Mindfulness is essentially awareness. It is about training your attention to notice your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and anything around you that is happening right now, without judging them. By doing this, you step away from automatic responses and observe what it means to be in the present with an open mind. This can help you to be calmer and make better, more skilful decisions.
Mindfulness isn’t just about training the mind – it’s also about you reconnecting with your body, your emotions and your behaviour. Emotions and feelings can affect the body and your actions, and vice versa. Just as thinking can cause physical reactions (for example, feeling anxious can cause ‘butterflies’ in the tummy before an exam), so your body can affect your thinking. We often forget how much subtle tension we’re holding in our shoulders and neck for example. Mindfulness helps us stop analysing emotions and emotional problems and instead sense them more easily when they start. By becoming aware of emotions, you can try to deal with them before they grow too strong or start to take over your thinking.
For teachers mindfulness can help you understand better when your own stress and anxiety starts to kick in in the classroom and can help calm those feelings (through simple exercises such as focusing in on the breath) before they start to affect the quality of the teaching and learning. For students mindfulness can help by increasing attention and concentration as well as fostering resilience which helps deal with emotional problems as well as stress and anxiety.
Just as people go to the gym and lift weights regularly to build muscle, so mindfulness helps train the brain through daily practice (meditation). A mindfulness course is effectively help you brain to ‘rewire’ to work in more helpful or skillful ways. The ability for the brain to rewire in more positive and calmer ways is called neuroplasticity.
Neuroscientists are just starting to understand more about how mindfulness practice can help. Studies indicate that it helps in two main ways, especially when it comes to studying and exams as well as dealing with anxiety and stress.
- It helps to increase the connectivity in the front of your brain (the prefrontal cortex). This is the part of the brain associated with memory, your ability to solve problems and to manage distraction.
- It helps us to manage strong or difficult emotions. Feeling some stress and anxiety at school is around exams is natural and, indeed, can help boost performance. It’s when this becomes too much that it becomes a problem. Mindfulness helps to calm activity in the bit of your brain associated with worry (the amygdala).
Two modes of mind – doing and being
Very often, it is easy to want to get straight into doing a task (take for example a student doing study or revision) just to get it finished and out of the way. This is called doing mode – it helps you to get things done, but doesn’t always consider the wisest, calmest way of tackling the task.
Mindfulness helps by giving you a moment to pause and enter being mode. This allows time for you to ground yourself and be fully focused on the present moment, so you experience things more fully. Usually this will help you to take a calmer and wiser approach to a task, which will mean you’re more effective. When you take time to slow down and live in a more moment-to-moment way, you are able to experience life more fully and appreciatively. This can then help to create a greater sense of calm.
Daily practice of just 10 minutes can make a difference
Just like learning any new skill, for example playing a sport or an instrument, mindfulness is something that has to be practised daily to have richer benefits. Doing daily practices of 10 minutes or so can really help you to move your awareness to be fully in the present moment in a non-judgemental way, helping you to avoid overthinking, which can lead to worry, anxiety and stress.
If you’re looking to bring mindfulness to your school then you should enrol for a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy course. Most mindfulness courses are usually eight weeks in duration although shorter introductory courses available. In Pearson Italia we are currently developing an Online Introduction to Mindfulness course. Watch this space for more news in 2020!
Once you have done a course and have established your own regular mindfulness practice you can then look at mindfulness teacher training courses to train to deliver mindfulness courses to students. If you want to bring in an external teacher/trainer then ensure that they have the relevant training and experience in working with children.