Mindfulness is about learning to train your attention to the present moment without dwelling on what has happened in the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness provides many physical and psychological benefits.
What is mindfulness?
- mindfulness is the awareness that occurs when you focus on the present and on the purpose of what you are doing
- mindfulness has both physical and psychological benefits
- mindfulness in your classroom will assist in focusing your students’ attention.
How can you practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.
Mindfulness is about training your attention to be able to rest in the present moment. Thoughts about the past and future are acknowledged without necessarily being focused on. In this way, you can avoid being caught up in dwelling on the past or worrying about the future and can instead truly experience life as it happens. The word mindfulness can be used to refer to both the state of being mindful as described above and the daily practices (e.g. meditation) that help to bring it about.
Awareness, attention and mindfulness
Mindfulness involves paying attention to certain stimuli and disregarding others. The following exercises can be used in class to show your students how our awareness with stimulus can be limited and how, by redirecting our attention, our perception can be changed. Each of these images and animations can be seen in multiple ways. By asking your students to focus their attention on different aspects of the images, they are able to see things in a different light.
Necker cube animation - This animation forces your mind to see the cube in the different possible ways.
Dancer - This one is a bit harder. Is the dancer spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise? Can you get her to change directions?
- Hint: Sometimes it helps to look at her hips where her legs cross or at her feet and the shadow. Though we know the image can be seen in multiple ways, we can only perceive one of them at a time and that depends on how we focus our attention.
- In relation to thoughts, our minds participate in habitual thinking. This means it goes to places and thoughts that we usually think of out of habit.
- Our minds go to these thoughts simply because they have not been trained to focus differently. Mindfulness training allows you more control over where your thoughts become focused.
There are many different types of meditation with the two most common approaches being:
- Concentrative meditation: this focuses the attention on the breath, an image, or a sound (mantra), in order to still the mind and minimise thoughts.
- Mindfulness meditation: this involves training the attention to become aware of the continuously passing sensations and feelings, thoughts and images that make up your moment to moment experience. Additionally an attitude of simply 'noticing and letting be' is cultivated towards what you become aware of.
In mindfulness meditation you learn to remain aware of what is happening and what you're feeling in that moment, whether you like it, dislike it, or are confused about it. You increase your tolerance for seeing the unpleasant - neither identifying with it, nor running from it. As you become more and more familiar with the usual patterns in your mind, mindfulness allows you to CHOOSE what your mind focuses on by interrupting its habits (e.g. to put yourself down).
Mindfulness and your wellbeing
Practising mindfulness has benefits to both your psychological health and physical health.
Psychological benefits include:
- decreased anxiety
- decreased depression
- increased coping skills
- decreased irritability and moodiness
- improved learning ability and memory
- increased happiness
- increased emotional stability
- increase ability to effectively manage problems
- improved self-esteem.
Physical benefits include:
- improved breathing
- lower heart rate
- improved circulation
- improved immune function
- reduced physical stress responses
- better sleep
- better management of physical symptoms (e.g. pain).