By Ed Runyan
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan is called “a rock star among mindfulness evangelists” in the cover story in the current issue of Time magazine.
Ryan, of Howland, D-13th, is among authors who have written books on the topic. Many others have written articles in scientific journals.
The Time article author, Kate Pickert, said researchers have found that multi-tasking leads to lower overall productivity, and Americans are spending billions on mindfulness-related alternative medicine and best-selling books to help them re-focus in an age of ever-increasing technological distractions, such as smartphones.
The 13th District congressman wrote “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit” in 2012.
He also helped secure a $1 million mindfulness grant in 2009, not long after he became a mindfulness proponent, that provided funds used by the Youngstown and Warren school districts to teach mindfulness to elementary students.
Ryan, 40, also appeared last May on the cover of the magazine Mindful and has hosted meditation sessions and a mindfulness lecture series on Capitol Hill for House members and their staffs, Time says.
Mindfulness is a meditative practice that focuses on “the present moment” instead of worrying about the past or the future, Ryan told The Vindicator in 2012.
He attended a mindfulness retreat in upstate New York in late 2008 and found that it calmed him and reduced stress after the events of 2006 to 2008, when he tirelessly campaigned for President Barack Obama.
One of the most-often quoted parts of Ryan’s book addresses the skills schoolchildren need to succeed.
“Growing up, I remember two phrases being drilled into my head from my mom, the nuns and my other teachers: Pay Attention! And Be Nice!” Ryan wrote. “Well the most frustrating part of growing up and hearing that was that no one ever showed us how to pay attention! It’s not something you do automatically. It needs to be taught and practiced.”
Students in the Youngstown and Warren public schools received mindfulness training starting in the fall of 2010, though mindfulness was only one part of a social-emotional curriculum that taught students things such as how to control their emotions.
Jill Merolla, supervisor of community outreach for Warren schools, said the district’s $250,000 was spent during two school years starting in 2010 to buy materials and train teachers through the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility of New York.
Among the cornerstones of the program are Morningside’s 4Rs Program (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution), which were taught to all pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Warren.
Merolla said the curriculum taught students how to be effective listeners, be assertive but not mean, be a good problem solver, appreciate the diversity of others and make a difference in the world.
The grant money has been spent, but the district is spending some of its own money this year to train teachers at all grade levels so they can reinforce the concepts the children learned earlier, Merolla said.
“I’ve seen a downward trend in suspensions, especially in the lower grades,” Merolla said of the effects of the program. In surveys, teachers mention the program’s positive effects “all the time.”
One of the most tangible mindfulness components employed in Warren was the creation of a “peace corner” in the classrooms, where students could use controlled breathing or other forms of relaxation, Merolla said. Events for parents have also taken place.
Doug Hiscox, deputy superintendent of academic affairs with Youngstown schools, said the district was able to operate its social-emotional program three years — in grades kindergarten through third-grade for two years, and in kindergarten this year.
“We saw positive gains in the way [students] talk about learning and how they take responsibility for their learning and how they treat each other and interact with each other,” Hiscox said. “Hopefully, it will still stick when they get older.”