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Mindful : August 2019
m A Class Act in Motion JG Larochette’s first word—“ ball”— was an early sign that he would find presence not in stillness but in motion. As he grew up, the baseball diamond and soccer field were his refuge. And after playing Division I baseball in college, Larochette joined Play works, a California nonprofit that fosters recess play in low-income schools. A two-week assignment at an inner-city elemen- tary school in Richmond, CA, began ominously: One afternoon, when Larochette was on the basketball court, students pelted him with rocks. He was determined to respond with love. Making spaces safe and loving became his passion, first on court, then as a classroom teacher. But as a full-time teacher, Larochette lost the habit of daily physical activ- ity through which he had previously channeled stress. He struggled with insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Just as he began to contemplate leaving the classroom, after eight years, he found a lifeline: mindful- ness. Within weeks, Larochette was sharing mindfulness practices with his students; within months, he was sharing with other schools in the community. Today, Larochette is the founder and director of the Mindful Life Project, a nonprofit that now provides intervention prog rams— including mindfulness—for 22 under- served Bay Area schools, and leads mindfulness trainings in schools nationwide. I’ve needed for my whole life, especially the last 10 years. Within weeks, my sleep improved. Would you elaborate about this sense of feeling “at home”? I’m an immigrant kid. My father is Argentinian. My mother is Jewish and Israeli. My first language was Spanish. But I wasn’t really Latino. I’m a six-feet- three-inches-tall white g uy. I never really felt comfort- able in my own skin, never felt that I belonged to a com- munity that I could relate to.Andasachild,Iwasa worrier. When I look back, I realize that sports were my mindfulness practice: On the field, I was in the pres- ent moment. But I couldn’t name it then—what it was that made me feel empow- ered, comfortable, at home. You were quick to bring mindfulness into your third-grade classroom. Why? Earlier that year, I had been so caught up with resolving classroom conflicts, settling kids down, redirecting their attention, assigning conse- quences. I had students who had lost family members, a couple of students whose fathers were incarcerated, a student whose father was on the run from immigration— it was a significant trauma group. But I realized that my anxiety and fear—my being disconnected from the present moment and trying to avoid my humanity—had been causing my students to feel the same way. Tell me about your time at Coronado Elementary School. I fell in love with the kids and families, and I went really hard for those nine years. The kids were deal- ing with trauma and suffer- ing, and I kept trying to do more—rally the community, help on the playground, collect signatures to get the resources we needed. Five years in, when I was 28, I started having bouts of anxiety and depression. I did not know what self-care was, and I kept pushing. Eventually, I was sleeping only two or three hours a night. I tried everything: therapy, medication, acu- puncture, craniosacral ther- apy. I tried and tried, but I was sliding into an abyss. How did you end up turn- ing to mindfulness? Someone suggested med- itation. I’m a movement kind of person, so stillness was an interesting alterna- tive. I tried one meditation place and left feeling even more anxious. But some- one else mentioned mind- fulness. After taking an introductory class through my health-care provider, I attended a Monday night talk and meditation prac- tice at Spirit Rock, a nearby Insight meditation center. That was the moment: I felt at home in myself. That quickly? My brain was in such a state of hay wire that even the second it started to rewire was significant. The light went on: This is what Find a moment of stillness with JG Larochette. mindful.org/larochette By Victoria Dawson 36 mindful August 2019 walk the talk