At my last Yoga and Mindfulness Tools for School workshop, there were so many wonderful questions. Alas, with just 5 hours together, we only began to scratch the surface of this important topic. I thought I would address some of the questions here because many educators are likely to have similar questions.
What are a couple of “must have” resources for the classroom?
Here are the things that I always have in my Yoga Toolbox:
Hoberman Sphere for mindful breathing. Having something tangible to touch and look at provides a focus point to help young people stay present and not get lost in their thoughts, which can be overwhelming.
A chime or a bell for mindful listening practice.
Yoga cards (Lisa Flynn’s Yoga4Classroom Activity Deck is great!).
My Go-To Books:
- Lisa Flynn’s Yoga for Children
- Little Flower Yoga for Kids by Jennifer Cohen Harper
- The MindUP Curriculum
What are some of your “go to” strategies when some children will not participate and distract others around them?
Practicing yoga and mindfulness should always be by choice. Have some other quiet activities that children who choose not to participate can take part in, such as colouring (mandalas are very popular with the kids), inspiring books to read, or journaling. Children who choose not to participate get to choose their own quiet space close to where yoga takes place so they can watch and join in at anytime if they choose. I leave yoga mats open for them just in case they change their mind. I respectfully explain to the children who aren’t doing yoga that they can’t sit with other children because it would make it hard for the children to focus on yoga. The children are respectful and understanding so long as they themselves have something engaging to do. Many will join the group once the have had a chance to observe.
What are some mindfulness tools/activities to use with teens to help them stay focused in class and to reduce school stress?
Check out The Mindful Teen Book by Dr. Dung Vo. I highly recommend this for teens to read if they are interested in reducing school-based stress.
The author also has free video and audio recordings of practices for teens that you can play in the classroom or they can do on their own at home.
I also recommend Gina Biegel’s Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens. It has lots of mindfulness-based self-reflection activities that can be done in class.
What are some creative ways to get teachers “on board” with the idea of mindfulness in schools?
Mindfulness isn’t for everybody, and we need to respect that. The best way to get people on board is by doing it yourself and allowing them to witness the changes in you. If they ask, you can also share some of the research with them that outlines potential benefits for teachers and students, such as:
How do I include the practice of meditation in my day? Also, I’m not sure if I’m doing it “right.” Is there an easiest/proper way to do it if you’re just a beginner?
For me, it has been most effective including short practices throughout my day that I link to my everyday routine. For example, you might start with a one-minute practice before you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You may find this video on One-Moment Meditation helpful. Once this becomes a habit, you can extend the practices so that they are longer if you find that useful for you.
I personally love the practice of Yoga Nidra, which is a guided meditative practice that you can do seated or lying down. As a teacher, I am often giving a lot of myself to others. Having someone guide me through a practice is very nurturing – something I look forward to rather than being one more thing I “should” do. I often listen to a yoga nidra practice before going to sleep, or set my alarm half and hour earlier in the morning and do it before I get up. It’s also a nice pick-me-up in the afternoon when I feel myself running out of steam.
I think every single person who embarks on meditation asks themselves, “Am I doing this right?” Just remember that a key aspect of meditation is non-judgment, so in this sense there is no “wrong” way to meditate. There are, however, many different takes on meditation and many different ways to approach it, so you may want to experiment a little in the beginning until you find a practice that speaks to you. Pay special attention to any practice that you have a strong aversion to – this might be just the practice for you! Give any practice you try some time before deciding whether it’s a good fit. A practice that continually leaves you feeling frustrated might not be the right choice at the moment, but try revisiting it again later. Although the outcome of meditation may be a feeling of calm or bliss, the practice of meditation is often a turbulent and sometimes stressful one.
It is very helpful to have a teacher supporting you as you embark on your journey of meditation so that you have someone to guide you through some of the typical pitfalls, who can support you through the challenges, and answer any questions you may have.
How can I explain what mindfulness encompasses to preschool-aged children to expand it beyond “quiet”?
I’m not sure that you can, but I am also not sure that you need to. Experiencing mindful awareness is more tangible than trying to talk about it. Children at this age are actually already very in-the-moment, so they may have a better idea of what mindfulness is than the adults around them who often forget to “be present.” I personally believe that we socialize mindful awareness out of children by requiring that they conform to our expectations. I believe it is our job as educators is to recognize when children are engaged in mindful awareness (we often miss this) and to provide time and space for them to continue to do so. Provide lots of opportunities for children to fully engage in what they are doing without rushing them. Sit with them, observe them, and do your best to practice mindful awareness yourself. If a child is fascinated by something on a walk, take the time to stop and observe it with them as long as they are interested. If a child is engaged in painting or playing lego, give them the time they need to explore this activity instead of transitioning them to something else before they are ready. Let them take all the time they need to eat their meals, and don’t stop them from exploring their food through the other senses, such as smell and touch. “Playing” with your food can be a mindfulness activity. Encourage curiosity and wonderment!
How can we get kids/youth to transfer yoga and mindfulness practices to their every day lives?
I think the key is providing regular practice – research suggests that a little bit everyday seems to be the most effective (e.g., Pandit & Satish, 2014) so that it becomes instinctual. It’s also very important to allow kids to make the connection to how these practices might be useful in their everyday lives. Have discussions where kids share their experiences and think about where it might apply in their lives. Ask them at the beginning of practice whether they have been using it anywhere else. Also offer them resources so they can practice on their own. A couple of good apps they might want to try are:
Stop, Breathe, & Think