You could have heard a pin drop at the Oct. 22 school board meeting. But it wasn’t for any lack of discussion.
“When you breathe in, you’re going to feel your body kind of rise up,” Winooski school board member Tori Cleiland instructed. “Take another deep breath in and out, and then you’re going to find a regular breathing pattern.”
Her lesson was in mindfulness, a practice of relaxation and focus to help ease the mind and prepare for work. Practitioners use it to build awareness, attuning themselves to the present moment through breathing and concentration, according to the American Psychological Association.
Board members hope mindfulness can center their thoughts before they start discussions.
“We’re all coming from busy lives, and we’re all, obviously, focusing on other things,” Milton School Board member Emily Hecker said. “The idea [with mindfulness] is, generally, that you take that moment to focus.”
Hecker spoke with Cleiland about the practice after watching clips of Winooski School Board members working with breathing and focus before their meetings. She felt it was something Milton could adopt and benefit from. Cleiland was happy to oblige and came to the board meeting to lead Milton trustees in a three-minute exercise.
For Cleiland, the practice—spurred five years ago after Winooski students and faculty implemented it into their own school days—is a must. She works on mindfulness both at board meetings and independently.
“After having practiced for awhile, I’m not quite sure who I’d be as a person [without mindfulness],” she said. “When you sit, for even just five minutes a day, you create this place of grounding to return to when things are a little wonky in your life.”
According to Cleiland, five minutes of mindfulness practices a day can lower cortisol stress hormones and help people approach challenges in a calm manner. In-breaths help participants with focus and out-breaths with relaxation.
“You’re trying to find this really cool balance between relaxation and focus,” she said. “Which is the optimal place for a brain.”
Cleiland said mindfulness helps school board members focus on their stakeholders, students and district faculty to make optimal choices for all. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Instagram have all added mindfulness practices to their work regimen hoping for similar results, according to Forbes.
“It might just be something we try and then drop, but it’d be nice if we could incorporate it into every meeting,” Hecker told the Indy. She envisions herself leading the board in a three-minute exercise and hopes, in time, it will help unify members.
According to board chairman Mike Joseph, the board will consider adding the item to the agenda.
“[It’s] just a way to kind of put us on the same page, like why we’re all there,” Hecker said. “We’re all together for the same purpose, which is to make things better for the kids and staff in our district.”