The practice of mindfulness has surged in popularity over the last few years as a set of tools to help people become more aware, alert, and awake to the present moment. Proven to yield a number of mental, physical, and emotional benefits, research has shown that the regular practice of mindfulness can lead to improved wellbeing in both adults and children.
School for Children teachers Edna Moy, GSE ’16, and Greg David, GSE ’11, have been practicing mindfulness for years, using it in their own lives and also sharing it with the children in their classrooms. The two recently led a hands-on workshop for adult members of the Bank Street community that explored the history of mindfulness, how it contributes to social emotional learning, and how the practice benefits both adults and children. Participants also had the opportunity to learn about several formal and informal mindfulness techniques and practice them as a group during the session.
Moy and David led the group in mindful sitting, standing, and walking exercises that encouraged them to focus on their breathing, the sensations in their body, and the sounds around them. The group also completed a mindful listening exercise where they split into pairs and each person took turns speaking for 30 seconds, which allowed them to practice listening deeply and intently without commenting or interrupting. In addition, participants learned formal mindful techniques like anchor breathing, guided meditations, and body scans, which involve laying down flat and paying attention to sensations in different areas of the body.
“Mindfulness in any form is putting intentional practice to self-care by directing your focus to your body and your environment,” said David. “It has helped me in my personal life and has also helped me to become a more effective teacher.”
To provide the group with a visual representation of mindfulness, Moy took out a water bottle filled with glitter and shook it so that the glitter dispersed throughout the bottle. She compared the frenzied state of the water bottle to the human mind. Then, she held the bottle still until all of the glitter piled up at the bottom and the rest of the water was clear. According to Moy, the calmer state of the water bottle symbolizes a mindful state, and how you “can’t get rid of your thoughts, but you can choose how you deal with them.”
Moy uses the water bottle metaphor with the students in her classroom to provide a more basic interpretation through which children can understand mindfulness. While mindfulness offers a wealth of benefits for adults, it has just as many benefits for children, including decreased stress and anxiety, improved impulse control and self-awareness, healthy responses to difficult emotions, enhanced conflict resolution skills, and increased empathy.
Later in the workshop, the group engaged in a discussion around how they might integrate mindfulness practices in everyday routines like commuting, talking on the phone, walking in the halls, waiting in line, and even eating. David mentioned that it could be as simple as “switching the shoe you tie first,” “brushing one tooth at a time,” or “paying attention to how your face feels on your hands when you wash it.” Small adjustments like these are what will, over time, help people achieve a more mindful perspective and become more in tune with the present moment.
The workshop culminated in a period of reflection, in which several participants shared their thoughts on the session and how mindfulness might play a role in their lives moving forward.
“The workshop taught me a lot about the health benefits of mindfulness practice and that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge, overwhelming commitment,” said Allie Jane Bruce, Children’s Librarian in the School for Children. “I’m excited to learn more on my own and bring it into my teaching practice.”