An Educator Tackles Challenges With Mindfulness

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Scholarship recipient and Canadian educator Mina Khan-Lee attended an Omega event with Jon Kabat-Zinn in New York City during a challenging moment in her life. Here's how it impacted her and her teaching.

Mina Khan-Lee, who is from Calgary, Canada, had been going through a challenging period in her life when she was awarded a scholarship to attend Jon Kabat-Zinn’s talk, The Power of Mindfulness in Difficult Times.

“I had been going through a painful divorce for a while and the title of his talk really called to me,” Khan-Lee recalled. “I was so grateful to receive the scholarship to attend.”

The one-night event held at Lincoln Center in 2018 also appealed to her as a yoga and meditation teacher of more than 15 years who maintains a daily meditation practice.

When she attended the talk, Khan-Lee was working as a wellness strategist at a K-12 charter school for gifted students, teaching students in grades 5-12 about stress, the brain, and how to use mindfulness tools to help them in their daily lives. She often referenced Kabat-Zinn’s work with students.

Kabat-Zinn is the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which has helped introduce mindfulness into mainstream institutions in healthcare, education, schools, corporations, government, and more.

Khan-Lee said, “I really took away the message that mindfulness is the way of the future for our health and for our connection to self, others, and our planet,” she said.

Lessons From a 10-Year-Old 

She also made a great connection with the person sitting next to her.

“I was seated beside a 10-year-old girl who had come with her mother,” she explained. “She had no idea why she was there. Her mother had brought her along not knowing what to expect. As a school teacher myself, I immediately bonded with this little girl.”

She gave her young neighbor a lesson in mindfulness and meditation while they waited for Kabat-Zinn to come out on stage.

“At one moment I was her teacher and then she was mine,” Khan-Lee said. “This girl represented the future that I would like to see in the world. If all children were introduced to mindfulness the world would be a different place. As we get more and more disconnected by social media, technology, and screens, we need to find presence and awareness to truly be in the moment.”

Khan-Lee also got the chance to engage in a brief dialogue with Kabat-Zinn about mindfulness and the education system.

“I went up to the microphone to make a comment and we had a full discussion!” she said. “It was inspiring to hear his suggestions and have him listen to my concerns. The mother of the young girl I mentioned actually took a video of our conversation and she sent it to me. It was great to have this moment to remember.”

Keeping Mindfulness in Her Community

Since the event, Khan-Lee has done several presentations on mindfulness in schools across Alberta and is scheduled to do one in British Columbia.

She’s currently on a different assignment for the year at her same school, filling a leave of absence for a Spanish teacher who is battling cancer. 

“Unfortunately this doesn't allow any time in my schedule for the wellness position, nor the yoga and mindfulness program which I had been successfully running for more than 5 years,” she said. “Teaching Spanish full time has put me back into the world of being a classroom teacher. I have been using mindful body breaks and breathing exercises in my classes, especially with the grade 5 and 6 students, as a tool to help them with self-regulation.”

She includes practices such as the "box breath," cross-body movements, or a short yoga-inspired routine linking breath to movement.

To help keep yoga in the mix, she has started her own yoga club, which runs once a week at lunch hour, as well as a weekly after-school yoga class for staff.

“It has been a busy return to school this fall, and although I don't have the official title of wellness strategist, I'm still trying to do my part by bringing yoga and mindfulness practices into the school culture,” she said. “I also continue teaching yoga and meditation classes at a local studio once a week.”

In her personal life, she continues her daily practices and now tries to incorporate more mindful moments throughout the day by pausing to take in and enjoy nature around her, to smell the food on her plate before she eats it, and to take a deep breath and lean into the emotions of the children in her classroom when they are having meltdowns.

“I try to use presence and awareness to move me through the challenges so that I can let go of reacting to situations that are stressful and respond from a place of empathy, love, and compassion,” she said. “This attitude has helped me through some tough times and I'm grateful to have mindfulness in my life.”