December 6, 2021

Kids take to meditation

Katie Keyser/Living and Leisure Editor

Phil Asaph, left, Ashlyn Swift and Remington Stull chant “om” at Wednesday’s lesson in mindfulness during the YWCA After School Program at McGraw Elementary School.

Raymond “Philip” Asaph was blown away by the McGraw Elementary School kids in his mindfulness class.

“When I came here for the first session, you guys were so unbelievable,” he told them. “I taught you everything I was going to teach you in three sessions, in the first session. And then I taught you more!”

It was Wednesday, a little after 3 p.m. at the YWCA After School Program, in the school gymnasium. Eleven kids stopped wiggling, jumping, yelling and running to sit cross-legged in a circle, form their hands into a “mudra” pose — making an “O” clasp with their hands — straighten their backs, close their eyes and concentrate on their breath.

The gymnasium grew silent.

Asaph’s mindfulness session, which he has brought to elementary schools, other YWCA programs, Homer Intermediate School, the county Mental Health Clinic and more, was in progress.

“Always keep that little smile on your face,” Asaph intoned.

This, Asaph said at another point, will initiate a feeling of joy.

Kids were asked to follow their breath in and gently let the breath leave. On the in breath, they concentrated silently on the sound “soooooo.” On the out breath, they concentrated on the sound “hummmm.”

The kids kept their backs straight by imagining a string was attached to their head pulling it up to the ceiling.

Then Asaph had the kids chant “om” for three rounds of deep breathing. Asaph worked with the kids for about 20 minutes.

“I think it’s great,” said Janice Meyer, school age supervisor at the YWCA. “I like getting as many different programs in here as possible” to expose kids to new ideas and techniques.

“I anticipated chaos,” Meyer said. “This is a busy group, highly energetic. … I was shocked to hear Phil was successful.”

Katie Keyser/Living and Leisure Editor

Asaph and the kids take turns making the meditation bowl “sing.”

Asaph, who has had a personal meditation practice for more than 40 years, has been offering workshops in mindfulness to kids for about a year. He teaches meditation regularly at the YWCA.

“If (kids) take up a practice of mindfulness and meditation, they will have more focus, more self esteem. They will be more calm, more healthy, physically and emotionally. They will be able to concentrate better on school work and tasks,” Asaph said.

Asaph taught Mary Coffey, director of events at the YWCA, how to slow down and breath and use “om” to refocus. Coffey was caring for her 5-year-old grandson, Keegan, who was “bouncing off the wall one night.”

“I had him sit down and take deep breaths, and to say ‘om,’” she said.

The pair did it for one round of in and out breaths. Then Keegan’s dad walked in the room and did it with the pair for the second round. Then came a third.

“Keegan was a different kid.”

He put on his PJs, got ready for bed and did story time with his grandmother.

“It’s amazing,” Coffey said. She told Asaph: “You need to teach this to kids!”

Back at McGraw Elementary, Orion Cummins-Adams said:

“When you wake up, you have a fresh mind.”

“I would say it’s very cool,” said Brennan Garrow.

The kids raved about their meditation teacher. And some have used mindfulness elsewhere.

“I do it in class, because I get revved up and need to calm down,” said Tully Westmoreland.

Remington Stull started focusing on her breath before a sports match.

“I play a lot of sports. I’m very competitive … It helps me cool down,” she said. It helps her refocus on the meaning of sports: “It’s only fun and games.”

Asaph liked that.

It’s a great metaphor for life, he said — “It’s just a game.”