Last year I worked in a few middle primary classes. One of those classes stands out in my mind. It had a beautiful community feel but it still had challenges. There were several children with an array of social and emotional needs. There was a boy, I suspected was on the spectrum, a girl with anxiety and a few others struggling socially.
As a group, they were a gorgeously supportive empathetic cohort. It truly was beautiful but the specific needs of the individuals who struggle became obvious throughout the day.
I started out with mindful breathing. If I had this class again I would go right to how mindful breathing effects our brain because they clearly loved acquiring knowledge and understanding things on a deeper level.
The mindful breathing was received positively by most students. However, the boy who was possibly on the spectrum was loudly resistant. He kept saying ‘This doesn’t work!’ Potentially he was right, it doesn’t work for him. He probably has been inundated with different professionals trying to give him different tools and techniques to quell his outburst and help him deal with day to day life.
However, I still stuck with the mindful breathing throughout the day and when it came to writing we went back to a genre the students hadn’t experienced for a while. A girl became extremely upset when she couldn’t remember how to write a persuasive text. I asked her to close her book and reminded her of the breathing we had done in the morning. “We are just going to focus on our breath nothing else” I instructed. By the fifth breath she was calm and we could have a great conversation about what she needed to do to go forward.
The Importance of Different Techniques
It is important to try a variety of approaches or techniques. Mindfulness isn’t just breathing it’s about being in the moment. After recess, I sensed that a few of the students came in with some issues that happened outside.
We started out with an exercise of breathing in good thoughts and breathing out the bad, or troubling situation from recess. (I describe this exercise in yesterday’s post Mindful Management.) We repeated this activity 3 times using breathing and big gestures. This activity helps to break the pattern of thought that keeps us stuck on something that happened in the past. It also helps students to realise that we have power over our thinking. At the end, I told the students if any of the issues still bothered them to come and talk to me later.
During the last session of the day, I conducted Mindful Storytelling through drama, music and movement. The boy, who was possibly on the spectrum, emerged in a way that I could never have predicted. He told me his favourite moments in life are often with books, where he can let his imagination run wild. The mindful storytelling tapped into his imagination. His enjoyment of the activity and the music gave him the freedom to express himself in a new way, joyfully with a smile on his face.
Mindfulness takes time. I know, I have been a student for 20 years now and I still have moments where, like the boy above I could be screaming ‘This doesn’t work!’ However, I have stuck with it long enough to know that it is not mindfulness that isn’t working, it’s usually me. Also, there are so many approaches to achieving mindfulness that on certain days or at different points in the day one may appeal more than another.
More Mindful Activities…
With the class above I kept it simple: just focus on breathing into your belly and then releasing it out through your mouth. If I had this class again I would try the following activities:
- Encourage students to focus on their goals …I would have them say their goals in their mind on the in breath and on the exhale, imagine they are breathing out any doubts about achieving them.
- A little mindful walk around the classroom, or outside, focusing on each step.
- A colour walk around the school, where they choose a colour before we leave and see how often they see it. This leads to an increased awareness that there is a lot going on around them that they may be missing.
- I would get a picture of the brain and explain, from a scientific perspective, what is happening when we are practicing mindfulness. These students were used to being challenged, by keeping it simple I didn’t tap into the deep curiosity they possess which could facilitate further engagement and openness to new mindfulness techniques.