By Zoë Jenkins
Life is hectic. For us all. Regardless of age, we all have things to do, places to go and people to see. Throw technology into the mix and there you have more pressure, calls to answer, texts or emails to reply to as well as constantly keeping on top of all your social media channels! How often do you unplug? Not just from technology but from everyday distractions. How often do you encourage your friends and family to slow down? Or even your class?
Children need to be taught the art of Mindfulness as much as adults; living in a fast-paced world surrounded by tech is normal these days but the mind doesn’t need constant stimulation from Netflix or Minecraft, actually the mind responds to peace and quiet much more.
As teachers, mindfulness can help in our practice. Making the classroom environment more positive, strengthening relationships with fellow teachers and pupils alike and reducing stress.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice that individuals and groups can do on a day to-day basis. It enables people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences. It can be used as a tool to manage wellbeing and mental health.
It is about deliberately paying attention to things we normally would not even notice and becoming aware of our present moment experiences as it arises, non-judgmentally and with kindness and compassion.
Misconceptions; it does not involve sitting in a Lotus position! There’s no conflict with religion or beliefs. It’s not about mediating to relax. Mindfulness is about opening up to all experiences: the good, the bad and the neutral.
Being more mindful everyday
Mindfulness strategies can be used everyday and be fitted in around your schedule. It’s not about giving up lots of time to practice mindfulness, more about changing the way you think and look at the world. Trying one (or more) of these activities everyday will help you be more mindful and boost your wellbeing. You could even adapt a few for the classroom!
Standing tall like a mountain: this is a traditional yoga pose that is a quick way of mentally coming to a state of alert relaxed attention. Try it when waiting for your class to arrive or before a presentation. Stand softly, feet parallel, hip width apart. Relax arms by side and imagine a thread running from the base of your spine, up your back, neck and out through the crown of your head. The thread lifts you to the sky. Chin relaxed. Stand tall, feel grounded, feel connected taking a stance of alert attention.
Giving thanks: being aware of all that is good in our lives helps cultivate positive feelings of wellbeing. This can be done anywhere, on your own or with your class. Bring to mind someone to whom your feel gratitude. Picture them, open your heart and send them wishes of kindness & thanks. Perhaps keep a gratitude journal, note a list of anything or anyone that you feel grateful for that day.
Curiosity like a child: try seeing everything as new and interesting. Not seeing the world through a scratched & cloudy filter of experience, but with a childlike curiosity.
Pay attention to your breath: experiment with tuning into your breath throughout the day (no one will know you are doing it). Notice the sensation, this is different from thinking about breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest. Feel it.
Mindful eating: being silent if possible. What do you see, smell, hear, taste & what does the food feel like? Becoming aware of the point of choice.
Drinking tea: make this a peaceful interlude not an opportunity to think about your ‘to do’ list. Feel the heat against your hands, notice the scent, colour and movement of the liquid. Experience the taste and be mindful of the experience.
Showering: who are you with? Who are you thinking about? Is it your boss, colleagues, friend, children, neighbour? Stop. Focus on the experience. Gentle water running on your skin, the temperature & pay attention to the moment.
Spacious Sky: look up! What can you see? Clouds, birds, stars, vapor trails perhaps. If your mind drifts, bring it back. Connect with the ground and the spaciousness of the sky above. It has no boundaries and is never-ending.
Ringing phone: a phone call can stir up many emotions depending on if you’re waiting for test results or following an important meeting. Becoming present before we answer the phone may help us respond in a more measured manner. Notice how you are feeling when you hear a ringing. Focus on your breath and then answer. It takes seconds.
Be present: communication involves verbal and nonverbal information being transferred. However we can miss what others are saying due to speaking over them or being absent as we think about an answer. Listening mindfully is listen wholeheartedly. Don’t interrupt, let them finish, notice if you try to fix things instead, try and just be there, avoid multitasking. When you listen, just listen. Don’t rehearse your answers, listen then respond. Pause, it’s ok, take a breath and pay attention to how you are feeling. Be kind to yourself if you do interrupt, changing old habits takes time.
Letting go of technology! What is your relationship with your gadgets? Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time by making a conscious decision not to answer calls or emails or even listen to music. Look at emails at set times. Turn off your phone when you can or at least put it on silent. Avoid bringing phones to meals. Avoid taking your phone to any activity that is meant to be time off. Be with your friends and family. Give them your full attention rather than splitting it. You’ll all benefit.
Red means stop: do you ever feel your emotions rise when you approach traffic lights and they go red? You may take it personally. You may think it always happens to you. You might get irritated and tap your fingers or mutter or snap to others. This obviously has a negative effect on our emotions & our interaction with others. Instead try being mindful. What thoughts arise? What emotions can you feel? What physical sensations are present? You can’t change the experience but just noticing it. Remind yourself that there is nowhere else to go in this moment. Just be present.
Bumper to bumper: life always gives us plenty of opportunities to try this one! Traffic jams and queues can feel frustrating. Instead, practice turning towards the experience. What are you feeling? Perhaps name them “anger is here”. Then notice your body, what physical sensations are you feeling? Be interested in the experience whilst you are waiting and then afterwards reflect on what you noticed.
Walking in the rain: it’s cold and wet. How do you react when going out in the rain? Raincoat, wellies & umbrella? Head down, bracing yourself. Try something different. Allow the rain to bounce off your face, soak your hair & trickle down your neck even! Be aware of your body’s reaction & any emotions that rise. Feel the sensation of water touching your skin, taste the rain (or snow). Just be in the rain…however that may be.
Not judging: judgements can impact on all our interactions, not just to others but towards ourselves. Be kind. Mindfulness without kindness is not possible.