By Sheridan Wilbur
Leading people might be one of the hardest calls to action.
For Collin McConaghy, the certified Koru Mindfulness teacher and former team captain of the 2010 football team at University of Richmond, collaboration serves as an invaluable enhancement to teaching mindfulness. To have two teachers, you are doubling the perspectives, the metaphors and therefore, expanding your impact on those you are serving.
Collin leads by example in Virginia, where he teaches mindfulness alongside Jake McDonald, another certified Koru teacher, to youth, high schoolers and college students and student-athletes. They’ve been leading stride for stride over for the past seven years at the Richmond-based preparatory Collegiate School, recently expanding their mindfulness-based initiatives to include partnerships with Summit Emotional Health and the ThePeaveyProject. They each received two-year teacher certifications before diving into Koru and adapting Koru to multiple platforms and organizations. We were delighted to sit down with Collin to talk more about their work.
How has Koru influenced your teaching of high schoolers at Collegiate?
CM: Throughout all of the mindfulness work we do, we always speak to the huge impact Koru has had on our teaching. Most of our kids are only willing to commit to a maximum of one hour for the sessions meaning we can’t follow the Koru curriculum exactly, so we didn’t want to call our sessions Koru but, there is a TON of Koru in them.
So you adapt Koru into your own courses?
CM: Yeah! We’ve been here for almost a decade, working with students and student athletes and recently teaching “Mindful Leadership,” over an entire semester. We have Koru as a base, and dive into the nitty gritty. We talk about performance, flow, health and leadership concepts. We work with teams specifically, either through the Koru model, or introduce them to as many concepts as possible. We take the Koru curriculum and talk about mindfulness for health and performance. We believe in teaching mindfulness from a holistic standpoint, we integrate neuroscience, exercise, nutrition, sleep and mindfulness in our programs.
Now, you mention working at the Summit of Emotional Health. Can you say more on what this clinic is, and how you bring Koru to this environment?
CM: Jake and I were fortunate to be introduced to Matt Bitsko who started Summit Emotional Health. His goal was to create a team approach to emotional health in order to best serve the client’s needs. Under one roof there are psychologists, psychiatrists and mindfulness coaches. We provide mindfulness coaching to meet patients and clients where they’re at. We work with the general population, because everyone can benefit from mindfulness. No matter what’s happening. We understand stress, and stress response, we provide some tools to meet them where they’re at. It’s really awesome and rewarding. We recommend four sessions with us to establish a base level of mindfulness and take them through the Koru curriculum. I love that there’s more than one meditation with Koru. We can meet any situation and any individual, and use something like the Gatha or Body Scan, and supply them with as many tools in their tool box as possible. We provide check-ins and new concepts in a personalized way. We work with athletes, like tennis players, from all around Richmond in a 1:1 consultation setting. This way, we can take a deep dive, and get to know them on an intimate level.
Yeah, that is so personal! While I think everyone can benefit from mindfulness, the individualized sessions really help students integrate Koru concepts as skills in their toolbox. Now, you also are part of the Peavey Project. Tell us more.
CM: Yes! That’s our non-profit. We started this to honor our mentor, Alex Peavey. Alex started the mindfulness program at Collegiate and then Jake McDonald (who just became certified as a Koru teacher!) and I moved into his role when he became sick. Our mission is to spread mindfulness in the Richmond community and beyond and we’ve already worked with corporations such as Fidelity Investments, Apex Systems, and Paymerang and have offered some programming through Marshall University and Hampden Sydney College. (Click here to see their website, The Peavey Project and donate.)
This is inspiring work that you and Jake have taken on, picking up Alex’s baton to reach so many different groups through mindfulness. Can you tell us more about the Fight and Smile initiative at the Peavey Project that uses Koru?
CM: Sure, one of our biggest passions is our Fight and Smile initiative which allows us to teach mindfulness to athletes and teams. Everyone wants to get better and elevate their performance, so we have developed a Mindful Performance curriculum to empower teams with effective, applicable and practical tools to better themselves and their impact on those around them. We work with teams outside Collegiate and talk with the entire group as a whole, using mindfulness as a tool. Then we see it translated to the team setting. We’re focused on the process and establishing harmony with a team.
What’s a group you’re proud to have worked with?
CM: There’s an elite baseball group out of RockIt Sports, and we dove into mental performance. That was an eight week course where we used mindfulness when we met with them once a week for 45 minutes. One Saturday I received a text from their head coach after they won a tournament and he said “we won because we were the strongest team mentally, it was because of the work you did with us!” They were extremely dialed in during our sessions. On game days they were using the techniques we taught them and we could see kids taking a deep breath before going into the batter’s box. That’s a neat thing we’ve done with teams. But we’ve worked with athletes as young as middle school, as old as college athletes.
What brings you to working with athletes on mindfulness?
CM: Jake and I are extremely passionate about athletic performance. He played lacrosse at Hampden Sydney and I played football at University of Richmond. When I graduated I became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist so that I could work with athletes in the weight room along with coaching football on the field but there was still something missing, it was mindfulness and the mental approach to the game. When I ran into Alex Peavey and saw him teaching mindfulness at Collegiate it immediately hit me, this is what had been missing! Now, because of my personal athletic experiences I know exactly how athletes are feeling in any given situation when I meet with them. Our goal is to give them tools to help them remain healthy, mentally and physically, and perform at a high level. It’s been an awesome long process to get where we’re at, and allows us to connect with folks in a genuine way and spread mindfulness.
Collin McConaghy graduated from the University of Richmond in 2010, where he played football, was a team captain, member of the 2008 National Championship team and majored in Business Administration. In 2012, he received his Master’s of Education. He is a Certified Mindfulness Teacher, a Certified Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator, a Certified Koru Mindfulness Instructor and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He and his wife Trisha have two children, Porter and Libby, and as a family enjoy playing sports, being outside and hanging out with their friends and family.
Jake McDonald graduated from Hampden-Sydney in 2011, where he played lacrosse for four years, served as team captain his senior year, majored in History and minored in Creative Writing. In 2014, he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Master’s of Education in Sport Leadership. He is a Certified Mindfulness Teacher, Certified Koru Mindfulness Instructor and a Certified Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator. He loves spending time with his wife Molly, his son Ned, and their two dogs Murray and Tucker, listening to music and trying out local restaurants and breweries.