A vast majority of the newly revamped British Columbia Physical and Health 8 Curriculum revolves around students building and maintaining healthy relationships including “strategies for promoting mental well-being, for self and other” and “strategies for managing problems related to mental well-being”. To this end, the concept of mindfulness and the importance of developing effective and easy to use strategies to support one’s own personal mental health has been introduced.
The incorporation of a five-minute mindfulness exercise (i.e. meditative practice) in class several weeks ago was emboldened only by my own personal journey of adoption of a mindfulness practice and the benefit reaped by my mental well-being. The early sessions were brief (three minutes) as I read from a prepared script. Admittedly, I did not make student participation mandatory with the hope that over time students would begin to recognize its importance. But in short three weeks my invitation to the class had evolved into one of greater confidence and conviction: “I would invite you to close your eyes and settle into a comfortable upright and seated position with their feet flat on the ground.” While participation in the mindfulness activity remains voluntary in nature, each week witnesses more and more students giving it a go!
Student feedback from the mindfulness exercises so far has been encouraging:
“Can we do that again?!?”
“I love the way it makes me feel.”
“I feel calmer and it’s easier to concentrate.”
“Are we gonna do this everyday? ‘Cause I like the way it feels.”
Sourcing Our Mindfulness Community
To further help our students cultivate an understanding of mindfulness and how they can embed and apply this tool in all kinds of situations where they may find themselves anxious, have trouble concentrating and/or focusing or even need help falling asleep, a visit to the local Kootenay Shambhala Meditation Centre (KSMC) was arranged. Indeed, building capacity and offering students opportunities to see other people use (and embrace) mindfulness practices was an empowering and necessary part of the process. To my pleasant surprise, KSMC was extremely receptive to our idea of a visit. They mentioned that “it was [their] intention to get schools to come…and see what mindfulness could do for their students.” Perfect.
Prior to our visit, I planned out our time at KSMC in consultation with our guide, Sally Albert. Our visit needed to avoid the nonsecular Buddhist practice of KSMC itself, and we needed to ensure that their practice aligned with what we wanted our students to gain from the experience. As visitors, we needed to acknowledge that KSMC followed Buddhist teachings, but that meditating didn’t mean one was practicing Buddhism. Sally recognized and appreciated our reaching out to them and she readily supported our focus on mindfulness (through meditation) as a tool to be used to help improve and strengthen one’s mental health. Together, we needed to present mindfulness as one of many tools available to help students address anxiety and stressful situations that is (and will be) a regular part of their lives.
Sally, a former school teacher, was in her element and connected well with our students. She shared some of the benefits of mindfulness practice, demonstrated proper meditative posture and breath, why we use the breath as the focus in our practice. She thoughtfully used the metaphor of strength building to e plain how one “gets better at meditation”: in order to improve and strengthen one’s mindfulness, one must practice regularly. Sally also acknowledge that it is one’s ability to recognize when they drift from “breath focus to thought focus”. Perhaps most importantly, she shared that it is always “important to practice self-compassion as our thoughts begin to cloud crowd our meditative mind.” Ultimately, it is the “process of bringing it back full circle to the breath…is really the true power and effectiveness of meditative exercises.”
Sally then led the group in walking meditation exercise that was readily welcomed by the group. Afterward, she asked the group to consider how they were feeling. Were there any difference that they noticed. “Peaceful”, “focused”, “calm”, and “sleepy” were but a few of the self-reflective observations offered.
Where to go from here?
I have hope that our students will begin to recognize that they now possess an effective tool at the ready to help cope with their rising levels of anxiety and stress (research shows that in western society we are witnessing unprecedented levels of anxiety in students as young as Grade 2). We know that it is difficult to learn when you are hungry; scientific evidence also reveals that learning is greatly hampered when you are unable to focus and regulate your emotions. More deeply, building capacity for one’s own self-care really does have an effect on the ability to develop healthy and positive relationships both with others and ourselves.
The following day one our students excitedly shared with us that she joined her dad at KSMC drop in meditation session later that night. She shared that “[Dad] goes every Monday night. I never knew what he did there and why he went. Now I know…I really want to continue this [mindfulness practice] with my dad…I slept so well last night!”
I plan to carry on the with our mindfulness exercises in our classroom slowly lengthening the time and increasing the variety of the sessions. We are also planning a return engagement to KSMC in the spring! And I will, no doubt, be sharing our experiences into the realm of mindfulness with our colleagues at the next faculty meeting.
Got to spread the love.