As this semester comes to an end, but my inquiry continues I have been thinking about how I might bring what I have learned into the classroom. Because mindful has been having a moment in North America lately, students are already accustomed to teachers taking time to practice breathing techniques. Mindful fits well with educations curricular shift to more social and emotional learning. For students who experience anxity of overstimulation in the classroom, I see a lot of potential benefits that could come from teaching them how to pay closer attention to their breathing and their body. Now seems like a better time than ever, as the rate of anxiety in youth seems to be steadily increasing. However, I think the best part about mindfulness is the universal design within its benefits. Though it may really noticeably help students with mental health issues, everyone will likely benefit from the practice in some way. Weather its a greater sense of calm or better understanding self.
I see myself using mindfulness to disrupt the traditional flow and structure of classrooms. The way that I design my classroom environment will be heavily informed by what contributes to a feeling of calm. Minimalist texts and posters on surfaces, and furniture. I also see myself combing it with outdoor education when possible. For younger students, I think a good start would be to focus on skills like counting breaths, body scans, and non-reactivity. As a child, I can remember drifting in and out for focus for much of school. Mindfulness could help bring students, especially those with ADHD, back into the classroom.
Lately, I have been going to a few yoga classes with a friend and have found that some of the techniques I have been learning from my mindfulness practice were very relevant. Obviously, I found focusing on my breathing easier than I had in the past. I also was able to bring awareness of my body through “body scans” into the session, which I found very complimentary. I have been holding a lot of unconscious tension in my muscles because of the stress of university, systematically scanning through each part of my body and acknowledging this discomfort made attending to it easier. I am getting better at going through the whole process without getting distracted. I felt a sense of confidence because I was able to stay focused, where in the past I have found it difficult to attend to anything other than struggling to get into the right pose.
It has been really hard lately to keep up with my recently found mindfulness practice, because I’ve been so distracted with school work. I have been pretty stressed out and consumed with assignments coming up, and this was the first thing to get the axe, which is unfortunate because meditation would have probably made me feel a lot better. Its the initial effort to get the ball rolling that is the hardest for some reason, once I am in the middle of it I feel so grateful for mindfulness meditation. I had a chance today to get familiar with the floor again and it made my head feel much more clear. I will have set up specific times or reminders to keep practicing as the semester comes to an end and the clock starts running on final assignments.
“Follow breath, don’t anticipate it”, a phrase I have come across regularly while practicing mindfulness meditation. Yet, I find myself thinking what does this even mean? how do I pay attention to my breath without starting to control it? how do know if am?
One example I have been told is to imagine yourself as a guard, standing by silently, just observing the breath pass in and out. The idea is to try and interfere or change your breath as little as possible. I find it hard to tell sometimes what my natural breathing rhythm is, and this makes it difficult to not anticipate my breath. I think what works the most is to slow things down as much as possible so that each breath comes just as it is needed.
As I experiment with Mindfulness, I’ve been getting familiar with the concept of non-reactivity. Much of our feelings and emotional state is determined by external circumstances, things that happen around us in our lives. Because time always keeps on moving and relationships change, feelings like happiness can be fleeting. Nothing is static, things in our lives can be can feel good one day and then bad the next.
Non-reactivity proposes that we try to stop perceive things as good or bad. This idea of non-judgmental thinking is starting to come up a lot in my mindfulness sessions, it suggests that if we can stop categorizing sensations, thoughts and sounds as either good or bad, we can also move away from responding to them emotionally. This saves us the from stress of being tossed around by our emotions ups and downs. I’ll admit it definitely sounds a little too good to be true and also robotic. One of the ways I’ve been practicing to be non-reactive to sensations are is called body scans. Which is essentially slowly focusing on individual parts of the body and their sensations, one at time, from head to toe. Checking in and noticing/experiencing any sensation non-judgmentally and then moving on. Once you have experienced and really focused on the sensation, it is supposedly easier to let go of it. This has implications for chronic pain illnesses, which surprisingly often have psychological origins.
In my inquiry into mindfulness, I have been learning about a technique called noting or mental noting. During mindfulness meditation it is easy to become distracted by your thoughts, to drift off thinking about your day or future obligations. When this happens you lose focus on your breath or the purpose of mediation.
