Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mindfulness in the classroom

Mindfulness in the classroom
-Madhusoodan. Sunnambala

“If you let cloudy water settle, it will become clear. If you let your upset
mind settle, your course will also become clear”.
When I started to practice mindfulness in the class I had a serious doubt whether my adolescent students will accept it, though I believed it to be more effective after reading few books like How to train a wild elephant” by Jan Chozen Bays, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh, and listening to the lecture by Oxford University Prof. Mark Williams, I was quite charged and wanted to practice in the class as I have noticed many students  zone out most of the time even before I start my class.  
What surprised me is that when students asked me to continue practicing mindfulness each day if not three days in a week!  It works if teacher gets a training on mindfulness and the mindset of the teacher changes. It is not only for the students it equally beneficial to the teachers, the practice of mindfulness will deepen and transform teachers’ capacity to appreciate "the full catastrophe" - the life we are given, whatever it may be - and the preciousness, richness, and poignancy of each moment of that life, however painful or mundane. The reason of writing this article is to share my experience and some simple method how I practice mindfulness in the class, though as a teacher like many we have a common symptom of complaining about the time? I would say mindfulness practice indeed saves our time in making the students to understand the topic what we teach because mindfulness is nothing but opposite of forgetfulness. Most of the time are forgetful; we are not really there a lot of the time. Our mind is caught in worries, fears, anger, and regrets, and we are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness. Students physical presence we can see but they are not there.  They are caught in the past or in the future. They most of the time are not there in the present moment, that is forgetfulness.
As I understood the opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when we are truly there, mind and body together. We breathe in and out mindfully, we bring your mind back to our body, and we are there. When our mind is there with our body, we are established in the present moment. Then one can recognize the many conditions of happiness.
With so many easy interruptions to our concentration and mind is entangled, it's no wonder that students can find it hard to follow a classroom discussion closely. Without a solid foundation in the course material, remembering key points of lectures is next to impossible. Mindfulness exercise gave a complete new idea of bringing students attention to the class with simple tasks where students felt they are not doing new things but the regular activities, but with a difference, that is they are doing it mindfully by focusing on what they are doing. That is mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? Let me put it very briefly what is mindfulness with a definition by Jan Chozen Bays (How to train a wild elephant) “Mindfulness is deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you in your- body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement”. 
Mindfulness is a time-honored way of improving ones’ well-being, happiness and sense of worth. It has been proved to reduce depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even pain. The practice of mindfulness was developed in India over 2500 years ago. It was part of a path to enlightenment and awakening and most religions including Hindu, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam have meditation traditions. These ancient techniques of meditation have recently been adapted to address twenty first century pressures of modern living.
Mindfulness certainly is about paying attention. Paying attention to what is happening right now, right before our eyes ... and ears and noses and other senses, including our internal ones. What pains and tensions are there in my body, how am I feeling right now, am I aware of what I am thinking or am I on automatic, daydreaming, or perhaps going over and over a difficult encounter?  
Teachers themselves are not immune to these disruptions. The stresses and distractions that faculty bring to the classroom can also frustrate the process of teaching. But since most teachers don't have the time for or training in mindfulness practices, how can they help both their students and themselves reclaim a purposeful educational experience? Hence this article will give some motivation to the teachers who are willing to practice and get the result like how I have received.
There are number of techniques of mindfulness exercise available in different books, teachers themselves can decide on how to bring the self-awareness of the students before the class starts.  
One easy way to bring students awareness to the present moment is developing a consistent breathing practice. This core mindfulness practice "time to breathe." schedule specific times before or during class that you can stop, take time to breathe and observe how that works for you. Ideally, practice breathing mindfully for 3-5 minutes a day. Students can sit in a comfortable positon Allowing both soles of their feet to connect to the floor resting their hands on the thighs and letting the shoulders drop. Instruct them to notice how their body feels as they bring their attention to the flow of their breath. They don’t need to breathe in a special way. The body knows how to breathe. Simply notice each breath coming into the body with an in-breath, and leaving the body with an out-breath. If they notice their mind is caught up in thoughts, concerns, emotions or body sensations, tell them that it is normal.
Instruct them to Notice what is distracting them and gently let it go without judgment, by redirecting their attention back to the breath. Keep escorting their attention back to the experience of breathing.
Exploring body sensations is a nice way to introduce mindfulness to pupils. For example, you could ask students to walk slowly, or take any normal activity like I use many time if the class room untidy with chairs and desks are not in place. I instruct them, ok students now we have a small activity imagine that on the desks and chair I have kept glass of water which is full so you need to move those chairs and desks in such a way that water shouldn’t spill on the floor or on the desk. This activity works wonders as they focus carefully on the activity what they do it is nothing but being aware of what they do! Then I teach the theories behind mindfulness.
Another exercise is bringing Awareness of the body this can be done while practicing breathing, being a psychology teacher I am well trained on Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique (JPMRT) which I practice in the class. Students are instructed to observe their body by closing their eyes and they need to focus on the part of the body where there is any tension or any sort of sensation then through breathing they need to relax those areas. This is another technique students love doing as they can observe any stress or anxiety, they can visualize the tension area and channelize that stress through breathing which brings that tension and stress to their awareness. 
There are many exercises where the teacher can adopt in the class to bring the attention to the present like five sense mindfulness log, it all depends on the attitude and interest of the teacher.

Mindfulness proved to be most effective and in recent years’ interest in mindfulness has grown immensely among researcher’s educators and psychologists a lot has been documented on the benefits of mindfulness especially for students who are getting distracted for many things. The model suggests that true connectedness through self-awareness, creativity, hope, and empathy can bolster fragile young children’s identities as learners. Furthermore, a teacher who can genuinely meet a child where that child is can influence his or her growth and development, because those types of positive interactions can bolster an otherwise vulnerable and fragile self-concept, regardless of whether its fragile due to learning disability, trauma, or illness. By reinforcing protective factors, you can help foster feelings of hope and empowerment in a child who might be feeling weak and incapable.
It's been an effective way of getting them to pinpoint and reflect on what it is that triggers different feelings, and therefore better recognize external stressors and find ways to cope with them. It can be used very effectively for that it needs to begin with the teacher as educators of young children, it is important to understand those internal processes because they affect our ability to connect with children and families; affect our ability to work in a learning community that supports the emotional and physical development of the children in the class; and affect our ability to identify challenging behaviors and work through them without losing site of the child’s needs. Using that information will help the teacher to see instructional biases are and how they affect the teaching methods.
All the best!