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.

Mindfulness is not necessarily about the absence of thought, nor is it about brushing aside negative emotions, thoughts, or sensations. Instead, it is about drawing awareness to what’s going on internally and acting intentionally and thoughtfully in response to those stimuli. Cultivating mindfulness practices in the classroom can positively impact our students in a number of ways. Mindfulness can help students react more constructively to stress. It can help improve social interactions between students. It can help our students practice compassion for themselves and others, deal with “failures,” and develop growth mindset.

Using art to practice mindfulness

Art and creative practices can be naturally and instinctively mindful. Drawing, painting, and other artistic media have the power to draw us into the present moment, to bring our focus to the relationship between the pen/brush and the surface, to search for ways to convey visually what’s in our minds. Creating a work of visual art requires us to turn inward, contemplate, reflect, and plan before expressing that work in the external world.

It’s possible to simply create practices for mindfulness in our everyday artistic practices, without even introducing or assigning new activities. Whether you are bringing mindfulness into the art classroom or bringing art into the classroom for the purpose of creating a culture of mindfulness, begin with some simple awareness exercises with whatever artistic tools are in use. 

Creative Mindfulness in the Classroom

How do you know where to start?  Try these 3 tips for bringing more creative mindfulness into any project, lesson or unit.

 

  • Encourage students to focus on the feeling of the pencil/brush/materials in our hands. Is the grip loose or tight? Where does the tool rest in your hand? Can you bring some relaxation into the grip while still keeping control of the tool?

  • Urge students to notice the sensation of paint on a canvas, chalk on a piece of paper. How does it feel to connect paint to a surface? Chalk? Pencil? Crayon? What does the surface feel like? Canvas? Paper? Mixed media? Does your hand brush the surface as you work?

  • How does the rest of your body react while you work? Do your shoulders tense up? Do you clench your jaw? Do you furrow your brow? Do you hold your breath? If you find this kind of tension creeping in, how can you begin to relax it?

 

When we begin to bring awareness to our everyday activities, we can practice connecting with what’s going on internally and make slow, subtle shifts in how we react to our own internal stimuli. Visual art is such a natural place to practice this- in work that is creative, expressive, individual, and allows for reflection. Try introducing some simple mindfulness questions or challenges to your students this month, and tune in next month for specific visual arts strategies and activities for cultivating mindfulness!

Resources

The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom (by Dan Tricarico)

Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness (by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh)

Stop Look Breathe Create (by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh, to be released on July 3, 2017)

Paint Yourself Calm: Colourful, Creative Mindfulness Through Watercolour (by Jean Haines)

http://www.nursingschools.net/blog/2011/01/100-excellent-art-therapy-exercises-for-your-mind-body-and-soul/

Check out Team Grundler’s 2016 article, Back to Zen with Dan Tricarico, for tips on becoming a zen teacher.