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Article posted with Essence of Laurel
HEIDI THOMPSON has practiced breath awareness for more than twenty-five years. After experiencing positive changes in her life, she developed an attention development program for children called Mindmastery. Thompson conducted Mindmastery workshops in B.C. public and private schools with grades K-12 with excellent results. Shortly thereafter, in 1999, Mindmastery was featured on CBC Television and her article “Teaching Children Concentration” was published in Vancouver‘s Common Ground magazine.

In response to a flood of inquiries from parents, teachers, and childcare professionals wanting to learn breath awareness and to teach it to children, she has now written Calm Focus Joy: The Power of Breath Awareness offering a comprehensive learning and teaching guide.

Thompson was born in Vernon, a small town in Western Canada. She travelled to Switzerland in the early 1970’s and trained as a photographer at the University of Art & Design in Zurich. She moved to Germany and continued her fine art studies at the Akademie der Bildene Kunste in Nurnberg. Here she studied painting and drawing for one year before relocating to Budapest where she attended the Hungarian Art Academy for a final year of art.

While in Europe she met teachers from various meditation traditions and became keenly interested in yoga and philosophy which led her to attending retreats in Germany, France, and Austria. After completing her art training, Thompson returned to Canada and worked as a freelance painter and photographer in Vernon. Over the years she has exhibited her paintings and photographs in numerous exhibitions in Canadian and US galleries and museums. In 1984 she married Edward Thompson, a guitar builder.

In 1983, she attended her first 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat taught by of S.N. Goenka (in the nonsectarian tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin). Vipassana translated from its Pali origins into English, means to see things as they really are or see with discernment, was the most serious, rigorous meditation technique that she had yet experienced. Students who attended the course were required to take a vow of silence, abide by a strict code of conduct, eat sparingly, and meditate in one-hour increments starting at four-thirty in the morning until nine in the evening.

For the first three days of the retreat, students practiced breath awareness or Anapana (breath awareness) to become calm, alert, and acutely focused. On the fourth day, they were taught Vipassana. This technique required the student to direct the attention within and systematically observe all the sensations in the body. Despite the challenges of sitting for long periods of time, Anapana and Vipassana taught Thompson how to focus the mind and then use this focus to observe reality as it is experienced through body sensations. For the past twenty-five years she continues to practice Anapana and Vipassana and has noticed many positive changes in her spiritual, artistic, and family life.

In 1996, ten years after having first learned about the breath awareness technique, (also known as Anapana-sati), Thompson wanted to share this simple, yet effective method with young people. As the technique is universal and not attached to any particular dogma or religion, she felt that it would be ideal for North American schools. With great enthusiasm and aspirations to create a practical, adaptable program, she developed Advanced Attention Development (AAD) or Mindmastery (the name given to the program for children). She presented Mindmastery to several schools in B.C. with very positive response from teachers, principals, and parents.

To the surprise of the general public, teachers and principals were keen to facilitate Mindmastery programs in their classrooms. This openness may have been partly due to the significant increase in Attention Deficit and Hyperactive disorders during the 1990’s, along with escalating behavioral problems among students like bullying, violence, and racism. Children and teenagers of varying abilities, disabilities participated in the workshops. Whether it was a grade one student, a high-potential learner, a learning disabled, a blind or deaf student, a young offender, or a child with severe attention problems, almost every child seemed to benefit from the experience. The classroom teachers recorded the students’ progress, and often noted significant improvements in several areas of the child’s learning and attitude.

Based on the results and observations of the AAD Programs, Thompson wrote an article called “Teaching Children Concentration” which was published in the Vancouver magazine, Common Ground in 1999. The readers’ response was overwhelming. She received a flood of written requests from teachers, principals, parents, doctors, psychologists, and child counselors asking for more information. Some were interested in learning the techniques so they could then help their own children or students. Others wanted to have the program brought into their school. At the time, there was little written information to offer. Thompson became determined to develop a program and write a workbook that could easily be used by teachers and parents. Her work and research cumulated into this book.

To become more involved in public education, Thompson returned to university in 2001 and earned her teaching degree. She has since been teaching primary and secondary students part-time. This experience has given her an insider’s perspective on today’s education and school culture. In her writings and articles, Thompson acknowledges the many positive factors of academic learning, along with the difficulties facing educators today. However, she believes that children’s learning and well-being, school atmosphere, and classroom management, could all benefit by the simple addition of attention development and concentration curriculum starting as early as in Kindergarten.

Presently, Heidi Thompson spends her time painting, writing, and giving workshops to help children and adults learn breath awareness. In 2008 she conducted a one-day course which combined breath awareness and painting called: "ART & ATTENTION" at the Grand Forks Art Gallery in BC. If time permits she conducts breath awareness programs free-of-charge to any school that may be interested.

Heidi Thompson also published the award winning art book: SVEVA CAETANI - A Journey

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