SCARBOROUGH — Life coach Robyn Wiley is preaching what she practices at Scarborough Middle School.
Mindfulness, as Wiley described it, is “learning to be more present and aware of yourself – your thoughts, feelings, actions and what’s going on around you – so you can be the best version of yourself.”
For four years, Wiley said, she’s been a life coach and Reiki master teacher. In 2016, she published a guided journal called “My Happy Book,” which, she said, gives readers writing prompts to “get the pot stirring.”
About two years ago, Wiley began working with adolescents and started mindfulness programming for 9-to-16-year-olds at Mind Place Teen Center in Westbrook, a career move she described as “incredibly gratifying and fulfilling.”
From there, Wiley decided she’d like to work with local schools in hopes of instilling those practices in children at younger ages.
So, Wiley, who lives in South Portland, began working last November with staff at Scarborough Middle School as part of their professional development. It’s something Wiley, a Scarborough native, said she wished she was taught as a middle school student.
“The idea is that, by working with the staff and sharing tools with them, they can use it for themselves and then share it with their students from a more authentic place,” she said.
Two workshops into her three-part series, Wiley said the staff have been “open and receptive” to her teaching and have been passing the training on to their students.
Her workshops include mindfulness methods such as guided meditation, breathing and movement exercises, and journaling.
Wiley’s third and final workshop with staff will be Feb. 11. She’ll also host a parent workshop Feb. 17.
One small change Wiley said people can easily make is how they spend the first 10-15 minutes of their day. Rather than jumping out of bed and rushing to work, Wiley said it’s beneficial to take a moment to breathe and do something they enjoy, whether it’s reading, listening to a song, or enjoying breakfast.
“It sets the tone for the rest of your day,” Wiley said. “But slowing down is a difficult thing to do in our society … It’s simple, practical stuff, but things we need to be reminded of.”
Slowing down and acknowledging yourself and the world around you, Wiley said, is more difficult than ever for children, teenagers and adults alike, with the pervasiveness of technology and social media.
“It takes them out of the present moment,” Wiley said. “It’s unconsciously a coping strategy … Now more than ever, we all need a reminder to slow down and reflect a bit.”
Through her workshops and private meetings with clients, Wiley said she’s also noticed educators struggle with an internal battle between their nature, which is typically “kind, sensitive and nourishing,” and caring for themselves.
“Oftentimes those of us who care most about helping others are not always the best about helping ourselves,” Wiley said. “If they aren’t filling their own cup they’re only bringing a fraction of their energy to the people they care for.”
Children, on the other hand, she noted, tend to focus on themselves, but often are still acting in the interests of those around them.
“It’s a challenge for them to be self-aware of their wants and needs rather than focusing on what people around them want them to be,” she said.
Additionally, Wiley said educators often feel pressure to focus on academics in the traditional sense, rather than practicing and teaching mindfulness.
“More and more educators and administrators are seeing the importance of this and really want to use it as much as they can in the classroom,” Wiley said. “It’s not subtracting from the curriculum, it adds … Everyone will be able to focus and be far more productive.”
SMS Principal Diane Nadeau concurred that “increasing self-awareness and learning how to take care of ourselves are critical life skills that everyone can benefit from.”
The practices she teaches today are skills that Wiley said she wished she had and would have benefited from while growing up.
“I had none of these tools to help me when I felt really sad, so I repressed it and it ate away at me,” Wiley said. “I was this really angsty, unhappy, insecure young woman and didn’t know or have the tools to respond to that in a healthy way.”
That motivated her to start learning about psychological processes as a 19-year-old attending the University of New Hampshire.
“I made a choice that I was going to find a way to like myself and be happy,” Wiley recalled. “Remembering my experiences and thinking, ‘Wow, I really wish I knew this stuff earlier in my life,’ drives me in this work.”
Robyn Wiley, a South Portland author, speaker and life coach, is teaching mindfulness to staff at Scarborough Middle School.