Thriving School Psych Thriving Students

Mindfulness. So Hot Right Now.

I am not a trendsetter. I am a reluctant, late adopter of newfangled technology, and I want to see the research before I try something with my students. True, in the tech realm, I have had a blog for over four years, which in blog life, is kind of long, but it’s because my trendsetter friend, Jennifer, encouraged me to start it. I was late to join Facebook because I thought it was like MySpace, and thought MySpace was dumb and basically just for tweens and bands. My bestie, Kendra, encouraged me to join Facey Face and I can’t believe I resisted so long. I even copied the trends of Mrs. Mimi of It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages Blog by starting a Facebook page, twitter page, and links for my blog. If we weren’t Internet BFFs, she might say, “Seriously. Stop copying me.”

Now, I come to you with my latest reluctance that I know is supported by research, and is so hot right now, but I can’t find myself jumping on board to use it: mindfulness. In essence, mindfulness is a practice in which we teach students (and adults for that matter) to be aware, present in the moment, and non-judgmental through a variety of techniques (e.g. deep breathing, meditation, visualization, etc.) I’m sure there’s more to it, but like I said, I’m not that into it. I do know that research is emerging that mindfulness techniques have been shown to reduce stress and increase positive feelings. I am totally on board in theory, but when I try it myself, I am mindful of how lame it seems. I just don’t feel happier or more centered listening to a Tibetan singing bowl’s vibrations or really feeeeeeling what it’s like to wash my hands (seriously, it was a “tip” at a conference to be really aware of the sensation of having soap trickle off your hands when you are washing them).

But I can’t run from mindfulness practice anymore. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, after all. It infiltrates my life. For example, the last several professional developments in my school district have had mindfulness themes. We listened to drums, singing bowls, did deep breathing, and visualization exercises. I was only mindful of how friggin’ hot it was in the room and started making my mental to-do list instead of feeeeeeling my brain waves align with the drums. You can’t blame me for not trying. I tried Tae Kwon Do, which is all about eastern patience and such. I quit it though because it didn’t move fast enough for me (what? after a month I just get a black mark on my white belt? I just kicked a board! Upgrade me to a yellow belt, at least!). I also tried yoga, and after 30 minutes of listening to the Aboriginal didgeridoo in child’s pose, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and never returned. Next pose! Next pose! Let’s keep it moving, people.

Sigh. Perhaps this is the very reason I need mindfulness meditation?

I shouldn’t deny the children the benefit of mindfulness though, right? So last school year, I went out and bought a deck of mindfulness cards and plopped them on my desk for kids to choose from if they wanted to. One day, after getting kicked out of class for laughing hysterically for no reason, a middle school girl came to my office and took the mindfulness bait. Together, for 30 minutes, we went through several of the mindfulness cards together. She went from hysterical to calm and at the end of our session said, “I feel like myself again” and skipped off to class. She did fine the rest of the day. Now I realize this is a sample size of 1, but I may, just may dust those cards off for this year too. I may not be down with alternate nostril breathing and imagining my heart is a flower, but I can’t deny that there’s something to this mindfulness practice for some students.


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Comments on Mindfulness. So Hot Right Now.

  1. Christina says:

    My colleague from SFSU just completed her Master's thesis, which was on the implementation of mindfulness in the elementary classroom. It sounds like a worthwhile endeavor. Self-awareness is key.

  2. Whenever I do a training on a specific strategy (e.g. PBS, applied behavior analysis, etc.) I always say, "This is a tool. Just like a hammer, it is very useful, but you cannot build a house with just a hammer. You need other tools. This strategy will be useful, but it will not solve all problems, and you will need different strategies for different problems or children." Even if a strategy doesn't work well for us personally, it may be a "miracle" for someone else, so we need to keep it in our toolchest!

  3. Amy says:

    I have experienced personal benefit from a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Class, which I would recommend to everyone! Since then I've been very interested in teaching the concept in schools. The research on it is young, but I have seen some anecdotal positive effects for teens dealing with anxiety or attention difficulties. I have noticed this after using the Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens by Gina M. Biegel. It's an excellent resource for teaching mindfulness concepts to this age group!

  4. BoAe Kim says:

    I am divided too. Oh first, great post. I'm a fan. Just about to start School Psych MS at CSUEB. I am planning on meditating for 15 minutes a day with my daughter. I'm like you, let's move fast, set goals, achieve goals, etc. But meditation is great for improving focus which means better results in the goal oriented side of things as well as improved health, calmness, better outlook, etc. I don't want to think of my heart as a flower either, especially when the Kundalini guru asked that I let his serpent touch my flower. Gross! No thank you.

  5. Janet says:

    What kinds of statements are written on mindfulness cards? I'm not very aware of mindfulness concepts….

