Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, is to be thanked for the rise of the practice of mindfulness (born out of age-old traditions) in the West. It is a way of being in the present moment that can be mastered and trained through a series of formal and informal exercises. He defines mindfulness in the following way: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.”
This scientifically validated method can be beneficial for everyone; it addresses adults as well as children, nurses, patients, entrepreneurs, high-level athletes, teachers, parents and so on. The movement of mindfulness is spreading in schools and universities in many countries: England (a project was set up by Jon Kabat-Zinn with the Ministry of Education to adapt mindfulness to the school environment), the United States of America (in the Universities of Yale, Harvard, Columbia, etc.), the Netherlands (where the government offered training in mindfulness to teachers who wished to do so for a few years), Belgium (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) but also in hundreds of hospitals around the world, and in many companies.
Mindfulness for Children
By practicing mindfulness, children learn to be more conscious and deepen the quality of their presence. By cultivating their ability to be present and attentive, children learn to know themselves better and pay attention to what is happening in their inner and outer world. They discover that they can respond with maturity to the demands of life rather than react impulsively, and that they have infinite inner resources at their disposal. They learn to be deeply rooted within themselves and listen with benevolence and discernment to their bodily messages, emotions and thoughts. They become more conscious and deepen the quality of their presence. Through a series of guided exercises on attention, concentration, observation and self-knowledge, of movements, stories, moments of sharing and games, the children learn to
- Be attentive and concentrate
- Develop self-confidence and discernment
- Stop and become aware of what they need
- Know themselves better
- Develop strategies to cope with their difficulties and to blossom
- Master their emotions (sadness, anger, excitement, fear), welcome and respond to them calmly rather than impulsively
- Develop a benevolent attitude towards themselves and people around them.
Mindfulness exercises are ideal to start the day at school – all musicians take a moment to tune their instruments before a concert – to go from a playful activity to one requiring more concentration, to help the children concentrate, refocus and calm down, to become more conscious and present within themselves in everything they do, to better manage the anxiety and stress of exams and to generate appreciation and well-being. Some exercises are adapted to preparing to go to bed, others are used spontaneously by the children to face a difficulty or to heighten their concentration. The practice of mindfulness at home or in the classroom will offer us beaches of calmness and sweetness and high-quality moments of sharing.
Where to Start
Introductory programs to mindfulness are often offered over a period of 8 weeks, with one intervention per week and a few minutes of reminder per day. Eline Snel – the author of the book Sitting Still Like a Frog – as well as “Mindfulness in Schools Project” offer quality training. It is important that the formal exercises are guided by people trained in mindfulness and having practiced it daily for several years. For parents or teachers who have not followed a program, quality audio tracks can be offered in the classroom and at home.
Start by regularly doing short sessions of a few minutes, and adapt the exercises to the circumstances (when they are peaceful, in order to deepen this quality of presence; before starting classes, in order to refocus; when they are restless; in the evening before doing homework; before going to bed, etc.).
Since mindfulness is a quality of presence, a way of being, we can do everything mindfully: Act, communicate, eat, play, study, rest, etc., simply by being fully awake, present within ourselves and in what we do.
Mindfulness in Schools
Why teach mindfulness in schools
Studies on the benefits of mindfulness in schools show that it reduces stress, anxiety, depression and bad behavior; these interventions also help the children manage their anger and improve their sleep and self-esteem. Children who attend these courses are calmer and have a better ability to manage their emotions; they show more empathy and better social skills. Their attention, memory and reasoning skills are also heightened.4
Recent meta-analyzes confirm these findings.5 They are particularly significant as numerous experts argue that the most important prerequisites for child development are executive control (management of cognitive processes such as memory, problem solving, reasoning and planning) and the regulation of emotions (the ability to understand and manage emotions, including and especially impulse control). These key contributors to self-regulation underlie their emotional well-being, effective learning and academic success. There is ample evidence that mindfulness improves the executive control of children6 and adolescents.7 Children with the lowest control8 over executive functions and lowest emotional stability9 are likely to benefit most from training their mindfulness.
Since chronic stress can have a negative impact on the maturation of areas of the brain involved in learning,10 interventions aimed at improving executive functions and also supporting stress reduction – such as mindfulness – are likely to lead to improvements on the academic level.11 Indeed, studies with children and adolescents on the impact of mindfulness have demonstrated improvements on the cognitive level (attention, for example) and on their academic outcomes.12
Emotional resilience, adaptability, ability to handle difficulties and the capacity to form constructive social relationships are all important aspects of the children’s development. A lot of evidence shows that mindfulness contributes to each of these aspects.13 These positive effects are often still present 3 years after participating in a class; relatively short interventions also produce already tangible results.14*
* The last three paragraphs were inspired by the Mindful Nation UK Report (MAPPG), October 2015.
Mindfulness for the Teachers
A study by the University of Bordeaux (coordinated by Laurence Bergugnat and Nicole Rascle) was conducted with 744 trainee teachers. According to this study, one in ten new teachers reaches the state of burnout during his/her first year; after 3 years, 47% of teachers suffer from emotional exhaustion and 56% observe a severe deterioration in their relationship with the students. Another study, in Switzerland this time, finds that one third of teachers are close to burning out.
Can mindfulness change these numbers? Studies on the benefits of training mindfulness demonstrate that teachers who regularly practice these exercises feel better, are significantly less prone to burning out, organize their classroom better, enjoy an increased self-esteem and are less stressed. Teachers noticed an improvement in the relationship with their students, as well as in the academic performance of the students and the class in general.
Journal Articles and Publications (taken from the website of www.umassmed.edu/) MBSR has been scientifically shown to be an effective complement to a wide variety of medical and psychological conditions. Below is a partial listing of medical and psychological conditions with citations of some of the benefits of mindfulness practice. Anxiety (Hoge, Bui, Marques, Metcalf, Morris, Robinaugh, et. al., 2013) Asthma (Pbert, Madison, Druker, Olendzki, Magner, Reed, et. al., 2012) Cancer (Carlson, Doll, Stephen, Faris, Tamagawa, Drysdale, & Speca, 2013) Chronic Pain (Reiner, Tibi, & Lipsitz, 2013) Diabetes (Hartmann, Kopf, Kircher, Faude-Lang, Djuric, Augstein, et. al., 2012) Fibromyalgia (Schmidt, Grossman, Schwarzer, Jena, Naumann, & Walach, 2011) Gastrointestinal Disorders (Zernicke, Campbell, Blustein, Fung, Johnson, Bacon, & Carlson, 2013) Heart Disease (Sullivan, Wood, Terry, Brantley, Charles, McGee, Johnson, et. al., 2009) HIV (Duncan, Moskowitz, Neilands, Dilworth, Hecht, & Johnson, 2012) Hot Flashes (Carmody, Crawford, Salmoirago-Blotcher, Leung, Churchill, & Olendzki, 2011) Hypertension (Hughes, Fresco, Myerscough, van Dulmen, Carlson, & Josephson, 2013) Major Depression (Chiesa & Serretti, 2011) Mood Disorders (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010) Sleep Disturbances (Andersen, Wurtzen, Steding-Jessen, Christensen, Andersen, Flyger, et. al., 2013) S Stress Disorders (Kearney, McDermott, Malte, Martinez, & Simpson, 2012)