The Mindfulness experiment

Alan White New

Alan White

Although I am passionate about well-being and I believe that all young people need to learn key skills to take control and care for their own well-being, I have, in the past, been resistant to mindfulness. Why? Because I am the type of person that finds it difficult to sit still for any length of time. It took me a very long time to discover for myself, not only the many benefits of Mindfulness, but also how it can transform how we approach caring for our well-being.

After learning more and more over the years, I have discovered that mindfulness is not just sitting in a chair deep breathing. It is so much more and can be done almost anywhere. Focusing on deep breathing is an important part, as is remaining in the present moment. However what I was surprised to learn that many of the activities that we do on a daily basis can be done mindfully and can help us to relax, de-stress and improve our overall well-being. For me, mindful walking has helped me to incorporate Mindfulness into my life. That way I can move and yet take time to quiet my mind, relax and gain invaluable perspective on anything that I might be finding difficult at that time.

Over the past few years I have been developing a 30 day Mental Well-being challenge for students. This challenge is based on positive psychology and each day participants are taught something new that will empower them to care for their well-being. Central to this challenge is mindfulness and this is the first challenge for students. They are asked to spend at least 5 minutes every day of the challenge practicing Mindfulness.

I initially thought that this may be difficult to implement with young people. However over the last few months, along with a few colleagues, we have implemented the 30 day challenge with a group of second year students. I was quite nervous when beginning this with a large group of 14 year olds. I’m not sure if anyone has ever been in a room full of second years, but they can be quite energetic to put it politely!

At the beginning we found it challenging to hold the group for longer than around 3 minutes. To be honest that was fine as I thought we wouldn’t even get that far. The challenge is broken up into three ten day periods with a break and some reflection on key skills the students learned in between. What we found was that towards the end of the first ten days the students were able to sit still focusing on breathing with their eyes closed for at least 10 minutes.

What was even more encouraging was that the students themselves started asking for more time. If we missed a day during the challenge they were disappointed and eager to get going again. I was even asked by one student “why aren’t we doing that mindfulness thing today!”

The results were amazing and the change in the students overall demeanour was evident as they became calmer and more ready for learning. When we surveyed parents of the students involved, the vast majority reported seeing a difference in their child as a result of both mindfulness and learning how to care for their well-being.

There is a huge amount of evidence on the benefits of mindfulness but if I didn’t see it for myself with my students as well as recognising the benefits it has for me, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I would encourage anyone to try this for themselves and I strongly believe that Mindfulness not only benefits us by reducing stress and allowing us the mental space to take time out, but can also change how we manage student behaviour in schools. Our lives are hectic at the best of times and encouraging people of all ages to take some time during the day to check in with themselves and in essence press the pause button, will have huge benefits for general well-being.

Why not take the first step in that challenge for yourself. Take 5 minutes every day for at least 10 days to practice mindfulness. At this point I must stress that I am not an expert here, but what works for me is the 7/11 technique. Breath in for 7 seconds, hold your breath for 3 or 4 seconds and breathe out fully for 11 seconds pushing out your stomach and relaxing your shoulders as you do so. Try to focus your mind on the present. If thoughts do come into your mind try not to hold on to them. Just acknowledge them and allow them to float away.

I don’t always remember to do this myself but when I do I tend to not only feel better in myself, but I also feel more ready to deal with whatever needs to be done. Either way, if you try it at worst you will take a little time for yourself and at best you will learn the importance of mindfulness to our well-being.

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