Noting is the practice of noticing these thoughts, and then labelling them so that you can let them go. It is not about getting hung up on the fact that you are distracted from being mindful or missing out, and you do not need to note every single distraction. When you notice a distraction, categorizing it as a memory, feeling, or fantasy can give it clarity and help you let it go. An essential part of letting go of these distractions is to think of them in a nonjudgmental way, so that you do not dwell on them. Supposedly, over time you become more aware of your habits and distractions are less of a concern.
Coming in as a beginner, this idea seems kind of simple, but I have already had one instance where I found it very useful. I was thinking about several sources of anxiety at the end of one mindfulness session, labelling them really helped put into perspective their lack of urgency, and then I was able to let them go easily.
So I tried both the Apps that were mentioned in the Mindfulness Explained episode, that I talked about last week. Right from the start, I think I prefer Calm over the Headspace App. They are both are very similar and yet very different. When you start out, they make you answer a few short questions about your experience with mindfulness and mediation, and what you hope to get out of it; reduced stress, reduced anxiety, better focus, better mood. Then it gives you a 7 day program to progress through where each day you listen to a new recorded mindfulness exercise. I think the questions at the start do actually make it specific to you, because I selected no experience, and my exercises ended up being short and very easy.
I was skeptical about trying this, but I actually really enjoyed both experiences and felt much more calm after. My body felt lighter and weirdly cool too. As if my body and circulation slowed down enough to feel noticeably cooler. In terms of “wiredness”, ten minutes was like having one less coffee. Which make a difference when you are a student. I felt much better about rest of the school work I had to get done. I’m looking forward to trying in again tomorrow.
You have the option of selecting a male or female voice with both Apps, but I found the voices on Headspace less comforting. Both the sound of their voices, and the fact that they talked a little bit too much. The Calm App’s voice was a lot less distracting. They both come with free trails for the first month, but then ask for your money. Calm is $89 a year, and Headspace is about the same but comes as a monthly subscription fee.
Conveniently after finding a topic for my inquiry, a friend told me about this new docuseries on Netflix called The Mind, Explained, and it just happens to feature an episode on Mindfulness Meditation. Watching the episode made me realized I should probably mention Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga are distinctly different. Yet there is lots of overlap, being mindful of your body and breathing are important parts of yoga apparently.
The episode starts by introducing Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Midfulness meditation master who supposedly has intentional control of his brain activity. Demonstrated by FMRI scans of his brain which show his empathy activation in the amygdala able to increase by 700 %. It goes on to present other ways mediation can alter the mind, and has been used by psychologist to treat stress, anxiety, and depression. I am interested in the stress management aspect and increased focus that comes with mindfulness meditation.
It does touch on how mindfulness has to an extent been appropriated by capitalism in recent years, and advertised as a sort of cure-all. This has effected its popularity, but also its creditbility. An interesting technology related moment came up in the video as well. Mediation apps Headspace and Calm both provide short mindfulness exercises for users to listen to and practice. They each have over 1 million subscribers and together are valued at over a $ 1 Billion. Highlighting how popular mindfulness has become, but also how technology is used in such diverse ways. Often we hear about how technology like smartphones cause people to live less in the moment, so its interesting to find the same technology being used to correct this. I’m downloading both the apps to see how they might guide my free inquiry or if they are just a gimmick.
Part of how I usually manage my health and stress levels, so that I can bring my best professional self to work, is to stay active and exercise regularly. A specific area of neglect in the past has been my flexibility. As I age, I find myself becoming shocking inflexible and more prone to injury. I am also increasingly interested in the benefits of mindfulness and mediation. For my free inquiry, I am planning to explore the benefits of regularly practicing yoga. A barrier that I often face, is the struggle to find motivation and set aside time to work on flexibility and mindfulness. I will use SMART goals to ensure my persistence with this study throughout the semester, that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. I think that the first step is to do some research, talk to people with a lot of experience practicing yoga and an instructor if possible as well. So that I can come up with a realistic plan. More to come soon.