Megan Cowan

The Role of Stillness in Mindfulness

Below is a Q&A with one of our Curriculum Graduates about stillness.

Hi Megan-

I know in the first lesson, stillness is taught to be a trait of a mindful body.
In one of my most recent classes of teaching mindfulness, we really focused on the aspect of stillness during mindful breathing. I could not believe the difference in the room, even with second graders. Have you ever considered creating a lesson specifically around stillness?
The potential really excites me.

Thanks,

Kristin
Michigan

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Dear Kristin,

Stillness is included in the first lesson as one aspect of a “Mindful Body.” The purpose of this is multi-fold.

Scaffolding
The whole curriculum is designed for each lesson to build on the previous and for each skill to be applied in subsequent lessons. The first lesson is critical to this scaffolding. If mindful bodies and the mindful environment are set up well, students can be quickly directed to those qualities each day. The stillness achieved in that first lesson should be encouraged in every lesson.

Still Body, Still Mind?
For most people, a still body affects our mind. This doesn’t mean our minds will automatically get still. Often when we get still and go inward the chaos of our mind can be more pronounced. However, continued stillness allows a settling to occur. This happens because we are not reacting to every impulse and habit in our mind and body. This is a fantastic skill to develop. When we can recognize our physical impulses and decide whether to act on them, we can begin to do the same with our mental impulses. I actually see this most evidently with students who have attention problems!

Team Work
When a room of people are collectively not reacting to every mental and physical impulse, the calm and stillness in the room can be palpable. The gained calm and stillness of the room can further support the calm and stillness in the individual. They may still have an active mind, or even a restless body, but they are simply noticing and “being” with it rather than reacting to it. Pointing out how they are helping each other with their stillness can be helpful.

Kids Are Supposed To Move
Correct! Kids are active animals. They often learn best through engaged learning and movement. Their bodies need to move to expend and release energy. Many schools have cut recess and movement minutes to get more academic time. So it might seem counter-intuitive for us to be training kids in stillness. The truth is kids are not being still in the classroom or on the playground. So, they’re not getting enough play time, AND they’re not learning how to self-regulate and have composure when it’s appropriate. The stillness in mindfulness for K5 is in very short increments. The purpose is to support focus, self-awareness, and impulse control. When young people (or us adults for that matter) deliberately sit in stillness and don’t respond to every urge to move, they are actually building a critical skill: bodily regulation, and choice around when to act and when not to.

Keep Trying
Even if the class becomes quite still on day-one or subsequent days, they will likely need regular reminders or encouragement about stillness and its value. Sometimes they don’t even know they are moving. Games are good for this. “Please put your mindful bodies on… and take them off… and put them on,” etc. Often I will say, “Please notice if your toes are moving, or your fingers, or your leg.” Suddenly, all those small, restless movements stop… they just brought their attention to their body, noticed it was moving, and then either naturally stopped or made the choice to stop. As the teacher, you can always take your time establishing the guidelines before moving on to more lessons. If stillness was hard one day, you can either simply point it out (“wow, you all had a lot of energy today and stillness was hard”), and move on, or happily start over and try again.

Don’t be too Rigid
Keep in mind, stillness and all other instructions are just tools. Mindfulness is available whether we are moving, still, talking, eyes open, eyes closed, etc. If you have some movers and shakers, sometimes you can just let it be (as long as they are not disrupting the whole class). And then be mindful of that .

Megan Cowan

Mindfulness is More Than Just Breathing

It’s easy to mistake mindfulness for breathing; often we attempt to remain focused on the breath for extended periods; instructors are continually redirecting us to our breath; in short instructions it is suggested to simply stay with your breathing; breathing often makes us feel calm. At first glance we might say, “mindfulness is about breathing.”

However, there is much more to mindfulness. Ultimately, we can learn to be mindful of anything we are experiencing – seeing, hearing, walking, eating, emotions, thoughts, etc. The purpose of utilizing our breath is to anchor the mind/attention in order to 1. build concentration and 2. know where our mind is.

