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NYC orders 'mindful breathing' practices for all public schools as smoke from Canadian wildfires return

According to NYC Mayor Adams, “mindful breathing” is a way to help students focus and learn in classrooms

Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises | Shutterstock

June 28, 2023 8:42am

Updated: June 28, 2023 8:42am

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced on Tuesday that public schools will be required to offer two to five minutes of mindful breathing exercises for students every day,  a decision that comes as the city once again faces poor air quality from Canadian wildfire smoke. 

More than 80 million people are expected to be impacted by the smoke from the Northeast throughout the Midwest, also affecting Chicago, reports said. 

Authorities in cities across the northern U.S. have warned residents to stay indoors as Canada continues to see its worst wildfire season in recent history, with about 200 of them burning "out of control," according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. 

While residents have been encouraged to remain inside, Mayor Eric Adams told students Tuesday that all public schools will soon be required to offer two to five minutes of mindful breathing exercises to students every day.

“There’s a science to breathing,” Adams told students at PS 005 Dr. Ronald McNair in Brooklyn."Two to five minutes. Think about that. We're not talking about hours. Two to five minutes is a game changer.

“Breathing calms your nervous system, it helps to center us and help us regain our sense of balance and focus. It is a valuable, low cost tool that is proven to improve mental health and well being.”

The city has not made a direct correlation between the smoke and a recent move to encourage breathing exercises, but the timing is notable. 

Schools citywide will be required to deliver two to five minutes of breathing instruction to kids grades K-12, building off of the city Department of Education’s Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Preparation Program announced earlier this year.

According to Mayor Adams, “mindful breathing” is a way to help students focus and learn in classrooms. He believes that the breathing exercises will be particularly useful for students who experience high degrees of stress at home and in neighborhoods. 

“Darn, I wish I had known this when I was in school,” the mayor said during a press conference, explaining that the breathing exercises have been transformative for him. 

The mayor, who has dyslexia, said that he was an unruly child that always had to be placed in the row directly in front of his teachers to pay attention. 

According to child psychologist Dr. Nava Silton, mindful breathing can have enormous physical and mental health benefits. 

"Mindful breathing is incredibly important for physical functioning, for immune activity, for developing positive relationships with others," Silton told Fox 5. "It calms a person down and reduces their stress level."

It is unclear by what date schools have to begin implementing the breathing exercises, however, several schools have already started offering their education training sessions on mindful breathing practices. 

“These practices have already started in our public schools. Sixty percent of schools have already been trained. Training will continue over the summer and fall of 2023 for teachers and staff. We are hopeful that breathing practices will be in all public schools by Spring 2024,” said a spokeswoman for Adams’ office. 

Per the new requirement, school principals and administrators will be able to determine when to implement it throughout the day, whether that is in the middle of academic lessons, during physical education classes, or morning meetings. 

As a result of the new drift of smoke crossing into the United States, air quality alerts were issued for the entire states of Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland and Wisconsin along with parts of Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia, according to the National Weather Service.

Residents have been asked to remain indoors with their air conditioning running, and have even been advised to wear N95 masks if they are outside.

Wildfire smoke carries particulate matter, or PM2.5, a tiny but harmful pollutant that, when inhaled, has the potential to travel deep into lung tissue and enter the bloodstream, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PM2.5 has been linked to health problems including asthma, heart disease and other harmful respiratory illnesses. 

Several U.S. cities experiencing air quality alerts are in “Code Orange” which considers air unhealthy for sensitive groups while some others are even in “Code Red,” which means the air is purportedly unhealthy for the general public.