You will hear the words ‘mindfulness’ and ‘mindful’ a lot, and mindfulness has become more popular over the last few years. With all the information out there and the misconceptions of what it actually is thrown in the mix, people can find it difficult to understand what mindfulness is and isn’t.
“Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). In its simplest form, that is all mindfulness is…. noticing and living in the present moment. For the purpose of teaching young children, I will explain ‘mindfulness’ and then use the term ‘mindful’ during activities and learning. Being mindful is just being aware of our experiences, our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviours and also those of people around us. Mindfulness can be introduced and practiced by all ages and abilities as it can be an informal activity or a more formal practice. If mindfulness is something you’re interested in there’s a wealth of reading online and in books.
The History: A quick background to mindfulness as a term that is used in formal Western practice as therapy is from Jon Kabat-Zinn who created a ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course’ for people who had chronic illnesses, this course has been adapted for depression and stress. ‘Mindfulness’ within the therapy setting is known as ‘Western’, with the elements being taken from the ‘Eastern Practice’ of meditation. Meditation can be a big part of a person embedding mindfulness into their lives, however, if they do not want to do this more formal practice, then mindfulness techniques and activities can be a more informal approach including being mindful of activities we do, simple breathing techniques and being present in things that help to calm and focus the busy mind.
Meditation: People can be put off by the word ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’, and think it is a spiritual practice. Meditation can be spiritual if you wish it to be, but mindful meditations are usually just focusing on your mind, body, breathing or a topic (such as kindness). Mindful meditation does not intend to clear the mind, for us this is an impossible task! People think they cannot meditate as they can’t clear their minds or they don’t feel relaxed. But this is not the aim…. the aim is to just focus and be aware, even if we do notice our minds are busy or we are stressed.
Misconceptions: As mentioned people may think mindfulness is just meditation, it is spiritual, it clears the mind etc and these misconceptions need to be eradicated. Mindfulness research has shown many benefits to a variety of health and wellbeing areas such as workplaces, illnesses, depression and stress. Once you know what it is and practice mindfulness techniques it is free and something that can be fitted into the day easily.
NB: ‘Mindful Wellbeing’ is the concept we are using for the course for young people as the mindfulness techniques have been adapted to cover more than just mindfulness. ‘Mindful Moments’ have been developed for the course for young people rather than ‘meditations’ as again they have been adapted to be more suitable for young people.
A Mindful Moment does not mean that you will switch off from everything or clear the mind, our minds are always busy and full of thoughts. If your mind starts to think of something else, that’s ok, just notice this and re-focus on the Mindful Moment. Do not worry about noises or distractions either, just focus on yourself. Move onto the two mindful moment strategies and try them for yourself and also for your child. The 10-part check in is easy to do and you can change each focus if you want to, the body scan will need more practice so at first keep your eyes open and follow the script until you remember it. All the instructions are shown but if you have a printer you can print the mindful moment sheets off. Do a mindful focus each day, you can focus on one a week for 2 weeks or do one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Daily Mindful Focus (print off attached sheet and/or follow the list below)
The 10-Part Check-In:
- Do 10 shoulder rolls
- Name 9 things you can see
- Think of 8 colours
- Think of 7 people who make you happy
- Think of 6 things you like
- Take 5 deep breaths
- Name 4 things you can hear
- Name 3 things you can touch
- Name 2 things you can smell
- Notice 1 feeling you are experiencing
You can print this list out, write it down or make up your own list with different things to think about, animals, countries, foods… the main outcome is that the mind is focusing on thinking about other things than their thoughts and worries, always add elements into the check-in that uses the senses as well as the thinking brain.
Daily Mindful Focus –
The Body Scan: (print off attached sheet and/or follow the list below)
GET COMFORTABLE, CLOSE YOUR EYES OR LOWER YOUR GAZE START WITH A FEW DEEP BREATHS:
Focus on your head, back of the head and then the face, eyes, nose, ears, mouth, cheeks and chin and the whole of the face. Notice if your head feels heavy or light? Is your face relaxed or scrunched up? Notice if your jaw feels relaxed or tense as well. Now move down to the shoulders and neck, do they feel relaxed or tense? You might want to do a few shoulder rolls to loosen this area and relax the muscles. Focus on the arms from the tops of your arms down to the elbows and then down to each finger. Notice how your hands are positioned and then scan back up to the tops of the arms, back up to the shoulders, and then to the centre of your chest. Notice your heartbeat and your breathing for a minute. Move down to the centre of your body and notice your belly moving up and down as you breathe in and out. Check-in with how the stomach is feeling… we have lots of feelings in the stomach area, so it is always good to notice the stomach and gut. Now moving down to the legs, from the tops of the legs down to our knees, notice if the muscles feel heavy or light. Scan down to the feet and notice your toes, think about your feet and how they have got you around from place to place today. Now you have checked in with the body from the top of the head to the tips of the toes…
TO FINISH, TAKE SOME DEEP BREATHS AGAIN IN THROUGH THE NOSE, GIVE YOUR BODY A BIG STRETCH AND OPEN YOUR EYES.