We can combat distractions in a busy world by practising mindfulness, the art of living in the moment. Practising mindfulness can be beneficial for teachers on a personal level, but studies are also showing that it can be beneficial for students.
But what is the best way to use it in a classroom? Recently, we held a live chat on the topic. There were plenty of teachers who shared their advice, tips, and tricks – here are some of the ideas they shared:
- With some simple activities, students can learn about being mindful
- Teach the theories behind mindfulness as well
- Ensure that religious beliefs will not be conflicted with the practice
- Integrate the practice into the curriculum
- Talking about mindfulness through books is a great way to start
- Organize random acts of kindness
- Engage parents in the process
- Educators need to take the lead
- Make a mood diary for students to keep track of how they feel on a regular basis
Related: Mindful Productivity
Have you ever driven your car somewhere and arrived at your destination safely, but when you got there you realized you had no recollection of the trip or how many lights and stop signs you might have run?
Or been in a conversation with your friend and realized that she’d asked you something but you had no idea what she was talking about because you pretty much checked out of the conversation and weren’t really listening to her?
If you’re like most people, the answer to both of those questions is probably a resounding yes.
During our busy and stressful lives, our attention is usually all over the place. We leap from one thing to the next like a monkey in a tree, just grabbing at things that interest us or demand our attention. And then drifting on to something else caught up in our thoughts and in our worries. In fact, a 2010 study by two Harvard professors showed that we’re not paying attention to what we’re actually doing, almost 47% of the time.
- Maybe you can relate to this. Is this your normal mode of operating?
- How often do you think you’re paying attention to something other than your current experience?
Let me be more specific. What are you paying attention to right now? Think about it.
Maybe you’re registering my words but my guess is that some of you are also attending to other things. Maybe you’re considering what to write in an e-mail or wondering what you might like for dinner. Maybe you’re making a mental list of all the things that you need to do when we finish up here today.
And while this may not seem like a big deal, the same research that I just referenced concluded that people are consistently less happy when their minds are wandering. Even when the content of their thoughts is generally pleasant.
Why is that?
Well, when we’re not paying deep attention or when we’re operating with a kind of automaticity we’re virtually unprotected. It’s like the guard who’s been hired to keep us safe has fallen asleep on the job.
We’re more vulnerable to anxiety, stress, and depression, and we’re more likely to be triggered or get our buttons pushed, and to respond in ways that are unhelpful and not very constructive.
Living in this way we can really exacerbate our own suffering and miss out on quite a lot that life has to offer. We disconnect from our bodies and we can get stuck in mechanical, conditioned ways of thinking and being that really aren’t in alignment with how we want to be living. Mindfulness helps us reconnect to our basic ability to be fully present, and stay cognizant of where we are and what we’re doing. And it helps us to not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on.
It helps us wake up and lift out of autopilot and take the steering wheel of our attention again.
So what exactly is mindfulness?
One widely regarded definition of it is, that it’s the act of paying attention, on purpose, to all elements of our experience with an attitude of open acceptance, non-judgement, and compassion.
I like this definition because it allows us to see exactly what the components of mindfulness are. And it highlights the specific ways that our attention shifts gears when we practice it.
But firstly our attention is held on purpose.
Mindfulness involves the conscious and deliberate direction of our attention. The practice of mindfulness is among other things an attentional control practice. It teaches us how to be disciplined with our focus, which is no easy feat in today’s frenetic time.
When we’re on autopilot our attention is swept up by a never-ending and not always positive current of thinking. But when we’re mindful we wake up and step out of that current, placing our attention where we choose.
Secondly, our attention is immersed in the present moment.
If we leave it to its own device, our mind habitually wanders away from the present moment. It’s constantly caught up in replaying the past and projecting into the future. And we spend most of our time lost in a kind of virtual reality with pretty limited awareness of what’s actually happening on a moment-to-moment basis.
Mindful attention, however, is completely engaged in present moment experience, the here and now. And with regular practice, we can see the benefits that present-moment awareness brings to our lives.
Not only does it help us be more available to notice beautiful and pleasant things. But when you step back and really consider the cost of our preoccupation with things we can’t change like events from our past, as well as things that may never occur like worries about the future.
You can begin to understand the benefits of paying attention to the present. And the last way that our attention shifts when we’re being mindful is that it’s held without judgment.
Mindfulness teaches us how to pay attention to our experience with a kind of openness and curiosity. And it allows us to become a more detached observer of our sense perceptions, our thoughts, and our emotions. Becoming a watcher in this way, we can spend more time interrogating our experience, and learn to take what happens in our bodies and our minds less personally.
This new approach helps increase our understanding of the thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and context that tend to push us into reactivity. And this understanding is a really important first step into breaking free from habitual behaviours and mental ruts that have caused us problems in the past. But having said all that, mindfulness is actually best understood from the inside out.
So let’s take a minute now to practice together, and you can see for yourself what mindfulness is actually about.
- Taking a few moments now to turn away from your screen and find a comfortable way to sit.
- Maybe settling back into your chair with both feet on the floor.
- Allowing the eyes to drift close, and noticing here what this feels like.
- Feel yourself sitting here.
- Feel the weight of your body against the chair.
- The pressure of your feet on the floor.
- Feel your attention begin to turn inward.
- And then shifting awareness so that it’s focused on the breath, bringing awareness to each breath, as if noticing breathing for the very first time.
- You might ask yourself, how do I know I’m breathing?
- Maybe feeling air coming in and out through the nostrils. Or noticing the rise and fall of the belly and chest.
- And noticing if as you bring attention to the breath, it changes in any way.
- And if it does, seeing if you can let the breath be exactly as it is, there’s no need to control or manipulate it in any way.
- How do I know I’m breathing? Just this, on the, inhale knowing breathing in.
- And on the exhale knowing breathing out.
- And as you’re ready, open your eyes, and turning attention back out again.
- Noticing as you do what this feels like.
So what we just did is a brief taste of the practice of mindfulness. I asked you to focus on your breath and just your breath for a few minutes.
You turn with curiosity to a very familiar act, your breath, and I’m wondering what you noticed. If you thought it was hard to keep yourself from thinking during this time period, you’re not alone, all of us are subject to a seemingly endless barrage of thoughts.
Our minds are almost constantly chirping, and chattering, narrating the events of our lives and judging our experiences.
But what’s interesting about this practice is that it’s less important for you to focus on a single object of attention. And more important for you to notice when your mind has left that object.
So right now you may be thinking, but I thought you said this was an attentional control practice. How could it not matter that I can’t focus on my breath for more than a few seconds?
It’s true that in mindfulness practice, we’re attempting to expand our capacity to pay attention for longer periods of time, with more stillness and stability. But it’s actually in noticing the wandering mind that we strengthen our capacity to become more consciously aware.
Over time this training and noticing the wandering mind and coming back to experience helps us shift out of operating from a place of unconscious habit. As part of the homework, I’m asking you to incorporate meditation into your weekly routine and reflect on what you notice as a result of your practice.
I’ve included several guided meditations for you to try and logs to help you track your progress. Now, I want to warn you mindfulness practices are conceptually very simple, but they’re anything but easy.
As you begin your practice, you can expect to feel frustrated and confused, but don’t give up. The struggle that comes with trying to establish a practice can be a really rich one if you let it.
Also Read: Beginner Friendly Guide to Intuitive Eating