Mindful Activities and Practices
There is so much talk about mindfulness lately. It is an important practice for students and adults alike, especially when teaching and promoting higher order thinking and wellbeing.
So what is it? According to the Headspace website, mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged in whatever you are doing at the moment. It means being free from distractions and aware of your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. I would add it is also about being about to mindfully or deliberately choose strategies to help you problem solve and think through difficult situations. This intersects the work on metacognition, the ability to think about your own thinking.
For example, have you ever gone to a new tab on your computer and while you are waiting for the page to load, all of a couple of seconds, you open 3 other tabs and then can’t recall what you were doing? That would be an example of not being present to the task at hand.
I hear many people comment that they can’t ‘meditate’ as their mind wanders. The key to being mindful is the practice of bringing your focus back to the original focus. It takes practice and just like every new skill learned, is hard at the start and gets easier with practice. If you can get lost in a great book, movie or conversation you are already being mindful. It is the practice of staying focused on one task.
Research from The Hawn Foundation has found that having students participate in some form of mindfulness activity for up to 3 minutes, 3 times a day promotes a positive mindset and improved wellbeing.
There are many benefits to becoming actively mindful. These include having more patience, an increase of focus and productivity, improved compassion for yourself and others, heightened body awareness, and a reduction of stress and anxiety.
Here are some activities and ideas you can use regularly in your classroom to promote the idea of mindfulness…
- Invite students to sit or lie quietly with their eyes closed** or staring at a spot on the floor of ceiling. Explain you are going to play a chime bar or ring a bell and they are to listen how long the sound lasts. When they can no longer hear the sound, invite them to raise their hand. Repeat daily and time the average response and record on a chart to show progress.
- Time students for 1 minute and ask them to count how many times they breathe in and out during this time. Compare numbers with people around them. Now repeat and recount. Was it more or less? The goal is to have less breaths, but not to hold the breath.
- Have your students hold one hand up in the air and with the index finger on the other hand, slowly draw around their fingers starting at the base of the thumb. On the up movement, breathe in. On the down movement breathe out. Repeat slowly several times.
- Using a feather is another fun way to be mindful. Give each student a feather and ask them to notice how soft it is. Hold it and blow on it and notice how it moves. Hold it up about you and drop it. Try to catch it. Repeat with the other hand. Now blow it and catch it. Stand up and see if they can blow on it and keep it in the air. Now blow it to a partner and see if they can catch it.
- Teach students the four part breath. Invite them to notice how they breathe in, pause, breathe out, pause. Focus on feeling the breath move into the body, down to their diaphragm and back out again. A deep slow breath in fills the lungs, pushing the diaphragm down, which pushes you stomach out. The opposite is true when you breathe out. The stomach pulls in as the air leaves the lungs. Breath control is an important part of a mindfulness practice and directing the breath to different parts of your body takes practice.
- Make a breathing stick. Take a pipe cleaner and thread six beads onto it. Make a knot at each end. Move all the beads to one end of the pipe cleaner. Holding the breathing stick in one hand, slowly move a bead from one side to the other (eg: left to right) while breathing in. Repeat with the next bead (eg: left to right) whilst breathing out. Continue until all beads are on the same side and repeat slowly (eg: right to left) until the beads are back in the original place.
- Reflective/flow writing is another technique that can assist with calming. Encourage students to write, in a stream of consciousness, without stopping. Even if they write, “I don’t know what to write,” the idea is to just keep going.
- Practices such as yoga, Tai Chi, running or swimming can also be great to focus the brain and breath.
- Teach your students about their brains, neuroplasticity and how the brain can rewire, and how to understand and recognise their emotions.
In a world where our students are bombarded with images of conflict and negativity – just turn on the news for 10 mins or follow their social media channels for a day – fear and anxiety are on the rise. Even when students are not directly affected by what is happening in the world, it is a heavy burden to hold as the future generation.
Try this… Hold a full water bottle in one hand for one minute. It is not very heavy. Now hold it for 10 minutes. It feels like it is getting heavier. Now hold it for an hour. This is much more challenging. Now put it down for 1 minute. Pick it up again and it feels lighter.
Mindfulness practices allow students to ‘put down’ the heavy feelings, anxiety, fear and worries for a period of time, which allows them to relax and calm. The issues often do not seem so heavy or challenging after this and can be dealt with from a more present, positive and mindful position.
Ultimately, we want students to be able to be aware of their thoughts, feelings and actions and how these impact on others. We also want them to be able to pause and mindfully choose strategies to solve challenging situations and to be able to think, instead of give up. Of course, these practices are just as good for adults as they are for our students
** An important note: if students are feeling fearful, experiencing high anxiety or stressed in anyway, please do not insist they close their eyes. This may cause an increase in anxiety or fear, as they are not able to see if they are in any danger. Being in a room full of people with your eyes closed can be an extremely vulnerable position for some. Instead invite them to stare at a spot on the floor, or if they are laying down, a spot on the ceiling.