Diversity and Inclusion Issues Discussed at “Breathing Love into Our Community” Event

The Diversity Center at Frostburg State University recently hosted “Breathing Love into Our Community,” an event which was meant to teach students a “holistic” way of living and resolving conflicts through breathing practices in the Lane University Center’s assembly hall.

The presenters and guest speakers of this event were three yoga and wellness teachers: Andres Gonzalez, Atman Smith, and Ali Smith of Baltimore, MD. These three run a non-profit organization based out of West Baltimore titled “Holistic Life Foundation Inc.” The mission of their organization is to help children develop their inner lives through yoga, mindfulness and self-care. Andres, Atman and Ali have traveled the country and overseas to different facilities and institutions teaching children of all ages how to breathe in order to take control of their lives.

(Nick DeMichele/TBL)
(Nick DeMichele/TBL)

“I had the opportunity to meet three founders of the Holistic Life Foundation about two years ago at a mindfulness and education workshop in New York State,” said Dr. Thomas Bowling, FSU’s Interim President. “I was so impressed by the work that they’re doing with youth in Baltimore City Schools and the impact that they are making on violence prevention, on reducing issues in terms of incidents in the school, and in terms in improving academic performance, that I thought that there would be great value in having them here. Their practices are really contributing the development of emotional intelligence, which, increasingly, we’re understanding is very important.”

When asked if the recent conflicts and crimes that have taken place in the Frostburg Community in the past weeks had any influence with his and the Diversity Center’s decision to bring Holistic Life Foundation here, President Bowling said, “Not really. The decision to bring them here was made some time ago, in fact we’d hoped to have one here much earlier. But certainly the issues of crime in student-neighborhoods has reinforced my belief that programs like this are important.”

Throughout the event, the guest speakers had the audience participate in breathing exercises that they teach to their students. The speakers cite these activities as exercises to teach the  audience how to properly use their lungs, cleansing the body. According to Gonzales, “… your lungs work as a filter, heater and humidifier and if you learn how to breath correctly you can clean the toxins out of your bloodstream.”

Concerning mindfulness, Atman told students and faculty members that when inhaling and exhaling, “take in energy from the trees, earth and streams in order to energize your muscles and organs, then exhale the carbon dioxide back into the air to feed the trees and plants that feed us oxygen. Also when in your mind imagine inhaling all the good things and exhaling all the stress and negative energy.” They referred to this exercise as Bhakti Yoga.

One of the main concerns for students who attended the presentation is the lack of diversity and cohesion in on-campus events hosted by different student organizations. Ideas such as carnivals, having a culture buddy, and making a multi-culture leadership board were all voiced to the Diversity Center faculty members.

Robin V. Wynder, the director of the diversity center, led this discussion. The previous night, Wynder, along with Bowling and members of various student groups (SGA, BSA, LASO, etc.) had dinner with the guest speakers and considered such events. Student suggestions from Monday night will be taken into consideration.

“After attending conferences about mindfulness and healthy balances, Dr. Bowling sent information to me and some other people on campus and said ‘what are your thoughts on this?’” Wynder said. “And I replied I’m in love with these guys. You had me out of breath. Because when I am working with students who are upset, one the first things I say is you just need to take a moment to breathe. I don’t practice yoga so to speak but I know the importance of breath[ing]. Breath[ing] is life.”

One student in attendance, Mykia Washington, said, “I really enjoyed the program and I am definitely going to try the breathing methods that were taught, but I think the presentation should have been longer, a span of two days,  in order to have a bigger turn out and be more effective.”

Wynder added that, “When it started months ago we were thinking more so of a problem solving kind of thing, we’re having all these conflicts on campus. If people were just to take a moment and breathe and think about it, maybe they would respond differently. These were young men who were college students not that long ago who had a dream that wasn’t formed, but they knew there was something in them and they gave them that time and space to bring it out.”

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