About Mindful NZ Schools

Rita Riccola is the Director of Mindful NZ Schools and Mindfulness In New Zealand mindfulnessinnewzealand.co.nz. She has been practising mindfulness for over 25 years and has attended a number of silent mindfulness retreats and seminars on ‘A Course in Being’. She has completed the Certificate Course with Mindful Schools (USA). Rita is also a registered NZ Teacher.


An Interview with Rita Riccola

Rita  has been teaching Mindfulness classes in schools and doing Teacher Training sessions over the past two years. She also runs a pilot project of after school classes at the Grey Lynn Community Centre (for children and parents).


Why Mindfulness?

RITA:  I have practiced mindfulness myself for 20 yrs and it has helped me in ways I never believed possible looking back on how mentally tortured I was at times. I never dreamed that I would be able to access the calmness—and be able to deal with pressure in the way that I do now, because I certainly did not when I was younger. Thanks to mindfulness I have been able to step back when life throws the endless variety of situations and circumstances we all have to go through. I have been able to observe what is happening rather than get so caught up in the thoughts and emotions I become drained and anxious. It does require discipline; it does not just happen. But once you have even a small success of freedom from anxiety or less anxiety it gets easier to establish a regular practice. It is in doing the mindfulness exercises, regularly, daily, even for short periods of 20-30 minutes that you really begin to notice the changes in your reactivity and getting ‘caught up’ in anxious thinking, over-thinking and reacting.

How did you start teaching it?

RITA: I am a secondary teacher. Five or six years ago, I began to notice a decline in attention spans. That paralleled with the introduction of devices like iPhones, iPods and others. I kept thinking in the classroom that there must be some way that I can share what I am experiencing, through mindfulness techniques in the classroom situation. I began introducing  small exercises and I was really moved by how hungry the kids were to learn about their minds and what they are capable off. Those little exercises were clearly beneficial. I had some students asking me, “Come on Miss! Can we do that thing now?” Which was just a moment’s attention, for example, noticing the breath, noticing that we are sitting in a seat, noticing the movement of air in the room and other simple exercises. From there I realized I needed to design a program and take it into schools, because as a teacher that was my natural impulse to share this more widely.

How did you come up with the programme for schools?

RITA: I thought I was working in isolation. I was quite surprised when I went online and saw that there have been a mindfulness explosion around the globe in the past few years years. That was very encouraging. I joined a course in America—Mindful Schools, which put me in touch with other people that were doing what I wanted to do and what I was doing. I started teaching after-school programs. I got some contracts with schools to do eight-week programs. I moved into the classroom and could put to the test the program that I had written. I found in the post-assessment that real changes were taking place for people. It was not just a one-off, feel-good phenomena, because I would have one month post-assessments as well to see whether the students were still engaging in that process. Not all of them were, but some of them were. If Mindfulness reaches one person, and changes one person’s life and makes it less anxious, less stressful with more clarity and more awareness, it is always good.

What do you see lies ahead with Mindfulness?

RITA: I think, in time Mindfulness Training will become integrated into the school life and the working life, because these exercises are so incredibly simple. All you have to do is have the intention and the discipline to stop for five minutes periodically and check in where you are in your own self, and give your mind a rest from the incessant inner-chatter, by taking a few  focussed breaths, noticing the temperature of the air, noticing the warmth or cold around you and noticing yourself sitting on the seat. It can be that simple. Because, where you put your attention; energy follows. It polarizes your mental energy rather than scatters it, which unchecked-incessant thinking does.

What is the next step for Mindfulness Education?

RITA:  I have been working in schools and I will continue to work in schools. But now, I am also working in larger corporations that have the foresight to run wellness programs for their employees. Mental health and physical well-being have become paramount as it has become very obvious that stressed employees are not productive. The wellness culture is growing in corporations and there is certainly a place for mindfulness in there, among many other good programs.

How does Mindfulness differ to other wellness programmes?

RITA: With mindfulness, the point-of-difference here is simply that you have a natural resource that with intention you can connect to, which provides a simple, easy, accessible tool; such as your breath, to bring about a state of relaxation quite quickly, and an awareness of where you are holding tension in the body, where you can give yourself permission to let it go and relax. You can do this periodically throughout the day. When it becomes second nature, obviously your energy level rises, because you are not draining so much energy on stress. It is an intelligent and an easy way to live. We simply have to put our attention on what mindfulness offers and make use it, by bringing it into the work culture, the school culture and our personal culture, to create a bit more spaciousness in our own minds, a bit of relaxation and a pause throughout the very busy days that we live.

“Rita is a fabulous facilitator – she made us feel extremely comfortable, was open minded and encouraged us all to share from our diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. I came away with many very practical, easy to use exercises that I have since been using with with my classes of various ages. Thank you Rita for gifting me such a wonderful and enjoyable afternoon of learning”.
Louise Dore, Auckland

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“Suspensions at our school dropped from 14 last year to 6 this year. We attribute this to the mindfulness programme.”

“I had dreaded this would be my last year teaching until the Mindfulness programme began at my school. Now I am Re-dedicated to my profession.”Quotes from educators

“The thing is with mindfulness is that when you are going to do something bad, you know it and you can stop.”

“I like mindfulness because it helps me feel better and teaches me to concentrate.”

“When my sister gets on my nerves, I tell her to leave me alone so I can take a deep breath. I always use the technique whenever I am mad.”

Quotes from children

“Teaching Mindfulness to school children is fast growing momentum as the benefits become evident. Mindfulness has great potential as a key strategy for a positively impacting on the learning and wellbeing of children and young people in education settings.”New Zealand Mental Health Foundation