PORTLAND — Hoping to make Lincoln Middle School a place where harmony rules, counselors at the school have begun a new after-school program focused on mindfulness.

Led by Debbie Mazjanis and Peg Bessey, the weekly sessions are open to both students and staff. The hope is that participants will learn to regulate their emotional responses and reduce impulsive behaviors, Mazjanis said.

Sessions begin with quiet centering and connecting to the breath, then move into matching movement and a variety of well-known yoga poses, she said.

“The group will then participate in guided meditation that is designed to draw attention to body sensations and breathing,” Mazjanis said. “We then will engage in a bit more mindful movement and end our time together in stillness.”

So far, Mazjanis said, “we’ve had an enthusiastic response and foresee a large group (of participants) as the year progresses.”

These sessions, she added, are “a wonderful place to build mindfulness skills for teachers to use in their own classrooms, and students to use when they feel the need to regulate their emotions.”

In addition, Mazjanis said including everyone at the school in the mindfulness sessions will help “build strong relationships with staff and students who might not get the opportunity to get to know each other,” otherwise.

“Mindfulness is a simple practice that helps to regulate emotional responses to and physical symptoms of stress, reduces impulsive behavior and improves regulation of the autonomic nervous system,” she said.

“Mindfulness is a powerful tool for everyone,” according to Mazjanis.

“It’s something that people can practice at any time, anywhere. Learning how the body and brain responds to stress and then having an easily accessible means of calming the body and the mind is empowering.”

And, most importantly, she said, “If everyone learned the benefits of simply breathing and noticing experiences without judgment, school would be a place of harmony, curiosity and learning.”

Mazjanis said she and Bessey wanted to create a mindfulness program at Lincoln Middle for a variety of reasons.

“Studies have shown that staff who participate in group mindfulness have higher rates of job satisfaction and collegial trust, and learning new things along with students increases interpersonal connections and improves relationships, which leads to improved performance in school,” she said.

While neither school counselor is a certified yoga or meditation instructor, Mazjanis said they both engaged in an intensive week-long class “designed to train and empower us to take what we learned back to our students and staff.”

Both women also “use mindfulness-based practices in their daily lives, meditate daily and employ mindfulness in their work with staff and students,” she said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Peg Bessey demonstrates a simple yoga pose at Lincoln Middle School in Portland. She and fellow school counselor Debbie Mazjanis have started an after-school mindfulness group designed to help students and staff better regulate their emotional responses.

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