Mindfulness is a modern term for an ancient concept of quieting the mind, intentionally. Ms. Erica introduced this concept to her middle school students this year by adding “mindfulness” as a daily part of the curriculum. She introduced mindfulness to her students by drawing their attention to their natural breathing patterns. Often, by simply putting focused attention upon the inhaling and exhaling of the breath, students began to notice a slight difference in their postures, their own breathing, and how calm they felt. A breathing ball was used to demonstrate this process.
Research done by Northwestern Medicine confirms that “nasal breathing plays a pivotal role in coordinating electrical brain signals in the olfactory “smell” cortex-the brain regions that directly receive input from our nose-which then coordinates the amygdala (which processes emotions) and the hippocampus (responsible for memory and emotions). During nasal inhalation, the fast electrical rhythms in both the amygdala and the hippocampus become stronger. The in-breath specifically alters your cognition, improving both emotional and memory processing – any slow, steady breathing like the kind employed in meditation and yoga activates the calming part of the nervous system, and slows heart rate, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. The act of slow, deep breathing, whether the inhalation or exhalation, is beneficial for your nervous system when you wish to be more still.”1
Every midmorning, middle school students are called together to practice the art of mindfulness. Breath is always a key component to this process and is used to teach students how to tune into their mind/body connection. Ms. Erica has also found a way to reveal to her students that there is a direct link between the mind and the hands. When the mind is always active and on the go, sometimes thoughts can be tamed simply by engaging the hands in small, peaceful moments. A special shelf in the room hosts 55 different mindfulness jobs, including watching oil and water mixing in a container, tracing sand in a tray, and even trying their hands at solving the Rubik’s Cube. Students are encouraged to ground their thoughts before beginning the tasks. They are also encouraged to try various mindfulness jobs to expand their own experiences and to give others a chance to do the works. Unlike other assignments, there is no goal in mind other than to experience the process of doing the work.
Once a week, a guided meditation is done giving students the opportunity to experience the power of “being,” opposed to “doing.” Observation of the breath is the foundation of the mindfulness curriculum and is used on a daily basis. Tuning into and expanding the awareness of the five senses will take up much of the school year, with mindfulness, emotions, and the inner experience rounding out the curriculum.
During a recent class, students spent class time outside, just listening, trying to expand the reach of their sense of hearing. They were amazed to discover the variety of sounds found outside when they were quiet enough to open up their perception to the natural world. A recent survey conducted by Ms. Erica revealed the vast majority felt the class was helpful and they were enjoying it.
Mindfulness is a life skill that teaches the difference between being mindful (actively engaged in the present moment with mind, body and breath) and having a mind full of thoughts, each one racing to gain momentum over the other. With practice and awareness, students are learning to quiet their minds, balance emotions, and harness the power of their thoughts. A leading mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, postulates “learning mindfulness practices in school would put people on the road to a much more healthy relationship to their body and their emotions.”2 We are seeing the truth of this statement with our middle school students. Finally, as reported by Time Special Edition, “mindfulness has been shown to increase kindness, sleep quality, behavioural control, concentration, and even math scores.”3
Mindfulness Magazine (10/2017)
1: pg. 12
2: pg. 18
Time Special Edition “The Science of Childhood” – Inside the Minds of our Younger Selves.
- Pg. 62