Well-being is a new subject in Irish schools that has been added to the Curriculum for Junior Cert Student's this year. The subject incorporates many existing subjects area but also gives space for school to get creative and find new ways of introducing students to techniques and tools that support them create well-being, build resilience and deal with the anxieties, fears and challenges that are part and particle of daily life for many young people today.
Mindfulness can be a powerful resource and tool for both teachers and students to practice daily together helping them to learn to focus better and calm the inner and outer storms going on around them.
This articles aims to give teachers some practical tips on how to gently introduce mindfulness in a classroom.
How mindfulness can help your students
Mindfulness teaches us how to focus our attention consciously in the present moment, noticing what we are doing and feeling as it is happening moment by moment. We know that every time we practice mindfulness, we are increasing activation of particular brain circuits especially those in the middle and pre-frontal areas of our brain. These areas are involved in creating well being, decreasing stress & anxiety, helping us to pay attention, regulate our emotions and cultivate empathy and connections with others.
As the saying goes, nuerons that fire together wire together so incorporating short easy mindfulness practices in the classroom is an important way to create healthy habits of mind and body that support yourself and your create well being now and well into the future.
Starting each and every class with a Mindful Moment teaches your students what it means to be really fully present not just in mind but in body too.
4 Simple Mindfulness Practices to begin your class with
Here are some simple ideas to begin & end your class in a mindful way;
Pause & Breathe
Before you start to teach your subject matter, take a moment to pause and breathe together. Invite the students to sit comfortable and relaxed with both feet on the ground. Lowering their gaze to their desk in front of them, invite them to bring their attention inside, bring their attention to the fact that they are breathing. Wherever they feel the breath is fine. First invite them to notice where they feel the breath most alive in their body in this moment. And then, invite them to take three conscious deep breaths in and out together and feel the sensations of the breath moving in their body. When they are ready, they can open their eyes and you continue together in calm, focused and quiet way.
Take a STOP
Stop stands for
T- Take Time to Notice..
O- Observe & Open to what is here.
P- Proceed with Awareness.
Invite students to become quiet and still, sitting comfortably and lowering their gaze or closing their eyes. Not all students feel comfortable closing their eyes so it is fine just to be their gaze be lowered to their desk. This is to take away some of the visual distractions around them. Invite them to take a moment to notice how their body feels right now, maybe noticing where they feel tension, tiredness, agitation or where they feel ease, relaxation or something else. Simply noticing how it is without needing to change it or make it different. Open to what is on their mind & simply observe it. Maybe they are thinking about something that happening earlier or something they are worrying about that they have to do later For example, an exam. Just like if they were watching clouds in the sky, just let thoughts come and go as they watch and observe them. Bring their attention to their breathing, feeling the movement of breath deep in their belly. If it helps, place a hand on the belly and feeling the abdomen rising and falling. When they are ready, they can open the eyes and remain focused and calm as you begin or end the class.
Check the weather inside
Just like the weather inside, our internal weather is changing constantly. It is very helpful for students to learn to recognise this by checking in with themselves regularly. As you begin your class, take a moment to pause and invite the students to sit comfortably. Let their gaze be soft or their eyes closed or half closed. What is the weather like inside you right now? Are things bright and sunny or does it feel cloudy or rainy? What do you notice right now? Where do you feel this in your body? Once you recognise it, you don’t have to do anything to change it, just let it be. You can’t change the outside weather, and we can’t really do anything to change the inside weather either but you can bring a kind curious attention to it, and get to know it, feel it and let it be. Later on, your weather will be different. When you are ready, open your eyes and continue focused and calm.
Using the intercom bell or bringing a nice meditation bell or singing bowl with you, let this exercise be an invitation to pause and practice mindful listening. Mindful listening invites us to listen with our whole body and whole being and not just our ears. As the students sit comfortably gaze soft or eyes closed, invite them to pause for a moment and bring their attention to sounds and hearing, listening deeply to the sounds coming from within themselves and those around them, sounds in the classroom and coming from outside too.
Bring their attention away from their heads & down into their bodies as they continue to listen. Ring the bell and invite them to focus on the sound until they can’ hear it anymore. Afterwards, let them rest in silence and open to the experience of stillness for a moment or two before inviting them to open their eyes and bring their attention to your voice and to the room they are in.
Well-being is important for both students and teachers
Silence is very important for us to experience as human beings. It calms the nervous system & relaxes the mind. Psychologically we need to experience silence so we can reflect and integrate our learning and experiences.
Children & Young People experience much less silence than children of the past so creating some ‘silent space’ daily teaches the children to value stillness and to be okay in silence, ‘doing nothing’ but simply being. Teachers on the other hand are often stressed, overloaded with work and personal commitments.
Let you all begin and end your class as you mean to continue, present, aware, focused and calm knowing that through these short practices, you are creating and building healthy neural pathways in the brain and well-being and balance in the body, mind and heart. What a gift to give the students now, and what a resource for them to bring forward into their Adults Lives! Teachers will surely benefit from the mindfulness exercises too – by having calmers and more eager to co-operate students, and being more present and patient to support the children at school. A win-win situation.
Just start and see the benefits for yourself.