Breathe in to the count of 5. Breathe out to the count of 5. Relax your body. How does that feel? That took about 10 seconds. Do you feel a little more calm? A bit more in the moment? A little more aware? That is what mindfulness is all about.
A lot of people are talking about mindfulness these days. This Q & A will help explain some questions surrounding this ancient tradition and its modern uses in your home or classroom.
Q: What is Mindfulness?
A: Mindfulness is cultivating a non-judgemental awareness and acceptance of the present moment. One can be mindful at any time in any location. It involves 3 main skills working in conjunction with each other: sensory awareness, mental clarity, and equanimity. (Equanimity is mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.)
Q: Why do parents and other types of educators need mindfulness?
A: Parents and educators can use mindfulness to help them become less reactive and more responsive to the needs of the kids they work with. If you ever have found yourself saying (or being told!) to “calm down and pay attention”? Mindfulness can be helpful in teaching how to calm down and how to pay attention.
Q: My kid is learning mindfulness at school. Isn’t that good enough?
A: That is great that your school is open to mindfulness and it will surely be a skill they can use for the rest of their lives. If you really want to integrate more calm into your life though, it is not just about “fixing” your kid. Any sort of change you want to see in your family or class, begins with you, the leader, making a committment to learn a different way of being. Simply showing up with calm energy you want them to exude can actually change their brain chemistry.
Q: You can change brain chemistry with mindfulness?
A: Yes! The pre-frontal cortex is literally strengthened when you pay attention to your feelings and reactions such that you can begin to create space between those and give a more thoughtful response when being challenged instead of an automatic reaction. Further, when someone has a response to a stimuli, the people around that person can also experience similar firing of neurons if they can anticipate what comes next. This concept is called mirror neurons. For example, your child just has a joyful lick of ice cream; their neurons are fired and dopamine (the happy chemical in the brain) is released. You are watching their joy and delight and feel a similar feeling of dopamine release in your body without ever having touched the ice cream. That is the powerful effect of mirror neurons. The same thing happens with all different sorts of emotions, even calmness.
Q: What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
A: Meditation is setting specific time aside for mindfulness. Meditation is usually in a silent seated position. The word “meditation” has some religious connotations (from Buddhism–like zen and karma). Mindfulness can be a religious or a secular pursuit and can be done anywhere, at anytime. One can be mindful of everything: how they move, what they think, what they are eating, or how they are feeling or acting.
Q: I am so busy and this is just one more thing. Is this really valuable?
A: Well, we can’t ascribe the value it will be to your life but if you are so busy, this could very well be the skill you need the most. Mindfulness will allow you to show up to each activity you are a part of with presence, awareness, and openness so that you are able to attune to your (or your child’s) actual needs and don’t feel as overwhelmed with everything you have to do.
Q: How can I learn to be a more mindful parent or educator?
A: An amazing resource is called: “Getting Started with Mindfulness”. We also recommend you find a community of people to practice with so you can hold each other accountable as you grow and flex this new muscle.
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(c) 2016. Nurture: Family Education and Guidance