Mindfulness in the Classroom
Mindfulness and contemplation fosters additional ways of knowing that complement the rational methods of traditional liberal arts education. As Tobin Hart states, “Inviting the contemplative simply includes the natural human capacity for knowing through silence, looking inward, pondering deeply, beholding, witnessing the contents of our consciousness…. These approaches cultivate an inner technology of knowing….” This cultivation is the aim of contemplative pedagogy, teaching that includes methods “designed to quiet and shift the habitual chatter of the mind to cultivate a capacity for deepened awareness, concentration, and insight.” Such methods include guided meditation, journals, silence, music, art, poetry, dialogue, and questions.
In the classroom, these forms of inquiry are not employed as religious practices but as pedagogical techniques for learning through refined attention or mindfulness. Research confirms that these practices can offset the constant distractions of our multitasking, multimedia culture. Thus, intentional teaching methods that integrate the ancient practice of mindfulness innovatively meet the particular needs of today’s students.
The following video, produced here at the CFT, features interviews with faculty members of Vanderbilt’s contemplative pedagogy group describing the roles these forms of inquiry play in their teaching.
Meditation in Higher Education
In the article Toward the Integration of Meditation into Higher Education: A Review of the Research, Shapiro, Brown and Astin (2008) state that meditation is noted as contributing to enhanced cognitive and academic performance (including attention and concentration), management of academic stress, and the development of the “whole person.” All of these are factors involved in higher education and thus connections to higher education can be hypothesized; however, little research has looked specifically at the benefits of integrating meditation into higher education settings.
Multitasking and divided attention tend to result in rote learning rather than deep understanding of material. Meditation can increase creativity, which is important in higher education. In order to respond adequately to students’ experiences and questions, it is recommended that the instructor engage in regular meditation practice.
6 Fun Mindfulness Interventions, Techniques, and Worksheets for Adults
There are several ways to engage in mindfulness on an individual level, including worksheets, techniques, and different exercises.
If the idea of participating in group mindfulness exercises is anxiety-provoking or stressful for yourself or your clients, then diving into mindfulness practice alone can be the best way to proceed.
1. The Self-Compassion Pause
It is an ideal worksheet for many who struggle to show themselves compassion, even if they may be quick to extend compassion to others. It is also a great way to practice mindfulness by bringing awareness to emotions and staying in the moment with them.
2. The Observer Meditation
If you find any emotions coming up, recognize them and create space for them. Then bring your attention back to your observing self—your feelings and thoughts are there, but you are separate from them, noticing them. This is the “Observer you”.
This exercise can be continued for as long as desired and there are many stages you can work through that will help you practice being an observer of yourself. It is not an easy exercise at first because we are often habitually inclined to react to and over-identify with our feelings.
If you are having trouble stepping outside your own head and body, try practicing the Self-Compassion Pause first to make the experience more comfortable. The goal of evoking the Observing Self is to enter a separate mode which allows you to step back from yourself and your experiences. Simultaneously, however, you are connecting with a deeper constant self that is unaffected by dynamic emotions.
3. Five Senses Exercise
This exercise is called “five senses,” and provides guidelines on practicing mindfulness quickly in nearly any situation. All that is needed is to notice something you are experiencing with each of the five senses.
Bring awareness to four things that you are currently feeling, like the texture of your pants, the feeling of the breeze on your skin, or the smooth surface of a table you are resting your hands on.
Take a moment to listen, and note three things that you hear in the background. This can be the chirp of a bird, the hum of the refrigerator, or the faint sounds of traffic from a nearby road.
Bring your awareness to smells that you usually filter out, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant. Perhaps the breeze is carrying a whiff of pine trees if you’re outside, or the smell of a fast-food restaurant across the street.
Focus on one thing that you can taste right now, at this moment. You can take a sip of a drink, chew a piece of gum, eat something, notice the current taste in your mouth, or even open your mouth to search the air for a taste.
This is a quick and relatively easy exercise to bring you to a mindful state quickly. If you only have a minute or two, or don’t have the time or tools to try a body scan or fill out a worksheet, the five senses exercise can help you or your clients bring awareness to the current moment in a short amount of time.
