Classroom teachers have little control over most of the testing that our kids are subjected to. However, we do have control of the tools we give kids to self-regulate for a sense of calm and focus. This is why many of us are turning to mindfulness education.
Introducing young people to mindfulness -- in which the brain is relaxed but focused -- can provide them with a lifetime of mind and body benefits on several different levels. Research has found that mindfulness promotes
- lower stress levels
- improved concentration
- increased self-control
- kindness and empathy toward others
More importantly, this is what kids practicing mindfulness say:
Simple mindfulness practices provide an ideal way to start class. They can also be used any time students need to be refocused. I use them as bell ringers and before tests.
You don't have to be an expert to practice and promote mindfulness. In fact, showing students that you are learning with them is a powerful way to demonstrate that we are all lifelong learners.
Mindfulness Exercises to Teach Students
Begin by setting the stage for mindfulness. Dimming the lights and playing some soft background music helps enhance the mood. This is one of my favorite tracks to play in the background:
Mindful Breathing: 3-2-4
The best way to practice mindful breathing is to simply focus on each breath. Ask students to close their eyes. Speak slowly, and ask them to observe each breath. Ask students to observe the rise and fall of their chest as they take in air. Tell them it is normal for the mind to wander, just try to bring it back to focusing on each breath.
Ask students to deeply inhale through their nostrils for three seconds, hold the breath for two seconds, and exhale through the mouth for four seconds. Set the pattern for them by repeating, "Inhale through your nostrils for three seconds. Hold for two. Exhale through your mouth for four."
Repeat the breathing pattern several times. Remind students to refocus on each breath. Then ask them to open their eyes.
Ask them how they are feeling. Some may say they were falling asleep, others will say they feel calm. With practice, almost all of them will see the benefit. The first time I did this with middle schoolers, many opened their eyes repeatedly. They are fearful of looking foolish if they are the only ones with their eyes closed. Again, with practice, they became more and more comfortable.
Tell students that a simple technique called a body scan can help them relax. It can be used to before bed, before a test, before an athletic event, or any time they feel tense or anxious.
Guide students through a body scan by saying,
Begin by focusing on your breath. Notice the sensation of the air moving into and out of your nose and lungs. Notice the expansion and contraction of your chest and abdomen as you breathe.
Move your attention to your feet. Feel the weight of your feet pressing down on the floor. Breathe deeply. Fell the air bringing new energy down to your feet.
Next bring your awareness to up to your calves and upper leg. Notice any tension. Feel your clothes brushing against your skin.
Shift awareness to your back and stomach. Notice any tension there. Continue deep breathing to release the tension.
Move your awareness to your shoulders and then your jaw and head. Draw breath into each area to release tension. Breath and release. Breath and release.
Just like anything, it is only through practice that we learn to direct our thoughts in positive directions and imagine new possibilities.
You can also encourage students to write about their mindfulness experiences and practice techniques for calming themselves, finding focus, and promoting their own joy. In my 30 Days of Mindfulness Journal, students will write about gratitude, happiness, acts of kindness, positive and negative feelings, and nature. They will learn a variety of mindfulness techniques, and they will always have practices they can call upon when needed.
You can get it here:
Mindfulness practice centers us and reminds us just to be.
Do you practice mindfulness, either alone or with students? I would love to hear about your experiences!