What is mindfulness?

What is mindfulness and why are students, educators, and parents starting to practice mindfulness in school communities across the U.S. and around the globe?

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment with openness and curiosity.

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment with openness and curiosity.

It has a variety of research-backed impacts, including reduction in stress, and improvements in job satisfaction, emotional regulation, and focus.

Mindfulness is a state, a trait, and a practice.

Mindfulness can be thought of a “state,” a “trait” or a “practice.” You can have a moment of mindfulness, which is the state of your mind. You can also have a sustained experience that is more like a habit or strong tendency to be mindful, a trait. Or you can engage in a more intentional practice of mindfulness by using different forms, postures and activities, such as seated mindfulness meditation, mindful walking, and mindful eating.

Why do people practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness can support and sustain you, by helping you manage the stress of today’s world. Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive impact on stress, attention, and even relationships. The American Psychological Association shares research on a range of benefits of mindfulness, including:

  • stress reduction
  • boosts to working memory
  • focus
  • less emotional reactivity
  • more cognitive flexibility
  • relation satisfaction

You can read more about the research and benefits of mindfulness and how mindfulness practice can literally change your brain, here. Yet the benefits of mindfulness can take us beyond the terrain of managing symptoms to a place where we are developing our deeper human capacities for awareness, attention, empathy, kindness and compassion.

What is mindfulness in schools?

In the Mindful Schools community – educators, parents, and school community members – many of us are exploring mindfulness because we’re excited to share mindfulness with our students who are facing an increasingly complex and technology-based world. Research shows that in addition to benefits for adults, youth benefit from learning mindfulness in terms of improved cognitive outcomes, social-emotional skills, and well being.

Watch and listen to how students and educators explain what mindfulness means to them.

But as educators, we wouldn’t ask our students to do something we haven’t tried ourselves. In fact, a guiding principle in the Mindful Schools community is the idea that – even before we formally teach mindfulness to students – our own self-care, self-awareness, and personal mindfulness practice serves as an essential model for our students.

How to start practicing mindfulness:

The experience of mindfulness is something that is available to you in every moment of the day. But it can be very helpful to set aside a specific time to practice mindful meditation, mindful walking, or a body scan. When mindfulness becomes a “practice,” you’ll notice that mindful moments begin to occur more frequently throughout your day – like taking a moment to pause and breathe before rushing into the kitchen to make your first cup of coffee!

Listen to three guided mindfulness practices to get an introduction of how to practice mindfulness through breathing, body scan, and walking.

Mindful Walking

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Mindful walking cultivates awareness of your body while in motion and it’s something you can practice throughout the day. It can help increase your energy level if you are tired or restless and add variety if you’re doing longer periods of seated practice.

Body Scan

(Click the red play button)

The body scan is a simple, structured way of bringing consciousness to different parts of body. The body scan can be very useful as a grounding mechanism when facing strong emotions, or if you’re having trouble stabilizing awareness on the breath or body.

Mindful Breathing

(Click the red play button)

Awareness of the breath is one of the foundational exercises for learning mindfulness meditation. It’s a popular starting point because the breath is something you can always access. It serves as a valuable anchor for other mindfulness practices.

Educators, Explore Mindfulness in our 101 Course

Next Course:

In 101: Mindfulness Foundations, learn practices that can resource you during the school day and daily life, with trauma-sensitive approaches for navigating emotons, working with thoughts and biases, and cultivating compassion and joy. Educators earn credits.

Bring Mindfulness to Your Classroom

Next Course:

In 201: Mindfulness in the Classroom, learn trauma-sensitive strategies to nurture social and emotional well-being in your classroom. Access the Mindful Schools K-12 Curriculum and Teaching Kit. Educators earn credits.

Tips to start establishing a regular practice:

For even the most experienced mindfulness practitioners, having a daily practice can be challenging, so it helps to be able to do it together with others. Here are a few helpful tips to get started.

  1. Set an intention. A regular practice is supported by setting an intention and then remembering to come back to it frequently over time. In this way you can gently remind yourself of why you are practicing.
  2. Designate a place to practice. Your practice should happen in a place that is quiet and peaceful. Take time to set yourself up, creating a beautiful, calm environment that you will want to be in. Finding the right chair or cushion, the right light and sound levels and temperature is important. You can use a timer app and guided meditation, or just use a clock or bell to time yourself.
  3. Set aside time. How much time you set aside for your practice is up to you. The most important thing is to start with setting an intention to practice, and as much as possible, sticking with it. If for some reason you forget, or are not able to practice that day, no problem, just start again and remember to do this without judging yourself.  We recommend starting with 15 minutes a day. But even 1 minute is better than none, and if that’s all you have in the day, that’s ok!
  4. Pair your practice with something or someone! One way to establish a daily practice is to pair your practice with something you won’t forget to do. You can choose to practice right before you eat breakfast, right after lunch, on the train to work, or right before you go to sleep. Or practice with a friend or colleague at the same time every day – just like a team, finding the encouragement and support from peers can help you stay motivated.
  5. Find mindful moments. It’s also important to remember that your mindfulness practice is not limited to the times when you can sit quietly. A moment of mindfulness is any time during your day that you notice your state of mind, or when you remember to pause before responding, or when you check in with yourself and sense your breath moving through the body. A regular practice allows for more of these mindful moments to arise in the context of your daily life.

Start this week by picking a time, putting it in your calendar, and doing one of the three guided practices above. A mindful practice looks different for everyone, so be generous with yourself and give yourself permission to explore and experiment.

Curious about expanding your practice and sharing mindfulness with students? Explore our website for community events, workshops, or courses to start practicing with the Mindful Schools community.

Share this if you’re inspired by the potential of mindfulness in education.

About Mindful Schools

Mindful Schools is one of the leading organizations in the movement to integrate mindfulness into the everyday learning environment of K-12 classrooms. We’ve trained over 70,000 educators, parents, and mental health professionals who work with youth. Join Mindful Schools in imagining the possibilities of a world where every young person has access to the gift of mindfulness.

We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Learn how you can support our work.

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