On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the first lesson of the day for some Central Crossing High School students has nothing to do with academics.

Instead, students who participate in the twice-weekly Morning Mindfulness program are learning techniques to lead them into a school day that should be less stressful and anxious.

"Adults sometimes will tell students that they won't know what real stress is until they become adults and join the 'real world,' " school counselor Rachel Rendle said. "But school is so much different than it was when (adults like) you and I went to school.

"Today's students have stress and anxiety that adults can't understand," she said.

The 15-minute sessions are held in the school's media center.

"Our focus is on breathing, body and brain," said Rendle, who leads the program with Christa Russell, another school counselor.

The sessions include elements of yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, meditative-breathing exercises and an activity in which Russell or Rendle lead the students in an imaging exercise to picture a calming scene in their minds.

The techniques the students learn can be used throughout their school day or outside of school, whenever they are feeling stress or anxiety, Rendle said.

"We have mats laid out on the floor during Morning Mindfulness, but most of these techniques are things you can do sitting at your desk or in the hallway before class," she said.

Rendle and Russell started the program last school year after attending a training program offered to educators by the Columbus-based Youth Yoga Project.

"They offer training on how to implement mindfulness and yoga into your school," Rendle said. "They have been doing a yoga program at our school, coming one time a week to work with a small number of students. Christa and I wanted to come up with some sort of program that more students could take advantage of."

Many Central Crossing students arrive at school 40 or 45 minutes before the school day officially begins at 8 a.m., she said.

"Morning Mindfulness gives them a constructive way to spend their time before school starts, rather than just texting or looking at their cellphone," Rendle said.

A mindfulness program also is being started this school year at Grove City High School.

Central Crossing also offers a weekly lunchtime yoga program and last year scheduled mindfulness sessions during state and ACT test weeks, Rendle said.

"It can really help to use some of these techniques to calm yourself before taking a test," she said.

The school's counselors also offer an opportunity for teachers to arrange for their students to participate in short mindfulness sessions in their classrooms.

"We're really lucky to work in a school where our colleagues and administration are so supportive of the mindfulness program," Rendle said.

Last school year, about 450 Central Crossing students participated in at least one mindfulness or yoga session, she said.

Typically, about 20 to 30 students take part in each Morning Mindfulness session, Rendle said.

Junior Alyssa Bishop is a Morning Mindfulness regular.

She first participated in the yoga program offered by the Youth Yoga Project through her college- and career-preparedness class.

"I'd never done yoga before and I found I really enjoyed it," Bishop said. "It helps me relax. I have a real problem with anxiety, and it really helps calm me down."

The morning is always a bit stressful, rushing to get ready for school and jumping into academics after arriving at school, she said.

Morning Mindfulness offers a period of serenity before she gets down to the business of school, Bishop said.

It also provides something she can use throughout the day to help keep tension at bay, she said.

Freshman Chloe Garcia said she was a little hesitant about yoga before she started attending the Morning Mindfulness sessions.

"I thought it was something that involved a lot more physical effort," she said.

But the breathing and calming techniques she is learning are helping her cope with pressures both in and out of school, Garcia said.

"My day starts at 5:30 a.m., and it's so nice to have a calming start to the school day," she said.

"If my mom is getting on my case about something, I can take a moment and breathe and then calmly say, 'What is it you want me to do? Clean my room? Oh, OK.' "

Garcia is a member of the Central Crossing Junior ROTC program, and Morning Mindfulness came to her rescue during a recent drill practice.

"There were some family issues going on, and during drill practice I was thinking about it, so I forgot what to do during the drill," she said.

Using the breathing and calming techniques she has learned allowed her to collect herself and get back on track, Garcia said.

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