Vikas Srivastava, also known as Brother V, stands out while walking the halls of Legacy Early College, a charter school in Greenville. He is stopped by a teacher, who demands to know what he did to one of the students in her class because, well, she can’t explain the positive transformation.
“I teach mindfulness,” Srivastava responds.
Srivastava is the only director of mindfulness in a school in South Carolina and just one of five nationally. Other schools have brought in consultants to teach mindfulness but only a handful have integrated the calming technique into the everyday life of the school — and are reaping the benefits of a calmer and more-focused student body and faculty.
What is mindfulness?
Gail DePriest, a senior lecturer and director of executive leadership at Clemson University, describes mindfulness as a reset for the brain, bringing one back to reality instead of chasing down reactions to every stimuli that presents itself.
Srivastava developed a mediation practice in 1982 and in 1999 gave his first presentation on mindfulness-based school design. In 2005, he began practicing mindfulness in the classroom, developing ways to use the technique in positive ways for students. In his position at Legacy, Srivastava uses the physical sensation of breathing to achieve mindfulness and help participants to ground themselves in reality.
Mindfulness in the Classroom
At Legacy, the in-school suspension program has been totally revamped and now incorporates a three-hour workshop and seminar with Srivastava.
“I get the students to meditate, to control their reactions, to understand the foundations of mindfulness and embrace and increase their threshold for discomfort,” he said. “By the end of the workshop, they get it.”
There are scholars at Legacy who went through this suspension workshop with Srivastava and are now mentors to other students at the school, achieving a complete turnaround in their behavior.
Srivastava is in his second full year as the director of mindfulness at Legacy but has already seen impressive results.
“I met with a second-grader last year who was punching, kicking and fighting in the classroom. The student learned mindfulness for about 30 minutes once a week and had a total turnaround after a month,” he explained.
Bullying is another aspect where he has seen positive fruits come out of mindfulness sessions.
“Bullying is about vulnerability and lack of self-worth — we feel we cannot be vulnerable,” he said. “We had an issue in a classroom where no student felt safe doing a presentation so I did a vulnerability workshop and kids shared experiences, poems and other forms of being vulnerable. It completely changed the environment and we are piloting that same workshop in four classrooms this year.”
Students aren’t the only ones who are offered the chance to work with Srivastava. He also teaches mindfulness to faculty, staff, teachers, bus drivers and janitors — anyone who wants to be able to focus more, to gain solid ground under them, to be calm.
“I teach students to meditate, to control their reactions, to understand the foundations of mindfulness and embrace and increase their threshold for discomfort. By the end of the workshop, they get it.” -Vikas Srivastava, Director of Mindfulness, Legacy Early College
“The mindful industry wants to sell this as a unique standalone solution but this is nothing more than a bridge to a person’s own internal wisdom or spiritual practice,” Srivastava said. “I don’t tell people what to eat. I’m showing them how to use a spoon.”
Mindfulness in the Workplace
While Srivastava holds quite the unique position, mindfulness doesn’t stop in the classroom. Gail DePriest teaches mindfulness through the Clemson University MBA program to entrepreneurs, business owners and working professionals.
She focuses her work on heart-focused breathing and bringing in positive emotions while intentionally focusing on breathing more slowly, getting out of your head and into your heart.
“Realize you’re like a battery and certain things are going to drain your energy and certain things will renew your energy,” DePriest said. “If you’re sitting at a red light and realize you are replaying something negative over and over, recognize that and make a decision to drop it and focus on heart-focused breathing and something that is positive.”
In the workplace, some large companies have taken concrete steps to integrate mindfulness into their offices because the practice has shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve focus, increase production, and lessen anxiety. According to Forbes, companies including Apple, General Mills, Google, Procter & Gamble, and Aetna have all instituted mindfulness into their offices for these reasons.
“Realize you’re like a battery and certain things are going to drain your energy and certain things will renew your energy.” -Gail DePriest, Senior Lecturer and Director of Executive Leadership, Clemson University
Locally, BMW executives have worked with DePriest on ways to implement mindfulness into their office culture.
“BMW has brought in mindfulness training and are looking at it from a health and well-being standpoint,” DePriest explained. “They know their employees are overwhelmed and stressed. It’s a volatile world we are working in, causing stress and negatively impacting performance. Mindfulness can help alleviate many of those.”
Workers are just happier when they can focus, get their work done, and think about the positives in their lives. DePriest says that workers are 30% better at performance when they are positive so in her workshops; she frequently asks questions about things people are grateful for and what went well today.
Using Mindfulness in our Own Lives
Not caving to every ping on our phones or whiny cry of our kids or negative thought that crosses our mind sounds like a good goal but how do you get there? How can parents and teachers help kids achieve mindfulness or what can employers do to help their employees focus and become less stressed versions of themselves?
DePriest suggests that practicing mindfulness is a wonderful form of self-care and can lead you to become more aware of the needs of others in your life, eliciting compassion and empathy.
“By resetting with heart-focused breathing, you’re doing self-care and self-compassion and when you start doing that and learning about taking care of yourself, you can be better able to become aware of what others need,” she says.
At Legacy, Srivastava is attempting to form a cultural revolution, one of nonviolence, greater self-worth and vulnerability, and the ability to be present in the classroom. He teaches parents and teachers how to start being more mindful as to close that loop between himself and the students and their lives outside of school.
He teaches free mindfulness classes most second Saturdays at the LaGrace Integral Retreat Center in Fountain Inn that are geared towards young adults and adults.
DePriest recommends taking a step back from technology, putting down the phone, focusing on heart-focused breathing techniques, and connecting with people one-on-one, be in that moment together and focus on the positive aspects of life.
“The brain is always seeking out what makes us fearful but when we focus more on the heart and heart-focused breathing, it elicits a more enduring calmness,” she said.