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Mindfulness in schools

I am not someone who needs convincing when it comes to out-of-the-box ideas, especially if those out-of-the-box ideas are focused on connection and personal growth. Reiki? Certified. Yoga? Yup. Experiencing a sacred sweat lodge ceremony? Obvs.
Dylan Dean

I am not someone who needs convincing when it comes to out-of-the-box ideas, especially if those out-of-the-box ideas are focused on connection and personal growth.

Reiki? Certified. Yoga? Yup. Experiencing a sacred sweat lodge ceremony? Obvs. Floating in salt water to experience a deep spiritual awakening that included connecting with my inner child? I mean, who hasn’t, right?

I am up for just about anything that opens up the soul and allows me to connect deeper to myself and others. It’s essentially the purpose of living this life, if you ask me.

When the idea of mindfulness started being a buzzword around schools and more and more professional development was offering wellness and mindfulness ideas, I was invested, no problem. I was already certified as a meditation instructor at this time, so the idea I could implement it further on the job as an educational assistant with a focus on ADHD and anxiety was an easy sell and very welcoming indeed.

It wasn’t new information to me that mindfulness tools would benefit our children in multiple ways, but seeing it unfold within classrooms on a larger scale was still a staggering observation on how well it works. This new movement is something to embrace, celebrate and push further. Thank you, Queen Goldie Hawn! 

So, what, exactly, is mindfulness? Simply put, it is the use of various techniques that allow for focused attention onto the present moment. In doing so, we learn to let go of what has occurred in the past and decrease anxiety for what is unknown for the future. Think Rafiki bonking Simba on the head with his witch doctor stick to gain some perspective and get his head on straight. Only, you don’t need to be concussed — you just need to breathe in and out.

The benefits of mindfulness span over cognitive, social-emotional and physical development. 

Cognitive development benefits include calming, reduction of anxiety and increased, maintained focus. In fact, studies have shown there are actual decreases in the amount of brain cells in the amygdala during meditation. The amygdala is a cool little part of the brain in the limbic system responsible for our fear, stress and anxiety. It is much needed in order to let us know when danger is near, but when it is always telling us we should panic as though a tiger is chasing us, we end up in a heightened and lengthy state of anxiety. This fatigues our adrenal glands, leaving us feeling awful and at risk of some serious health issues. 

Fun fact: the limbic system is also responsible for memory, so there is a bonus benefit in calming amygdala’s stressful ass down. We live in this fast-paced world where the idea of being busy is glorified and the pressures to succeed reach catastrophic levels. Meditation is a necessary health benefit for all.

Social-emotional development benefits include self-awareness that then leads to knowledge of resilience and strategies to implement it. As well, a mindfulness practice increases empathy and gratitude. We are the global village raising these little humans as ones who will lead the next generation Our future should yearn for leadership that encompasses empathy, focus and self- awareness, don’t you think?

 Lastly, the physical body benefits from a mindfulness practice by decreasing blood pressure, increasing immunity and upping dopamine, otherwise known as the happiness hormone. I’ll take four shots of that, please. 

For our kinesthetic learners, mindfulness can be put into practice through asanas, more commonly known as yoga poses. Yoga will stretch the body and mind simultaneously and keeps our bodies limber and strong. A regular yoga practice often aids in body acceptance as we push our boundaries, live in a zone of discomfort through certain poses and breathe through it. 

We see these benefits in children, but systematically does it make sense to only focus on the students? This idea does not start and stop with students. It must start from the top down in order to be successful and to make sense. Administration must find and practise mindfulness in order for teachers and staff to practice mindfulness, in order for students to learn and practise mindfulness. Do you see a pattern here?

I once noticed my own ridiculousness of being way off course as a mom, with all sorts of shit hitting fans and little to no self-regulation, when I yelled (yes, I said yelled) “WILL YOU TWO JUST CALM DOWN?!!?” 

It was odd that they, in fact, did not calm down. Hard to take relaxation directions from a half-crazed, raging woman they once knew as mom.

My point is, I’m a terrible mom. No, wait, that’s not the point. That’s another blog idea though.

The point is, we cannot teach what we do not know or at least try to know. Every level of school needs mindfulness just as every generation within families needs it. By establishing all levels, we create an equal playing field. A field of respect, focus, reciprocity, awareness, open communication, gratitude, humility, kindness, self-love and empathy.

And that’s not out-of-the-box thinking. 

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