Mindfulness: What is it? Why do it?

May 09, 2016, Sonya Patel

My favorite  definition of Mindfulness is from, Jon Kabat-Zinn,  Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He introduced mindfulness into medicine in 1979 and has become an important influence in medicine, psychology, corporate environments, the military, and now, education. He describes mindfulness this way, “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; that is on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement.”  

In other words, you know when you are paying attention, you are not mentally wandering into past memories or anticipating or worrying about something that is coming up, and you are not reacting or judging. What is happening is neither good or bad at this moment.  This gives us space or another moment to choose a response rather than react. Mindfulness is a skill that takes practice to develop and helps students with self-regulation and attention.

Mindfulness practice is not about emptying the mind or clearing the mind. Mindfulness practice is about gently bringing the mind back to the present moment every time it wanders away, without judging yourself when it does.

The amaZEN U mindfulness videos provide students opportunities to practice focusing their attention on purpose through listening activities; like the Listening Chime, the Mind Jar, and the Tense and Release Body Scan.

With technology often pulling our attention in so many different directions, practicing mindfulness skills a few times a day can bring our mind back to the present moment and reset our nervous system.  It can give us fresh start each time we do the activities.

During a yoga class one Friday morning in April, I asked a group of 7th and 8th grade students at South Amherst Middle School these questions from the Mindful Schools Curriculum.

Raise your hand if you ever:

  • Said something you wish you could take back?
  • Done something you regretted later?
  • Felt angry or out of control?
  • Felt nervous or anxious about an exam or performance?
  • Been in a bad mood but not sure why?
  • Had trouble falling asleep because your mind won’t be quiet or your body feels restless?
  • Been accidentally spacing out in class when the teacher calls on you?
  • Noticed that you do much better in sports or music when you are really focused?

Students’ hands were raised in response to every question.

Mindfulness practice allows us to work from a section of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, which is in charge of executive functioning;  attention, self control, short-term memory, reasoning, problem solving and planning. These are all skills we ask students to perform in school daily.

When we find ourselves acting impulsively or overreacting to an event or comment we are working from the part of the brain developed for self preservation, the reptilian part of the brain. Not all situations warrant that type of reaction. Teachers see impulsive behaviors in students on a daily basis. Some impulsivity is expected in younger children, and middle school aged students. Living with continuous stress and witnessing or experiencing trauma can account for these types of behaviors in students, too.

To offer your students mindfulness in the classroom look for the tab “Mindful Moments” under your grade level selection at www.amazenu.com

To get started on a mindful practice of your own, I recommend watching this short 2 video from Mindful.org.

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