Stop and Smell the Roses
Ah, summer vacation….one of the many perks of being a teacher is getting to have the summer off. It’s so nice to be able to be home with my kids, sleep past 4:30, & work on projects that I want to do. This summer I took a knife skills class at Sur la Table that was pretty cool! I learned a few new tricks to help maintain my knives (did you know you should hone your knives at least 3x’s a week?!) and I took a class on how to make soap from Newport Sea Foam Trading Co. It was awesome! Here is a picture of me with my creation. It’s vanilla for my mom 🙂
I’ve just purchased the ingredients to make more at home and can’t wait to do that this weekend! One of the other things I like to do in the summer is a take graduate classes. Framingham State offers these great 1 credit classes that are 100% online and last a month. This summer I took a class called “Mindfulness for Young Learners”. It was all about how adding mindfulness into the daily lives of our students can really help them not only become healthier and better able to manage stress and their emotions (hello middle school?!) but it can actually help them with their academics. I practiced it a lot with my son this summer as he had been having a difficult time falling asleep. It was crazy how much it helped him!
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that teaches one to pay attention in a particular way, with intent. It involves training our awareness to be in the present moment, focused, and undistracted. Mindfulness doesn’t involve avoidance of feelings and emotions, or in clearing the mind. It allows us to calm and focus the mind and increases our ability to redirect and refocus or attention when we become distracted. You may know this as savasana (corpse pose) in yoga. It’s known by some to be the hardest pose in yoga because we can’t force ourselves to do it. But fortunately with practice, mindfulness, like muscle, can be strengthened and can eventually become second nature.
Why do we want to practice mindfulness? What are the benefits?
Learning mindfulness can improve the emotional, social, mental, and physical wellbeing and health of those who take part. Mindfulness has been shown to:
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Decrease reactivity and bad behavior
- Improve sleep and self-esteem,
- Increase calmness and relaxation
- Increases the ability to regulate emotions and behavior
- Improves self-awareness and empathy.
Mindfulness can improve the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function. Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. It helps students pay attention better, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working memory, and enhance planning, problem solving, and reasoning skills.
According to “Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People” by Katherine Wearer of the Mindfulness In School Project:
Well conducted mindfulness interventions have been shown to be capable of addressing the problems of the young people who take part, and improve their wellbeing, reduce worries, anxiety, distress, reactivity and bad behavior, improves sleep, self-esteem, and brings about greater calmness, relaxation, and self-regulation and awareness. Adolescents who are mindful, either through temperament or training, then to experience greater well-being; and mindfulness correlates positively with positive emotion, popularity and friendship-extensiveness, and negatively with negative emotion and anxiety (Miners, 2008).
How to practice Mindfulnes
You don’t have to just sit still and watch your breath. You can strengthen your “mindful muscle” in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
At mealtime: before eating, take 10-15 seconds to stop and notice your breath, the food, the smells and the taste of the food.
In bed: when you wake up, or at bedtime, in bed or out, lying down or sitting up, close your eyes and focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale; practice gratitude.
In the shower/bath: focus your mind on the feeling of the water on your skin, the smell of the soap or shampoo, or the sound of the water coming out of the faucet.
Before tests, performances, sports, etc.-take a few moments to focus your attention on your breath and the present moment. Deepen and slow down your breathing and say in your head “I’ve got this. I am prepared” I will succeed” or some other positive thought.
While waiting: having to wait for any length of time is a source of frustration for many. Use this time to focus on deepening your breath, the ways your lungs move in and out with each breath. Bring your focus to the way your muscles feel when you deepen your breath.
Pick a prompt: choose a cue to remind you to shift your focus into a mindful state. Set an alert on your phone/computer/tablet to go off every day at a certain time to remind you to pause, breath, and be present. You could use a beverage like coffee or tea to remind you to switch into mindful mode. Herbal decaffeinated tea is a great way to wind-down before bed.
I have not been shy about the fact that I experienced a pretty large bought of insomnia after I had my ACL repaired almost 2 years ago. Meditation and mindfulness were one of the things that I included to help me fall asleep. You can read my posts about beating insomnia here. I hope this information helps you and you have a restful Labor Day Weekend!
Sources/ Further Reading:
Miners, R. (2008) Collected and Connected: Mindfulness and the early Adolescent. Dissertations Abstracts International: Section B. The Sciences and Engineering, 68,9.