Before I dive in, I’d like to share very quickly how the practice of mindfulness has impacted me personally. Over the past several months, I’ve been engaged in an effort to live a more mindful life: to honor my capabilities and my limitations, to let go of past failures and the worries of the future, to live in the present moment. While embracing my inner “hippie,” meditating, taking yoga classes, and developing a sense of self-awareness, I have found a sense of calm and contentment that I haven’t experienced before. I’ve heard about mindfulness in the classroom, and I thought, in light of my own experiment, that I might share with you how this practice might be used to positively impact not only your classrooms and your students, but yourselves as well.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment- our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings. When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement. When we are mindful, we live in the moment, we are awakened to new experiences, and we learn acceptance. We learn to let go of the failures of the past and the worries of the future, creating space for the present moment.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
Though this approach has its roots in Buddhist meditation, the practice has become significantly more mainstream in recent years. This movement, initiated by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, has spurred on thousands of studies which have documented the physical and mental benefits of the practice. Even after a few weeks of practicing the approach, benefits may include:
- A boost in the immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- An increase in positive emotions correlating with a reduction in negative emotions and stress.
- Increased density of gray matter in regions of the brain linked to learning, memory, emotion, regulation, and empathy.
- Increased ability to focus.
- An increased capacity for compassion.
- Practicing “mindful eating” encourages healthier eating habits, fighting obesity.
Does Mindfulness Have a Place in the Classroom?
Studies show that this practice does have a place in schools. There is evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems, elevates morale, improves self-esteem, and boosts focus. Additionally, teachers who are trained in mindfulness show signs of less stress and negative emotions, lower blood pressure, and greater empathy.
Jon Kabat-Zinn says that this practice is “about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.” Here are a few principles for cultivating mindfulness:
- Pay attention to breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
- Observe closely what you’re sensing in any given moment- sights, sounds, smells. Take it all in to your conscious awareness.
- Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting.
- Tune into physical sensations.
The following are some strategies and exercises for cultivating mindfulness, in and out of the classroom:
- The Body Scan. Focus your attention along your body from your toes to the top of your head, bringing awareness to and accepting any sensations. This can be used in the classroom as a way to focus students in for the day while promoting a culture of mindfulness.
- The “Raisin” Exercise. Use all of your senses to observe a raisin in great detail. This is a great exercise for cultivating not only mindfulness, but observation skills in the classroom.
- Walking Meditation. Focus on the movement of your body as you take step after step. This might be a great activity for PE or dance, and can be adapted to any activity in either of those contents. Ask students to bring mindfulness into their movements throughout the day, in turn, teaching them to honor their bodies- their capabilities and their limitations.
Please share your strategies for promoting a culture of mindfulness in the classroom by commenting below!
Resources for the Mindful Classroom