Mindfulness, by definition, is the state of being conscious or aware of something; a mental state that focuses on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting one’s thoughts and feelings.
I am becoming increasingly interested in mindfulness as it applies to my life and my teaching. Over the summer on our family vacation, my sister recommended a book for me to read. The book was entitled, The Surrender Experiment: My Journey Into Life’s Perfection.
Not only was this book an easy read, it helped me understand the importance of living in the moment and recognizing opportunities as they unfold. The sequence of events in the book are pretty incredible. I’ll leave it at that.
So, what does this book have to do with mindfulness? The author and main character in this book turned to meditation as a means for recognizing and calming his brain chatter.
Meditation comes in many forms. For me, creating art is a form of meditation. I can find relaxation and focus all at the same time. Writing causes me to reflect, which in turn helps me become more aware of my thoughts and feelings (aka mindfulness).
With the increasing diagnosis of ADD and ADHD in schools, it seems that mindfulness could be a crucial component to training the brain to slow down. Students have so many new stimuli on a daily basis, including games, apps, phones, and television to name a few. It’s no wonder they are easily distracted, easily ‘bored’, and need constant stimulation to keep their attention and interest. I believe that teaching strategies must be adjusted to meet the needs of our students, however, I do not believe that we should feed into their need for constant entertainment. That is not our job. This article has some great points and explanations. I think students can benefit from becoming more aware, focused, and reflective through mindful exercises. This requires practice.
I have a 2nd grade class that is particularly wound-up (for lack of better terms). Last week, I decided to spend their Art period focusing on mindful breathing exercises. My intention was not to punish them, but help them understand the need for concentration and reflection. The students spent the end of the class period writing about the experience in mindful exercises. I was pleasantly surprised by what they wrote:
I felt like I had space. I felt like I was relaxed.
I like all of the exercises because they filled up my lungs and also gave me energy.
I felt calm when we did the mind exercises.
I felt very happy, no stress, no anger, just happiness.
I like it so much I will do it at my house. It was so much fun I will show all of my friends. Thank you.
I felt good. Now I I know if I am sleepy and have no energy, I will remember these exercises.
Only two students expressed that they were bored and that we didn’t do anything fun. I suppose they may need more practice with this type of exercise to become more receptive to it. I believe that ongoing practice of mindfulness can help students focus, think through actions, and reflect more effectively.
Below are some of the breathing exercises I practiced with the students:
1-5 Inhale/Exhale (x3): Begin standing with arms at your side. Slowly inhale and raise straight arms outward in unison. Lungs should be full and hands should touch overhead as you count to the number 5 in your head. Repeat for the exhale, with arms slowly lowering as you count backwards in your head. Facilitator may count out loud and demonstrate arm movements with students.
Variation: arms pull in and up with the slow count, as though you are pulling the air in for the inhale, and pushing it out with the exhale.
Snake Breathing (x3): Inhale slowly unit lungs are full. Hold your breath, and slowly release air through your teeth, making a soft hissing sound. Who can exhale the longest without inhaling again? This encourages students to control their breath as they exhale slowly. They also love the ‘competition’ aspect of who can exhale the longest.
Lion Breathing (x3): Begin by sitting on knees. Inhale slowly, while raising arms in unison in front of your body, hands clenched forwarded to resemble claws. As you slowly exhale, create a soft roar, and lower your hands and arms in unison.
How might you benefit from mindfulness and/or meditative practices?