Mindfulness is the act of focusing our attention completely on the present moment.
Seems simple enough. But as the busyness of our days pulls our attention in a million different directions — to work deadlines, to our to do list, to making sure our kids are content, to planning vacation/date nights/birthday parties — it feels anything other than simple to just stop and practice mindfulness. But it can be. And by developing a consistent mindfulness practice, you can reap the personal benefits of increased well-being and productivity, as well as positively affecting those around you.
Mindfulness is already part of life for students at Park. Many of our teachers weave mindfulness strategies into their curriculum and classroom culture, the Enrichment Program offers mindfulness and yoga as an elective, and one cohort in the Lower Division is participating in a PA-funded pilot adding certified mindfulness instructor Tahira Wilson-Guillermo to its schedule several times a week.
The list of benefits for children practicing mindfulness is long, with recent studies showing that students who use mindful strategies have increased executive functioning, focus, and emotional regulation abilities, as well as decreased feelings of stress and anxiety.
Equally as interesting is research looking at how the mindfulness-based practices of adults — primarily educators, but the leap to parents and caregivers is small — affects students’ well-being and outcomes. A recent study showed that adults who engaged in a mindfulness practice felt less stressed, performed more efficiently in time crunches, and had a better handle on their emotions. This subsequently improved their interactions with the kids in their world, as they were more sensitive to the kids’ needs and had a stronger connection to them. It was noted that in a connected, responsive, positive environment the productivity and performance of students improved.*
Understanding the benefits of mindfulness, how do you even get started with it? For that, there is no single answer. Mindfulness can be approached from many different starting points and is a practice as unique as the individual. For many, it means sitting in meditation, for which there are any number of online resources, apps, and books available (as well as an increasing number of in-person courses and drop-in classes in cities and towns everywhere). As part of its Speaker Series, the Parents’ Association recently brought mindfulness instructor Christine O’Shaughnessy to Park, where she spoke in detail about the neurophysiological and psychological benefits of meditating for as little as 15 minutes a day.
For others, practicing mindfulness means pausing what they’re doing to take just three controlled breaths at their desk, or tuning into their foot-strikes during a run, or rolling out a yoga mat. Mindfulness may even be practiced while stirring a cup of coffee or driving. The common element of any technique is to focus completely and intentionally on the present moment.
Mindfulness not only makes you feel good, it has measurable benefits for those around you. It’s a simple activity worth exploring. Park is filled with passionate advocates and resources for mindfulness and mindful education, and it will be exciting to see how the topic evolves within our parent, educator, and student community.
Some thoughts on mindfulness from the Park community:
“My practice is not one single thing, it’s a combination of mindfulness techniques such as sitting in meditation, taking mindful moments, going on retreats, and ongoing professional development.”
Tahira Wilson-Guillermo, Academic Support Learning Specialist
“I meditate almost every day. I do it first thing in the morning because otherwise I can’t count on myself to make time for it once the day has started. The benefits have filtered into all parts of our lives in terms of how we navigate family dynamics, specifically when things get complicated or tense. It doesn’t make conflict go away by any means, but often it gives us that little bit of space so we can respond more thoughtfully rather than just react.”
Cindy Talbot (Ruby 3, Lennon K)
“I am new to mindfulness, yet have been practicing with a 20-minute routine of focusing on breathing, a daily mantra, and noticing what my mind explores during this time. I am always amazed at how much has come to me and I find that I am more thoughtful about my work. I love how it sets up my day in a way that has me feeling very open to possibilities!”
Pamela Penna, Director of Apprentices
“I have begun practicing mindfulness strategies such as turning music off in the car prior to arriving at work. I take a lot more deep breaths — in through the nose, out through the mouth. I would say I am just more mindful of being mindful, and I’m aware of its importance for balance.”
Jennifer Kempinski (Lexie 4, Oliver 1)
“My practice is getting quiet inside and tuning into sensations and sounds. I do this throughout the day but in particular I sit first thing in the morning. Or walking in the Arboretum until I find a place to sit and be still.”
Kat Callard, Grade 2 teacher
“Sometimes I am able to be regimented and alternate between yoga, dog walks, a variety of cardio, and skiing. I always prefer to be outside for this time, if possible. Some weeks I’m too busy with work, and I’m only able to find enough time to run a few blocks with our dog, listen to loud music or to take a bath. In our house, we all talk about needing a minimum of 15 minutes a day that belongs to each one of us in order to stay sane.”
Jessie Rubenstein (Lucy 3, Jay K)
“I take mindful moments throughout the day — even just intentional breaths — to take charge of my reactions to what happens, whether it be a breath to let gratitude sink in when I have a special moment of connection with a colleague or student or to name and let disappointment move through me when I feel I have missed an opportunity or fallen short.”
Eliza Botsford, Grade 4 teacher
“My mindfulness practice changes quite a bit depending on my state of mind, time of year, and demands on my time. Sometimes it’s something small, like giving myself a facial massage at night, thoughtfully preparing and eating a healthy meal or knowing that a good night’s rest will make me a more patient mother, wife, and teacher. More often than not, my biggest work in being mindful is pausing and taking a breath before I speak or react.”
Megan McLean Armour, Science Teacher Grades 4 & 5
“To us, mindfulness is about giving your full attention to what is taking place at that moment. Dinner time is important within our household, when the four of us can have a caring and calm conversation about our day. It takes place without mobile phones, no TV on, no one is available to take a call at home because it is “our dinner time.” Using a framework of sharing the highs, lows, and interesting events of the day, we are more aware of our thoughts and surrounding environment.
Sergio Guzman and Carolina Mujica (Sebastian 6, Gabriela 4)