Karen Garloch

Charlotte speaker: Mindfulness can help reduce stress in children, adults

“Does anyone here feel that life at times is crazy?”

When Kristen Race asked that question at her 2012 TED talk, the audience just laughed, knowing the universal answer was “Yes.”

Race, 45, a Colorado health professional, went on to tell about her own “full body breakdown” in 2005, and her diagnosis with ulcerative colitis, “an autoimmune disease triggered by stress.”

At the time, Race had a full-time job as a family and school psychologist. She was also pregnant with her second child, writing her doctoral dissertation, and “for some reason, my husband decided this would be a great year to remodel our house,” she said. “Life was crazy.”

She turned to meditation and yoga to cope with stress and later founded a business, Mindful Life. She estimates she has trained more than 10,000 people around the world to use mindfulness techniques “to build resilience to modern-day stressers.”

Next week, Race, author of “Mindful Parenting,” will speak at the annual Joined In Education conference in Charlotte. Wednesday evening’s keynote address will be at 7:30 p.m. at Providence Day School, 5800 Sardis Road, and Thursday’s workshops will be 9:30 a.m.-4:15 p.m. at Shalom Park, 5007 Providence Road.

The conference started five years ago as a collaboration between Charlotte Jewish Day School, Charlotte Jewish Preschool and Jewish Preschool on Sardis. Participating groups now include Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, other large private schools and a variety of corporations and foundations. Speeches and workshops are open to parents and education professionals.

Race’s focus on mindfulness stems from her work as a consultant for schools in Steamboat Springs, Colo., about 10 years ago. She began noticing an increase in stress in preschool-age children. They had trouble paying attention, threw temper tantrums over insignificant events and weren’t getting enough sleep.

When parents came to school to drop off and pick up their children, Race said she could see “a direct correlation between the parents’ stress level and the children’s stress level.”

She began teaching breath awareness and other techniques to the children. She started the business to “share my work with children and families, and help us calm down.”

Research has shown that children in the program became more attentive and better able to retain what they learned, Race said. “When the teachers participated,” she added, “we saw a decrease in their own stress levels.”

Some of the techniques are:

▪ Mindful breathing: Bring awareness to your breath, close your eyes and breathe deeply. If your mind wanders, which it will, bring it back to your breath. Do this for five, 10 or 20 minutes a day.

▪ Mindful listening: Ring a chime or bell, close your eyes and listen for as long as you can hear sound. Or, on a walk, be silent and just listen. Race said this helps bring awareness to the present and filter out distractions.

▪ Practicing gratitude: Intentionally focus on people and things that make you feel good. Keep a journal and record several things you’re grateful for each day. Instead of asking children how their school day was, ask: “Who was a good friend to you today?”

We can’t hide from stress, Race said, but we can manage it. “Breathe. Listen. And say thank you.”

For more information:

▪ Joined in Education conference events and fees: www.joinedineducation.org; 704-366-4558.

▪ Mindful Life: www.mindfullifetoday.com.

▪ Kristen Race’s 2012 TED talk: http://bit.ly/16f5FJf.