What is mindfulness?
- Mindfulness teaches us to observe what we think, how we feel, and where in our body we sense things, with an open mind, compassion, and without passing judgement.
- Mindfulness allows us to experience the present moment with enhanced awareness.
- It gives children greater agency over how they choose to experience their emotions.
- Mindfulness can help students to cultivate focused attention and an overall sense of calm as a result of living each moment unhurriedly.
- Our minds are often ruminating about the past (what’s been) or the future (what’s to come). It’s like we are on “autopilot”. No matter what happens, we just keep going…no stopping or pausing to notice how physical and emotional experiences can affect the ways in which we think, respond, or react in a given situation.
- By learning to be mindful in our daily living experience, we are planting the seeds to greater emotional balance and physical well-being. Why? Because we choose to bring awareness, whether we find ourselves in distressing or loving situations or when faced with intense feelings. By doing this, we learn about ourselves and we learn about what triggers us or gives us tranquility, and this allows us to live in each moment with greater presence.
- By developing these skills to live in the moment, we are relinquishing the need to be in control of thoughts and feelings and instead are simply being fully present with our bodies, our minds, and our hearts in every experience and event.
- Mindfulness allows us to slow down and find respite in the midst of busyness.
- Mindfulness enables us to cultivate clarity of thought and intention, balance, and acceptance as well as learning to be kind to ourselves (compassion).
- Mindfulness also promotes a more balanced relationship between our inner (emotional/thinking) and outer (social/physical) experiences, as a result contributing to our social and emotional wellbeing as we learn to develop the skills of attunement, awareness, and self-regulation.
- How much thought space are you willing to rent to inner dialogue?
- How many thoughts clutter your mind and your perception?
- Our thoughts do not necessarily reflect the truth; instead they are a mental phenomenon. Research has shown that we have between 50,000 to 60,000 thoughts in a day. When you divide these statistics by the amount of minutes or seconds we have in 24 hours, you may feel overwhelmed by the busy reality humans live with due to our incessant brain activity!
- Mindfulness gives us greater clarity over our experiences as we develop skills such as attention and focus, which in turn helps us to recognise and have a conscious say over our actions. How? By giving us time to pause and assimilate, effectively letting us reflect on what we’ll do before we do it—transforming what would be a reaction into a response.
Research attests to the benefits of mindfulness.
- According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading pioneer in mindfulness-based stress reduction programmes (MBSR), “Social and emotional competencies have degraded rapidly over the past 25 years… Children have fewer social skills… Mindfulness can accelerate children’s social and emotional development”. For decades, our pace of living has increased tremendously, and now everything feels like it happens at the speed of light! Increasingly, children are spending their time indoors, especially becoming immersed in a technological and virtual world, with less time being spent outdoors in nature and in the world with family and friends. Because they have fewer opportunities to be in real-life situations that require problem solving, children are only able to partially develop their capacities to regulate emotions and behaviour. Basically, we have come to live in an era of doing where there’s a need to be constantly entertained (and thus distracted), with little importance assigned to doing-nothing— just being in awareness in each moment.
- Research has shown that mindfulness can contribute to cognitive function and performance, such as increasing attentiveness and decreasing our reactivity/impulse levels.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “Paying attention on purpose and non-judgmentally”. Jon explains that by practicing mindfulness in times of ease, we learn to access it when we are faced with emotionally and physically charged situations.
- In classrooms, mindfulness’ focus on “being” rather than “doing” has been shown to benefit children in many ways. Children who practice mindfulness show greater interest in learning, more social intelligence, better memory, and improved executive function (the ability to make choices and gain perspective in changing situations).
- Research carried out recently by the University of Cambridge revealed that university students who had undertaken an 8-week mindfulness course developed coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and stress caused by difficult events, which resulted in greater mental well-being. Even during the stressful summer exam period, students who accessed mindfulness training had lower distress scores and more resilience.
- Substantial research has been carried out on mindfulness in healthcare systems, but over time mindfulness practices have even been incorporated in institution contexts such as prisons, as well as in the corporate world.
- Now, experts are exploring the impact of mindfulness in educational settings. Although research on mindfulness in children’s education is in its infancy, recent case studies have indicated that it can produce similar benefits to those experienced by adults who practice mindfulness.
What are some mindfulness strategies that can be used?
- Mindful Breathing: deep breathing techniques (as if you were blowing a candle or blowing a balloon); playful breathing (such as breathing like a dragon—for more information on playful breathing, see Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids [and Their Parents]).
- Mindful Body: noticing our body posture (i.e. sitting, standing or laying down), how we touch others or things (i.e. briskly, softly), and how we move (i.e. self-paced walking, fast swimming).
- Mindful Listening: detecting the sounds that are around us and discerning them (i.e. birds chirping or people talking in loud or quiet voices)
- Mindful Feelings: labelling emotions and learning to recognise how they manifest in our bodies (i.e. sweaty hands, goose bumps); displaying a caring and empathetic attitude towards ourselves and others.
- Mindful Thinking: allowing our thoughts to float by as if they’re clouds, without getting sucked into concerns about the past and future. Being able to bring our attention back to the present moment gently and openly when we notice our thoughts have been diverted to another place in time.
- Mindful Eating: paying attention to the texture (i.e. lumpy, soft), the flavours (i.e. sweet, sour), and the temperature (i.e. cold, warm) of the food we eat; the colours and sizes of our portions as well as the smells they emit.