Meet Kelly Barron, creator of the Project Presence program

Interviewed by Ellie Duke

We often think of communication with the body going one way — the mind telling the body what to do. But the body is in constant communication with us, sending us a vast amount of information about our emotional, mental and physical states. 

A former writer for Forbes magazine, Kelly Barron brings her journalistic sensibilities into her practice as a mindfulness teacher. She reads incessantly, gleaning information from a wide range of fields to inform her work. Her background in journalism also means she is familiar with stress, and all of the havoc it can wreak on the body. She started meditating in order to deal with that stress, and its benefits were so powerful and wide-reaching that she decided to devote her life to bringing the work to others.

Kelly teaches mindfulness in the classroom, both for kids and for teachers and parents, providing tools and skills to help all classroom participants gain greater awareness. Her workplace mindfulness program is called Project Presence, and the curriculum is tailored toward the employers and employees she is working with and their needs. Kelly also offers mindfulness classes in various public and private settings.

Kelly is also a lifelong athlete and holds a training certification from the American Council on Exercise. She brings her knowledge of fitness and movement into her mindfulness teachings, as well. She is a huge advocate for fostering a healthy relationship between mind and body. She speaks here about her experiences and challenges as a mindfulness teacher.

What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your work thus far? 

Getting out of my own way and trusting that regardless of what I do or how I teach, the practice of mindfulness is enough.

What’s the first thing you do when working with a new group of students?

Make people feel at ease. Warmth and good humor go a long way in helping students feel at home and putting them in a frame of mind to try some things they may not have done before.

What advice do you have for kids and families who are struggling?

Everything is always changing. I think it’s often hard, especially as parents, to remember that our children develop in phases. Sometimes things we feel really challenged by in our relationships with our children shift on their own without us doing anything, and at other times we need support to navigate our way through them. But remembering that things are always changing can help us keep our feet on the ground and stay balanced through the struggle. This is also a good maxim for the struggles our kids face, too.

If you could go back in time, what is the one thing you’d most like to tell yourself as a child?

Don’t stick blueberries up your nose. I did that once. I don’t recommend it.

Are there any stories of working with kids or caregivers that you’d like to tell?

The other day I was teaching a group of second graders. I led them through two rounds of a mindful movement game in which students were paired together. In the first round, the object of the game was to move faster than their partner. In the second round, the object of the game was to move at the same pace as their partner. After each round, I asked the students to stop and notice how their bodies felt. Students said that after the first round their bodies felt “speedy,” “hot,” and “buzzy inside.” I asked the students if they noticed other times when their bodies felt this way. One boy said: “That’s how I feel when I’m angry.” I’m always inspired by the terrific insights kids of all ages have and how readily they apply the tools of mindfulness to their lives.

What books have most inspired you and are there any on your shelf begging to be read?

There are, truly, too many to mention. But I’ll name a couple that have influenced my thinking lately: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.; Moving into Meditation: A 12-Week Mindfulness Program for Yoga Practitioners by Anne Cushman; Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport; and The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Mathew Crawford.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

Aside from sleeping well, eating right and exercising — all the things we think about when we think about the basic self-care — one of the most substantial things I do is to continually check in with my body, moment-to-moment throughout the day.

We often think of communication with the body going one way — the mind telling the body what to do. But the body is in constant communication with us, sending us a vast amount of information about our emotional, mental and physical states. So, by feeling into the body, sensing in any given moment whether I'm gripping, tightening, bracing or feeling the butterflies of anxiety in the belly, I can often find intervene before my stress gets out of control and make a wise and kind choice about how to care for myself in the moment. This is the foundation of almost everything I do for myself.  

To learn more about Project Presence and Kelly visit her website