Why Mindfulness is Important for Your Students (and You!)

Mindfulness has the power to help us become centered, reduce anxiety, and overcome obstacles. No wonder it's a great tool for your special education students! Read more about how to incorporate mindfulness easily in your classroom.

If you have been anywhere near social media in 2018, I am sure you have heard at least one from this handful of words: meditation, mindfulness, self-care.  The yesteryears of wearing the busy badge of honor are out with 2017.  2018 is all about balance.  This whole world of mentally taking care of ourselves seems like some sort of trend that will come and go, much like LulaRoe leggings.
However, research is showing that mindfulness is not just something that is coming and going. According to a review of over 200 research articeles done by Kang, Smoski, and Robins mindfulness brings about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation”.  Better well-being, less emotional reactivity, and improve in regulating behavior? That’s pretty heavy.  I never believed in the power of mindfulness until I found myself with a minor bout of anxiety last school year.  My mom was going through cancer treatment.  Although we were all pretty confident she would make it through (she did!), the waiting game of when the treatment would finally be over was a challenge.  I started utilizing the meditation app on Alexa and giving myself a moment every day to just sit and notice that moment.  Anecdotally speaking, I can’t tell you what a difference it made in my ability to get out of my anxious thoughts.  I only recently discovered that research was showing the effects of mindfulness on a barrage of different mental health issues.  Mindfulness is definitely not some sort of trend, it is a necessity.
Soooo knowing firsthand how effective mindfulness was for myself, I started thinking of the ways I could help my students using mindfulness.  Of course, this stuff isn’t a substitute for positive behavior supports or conducting functional behavior assessments.  However, it does give our students replacement behaviors that are not only socially appropriate, they can also be naturally reinforcing.  I think these techniques give children some of the power of something tangible they can do when they feel a certain way.  For our students with disabilities that can be a really powerful thing.

Here are a few simple, easy to implement ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom:

Practice Breathing

Long, slow breaths from the diaphragm have a positive effect on our feelings.  When we breath from our diaphragm, we actually massage our vagus nerve.  This nerve is responsible for reducing stress, anxiety.  There are lots of ways to teach even our neediest learner to practice breathing mindfully.  You can always use bubbles to help students to learn how to take long, slow, deep breaths.  Go Noodle also has videos under the breath section.

Mindful Movement

Yoga is pretty much just meditation but moving.  It was originally used to help teenage boys sit still during their meditation practice (this is coming from my yoga teacher).  There are plenty of resources to teach yoga in the classroom.  You may have to take very small, slow steps to work up to doing a routine or even doing an isolated move.  Take it from me, though, the effort to work on teaching the small behavior make a big difference.

Stop and Notice

If you have the ability to go on community-based trips (or heck, just walk around the perimeter on your schoolyard), take your kids on a mindfulness walk.  Have your kids walk quietly for 1 minute (or however long is possible for them) and have them note the things they noticed.  Just being in the moment and noticed what is happening at that moment is mindfulness.

Be aware though, in order to teach mindfulness, you really need to dive into it yourself.  It is not just enough to teach our students but to model and embody the idea of being mindful yourself.  If you're interested in learning more ways to help improve your students' well-being as well as your own, I have some news for you!; I am starting a special email list for those of us that are interested in just that. If you’re interested, make sure to join me!

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