Mindfulness can help students deal with life's daily pressures
My son's primary teacher has been doing some mindfulness activities with his class. Is this regular practice in schools? What are the benefits?
I am pleased to hear that mindfulness is making something of a breakthrough in Hong Kong schools. A growing number of educational experts believe that mindfulness can help focus and concentration and this is being increasingly confirmed by neuroscientists who are demonstrating how mindfulness can reprogramme the brain. Recent research clearly shows that becoming more skilled in this area not only helps to develop attention in pupils but also helps them to self-regulate and manage their emotions, especially regarding self-control, even for those who have impulsive or difficult behaviour. It therefore has the potential to improve not only learning and discipline levels in schools but it can also be very beneficial to students' overall development.
Practising mindfulness is all about paying attention and appreciating, indeed savouring, the small but important things in life. For example, being still and focusing on the breath for just a few minutes a day takes the mind away from planning for the future or ruminating on the past and allows us to be more in the present moment. In a fast-paced modern life with so many distractions and a constant link to technology, some of us have lost the ability to simply be quiet and still. This has contributed to increased levels of stress and even depression in quite young children as well as adults.
Mindfulness may not be routinely practised in schools yet but is certainly being used in a growing number of establishments in the UK and Europe. In the education world, where there are increasing challenges for teachers in controlling pupils' behaviour and the rise in problems such as ADD (attention deficit disorder), it has become the culture of some schools to have short periods of stillness or meditation at certain times of day. This can be as part of a school assembly or practised in individual classrooms. It has been shown to make a positive difference to a school environment, especially when staff members are involved and it becomes a whole school ethos.
Being aware of body, mind and emotions in a non-judgmental way can also help pupils to deal with daily stress. This can be particularly beneficial around exam time as well as in their everyday lives. A mindfulness exercise can be a precious time for pupils to stop, check in with themselves and notice how they are feeling. It can change the way they respond to difficulties, helping them to think more carefully about the consequences of their actions and become more compassionate towards others. It helps them become more reflective and thoughtful and to gracefully accept that there are challenges and negative things in life. They can develop a mindset of viewing difficulties as temporary and changeable, rather than being permanent judgments on one's general ability or level of intelligence.
As a family you could build on what your son is doing in school by taking time during the week to turn off all gadgets and simply focus on being calm and still. It can be good for us all to be away from technology and know that we will survive for a short time without texting a friend, answering an email or being on a social network. You could also extend this by taking walks together. Appreciating small moments, the wonders of nature and the world around us, helps to improve our quality of life and peace of mind. Research shows that gratitude breeds happiness.
Try mindful eating, too. This involves eating slowly, even silently (on occasional), using all your senses to focus purely on the food. Also think about where the food originally came from, the process it has been through and how it came to be on your plate. Again this encourages gratitude for something we usually take for granted and can be very rewarding and more satisfying.
There are enough well-known people in sports and other professions who practise mindfulness in order to improve their focus, performance and quality of life. Hopefully, this will inspire other people to find out more about it.
It is worth reading one of the many inspiring mindfulness books that have been published recently so you understand the benefits for your son. You may be inspired to start practising it yourself or join one of the courses for adults that are run in Hong Kong.
Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school