Mindfulness – What’s the buzz about?
The practise of mindfulness has gained enormous momentum over the past few years. There are claims it can help with everything from anxiety management to increased creativity to better sleep and academic results. So, what is it and how much credence should we give these claims?
Mindfulness meditation is traditionally thought to have originated millennia ago in Buddhist societies. It is also worth noting that western society also has a rich history of contemplation and ‘mindful’ practices of its own. In a more traditional Christian setting, the act of prayer can be an exercise in mindfulness. As Brother Greg mentioned to us at our staff meeting earlier this week, the traditional Lasallian invitation to “Remember that we are in the Holy Presence of God” is traditionally followed by a moment of silence, of being mindful.
In simplistic terms, mindfulness is the practise of paying attention: knowing where our attention is and being able to choose where to direct it. In these times of being constantly ‘connected’, this is an invaluable skill to develop.
When I was in private practice, there was a block of units being built behind my rooms. Over the day, there was a pretty constant stream of questionable language, laughter, noise and yelling. I found it incredibly frustrating that this stream of distractions would impose on my work. I began to pay attention to the pattern of the interruptions, and there was a pattern. There would be periods of silence, followed by the noise of the drop saw and then the pneumatic hammer. These silences lasted about three minutes. What I believe was happening was in that three minute period, the chippie was measuring, measuring again, marking, lining up, cutting, placing the timber in position and then hammering it in place. Then the chat would start again. For those three minutes, there was no mortgage, no traffic, and no school fees… nothing except the directed attention of going about their work. In a very real sense, this is being mindful. We can bring this attention to emotions, thought patterns, frustrations and habits. How many times have you found yourself flaring up at the kids as they fail to follow a direction? Where does this emotion come from, how can we observe it without giving in to it? What does it tell us about ourselves and our history?
Depending on how you measure them, the human brain is believed to have about 60,000 thoughts every day. It is only the thoughts that we stop, catch, analyse and judge that cause us distress. If we observe the thought, let it go without judgement, there will be another thought to come along and take its place. It is possible that the next thought is less distressing, less distracting. You become an impartial observer of thought rather than someone who is troubled by it. You have LESS BUTTONS to push (always a good thing with kids!).
Modern research has explored some of the benefits that can be obtained by the practice of being mindful. There is scientific evidence for the following in educational settings:
- reduced rates of absenteeism, rule infractions, and suspensions
- decreased state and trait anxiety, enhanced social skills, and improved academic performance.
- increased self-esteem and sleep quality.
- reduced substance use
- increased calmness, relaxation, self-acceptance
- better emotional regulation
- depression management and reduction in eating disorder behaviour
- the list goes on and can be found here.
There are numerous apps that can be used to assist in the practice of mindfulness. These include:
- Smiling Mind
- Stop, Breathe & Think
- One Moment Meditation
- Pranayama Breathing
- And others.
Over the next few weeks, we will be encouraging students to take the time to invest in mindfulness as a means of inoculation against the pending stress associated with exams. There is no efficiency without attention. Please take the time to explore some of the multitude of writings on the subject of mindfulness, do a short course, walk the dog without the phone, and put the devices down when you are talking to each other, pay attention to the world and your experience of it. If it works, awesome, if it doesn’t, you have lost nothing. As William Shakespeare said in 1603… “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.
Mr Anthony Freeman
School Counsellor — Kinnoull Campus