Finding focus

The Winnipeg Foundation

Songide’ewin School students
Students at Songide’ewin School meditating.

It’s 9:15 a.m. and students at Songide’ewin School on Selkirk Avenue are meditating. Their faces are calm, their breathing regular, and even the ambulance siren heard through the open window doesn’t disturb them.

About 20 students have been practicing transcendental meditation during the past few weeks, and the changes they’ve seen in that brief time are numerous.

“It affects my life in many ways,” says 16-year-old Kevin Smith. “It helps me with doing school work, it keeps me really focused. When I do it in the morning right after the shower, it wakes me up, keeps me very energized, it keeps my mind clear of negative thoughts. When I wasn’t doing TM, I wasn’t a social person, but now I can actually relate to people more.”

“It gives me peace of mind and it makes me calmer in situations when I’m usually not so calm,” says Jada Sanderson, 18. “I’ve been coming [to school] more often, I’ve been doing more of my work. Sometimes… I’ll be so nervous and anxious and have anxiety, and then when I meditate it helps.”

These comments don’t surprise Psychologist Dr. Cathy Moser and Meditation Teacher Chaya Green, who established the Quiet Time Program at Songide’ewin, a school for students who have difficulty functioning in a traditional classroom setting. Dr. Moser has also established a fund at The Foundation to support transcendental meditation programming.

“In my practice in psychology, I’ve been using meditation for training students who have all sorts of difficulties: anger management, anxiety, attention deficit,” says Dr. Moser, who has been personally meditating for more than 30 years. “When you meditate and get in touch with your real self, part of what we hope is you realize you’re an awesome person and human being. Once you have that realization, you can be much more self-assured because you don’t worry what anybody thinks of you.”

“You know how they have that saying, ‘True happiness doesn’t lie out there, true happiness lies within,’ but then they don’t tell you where ‘that’ is or how to get there?” asks Chaya Green. “True happiness does lie within, we just have to have access to it. Access is a very natural process once you have the technique of allowing the outward directed mind… to turn within and transcend.”

Sometimes I’ll be so nervous and have anxiety, and then when I meditate it helps.

Jada Sanderson

The Quiet Time Program encourages people to meditate twice a day for between 10 and 20-minutes a time, depending on age. Participants recite a mantra internally to help with the meditation.

Through transcendental meditation, people tap into inner resources and “improve their lives from within,” says Ms. Green.

“[It gives] them more coping skills, more abilities, increases their IQ, makes them calmer and more relaxed.”

These reasons were a big draw for Songide’ewin Coordinator/Teacher Karyn Parypa, who helped introduce the program at the school, which is a satellite location of Niji Mahkwa.

“We have a very large group of our students here who are self-identified as having mental health issues. And that’s one of the big reasons why they choose to come to our program as opposed to regular school,” says Ms. Parypa, who has been with Songide’ewin since its creation in 1994.

Meditating is completely optional. If students do decide to participate, they undergo about an hour and a half of training each day, on four consecutive days.

Since students started meditating, Ms. Parypa has noticed big changes.
“I’ve noticed differences in the classroom with how students handle things that happen to them; questions they’re unable to do, frustrations. They seem to be better problem-solvers and more willing to ask for help. I also believe doing group meditations brings us closer together… I see kids talking about their meditation experiences and that’s really important to me as well.”

The Quiet Time Program was developed in the U.S. and is now active in more than 350 schools there, and in 30 countries around the world. The movement has been supported by a foundation established by film director David Lynch, and it has had great success working with students in less-advantaged areas, as well as with veterans, refugees, homeless people, and many others. Funding is not currently available for the program in Canada.

Dr. Cathy Moser
Dr. Cathy Moser

Locally, the Quiet Time Program was piloted with students at Niji Mahkwa school in the 2014/2015 school year. Dr. Moser funded it the first year to gauge feasibility, and The Foundation has provided a grant in each of the past two years. Dr. Moser has also established a Donor-Advised Fund at The Foundation to support transcendental meditation programming for young people.

She believes transcendental meditation has the power to create connections all over Winnipeg.

“Ultimately the hope is children across the city will learn how to meditate and we will connect students… and they will recognize we all have that inner place, that sacred place, that transcends race, color, social strata… something like a ‘Me to We’ experience.”

Click here to make a gift to the Youth of Winnipeg Quiet Time Fund.