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Teaching Strategies: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Janelle Cox

Buddhists have practiced mindfulness (or the intentional, accepting, and non-judgmental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment) for thousands of years, then yogis adapted it into their daily routine, but it wasn’t until the past few years that people have really taken notice to it. It’s no surprise that schools across the globe have adapted mindfulness into their day -- the benefits of meditation not only can keep students calm, but improve their academic performance as well.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that mindfulness can improve one’s mental health, physical health, and emotional and social health -- not to mention that the long-term practice of it is also found to improve brain quality of your thoughts and feelings. It’s no wonder why teachers are taking to this practice, with all of these amazing benefits for their students.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

You may have heard that doctors practice it, you may even heard that people use it to combat their eating, but using it with students? While mindfulness can reduce your stress hormones, it also can improve your attention, boost your memory, make you less reactive, and enhance your self-insight. It’s not about religion or emptying your mind, it’s about paying attention to your present self and living in the moment.

That is one thing that we have all heard before, but most likely never practiced. In a world that is so technologically busy, it’s hard to imagine taking a moment to just sit and be in that moment. But, that’s all it takes -- a few minutes to focus your attention. Once you can give this gift to your students, they will be able to take it with them and adapt it to every aspect of their lives.

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Mindfulness in the Classroom

The idea is to sit someplace quiet and focus your attention. You can start by having students sit at their desks and close their eyes and just focus on their breathing. As they take a deep inhale, they focus on filling up their lungs with air, then as they exhale, they focus on letting go of anything that is bothering them. It’s really not about the breath, but rather about experiencing the breath entering and leaving the body. If they find it hard to concentrate, then you can have them count their breath as they inhale and exhale. It sounds simple, but in all actuality it’s quite the opposite. Taking a moment to just breathe sometimes makes your mind wander. When this happens, you have to learn to redirect your brain back to your first intention, which in this case is to focus on your breath. The key is to find a technique that works for your students. While simple breathing techniques may work with some of your students, it may not work with all of your students. You may find that you may need to experiment with possibly listening to music, taking a walk, or even getting a yoga mat out and doing a few poses.

Taking Mindfulness in Everything That You Do

Mindfulness takes time and a lot of practice to really reap the benefits of it. The idea is that over time you be able to be mindful, and be in the moment of everything that you do. For example, once students get the hang of it, they can be mindful of the science experiment that they are conducting. Instead of thinking about what they are going to eat for lunch, they will be really invested in how the experiment works. Mindfulness is meant to be aware of your present feelings and create a world where you are connected to everything that you are doing. There will always be stress in our lives, but if we can give children the tools to manage their stress early on, then they will see things more clearly, spend less time worrying about unimportant things, and be able to experience the world in a more calm manner.

Controlling Your Thoughts

Mindfulness in the classroom is about teaching children to control their negative thoughts and emotions. This skill will enable children to deal with the academic stress and all the pressures that go along with the day-to-day worries of being a student in school. If you start practicing mindfulness in school at an early age, then by middle school (when peer pressure really starts to hit) students will already have the tools to control their emotions so they can cope with whatever comes their way.

Mindfulness is a practice which varies from student to student. While you may find that one student is benefiting immediately, another may take some time. Just remember, you are giving them the tools that they can carry with them forever. Whether they use them is up to them.

Do you practice mindfulness in your classroom or do you think it’s just a new age mumbo jumbo? Feel free to share your thoughts about it in the comment section below, we would love to hear take on mindfulness.

 Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the elementary education expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or visit her website at Empoweringk6educators.