“Alright guys. Find a safe place for you in the room and prepare to go inward. It’s just you in this safe place so give yourself a moment to just breathe.
“Relax your eyes, drop your shoulders and simply breathe. As the thoughts come, acknowledge them and let them pass by, refocusing on your breathing.”
The room is dimly lit and the children have scattered into crevices, cubbies, and corners they have made their own. Some eyes wander and peek as their classmates start the day with a little time for mindfulness. Others sit in zen position and really try to resist the urge to see what’s going on beyond their eyelids.
If they focus just enough, they will emerge from this exercise ready to face the day…or at least the next 70 minutes my class.
What if there was a magic formula that could decrease your stress levels, increase your focus, shrink your amygdala–where fight or flight triggers in your brain–and increase your frontal cortex–the control panel of your brain where you make rational decisions?
The side effects? Peace of mind, a sense of un-botheredness, and increased compassion for yourself and others. Some adults wouldn’t even trust that this magic exists. Children are doubtful as well. But when I asked my students if they would be willing to try, they all raised their hands.
Mindful meditation practiced regularly can increase focus, decrease anxiety and help us in the way we interact with and respond to the world.
And it does not require any magic.
The truth is: stress is real. Many of us suffer from a range of anxieties that are brought on by a number of triggers attached to past experiences and worries about the future. Children are not exempt.
My seventh graders are brimming with problems they don’t know how to solve, trauma they have been exposed to or in the midst of, and worries that include grades, siblings, parents, and peers. In some cases, they are concerned about meeting basic needs such as food, shelter and safety.
Consumed by thoughts and insecurities, it’s amazing how these kids make it through the day. When I told them I had a solution to help–not cure but help–they were all too eager.
Before we begin our day or instructional time, we give time to ourselves. We try to fully immerse ourselves in the present and just release some of the thoughts that weigh us down every day. We release the pressure of perfection, worries of yesterday’s dramas, situations beyond our control, anger, hurt, shame of past experiences, and insecurities about what’s to come. Then, we breathe.
I do mindful meditation with my students before every class and the time it takes is worth it. A few minutes makes room for increased focus, less anxiety in the learning space, and an increase of trust between the people in that space.
No, it’s not really magic. Kids don’t all of a sudden get better, but over time, and little by little, kids begin to become more aware of themselves. They begin to name the things that cause them stress, then release it. And that makes a difference for them in the classroom, at home, and throughout life.