Mindful awareness techniques are rapidly gaining acceptance and interest around the world. Millions of adults have benefitted from practicing Mindfulness. Now opportunities are available for children to gain self-knowledge and feel a greater sense of self-efficacy and happiness with mindfulness practices.
Mindfulness is in essence a natural human capacity, involving purposefully paying attention to our experience, with an attitude of openness, care and curiosity. Success in schools relies on connection, collaboration, cognitive flexibility and creativity – attributes cultivated with Mindfulness practices.
Behind every skill and all human endeavours is a mind at work. The state of the mind determines outcomes. Our mind can be considered our greatest asset and simple steps to prepare it for optimal functioning are an extremely worthwhile investment.
Some educators are deterred from investing time and energy to commit to Mindfulness, citing crowded curriculums and overwhelming demands. Taisen Deshimaru reminds us that ‘Time is not a line; it is a series of now points’. Simple, practical ‘mindful punctuation’ throughout the day brings a myriad of blessings and benefits to school communities. Countless opportunities to prepare bodies and minds to be calm and focused in the present,
Over the past 15 years it has been inspiring to witness outstanding educators who have ‘Mindful Mindsets’. Seizing ‘now points’ to practice Mindful attention to be respectful, compassionate and deeply connect with students. They model Mindfulness with their relationships with children and colleagues. In the words of William Blake: ‘He who would do good to another must do it in the minute particulars.’ Greetings and farewells, roll calls, assemblies, and classroom rituals are all Mindful entry points.
In the excellent text, ‘Educating from the Heart: Theoretical and Practical Approaches to Transforming Education’ Paul Houston says ‘What is truly important is the lives of the children we serve. We are the keepers of their possibilities’.
My sense is that Mindfulness is a ‘Heartfuless’ practice. A practice that is congruent with a deep sense of self and connectedness to others and the world.
Awareness is a practice that is cultivated moment by moment, over a lifetime. The power of pausing to choose, direct and sustain attention can turn positive states of mind into enduring traits of mind.
Current research into Mindfulness programs reveal a host of benefits for students: including lowered stress levels, impulse control, improved executive function and focus and increased optimism and empathy.
Children can discover how to effectively focus their attention, which is the pre-requisite for learning. By choosing where their attention goes, they can literally change their minds … and make up their minds! Advances in neuroscience reveal that the brain is able to change its own structure, responding positively to stimulus, exercise and challenges.
Importantly, Mindfulness practices enable children to grow a sense of authority over their lives. Over time, unconscious, automatic reactions can be replaced by calm, considered responses. Benefits ultimately flow on to academic and sporting outcomes, social relationships and the entire school community. Teachers can also gain great benefit from Mindfulness practices and it is a wonderful thing for them to share with their students.
Simple, practical steps can be taken to care for young minds that are often full (with distractions, multi-tasking and emotional upheaval). Countless opportunities exist to return the body and mind to balance in engaging, effortless and enjoyable ways.
Creative practices engage students in a path of noticing and ‘inner knowing’… literally starting from the ground up. For many years, my passion has been to ‘bring Mindfulness to life’ for children, with a range of heart/mind/hands-on practices.
Awareness of alignment and postural balance, through muscular/skeletal connection, help students to recognize what shape they are in… and what state they are in! Students can ‘tune in’ to seize ways to return the body to harmony with simple practices; including yoga, qigong, Feldenkrais and Alexander techniques. These practices can seamlessly be slotted into the day. Oliver Sacks recognized the sense of proprioception as a vital one to develop.
A palette of positive, playful, engaging Mindfulness practices exist for educators. The senses provide fertile ‘entry points’. In addition to traditional breath awareness, connection to sight, sound, taste, smell, touch and balance, combined with inner and outer noticing, encompass all learning styles and preferences and have the potential to personally touch hearts and minds. These practices transcend race, culture and socio-economic differences.
Kindness can be cultivated with Mindfulness practices. Simple props, such as the ‘Speaking Stick’ engender active listening, patience and pave the way for understanding and empathy.
A growing number of schools in Victoria are also creating ‘Mindful Spaces’. These include outdoor spaces, such as the labyrinth and sensory garden at McLeod College and the Toorak Campus of Geelong Grammar School will soon be creating a Mindfulness Sensory Walking Path around the vegetable beds. Indoor spaces include the ‘Empowerment Room’ at Fountain Gate Primary School (created in an old portable building), the Wellbeing Centre of Brighton Grammar School (using a renovated church) and the magnificent Meditation and Indigenous Centre at Bentleigh Secondary College, which is a magnificent eco-building set on a billabong, surrounded by an urban forest and wetlands created by the school.
As Rob Moodie, Professor of Global Health, Nossal Institute of Global Health says “Teaching our children how to be mindful, to appreciate quiet, and to have inner peace is one of the greatest gifts that we can bestow on them”.
These gifts are available to you and your school community now. Simple daily practice of the gentle art of awareness creates treasured moments in the day. Teachers can become keepers of Mindful classrooms, to cultivate healthy, happy young hearts and minds.