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| 2 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

The name Zen Den speaks for itself.

Stepping into the new classroom space, just dedicated this school year, at Creekside Intermediate School, one immediately feels a relaxing vibe.

Instead of desks and chairs on the floor, there are yoga mats and flameless candles. The lights are off except for a few light strings around the room to mix in with the natural light coming in through the windows. Many times one will hear a relaxing voice, whether it’s a teacher’s or one coming from a meditation video asking the students to stop their day and quiet their minds.

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It’s about finding some time to be mindful during a busy day that can be filled with learning, listening, talking, feeling emotions and growing up.

“You can come right in and find a quiet place to sit,” said sixth-grade Sam Cormier while taking a break from his Zen Den activity of making a kindness card that will later be handed out to another random student in the school as a little “pick-me-up.”

Kindness cards

The Zen Den is part of the elective course, Kind Mindz, which is a class about mindfulness for the fifth- and sixth-graders at Creekside.

Principal Tammy Reich said the course comes out of a need to take a deeper look into social and emotional learning. It gives students opportunities to understand more about regulating the emotions that can come throughout a busy school day. It also provides techniques to them that can be used throughout their lives.

Different class activities include movement and poses, mindful tasting, relaxation stories, mindful coloring, mindful writing and journaling, mindful poetry, kindness cards, and quotes for reflections and discussion.

The classes are led by sixth-grade teacher Narda Black and fifth-grade teacher Liz Melvin, who describes the Zen Den as a space for both students and staff to have a calm quiet environment, if needed throughout the day, and a perfect place for the mindfulness classes.

Black developed the mindfulness course three years ago to give students a chance to slow their day down and have more mindfulness, which is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Looking back, in thinking about introducing the course, she said she knew the benefits of yoga and had just taken a mindfulness workshop, so she thought of combining some of those things into a class.

The Sun Times News sat in on a recent class of Black’s to see how it works.

“So welcome,” she said to the class. “We are taking a few moments out of our day to stop and quiet our minds.”

She asked the class to focus on their breathing and go inward while closing their eyes and asking them to find that peaceful, quiet place.

For Sam Cormier, the class has helped. He said he had it last year as well and he’s used some of the learned techniques to calm himself in certain moments, such as while playing sports or at home.

“I stop and take deep breaths,” he said of one technique that helps.

In Melvin’s class, the students typically begin the class by telling her how they’re feeling by using numbers; with the higher numbers making it clear the day has been challenging. So five fingers could mean it’s been a tough day.

She said it’s always her goal to help them find a better feeling when they leave.

One recent class ended with a couple of students ending their yoga session with a relaxation pose and meditation while the others did mindful coloring, which is simply taking the time out to color and have a moment in their daily journeys to have fun and be present.

As those students left that class that day they told Melvin they were feeling better with some putting up the number one sign with their index fingers to acknowledge where they were at.

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