California, San Francisco, published in the journal Emotion, found that teachers who participated in an eight-week intensive meditation course were less stressed, anxious and depressed. The study analyzed the effects of meditation on emotional states and found that, after the course, the teachers showed improved understanding of the relationship between their thoughts and emotions. They were able “to better recognize emotions in others and their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships.” Neuroscience is now confirming what the ancient yogis have taught us. Meditating regularly develops greater awareness, emotional regulation and capacity to face the unknown, and it engenders compassion toward oneself and others. For teachers, meditation encourages the ability to be deeply present and emotionally responsive to their students.

Mindfulness and compassion are woven throughout each Urban Zen class where teachers find space for reflection, learn practices that promote self-care, and have a deeply restorative experience. What’s more, this is not a one time thing…or even a

three hour workshop. It is an ongoing, weekly class that allows teachers to internalized the Urban Zen experience and pass it on to their students.

All of this translates to a big, giant truth…educators are ripe for Urban Zen. They are coming to class eagerly and asking for weekly, year-long classes in the building in which they teach. They like practicing Urban Zen as a group with their fellow teachers. “It has meant so much to be able to carve out time to practice centering myself. Much needed this year.” As for me, it has been my honor and unique privilege to serve our teacher-caregivers. They are deeply appreciative, grateful for the chance to rest in restorative poses, release physical tension through gentle yoga movements, receive healing Reiki energy and focus mentally on what is most important to them. And they are ever so deserving.

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