Positive Health: Mindfulness

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Most teachers at Auburn South Primary School have begun to harness the power of mindfulness to improve wellbeing and learning outcomes for themselves and their students.

But what is mindfulness and what are the potential benefits of engaging in regular mindfulness exercises? The following is a short clip taken from the Channel 9 news story that profiled how our school uses mindfulness and the Smiling Mind App:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFN1HPSTgUo

The following are notes on Mindfulness that were taken from Dr Craig Hassed’s lecture, Mindful Learning on 14 May 2015. Excerpts from Dr Hassed & Dr Richard Chambers’ book, ‘Mindful Learning’ are also included.

What is Mindfulness?

A simple way of defining mindfulness is as a mental discipline aimed at training attention. There are also other aspects, for example:

  • Utilising the senses upon which to train attention
  • Engaging the mind ion the present moment
  • Fostering self-control through non-attachment to transitory experiences such as thoughts, feelings and sensations
  • Encouraging and attitude of openness and acceptance, or being non-judgemental about such transitory experiences
  • Cultivating equanimity and stillness by being unmoved by , or less reactive to, moment-to-moment experience

Mindful Learning (Hassed & Chambers, 2014)

Put simply, mindfulness is focussed on attention regulation. Dr Hassed notes that attention regulation is made up of the following:

  • to know where the attention is
  • to prioritise where the attention needs to be
  • for the attention to go there and stay there

Hassed and Chambers (2014) also note that, “Mindfulness also implies cultivating an attitude with which we pay attention; one of openness, interest and acceptance.”

In a school environment, we demand students to be constantly shifting their attention from one activity to another. A typical day at school may include the following:

  • focussed word study activity
  • exploration or engagement in unit of inquiry (which will include elements of a number disciplines)
  • focussed learning of a new concept in mathematics
  • negotiation within social group during play times (including conflict resolution)
  • specialist learning area
  • formal assessment (including presentations to the class)
  • conferencing with a peer or teacher

Throughout each of these activities and in order for students to be at their best, we are demanding and encouraging students to be functioning and concentrating at an extremely high level. Some teachers will only have students for 50 or so minutes each week; making the most of this learning time is critical.

It’s exhausting just reading the list above and as teachers (and parents) we need to appreciate how challenging it can be to be constantly shifting your attention from one task to another.

Mindfulness is one strategy that our teachers use to ensure that students’ attention is where it needs to be. At Auburn South Primary School, mindfulness is often used straight after the lunch break to re-focus busy (and tired minds) away from play activities and back into learning time. Most of our Year 3 and 5 teachers used mindfulness as part of their preparation for the recent NAPLAN assessments in May to:

  • focus student attention on the task at-hand
  • reduce student anxiety about sitting a formal test
  • improve student performance

The importance of attention is not a new idea. In 1890, William James wrote the first classic textbook on psychology in which he stated:

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgement, character and will. No one is compos sui (a master of themselves) if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Along with attention control, what are the other benefits of practicing mindfulness?

In Dr Hassed’s lecture, he noted the following applications of mindfulness:

Mental Health: therapeutic for depression, anxiety, panic disorder, stress, emotional regulation, addiction, sleep problems, ADHD, burn-out

Neuroscience: structural and functional changes, dementia prevention, improved executive functioning and working memory, improved self-monitoring and cognitive control

Clinical: pain management, symptom control, coping with chronic illness, metabolic and hormonal benefits, facilitating lifestyle change (e.g. weight management, smoking cessation), improved immunity, enhanced genetic function and repair

Performance: sport, academic, leadership, mental flexibility (openness to new possibilities)

Education: improved problem solving, improved executive functioning and working memory, focus, improved behaviou

Relationships: emotional intelligence, communication, empathy

Details of the research that underpins these reported benefits and applications can be accessed in greater detail in Dr Hassed and Dr Chambers’ book, Mindful Learning (2014).

To find out more about how mindfulness can benefit you and your family, parents are encouraged to read the following articles and find 10 minutes per day where they can take time to experience mindfulness for themselves:

http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm

http://www.dumbofeather.com/why-entrepreneurs-need-mindfulness-and-its-not-too-shabby-for-everyone-else-too/#.VR9CMRuOSUU.facebook

http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/unlocking-the-secret-to-south-sydney-rabbitohs-success-20141010-10re5k.html

http://mindfullearning.com.au/

www.smilingmind.com.au

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