4. The 3-Step Mindfulness Exercise
You can find another great exercise if you are strapped for time in this 3-Step Mindfulness Worksheet. In this exercise, there are only three steps:
Allow the awareness to expand out to your body. Notice the sensations you are experiencing, like tightness, aches, or perhaps a lightness in your face or shoulders. Keep in mind your body as a whole, as a complete vessel for your inner self;
5. Mindful Walking Down The Street Technique
One core process that can be influenced by mindfulness practice is our ability to observe our thoughts, emotions, and sensations without reacting to fix them, hide them, or solve them. This awareness creates room for choice between impulses, and action which can help develop coping skills and positive behavioral change.
In the first step of this intervention, the facilitator helps the client visualize a scenario in which they are walking down a familiar street when they look up and see someone they know on the other side of the street. They wave, however, the other person doesn’t respond and continues to walk right past.
6. The 3-Minute Breathing Space
With meditations and the body scan, thoughts often pop up, and keeping a quiet and clear head can be a challenge. This last exercise of 3-Minute Breathing Space can be the perfect technique for those with busy lives and minds. The exercise is broken into three sections, one per minute, and works as follows:
Benefits of Teaching Mindfulness in the Classroom
Promoting mindfulness in the classroom is not only a way to calm the students as mindfulness education has many other benefits for them. Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness for children according to the APA (American Psychological Association):
You can provide mindfulness in elementary education by including fun mindfulness class activities into the curriculum. We’ll start with one of the most basic mindfulness practices for students breathing.
1. Shark Fin Breathing Exercise
Shark Fin breathing exercises are perfect for facilitating calmness quickly and spontaneously and for helping kids sort out their thoughts and feelings while relaxing the body. It helps focus on the “now”. You can also use it as a warm-up before longer mindfulness activities for students.
How to Apply
2. Mindful Breathing Colors Exercise
How to Apply
3. Mindful Breathing Exercise
How to Apply
- Students can choose either standing or sitting for this activity.
- Ask students to put both their hands on their belly. If you want, you can give out small wooden blocks or similar items to place on their belly as well.
- Students can close their eyes, stare at the ceiling or look down to their hands.
- Guide students in taking three slow deep breaths in and out to see if they can feel their hands or the object on their belly moving with the air flowing through their bodies.
- You may like to count for each breath. Count “one” when inhaling, “two” while exhaling. Count “three” with another breath in and “four” with the following breath out.
- Complete counting after 5 minutes. You may want to set up a timer to keep track of time.
Mindfulness exercises help improve children’s focus and attention span. However, there are other practices designed for the sole purpose of improving children’s attention, focus and concentration skills. MentalUP is one of them.
MentalUP is a pedagogically certified app that has 150+ games that, from improving concentration to boosting visual intelligence, all have their specific goals. You can create a plan based on the skills your children need improvement and easily track their progress.
4. Mindful Body Scan Exercise
Such ideas for mindfulness in the classroom are perfect to practice in class because students can take them home. Better yet, ask them to teach their parents the mindfulness exercises they learn in class.
How to Apply
You may ask questions like “How do your arms feel?”, “Are your hands cold or warm?” to draw the students’ attention to the body scan and amplify the benefits of mindfulness for children.
5. Mindful Eating Exercise
It’s snack time! This is one of the mindfulness strategies for the classroom that helps us notice actually how mindlessly we do things. You will be able to teach them that it is better to savor and enjoy a bar of chocolate instead of gobbling it in less than a minute.
Mindful eating can combat overeating as it helps us realize how much and what exactly we eat. It allows focusing on the flavors and tastes of different foods and noticing what effects different foods have on how our bodies feel. It also builds the capacity for stillness and mindful focus.
How to Apply
6. Mindful Walking Exercise
Ready to get out of the classroom? This activity is best completed outdoors and if suitable, students may walk barefoot to have a more intense experience. To ensure safety, give students a clear boundary for where they can walk during this exercise.