Mindful Moments? Who’s got time for that?

Mindful Moments? Who’s got time for that?

This is the quite lengthy email I sent out to the teachers at my school today.  It’s an awful time of year to get bombarded with long emails, but I sent it anyway (note the caveat). A lot of people did read my ramblings, and I am so appreciative!  I also heard several great ideas for next school year. Imagine what we can come up with if we bring all of our minds together!  Which might be the perfect reason for you to join me in June for Mindful Moments in the Classroom teacher workshop. 

I just wanted to share a few highlights from a Mindfulness Lunch Bunch I’ve been hosting this year.  If you are not interested,  just skip this email!  I know you are busy and there is nothing “To Do” here — this is just a bit (a long bit) of sharing…
You may know that I enjoy yoga, which is why, years ago, I taught a mini yoga session to my 6th grade social studies class, and then to other classes.  The yoga was fun, but what really struck me was the fact that every single kid found moments of “calm” — something they said they rarely feel, which made me sad.
Since I am also a nerd, I started to research, study, and apply the history and modern science behind whether yoga, and the calm that went with it, was just a fun, “feel-good” activity or (as I believed) an essential element of a healthy lifestyle that was missing in our kids’ (and teachers’) lives.
I learned that it was the mindfulness more than the yoga movements that had such an impact on these kids.Turns out, developing mindful habits not only helps kids feel calm, but it also helps them to control their bodies, identify their emotions, empathize with others, focus on specific tasks, increase grey matter of the brain, boost immunity, experience more joy, and improve relationships.  Oh, and they learn better, too.
This sounds awesome, right?  Why aren’t all schools doing this?!?!
That’s why there are books and programs and curriculum and podcasts galore to help these kids calm down and focus.
I loved the idea, and read up on a bunch of them, but found it overwhelming to think of teaching kids how to be mindful — after all, I’m an anxious mess myself!
So I started really small by tying into a unit I teach that reflects Japanese aesthetics and culture (wabi sabi).  I invited my 7th graders to join me and sure enough, a bunch of them showed up.
Together, we learned how to pay attention to our breath and to see how our breath affected our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodies.  Then, back in class I gave kids a minute or two to practice breathing. I reminded them about the connections between breath and feelings. We did this every day for a week — so that it became an instinctive habit before tests, writing, or other transitions in class. And then I went home and practiced it for several minutes myself, every day. For the next 4 weeks we tried something new to help develop mindfulness.  It was really fun, it made ME feel good, and I loved the way the kids looked and sounded when they left me each day.
When these kids came back as 8th graders they wanted to keep practicing some of these skills, so I kept building up my mindfulness toolbox and they kept trying them out during our Mindful Moments Lunch Bunch.  Some of these activities were great; others felt weird or forced or too silly or too dark.  We tried them anyway, and I learned that everyone connected differently to each experience.
It’s 36 weeks later. I can’t say that these kids don’t get stressed or lose focus or act mean or get bogged down in other problems — but I do know that they have the ability to find a way out of those problems, and they have each other to support them along the way.
My Utopian dream is that kids grow up in environments that place a priority on their emotional health, first and foremost, and that academics, discipline, social activities, and athletics all support that priority.  Obviously, there are a million obstacles to ensuring that!
A lot of people say that kids need mindfulness in order to “fix” bullying, inattention, depression, etc. But we adults don’t often model it, teach it, or encourage it  Most of us don’t know how.  And many of us feel caught in the same system that prevents us all from living mindfully for a day, or an hour or even a few minutes.
I’m committed to increasing my own mindfulness.  I’ve learned that, like most things that are good for us, it is something I need to actively practice on a regular basis. It’s worth it, because it makes me feel happy and at peace.
If any of this resonates with you, I’d love to talk, connect, support each other in this mindset and practice.
At least now, when you see me smiling, you’ll know why!
~~Molly~~