Boarding and Day · Co-ed College Prep · Grades 6–12 & Postgraduate · Hebron, Maine

Essential Steps to Building a Mindfulness Practice for Students.

Pumped Up for Sports
Amanda Miller

Return to the moment

                Self-awareness

                                 Noticing your breath

                                                         Mind-body spirit connection

Mindfulness is a choice to be at one with yourself and to embrace the entirety of the human experience whether it be serenity, joy, anger, or sadness without judgment.  When we reconnect our mind and its emotions to the body and its reactions and tap into the “spirit” of an objective observer, we can notice our state of being, name what is going on, and make choices to work through the felt experience with mastery and control. Awareness softens emotional reactivity and builds true confidence that we are evolved beings who can shift consciousness whenever we choose. Our mind is a powerful tool that can create a felt experience of bliss or suffering within just a moment. Mindfulness practice is about harnessing the power of this tool to experience inner peace and enjoy fulfilling connections with others. When we are empowered with mindfulness skills, we are less emotionally reactive, more fully present, and of higher service to our families, our classroom, and our community. As parents and educators, we must first clear a path, start with ourselves, and then guide our students to integrate mindfulness routines into their daily lives. 

Clear the Path,  Set limits with Screen-time

There are barriers and pitfalls that can rob us of this self-empowered mindfulness stance. Addiction to technology is a thick shroud that impedes our ability to mindfully manage our emotional states.  Social media engagement, gaming, texting, etc. offer a pacifier to quell uncomfortable experiences such as boredom, anxiety, and loneliness.   As the film “The Social Dilemma “ documents, technology developers have designed social media apps to be addictive and to demand as much time & attention from their “users” as possible. Rather than practicing mindfulness skills such as thought shifting, mind-body connection, and breathwork, our brains are seduced by the glow of a screen and its false promise of an external quick fix. 

The following are strategies to set boundaries around technology access: 

  • Parental technology monitoring (check out options such as Qustodio, and  Bark), screen-time limits, keeping phones at a family charging station overnight, teachers can require phones to be off while in class, or having a cell-phone collection basket 

  • Teaching skills to achieve balance with screen-time (stop distracting notifications, self-monitoring screen time)

  • Modeling appropriate and healthy use of technology (put down the  phone at meals, while driving,  during times when your mental presence is being called) 

Screen time monitoring and boundaries create a necessary foundation to build mindfulness practice for students.  Children are susceptible to misusing technology to regulate their emotions. No matter what the age, all students need limits and guidance to prevent technology addiction. For guidance on raising children in the digital world, consider reading “Hold on to Your Kids” by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D.  To learn more about technology’s grip on our mind and behavior and to explore a vision for healthy social networking models, please check out Jaron Lanier’s book “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”. 

Being Present outside in Hebron

Promote and Model the Practice: Start with Self-care

Parents and teachers who intend to support children to develop mindfulness skills have to sell it with their own passion for the practice.  Mindfulness doesn’t happen overnight, and the practice grows gradually over time through daily attention. One can start engaging with mindfulness by simply bringing awareness to the moment, whatever you may be doing or thinking:  enjoying a long slow exhale, or taking in the aroma of your morning coffee.  Your mindfulness practice can grow through any activity you enjoy or through any physical experience, sensation, or emotional reaction you want to work through. Whether it be breathing through physical or emotional pain or basking in your favorite yoga posture, each time you bring yourself back to noticing your breath and reconnect with your body, you can release attachment to the past and the future and you connect with your true self as you arrive in the now. Try a wide variety of mindfulness activities to discover which ones bring you fulfillment. 

Here is a list of mindfulness activities to try out and explore: naming your emotions as they come up, noticing your physical state at different times of day (tension, stress holding pattern, heart rate, shallow breathing) daily meditation practice of any length, guided visualization, positive imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga nidra, exercise, mindfulness moments with music, art, culinary creations, dropping into your senses to enhance sight, touch, smell, taste sensations, etc. ). Here is a great video and resource on how to eat more mindfully. 

Share the Practice: Family and Classroom Routines 

Seize the opportunity to create accessible opportunities for family, class, or community practice.  When everyone is practicing mindfulness activities together, it creates deeper meaning from a shared experience.  It gives permission for members to just “be” together with no pressure to perform or meet expectations.  It enriches peace, connection, and positive association within a child’s home life and can bring a higher level of consciousness to classroom dynamics.  When mindfulness practices are integrated into classroom routines, students can release stress and access their prefrontal cortex where higher-level thinking and executive functioning take place.  Please check out https://www.mindfulschools.org/ for more information about the integration of mindfulness within the classroom. Here are some examples of 1-3 minute mindfulness moment activities that can engage learners at the beginning of class:  listening to a relaxing song, doing square-breathing, engaging in a series of stretches, coloring a mandala, or sharing a short guided meditation on youtube.  Through these daily classroom routines,  a classroom can be transformed into a soft and safe landing space for a teen to drop their emotional baggage and be fully present for learning.  

Focus on Gratitude

One of my favorite mindfulness activities that can work to engage positive mindsets in both home and school environments is a gratitude practice.  Gratitude is a refreshing departure from the bad news that we can always find, and shifts perspectives, attitude, mood, and mindset as we uncover more and more goodness all around us. An important step to build a mindfulness practice for students is to invite youth to share gratitude daily.  This can come in many forms: gratitude meditation, verbal sharing, thorough journaling, in a group activity, or a prayer, blessing, or moment of silent gratitude before consuming the evening meal.  A “silver linings” reflection after a challenging experience, or a daily “roses and thorns” are engaging gratitude activities to end the day.  At Hebron, we celebrate the end of the year with the Gratitude Project, organized by Ms. Molly Paul. 

The intention is to focus on gratitude as we support students through the process of saying goodbye to the Hebron Community this year. Doing this with gratitude can help what may be a difficult and emotional experience. Students, faculty, and community members share videos of someone, something, or some experience at Hebron that they are grateful for.

No matter how you choose to focus on gratitude,  we can experience transformative renewal when we deeply acknowledge that our basic needs are being met on a daily basis. Being thankful for our health, safety, food, shelter, fun, clothing, love, freedom from pain, etc. supports us to never take these blessings for granted. This invites us to be more mindful of the suffering of others who are going without their basic needs being met, and the temporary nature of life itself.  Through this deepening of our perspective, we are left with gratitude for the gift of life in the present moment.  No consumer product, relationship, social status, physical appearance, amount of money, GPA, college degree, career, or elaborate vacation can ever buy permanent peace of mind.  If we engage in daily mindfulness practices we can recalibrate when we become overly driven or distracted by technology and these glittering mirages of happiness and fulfillment. 

Widen Perspectives and Deepen Connections

By clearing the path for both self-care and integrating collective mindfulness activities including gratitude practice into our homes and schools, we can cultivate the most important skills our students will ever learn: emotional regulation, resilience, and enhanced awareness of self and others.  By embracing and modeling mindfulness practice with our youth, we offer attractive opportunities to master the mind-body connection.  When we set boundaries on screen time and set aside daily time for mindfulness moments, we create lasting and positive habits of mind and more authentic in-person connections with others. As parents and educators, we can follow these essential steps and build a mindfulness practice for our students: clear the path, explore, promote, and integrate mindfulness practices into daily family and classroom routines. In doing so, we facilitate youth becoming more aware of their states of being, support them to manage emotional distress and to build confidence in their ability to work through discomfort and adversity. Most importantly, the mindfulness practice of gratitude refocuses ourselves away from our own discomfort and suffering and mentally frees us to widen our perspective, deepen connections, and be of higher service to ourselves, family,  classroom, and our wider community.  

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