Staying focused on any one thing strengthens concentration allowing us to be mindful of all our experience with more clarity and strength of mind. Staying focused on something also lets you know when your mind has wandered. If you are attempting to stay focused on your breath and suddenly you realize you have been thinking for some time, you know you have lost mindfulness. Having one thing to return to creates a good “home-base” or anchor for your attention.

With focus and awareness of where your mind is, you can remain mindful of breathing or you can choose to be mindful of any other experience. Being mindful of your range of experience can reveal underlying thoughts and habits of mind that are negative or don’t serve you. Noticing these thoughts and habits is the first step in changing them. Therefore, it’s important to expand your mindfulness beyond your breathing. Try listening to our guided audio instructions to start learning how to do this.

Megan Cowan

Teaching Mindfulness Indirectly and Directly

Here’s a question we’ve heard several times:
The principal at my school would like me to let the other faculty members know
about what I learned at the Mindfulness conference. I remember one of the speakers
saying teachers really shouldn’t be leading students in mindfulness unless they have
a mindfulness practice of their own. Should I discourage teachers from introducing
mindfulness into their classrooms? Could you let me know how I should answer teachers’
questions if they are interested in teaching mindfulness in their classrooms?

Answer:
This is an important, ongoing conversation in the mindfulness in education movement.
Following are some thoughts from Mindful Schools.

A teacher who has a mindfulness practice brings a certain presence with them into the
classroom. They are indirectly teaching students what it’s like to use mindfulness, or to
be mindful in various situations.

If they use their mindfulness in times of stress or difficulty, they are demonstrating
healthy, skillful responses without even mentioning mindfulness. When they are able
to be fully present with a student or class, the students learn what good listening and
kindness is through observation. When a teacher can remain calm amidst chaos, students
witness that as a possibility for themselves.

Teachers with mindful qualities teach mindfulness through their actions; they might be
less reactive and more patient, they might have gentler or kinder speech, students might
feel more comfortable and safer in their classroom. Mindful qualities can be inherent
in a teacher who has never learned mindfulness, or they can be cultivated through a
mindfulness practice.

When these teachers decide to teach their students mindfulness directly through
mindfulness techniques and lessons, you can be confident that the impact will be positive.

The question that is arising in the mindfulness in education movement is whether
teachers without training in mindfulness can effectively deliver mindfulness lessons to
students.

The biggest concern is probably that mindfulness could be misunderstood, misused or
misrepresented. If a teacher uses mindfulness as a punishment or disciplinary tool, they
have misused mindfulness. If a teacher tells students to use mindful breathing when they
are upset but the teacher him/herself cannot access the same tool, students are getting
conflicting information. Mindfulness invites a certain quality of stillness, acceptance,
and patience. If students’ minds calm down during mindfulness, it would be deeply
unfortunate for a teacher to behave in a contradictory way.

Also, students will often have questions about mindfulness. Only an experienced
practitioner will be able to answer all questions appropriately. This is particularly true as
students get older.

On the other hand, many of the mindfulness instructions are quite simple and could
potentially be incorporated for a couple minutes each day. The key is having teachers
who are at least interested in mindfulness and who are confident that their students
would benefit from the lessons. Inevitably, the more training classroom teachers have
in mindfulness for themselves, the more they will be able to demonstrate its indirect
application throughout the day. Also, the more training classroom teachers have in how
to deliver mindfulness instructions to students, the more likely mindfulness will find its
way into the school day directly.

The good news is that teachers will know right away if mindfulness is proving easy to
implement or whether they need more training.

Mindful Schools requires all teachers who use our curriculum to receive at least 12 hours
of training in mindfulness (through our Mindfulness Fundamentals class or equivalent
experience). We also provide a detailed Mindful Educator Essentials course. Please email info@mindfulschools.org for more information.

Warmly,
Megan and the Mindful Schools Team