Ms. King is a trained yoga and dance instructor who brings mindfulness into her Movement Classes for our youngest students in the Early Learning Program and primary school. As the parent of a middle school student, she realized the techniques could benefit all our families and decided to draft the following blog post outlining information and exercises to use.
Mindfulness – What is it? How does it show up in the classroom? How can you use it at home? Mindfulness comes in many forms and practices, but the results are the same: the activation of the para-sympathetic nervous system, which naturally stimulates the body’s healing and de-stressing systems. Below are a few ways to classify mindfulness practices and some simple things to try. The key is PRACTICE. Make a clear time and place for your practice and commit to this time and place over time. A little goes along way. Even a minute of mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect.
These techniques make use of the natural calming and soothing impact of the breath and the physiological relationship between the diaphragm and the vagus nerve. When we breathe deeply and slowly the diaphragm slides along the vagus nerve, sending signals to the brain that we are safe. The vagus nerve is part of the autonomic side of the nervous system. This is the side that functions without you thinking about it or controlling it. Breathing, heart rate, digestion, and even how we take in, process, and attach meaning to our experiences are all directly related to the vagus nerve.
Belly and Chest Breathing
Find a comfortable seated position—on the floor, seated on a cushion or on a chair. Take a breath in and out. Notice where your breath is moving within your body.
Place both hands on your chest. Breathe into your chest. Breathe out, letting all the air go.
Next, place both hands on your belly. Breathe in through your nose and feel your belly fill with air. Breathe out and let your belly come back towards your body.
Repeat this process noticing the difference between chest breathing and belly breathing.
Finish with a few deep breaths into your belly, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
These techniques utilize the energizing and focusing power of movement. These can be as simple as a pose or posture; they can also be a challenging series of movements that builds our strength, balance, and coordination. The key to mindful movement is that the movement is done with intention and an awareness of how we are breathing. In older students, this should also include an awareness of correct anatomical alignment.
Power Pose. Research has shown that two minutes of power posting can change brain chemistry, boost confidence, and reduce stress.
Stand up, lengthen your spine and plant your feet firmly on the ground hips width apart. Relax your shoulders and place your hands on your hips. Find a clear focus. See yourself as strong, powerful, and confident.
Practice your deep belly breathing, in and out.
Lift your chin slightly and feel your power! Keep breathing, in and out. Keep your pose strong.
Finish by bringing your hands to heart center and closing your eyes; take notice of how you feel.
Sun Salutation. These are a series of poses that come from yoga.
Stand tall and bring your hands to heart center.
Inhale and reach up.
Exhale and bend forward at the hips. Touch the floor if you can, and bend your knees if you need to.
Inhale and press hands against your shins lengthening your spine.
Exhale, fold forward.
Inhale, arms up, reach up, coming back up to standing.
Exhale, hands back to heart center.
FOCUS AND VISUALISATION
These strategies consist of visualizations, affirmations, and meditation. The ability to see yourself do something successfully has been shown to affect the outcome in real time. Athletes, actors and all kinds of performers use these techniques to help them build focus and overcome anxiety. Affirmations are words we can say to ourselves to build confidence, self-assurance or simply as a way to express gratitude which has also been shown to have a positive effect on our health. Lastly, meditation has often been seen as the most daunting practice. The trick here is to build your practice slowly over time.
Begin as you did for belly breathing.
Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly.
As you breathe in and out focus on something you want to accomplish. Say to yourself, “I want to accomplish______________.”
Think to yourself why you want to accomplish __________. Say to your self, “I want to accomplish _____ because/for____________.”
Consider the actions you could take towards this goal. Visualize yourself taking these actions.
See yourself accomplishing your goal.
Slowly begin to move your body. Open your eyes.
Take one last deep breath in and out. Allow this vision to motivate you.
This begins the same as the above activity.
As you settle in, visualize a person in your life you are grateful for. You can also consider something in your life you are grateful for.
Breathe in and out and envision yourself sharing your gratitude.
Say to yourself, “I am thankful for_______________."
You can repeat this process a few times.
To end, take three deep breathes in and out. Open your eyes. Notice how you feel.
Find a comfortable seat. Your hips should be higher than your knees, so if you need to sit on a cushion or blanket, that is fine. If sitting on the floor is hard, sit in a chair.
Put your hands in your lap or on your knees.
Give yourself a timer. Start with one minute. Close your eyes, and bring your attention to your breath.
Simply observe your breath moving in and out of your body.
If you begin to think of something else, come back to your breath.
When your time is up, take a full deep breath, bring your hands to heart center and thank yourself for taking the time to meditate.
As this becomes more comfortable, increase the time. Always take notice of how you feel.
The final pose of every yoga class is Savasana, a relaxation where the body and mind can soak in and process the class. Dance classes also end with stretches and or a reverence or way to say thank you to the teacher and musicians if they are present. Relaxation practices engage the parasympathetic nervous system allowing our bodies to come to a state of calm. It is important to remember that relaxation is not sleeping, but rather a conscious state of rest.
Lie down in a comfortable space on your back.Take a few deep belly breathes. If you can, close your eyes.
Start by putting your attention on your feet. What do your feet feel like? As you exhale feel your feet sink deeper towards the floor. Now put your attention on your legs, then your hips, your belly, shoulders, neck, jaw, and face.
Take your time.
Let your whole body feel completely relaxed. Slowly begin to wiggle your toes and fingers.
Open your eyes.
Come to a seated position and take a few deep breathes. Enjoy.
Tense and Release
This is very similar to the body scan. You begin laying down on your back.
Next, squeeze the muscles in your leg and lift it slightly off the floor. Let the tension go and put your leg on the floor.
Move through the body repeating the same process.
When you have moved through the body remain relaxed for a few minutes breathing in and out.
As in the body scan, wiggle your fingers and toes, slowly open your eyes, and come to a comfortable seated position.
Take a few deep breathes. Enjoy.
Thank you for following along! In addition to these ideas, you can also check out "CALM" and "HEADSPACE," which are apps you can download on your phone or tablet. Both offer some free information as well as requiring a subscription to go further. HEADSPACE in particular has guided meditations broken down by age range and short animated features about mindfulness practices.
I hope you will try some or all of the techniques. If you do, remember to take the time to notice how you feel. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.