    One of the first grade teachers at my daughter's school had her class do yoga every day last year. I didn't hear if it had a positive effect on classroom behavior.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I accidentally deleted a comment from Peter, a high school teacher, but here it is! Rebecca

    Peter Brewer has left a new comment on your post "Mindfulness. So Hot Right Now.":

    Well, I am a high school classroom teacher and I have seen the educational wheel turn several times. Mindfulness as a teacher training exercise does, as mentioned, very easily turn into another dull teacher training drudgery foisted on a reluctant staff by over-eager administrators.

    Still . . . the concept of being alert and aware of the "right now" is a very worthwhile idea. Just to be able to use this notion to quell the impulsiveness of students would be tremendous. Not that this idea of undergoing the effort to realize what is happening, or what is being said, or what is being thought should turn into aroma-therapy enhanced meditations in the class, but rather that "seeing" oneself at any given moment might add that extra awareness of the next moment, and so on, so that the adolescent mind might eventually contemplate instead of react.

    However, as the paradigm or structure on which to base the entire classroom experience, well, not really. Just color me very dubious on this one.

    Peter Brewer
    Castro Valley High School

  7. celyn says:

    Can you say more about the deck of cards that you bought? Maybe a link, if you would be so kind? I'd love to have a look.

  8. Rebecca says:

    @Celyn: I got The Yoga Deck and took out all the yoga poses that were physically impossible in my tiny office, and that left about 25 breathing exercises and one or two poses (tiny office!). The link is:

    I noticed they have one for kids now by the same company, so you might check that out.

  9. Rebecca says:

    I use mindfulness with students as a school psychologist all of the time, and it's great! I also personally love mindfulness meditation, and I went on a 5 day meditation retreat this summer with UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. They have great resources on their website, including very short meditations you can play from the website, which I've used during counselign sessions. The link to MARC is Click on the mindfulness CD link on the left of the page, and you will get to the meditations. Also, a great book is The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens by Gina Biegel. There's handouts you can photocopy and use during sessions. Enjoy!

  10. I find that I am more conscious of being mindful, and more aware of it's use as a conscious practice, not in "nice" situations like listening to a singing bowl on some pillow somewhere.

    Mindfulness and growth for me comes when going through something in the "it's good for me" category to being unpleasant. Like a yin yoga class where you hold a pose passively for 3-5 min, and 1 min in I feel I'm going to go insane, it's quiet, I am so physically uncomfortable I don't just want to move I want to flail, and I say, wow, that's an intense reaction and I breathe and the feeling passes and I'm relaxed again… 3 min in, more sunken into that pose, I am feeling tortured again, and I am bargaining with myself… when I can be aware of that internal chatter, instead of being involved in the chatter.

    I was in a workshop with other teachers a few years ago, doing an activity I did not like… I didn't like the concept, materials given to create, group members were sniping at each other about what to do… so much so that no one noticed me for a min… and I suddenly realized I was angry and annoyed and all kinds of feelings about this, I felt flush, I debated how to get out of it…. and then I became aware of all those thoughts. And I reminded myself in 20 min, we were moving on to something else, and since I didn't like the activity and didn't care about the outcome, I could just go along with whatever they wanted, and 20 min later I was going to leave it all behind. It was empowering, I got a lot of other things as a teacher out of that moment, but it stands out… whenever it happens now, I am more aware, and I think "huh, how interesting, that feeling is noticeable in this situation" and when I notice it, instead of just feeling it, I can remove myself from the adrenaline, the flushing, the increased heart rate, the sadness, whatever it is that has such strong physical implications too and change my reaction. I can really not care, instead of saying I don't care and stewing, or I can say, I guess I feel strongly about this… why? Is it a good reason? And if so, what can I do about it that is constructive?"

    You bet I wish I had some of that ability when I was younger.

    When doing creative group assignments with students, too, it changed my reactions to that frustrated or non-participating student… my questions were more likely to hit on the reason for their feelings than the actual behavior I was witnessing, and I was a better teacher, even if I don't know the first thing about teaching mindfulness.

  11. Anonymous says:

    As with many 'fads' or 'crazes', the fad/craze can be a dis-service to the fad/craze/subject at-hand.

    I'm a soon-to-be school psych and practitioner of mindfulness & insight meditation for around 12 years now. I didnt encounter meditation through 'fadiness' or b/c it was a 'craze'; it came about partly through serendipity and partly through my searching for something just like this. I felt rather lucky to have come in contact with it at the time.

    Forcing kids into something like this is kind of an oxymoron. I think it might be even counter-productive to tell kids 'okay, it's mindfulness time – DO MINDFULNESS NOW!'. I think a better way to introduce it would be teaching them without them knowing they're being taught – 'inthe moment', so to speak. I think persons experienced with mindfulness will know what I'm talking about …

  12. Anonymous says:

    Whenever I try mindfulness when I'm calm I start to laugh. It really does feel silly. When I'm anxious, I feel worse. Interestingly though, when I have problems falling asleep I just concentrate on my breathing and before I know it, I stop worrying about things and fall asleep.

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