Mindfulness Training Tips for Teachers
You already have a host of mindfulness activities for the classroom in your toolkit, but what about tips for helping you — the educator — be more present in the moment? Have you ever tried to meditate, or practice mindfulness yourself?
To learn what it takes (and how to do it), we talked with two mindfulness pros over at Intel: Marissa Powers, a bioengineer whose extensive neuroscience work includes integrating biosensing into the meditation experience using virtual reality, and Lindsay Benjamin, a client software evangelist at Intel who founded an eight-week course in mindfulness for her company called Awake@Intel.
Mindfulness 101: Definition
First things first. Just so we’re all on the same page, we asked Powers and Benjamin to define mindfulness. The definition they use comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life, in which he said: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
“Presence and mindfulness are very binary — you’re either present or you’re not,” elaborates Benjamin. “And if you’re not, you’re in autopilot mode. Your mind is ruminating on past or future events, pulling you out of the present experience, which is where life happens.”
What happens when we’re not in the present
Here’s something you might not know: when we rehash events in the past that we can’t change, the nervous system doesn’t know that we’re not actually reliving that experience. The stress hormones that event may have caused, explains Benjamin, are then put back into our bloodstream over and over again. “By reliving the past, you’re essentially bringing that stress of whatever happened back into your present experience,” she says.
Alternately, if we’re unconsciously wandering into the future, she adds — which the mind has a tendency to do — that can bring on a tremendous source of unnecessary worry and anxiety as well.
As for tension in the present, Powers says that mindfulness involves being aware of negative thoughts, but not necessarily engaging with them or responding to them. And Benjamin adds: “The skill we cultivate through mindfulness is the ability to objectively observe thoughts and emotions as they arrive.”
The benefits of being mindful
By becoming aware of the mindfulness practice and starting to integrate it into the way you live, Benjamin says, you can begin to connect more deeply and fully in the present moment. “It’s an opportunity to deepen your relationship with other people, how you communicate, and how you connect with your work.”
In the classroom specifically, being present allows educators to really hear what students are saying — we can hear beyond the words that are said. What are they truly asking? What’s the context? Knowing that, you can answer their question in a deeper way. Additionally, your students will feel more heard and listened to if you’re less distracted.
For you, the educator, being more mindful has health benefits too. Powers says that we know through visual feedback that brain activity can change. It can improve your heart rate and reduce your own stress overall.
How to practice mindfulness
If you want to be fit, you have to exercise. That’s how Benjamin and Powers view the connection between mindfulness and meditation. Meditation, Benjamin says, is time spent in silence when we actually learn how to calm down our nervous system, and build the capacity to be present and be mindful. A few tips:
- Download a few guided meditation apps on your phone, like Buddhify, Headspace, or 1 Giant Mind and stick with one you really like. You’d never sit at a piano and expect to play without a lesson, right? Through guided meditation, you’ll learn exactly what to do and how to do it, and Benjamin and Powers both really like these apps.
- Stay with it for at least eight weeks. Studies show that it takes eight weeks of meditation (about 5-10 minutes per day) even by a total beginner to produce measurable changes in the brain — measurable through an MRI, says Powers.
- If you just can’t focus and meditate by yourself, consider encouraging other teachers to get in on it. Bring them together in an empty classroom, put your phone on the table, and do the guided meditation as a group. There is actually a collective energy that you cultivate, says Powers, helping each other reduce stress and staying in the moment.
- Practice your new mindfulness skills throughout your day. If you’re cutting vegetables at dinner, you’re cutting vegetables at dinner, says Benjamin — nothing more, nothing less. If you’re washing your hands, she says, feel the water. Smell the soap. See the soap. If you notice your mind start to wander, gently bring it back to the present and notice what you’re doing, one thing at a time.
Like with anything, the more you practice, the more you’ll be able to stay in the present and live your life the way it’s meant to be lived. In a world full of distractions, it’s probably one of the best things you can do for you and for your students. Good luck, and enjoy the process!