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 ☺.