Interview with Dr. Amy Saltzman, Director of Still Quiet Place
Today I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the pioneers in the mindfulness in education space for our “Partners for Peace” series of interviews. If you are a professional working with children, consider taking her on-line course because it is so important to teach kids about being mindful. Check out more about Dr. Amy and her programs at http://www.stillquietplace.com/dr-amy/
Please tell us a little about yourself, what drew you to mindful education, and the Still Quiet Place mission.
I am a holistic physician, mindfulness coach, wife, mom, athlete and occasional poet. I became interested in sharing mindfulness with youth because so many young people today are suffering from ordinary daily stress and more severe issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bullying….
You offer curriculum for both Children and Teenagers. Which one is harder to teach? With so much negativity (like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bullying, and violence) I’m guessing teenagers.
Teens may have more serious issues, and more resistance. They also have more life experience, and ability to reflect and apply the principles of mindfulness in their daily lives. So there are challenges and benefits with every age.
In your experience, do you find that teens initially think these important tools are silly or dumb or embarrassing? What advice would you tell people who think Yoga and mediation and mindfulness are not cool?
Some teens have those thoughts initially. And one benefit of mindfulness is that we can begin to observe our thoughts without believing them or taking them personally. Also most teens feel stressed, and are eager to learn skills to deal with stress. So I usually begin by asking them to name one thing they find stressful.
And as mindfulness becomes more popular there are plenty of people in every walk of life finding benefit from the practices, so if a teen wants be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, congressman, chef, police officer, parent, rock star, or professional athlete ,I can usually offer them an example of someone they admire who practices mindfulness.
I might ask them about their stresses and their areas of performance (homework, parents, siblings, friends, relationships, sports, and other performing arts) and explain how mindfulness could help them with their specific concerns or interests. I would share some famous cool people using mindfulness- Steph Curry, Emma Watson, Colonel Michael Brumage, M.D., U.S. Army….And then I would suggest that they give it a try, really give it a try, 8 weeks of committed practice, and then if they still believe it is not for them, I would trust that they got what they needed and can return to it if/when they are ready.
Do you have any great ideas for how to get them to put down their phones and look up every once in awhile, and maybe talk with someone face to face?
Just this past week I was interviewed by someone from Mashable on this topic. One activity I like to do is this.
I say “In a minute, I’m going to say something, and I want you to notice your thoughts and feelings…. Please put your phones in the basket….” Then later when I return the phones, I say “ Now I’m going to return your phones and give you specific instructions for how to use them…. What thoughts and feelings appeared when you heard you would get your phone back? Now, feel the phone in your hand and notice your thoughts, feelings, urges, hopes, and fears…. Press the home screen button and notice your thoughts, feelings, urges, hopes, and fears…. What are you hoping for ? How does the hoping feel in your body? Now simply open one social media app and look at just the first three posts. Notice your experience, your thoughts and feelings….. Did you get what you wanted? how does your body feel? Put your phone down and turn your phone over and again notice your thoughts, feelings, …. then when the exercise is done we talk about the addictive nature of social media. And my entire Still Quiet Place course is devoted to supporting teens in being more present and responsive in their daily lives.
You are the co-founder of the Association for Mindfulness in Education. What’s the mission of that organization, and how do people join?
AME is an association for anyone interested in sharing mindfulness with youth, teachers, counselors, doctors, therapists, parents, coaches…. We share resources books, trainings, and offer an interactive list serve where people can ask questions, and receive support. Joining is simple; just enter your email on the bottom right of the home page www.mindfuleducation.org
How do you suggest we scale up and get programs about Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness into every school in the country?
While I would love for every student to receive mindfulness, it is important to me that they receive high quality mindfulness. As mindfulness becomes more popular, more people are offering practices that they are calling mindfulness which really aren’t, and some of them have very little experience with mindfulness. Almost all of the research studies proving that mindfulness has significant benefits has been done with instructors who have a longstanding devoted personal mindfulness practice. I am not sure students will receive the documented benefits with less experience facilitators. So scaling up, needs to be done without sacrificing quality.
If you had to pick one mental or physical exercise for special needs or autistic kids to do in elementary school, middle school, and high school, to help positively shape their future behavior and health, what would it be?
I would choose two. Learning to have your feelings without your feelings having you- which means being aware of what you are feeling, how feelings show up in your body, so that you don’t do or say something you may regret (this practice is available on both my children’s and teen’s CDs). And learning to respond (choose your behavior) rather than react (act out of habit or upset)
So many famous athletes do Yoga or meditation as part of their daily routines to get physically or mentally prepared for their sports. You teach a lot of athletes about being mindful. What are the benefits? Why do you think it is so important for athletes to make a practice like this part of their regular routine?
Mindfulness helps athletes be focused and responsive in the moment, to respond rather than react at crucial moments during training and competition, to be resilient in the face of injury and setbacks, and to be true teammates. And these skills are also beneficial in other areas of life beyond sport- school, work, relationships…
Sometimes the schools don’t want these kind of courses because they say it has religious undertones. I don’t think that’s true, unless their religion is love and kindness, but what advice would you tell me to say to these people so I can educate them about how Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are totally secular and should be in all schools for everyone? How do I convince them?
I always say mindfulness and compassion are natural human capacities, and one does not need to be any religion or have any particular belief system to practice them, any more than one needs to be Italian to eat pizza.
What advice do you have for teachers, administrators, healthcare practitioners, athletes and especially parents as it relates to mindful learning?
I have three soap box issues when it comes to sharing mindfulness with youth:
1. If you want to share mindfulness with youth, it is essential that you have your own ongoing mindfulness practice. 2. What you offer must be secular. 3. You must be trauma informed, and assume that there is someone who has experienced trauma in any room. You must have the skills to support this person and the entire class (unless you are teaching with a partner) and know who your back up is— school counselor, local therapist, local psychiatrist.
Thank you so much Dr. Amy Saltzman of Still Quiet Place for speaking with me, and sharing your thoughts about mindfulness in schools. I just finished watching the most recent Mind and Life Institute videos (12 hours of videos!), and the Dalai Lama said that mindfulness in early learning is crucial, and we all need to start working together and “scale up” if we are going to effectuate change in the world and stop the violence. So I urge everyone reading this to join Dr. Amy in the Association for Mindful in Education, become active, reach out to other like-minded people, and see how you can work together to scale up. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. The future of the next generation may depend on it. Sign up here: www.mindfuleducation.org