We can all benefit from a bit of mindfulness, whether we are really just starting out (as in, today) or whether we’re a bit more experienced. This is true for students, too. For example, a study in the journal Education focused on teaching meditation to at-risk youth. It found that incorporating daily meditation was a feasible method of stress reduction, and it may help improve learning.
And while the idea of yoga or meditation in schools may bring to mind a bunch of Zen little people in full lotus pose, there are a number of age-appropriate beginner strategies that can be implemented at any level. Here are a few quick ideas.
1. For Elementary School, Try Guided Meditation
For younger children who enjoy story time, guided meditation can be a natural move from reading aloud to the beginning of a mindfulness practice. Ask students to sit cross legged and close their eyes. Start by asking them to pay attention to the way their bellies expand as they breathe slooowly in through their noses and the way their bellies come in as they breathe slooowly out through their noses.
Next, start describing a physical environment for them to imagine, like a beach or a meadow. Keep adding details for them to think about and imagine as you go through the mindfulness practice. Finish by asking them to return to paying attention to their breath and bellies and then gently opening the eyes.
You might consider following this or any other short meditation by having students draw or otherwise visually represent their meditation experience. What did it feel like? What did they see? For more techniques to use with younger children, check out these ideas from the Chopra Center.
2. For Middle School, Try a Sweet Taste
How do you sell middle school students on mindfulness? How about a little chocolate? Give each student in the class a Hershey’s Kiss or small piece of chocolate. Ask them to pop the first piece into their mouths and count backwards silently from one hundred to zero as it dissolves.
With the next piece, ask the students to engage all their senses. Ask them to smell the chocolate…to see what the temperature of it is…to feel the consistency of it as it melts in their mouths…to consider whether it tastes the same on all areas of the tongue. You get the idea. After these two experiences, lead students in a conversation about the difference between the ways they experienced the chocolate each time. This can lead to good observations. For instance, when we are multitasking, we aren’t really paying attention. So noticing this will help us start to truly notice the world around us.
3. For High School, Try Focusing on Breath
For high school students, focus on breathing can be a great way to deal with test anxiety or to calm down when emotions run high. Alternate nostril breathing is an excellent beginner technique because it combines physical action with breath work, helping the student to more clearly attend to his or her breath. Here are some simple instructions to give students:
- Gently blow your nose. Gently!
- Sit up tall.
- Place the middle and index fingers of the right hand on the space between the eyebrows so that the thumb is positioned to the side of the right nostril and the ring and pinkie fingers are to the side of the left nostril.
- Use the thumb to press the right nostril shut and inhale through the left nostril to a count of four.
- Use the pinkie and ring finger to press the left nostril shut as you release the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril for a count of four.
- Once the first breath cycle is complete, begin again by inhaling through the right nostril while the left nostril stays shut. Close the right nostril and exhale through the left side.
Do several rounds like this. If students are being super goofy or are prone to goof around, you might ask them to close their eyes during this exercise.
While these recommendations are for the students in your life, teachers can use mindfulness, too. (Or at least a piece of that chocolate!) If you want to dig deeper into mindfulness or meditation practice, the app Headspace offers a free trial for 10 days. There are other apps that help walk you through the process, too.
Do you work on mindfulness in your classroom? What activities do you use?