Let’s Take a Deep Breath: The Mindful Mornings Initiative

Miranda Kawiecki, Distribution Director

In a world afflicted by disease, drastic changes have gone underway. Socializing takes place behind computer screens. People have experienced significant loss and fear in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks. Mental health is the least of the average person’s concerns; besides, where could one find the time or motivation?

Karie Shen begs to differ. A sophomore at Morris Hills, Shenis working to prioritize mental health to foster a healthy environment at school and in students’ home lives. As a fellow student, she recognizes the lack of motivation that most students feel at the moment and the poor habits, like sleeping late, missing assignments, or not eating regularly, that have surfaced because of the pandemic.

“It’s important to refocus ourselves and realize that we have to stop being okay with not being okay,” shared Shen. “We need to start taking agency over our lives and take action to help ourselves, starting from a place most people are lacking, which is mental health.”

To tackle this issue, Shen developed the Mindful Mornings Initiative. Inspired by the Mindfulness Outreach Initiative in Nebraska schools, her goal is to integrate meditative exercises into the regular school day. The focus? Short, consistent mindfulness activities to promote self-reflection and peacefulness to start the day off on the right foot. She emphasizes that “by practicing mindfulness first thing in the morning, you are prioritizing your mental health over everything else.”

Shen’s Mindful Morning website serves as a resource for mental health awareness and a simple, beginner’s guide into meditation. She outlines the importance of mindfulness and routines and has dedicated a page to guided meditation audios. Collected from the free meditation app Insight Timer, the audios include 1-5 minute mindfulness activities in English and Spanish, along with short calming instrumental pieces.

When implemented in the classroom, first-block teachers will play a different audio every morning for the first 1-5 minutes of class time. Teachers are welcome to participate as well or take attendance to save instruction time. Students are encouraged to take part in self-reflection and listen to the audio. No student will be forced to participate but rather take a moment of silence or write down daily goals. During this allotted time, all electronic devices will be put away to avoid distractions.

Students are at a higher risk than ever for depression due to familial loss, financial pressure, social isolation, and possibly, rises in domestic abuse cases. Mindfulness can be used as a resourceful tool to cope with these newfound pressures and emotions. It is clinically proven to lower blood pressure, increase concentration, improve academic performance and memory, and reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. 

While mindfulness is not the cure-all, it is a healthy supplement to one’s daily routine. Shen shares, “Meditation/mindfulness isn’t about being the perfect person or being totally at peace and having no problems in life, it’s really about gaining a sense of clarity, focus, and confidence so that you can go about your day with the energy and will to focus on improving yourself.”

Shen’s journey into mindfulness began with the lockdown. Yoga and meditation help her regain control and routine in a chaotic environment in which normalcy feels out of reach. As the pandemic progresses, keeping one’s mental health in check is a valid, necessary concern. One must take care of themself before taking on the challenge of caring for others and being emotionally available to help. “In order to make stronger connections with the world around us, we must first establish a strong connection with ourselves,” Shen explains.

The Mindful Mornings Initiative makes one thing clear: mental health does not have to be a chore when recognized as an integral part of an individual’s overall well-being. Morris Hills students can anticipate that Shen’s plan will be put into action soon. 

Through her passion for mindfulness, Karie Shen is moving the Morris Hills community towards a healthier lifestyle where compassion comes from within.