Mindfulness in the Classroom

August 22, 2013 — John van Bladel

I have discovered that all of man’s unhappiness derives from only one source – not being able to sit quietly in a room.

-Blaise Pascal

Have you ever had the experience of being fully present with someone?  Where you look at the clock and are amazed that three hours went by?  Contrast that with our daily lives where we are frequently attending to multiple tasks at once.  We often seem to be ahead of ourselves, only partially present, with whatever person or task we are engaged with at the moment.

Can practicing mindfulness assist us or is it just another passing trend replete with the usual books and workshops we will purchase or attend and discard in a couple of years?  Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present.  It is awakening to the present moment and experiencing it fully. It includes observing your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.  The general goals are to build calming, concentration, awareness, and insight so we can reduce distractions and be fully present with whatever we are doing. Developing the skill starts with learning relaxation or meditation techniques based on following one’s breath.  Meditation is an old technique, with roots in spiritual traditions, that has become secular with wider applications as it has developed. Mindfulness continues to be incorporated into treatments for mental and physical health. Some applications include anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, pain management, and stress management.  Recently the application of mindfulness in education has become an area of interest.        

So how does this work?  Many of us have been in classes where we have not felt engaged.  It is common for physical and emotional discomfort to arise and with it the usual escape fantasies: food, bed, or my favorite – a nice hammock on a warm beach.  We now also have laptops and cell phones as distractions that are difficult to resist.  By practicing mindfulness you become aware of your discomfort, acknowledge it, return to your breathing, and let the discomfort go so you can return to the task at hand.  Your breathing is your anchor to the present. It helps to pair breathing with self-talk some examples being: “there is no place I would rather be than the present moment” or “since I am here I will choose to be engaged instead of bored.”

Can mindfulness contribute to more engaged students and professionals?   Research continues to address the efficacy of mindfulness in the classroom, workplace, and for overall well-being. It is associated with higher GPA’s, greater emotional resilience, and greater overall happiness. Mindfulness can assist educators in reducing stress and creating a cooperative and engaged learning community.  It pairs well with the practice of Civility.   It is important to recognize that along with knowledge, we transmit who we are to the class.  I often offer students some basic techniques at the start of the semester acknowledging that there are some days when they will have trouble being attentive.  Practicing meditation for as little as 10-20 minutes daily can have a positive effect.  

Google has incorporated both mindfulness and emotional intelligence into their training programs.  For more information take a look at:

http://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/how-to-be-happier-more-calm-googles-happiness-guru.html.

If you would like to see an example of what I term “extreme mindfulness” and meet the “Happiest Man in the World” visit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2225634/Is-worlds-happiest-man-Brain-scans-reveal-French-monk-abnormally-large-capacity-joy-meditation.html

John van Bladel is a Psychology Instructor at FM.

 

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