Mindfulness. The gentle effort to be present in whatever experience you find yourself in. Paying attention to the exact moment that you are in. Being aware of your surroundings, what you are eating, what you are listening to, etc. Sounds manageable if you have the time to truly think about it. But what about someone who has a busy schedule, or is living a busy life? As a teacher, I often try to find ways to incorporate mindfulness into my own classroom.
The Many Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
So why exactly would I want to practice mindfulness in the classroom? First off, there are so many benefits to being mindful. Mindfulness is known to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It is known to sharpen your memory, to increase focus, improve critical thinking skills, boost self esteem and confidence.
So as I think about my students, some of which even have IEPS specifically for generalized anxiety disorders, I think about how I can incorporate mindfulness into my classroom setting to provide a more enriching and comfortable environment for them.
I love that the art classroom provides plenty of opportunity for creative expression. Typically, I allow students the first 10-15 minutes of class time to work on a Sketchbook assignment (Which I typically will post on the board). Many times they are open ended such as, “Draw an illustration that describes you,” or “Create a visual that is calming or makes you feel good when you look at it.” I find that at the high school level especially, students really enjoy this time. I feel that they don’t have much time during their busy school day to actually stop and think, to reflect on how they are feeling in that exact moment.
Another great technique that I use is listening to music in the classroom. Typically, students in my class do not talk when I play music. They focus on their work, and between the music and working, they find themselves in a very peaceful, relaxed place. I find that this is also when they are working their hardest and concentrating the most.
In elementary schools, I have seen this done with movement. Letting the children have a chance to get up, to dance, sing, learn a routine, etc. Something to take away stress, calm them, let them stretch their legs, etc.
With all of the standardized testing, data, and expectations that our students have to deal with today, I find that we cannot lose sight of the important stuff! Sure testing is important (to an extent), but isn’t mindfulness, learning about oneself, feeling grounded, and being able to focus and learn more effectively, while living a healthier lifestyle just as important, if not more?
What about Mindfulness for me?
Of course! Now that my students are benefitting from mindfulness, I should be able to as well. I have a few things that I do to really connect to myself at the end of the day. Whatever your schedule is like, even if it feels like you never have a free moment, it is important to find that moment, so that you do not lose yourself in a busy world.
For me, creative expression is so important. I love blogging/journaling because it is such a great creative outlet. It allows me to reflect on my thoughts, write, design, etc. I’m guilty of sometimes incorporating my world life into my blog. (Posting lesson plans, classroom ideas, etc).
I also find time to create my own artwork. I went to school for art after all, so why should I stop making art? All day, I am teaching my students techniques, getting them interested in new concepts and ideas. It is easy to lose sight of why I am doing what I am doing. I make sure to spend at least some time during my weekend to draw, paint, just make my own personal art. Think about what. Why are you doing what you are doing? Are you passionate about something? Do you really give yourself time to sit down, concentrate, and focus on the things that you are passionate about, or are you letting your priorities get out of order?
Whether you have hours of free time, or none at all, it is important to just be mindful in whatever situations you find yourself in. Something as silly as making dinner can become a chore, if only we treat it like a chore. But what if you found a new recipe or something that was of greater interest to you? What if you then sat down and really thought about, really tasted all of the ingredients that you put into your meal? What if you made it more of an opportunity to create and experiment rather than an everyday chore that needed to be done?
If you have to run errands each day, why not switch it up? Try to go a different way than you usually go. Maybe stop somewhere and get ice cream. I remember my old route to work was so tedious after awhile. I began to take different ways. I would find beautiful farms and could stop and get out to pet the horses, or I would pull over to take pictures of the sunrise on my way to work.
There is so much to be mindful of. Notice it. Accept it. Even the shitty things. Find beauty in the everyday chores and routines of your life. Appreciate the beautiful things. Incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life and begin to see the world from a new perspective.