I was asked to translate some spiritual practices into non-spiritual language for classroom settings for a seminar at the Nevada Reading Week Conference. Since our beautiful conference got snowed out, I thought it would be fun to share those here, for you or your teacher friends to try!
Mindfulness in the Classroom, by Jacci Turner
The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect as it relaxes the body by inhibiting or slowing many high energy functions. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Techniques which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system help us feel more calm.
1. Deep breathing: Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.
Ask your students to sit with their feet on the floor and their hands on their desks or in their laps. Have them take several deep breaths, picturing the in-breath as moving all the way down to their toes, and the out-breath as moving all the way to the tops of their heads. This exercise balances and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — which will calm your students. You can do this in two minutes!
Additional ideas: You can ask your students to give the in-breath a color, e.g. blue, and another color to the out-breath. This simple mindfulness technique helps us remain present with our bodies in an easy and relaxed way.
Or, you can have your students picture their negative emotions going out of their bodies with the exhale and the positive emotions coming in with the inhale, e.g. “As you breathe in, picture yourself breathing in strength and courage and as you exhale, picture yourself sending all of your insecurities out of your body.”
1. The Examine: Have your students sit comfortably with their eyes closed. Have them think back through their day and search for a time when they felt they were their best selves: the most true and good part of who they are. Maybe they were kind to a friend or a pet or did something their parent asked without arguing. This might take a minute, like searching through a backpack for a pencil; you know it’s there, you just have to find it.
Then, when they have found that memory, have them savor that memory using all five senses: touch, taste, feel, sound, and smell. This will anchor the memory to their long-term memory. It takes about 30 seconds to anchor a memory.
Then repeat the exercise looking for a time during the day when they fell short of their best self. Maybe they were short with someone, or got angry unnecessarily. Let that memory land lightly on their hand, like a butterfly. Say to it, “you are a part of me, and next time, I’ll do better.” Then blow on the butterfly and let it fly away. This is not a time to beat ourselves up and we don’t want these memories to stick in our long-term memories — just acknowledge them and let them go.
2. Welcoming: Have your students sit comfortably and ask them to identify any difficult feelings they might be having, such as anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety. Allow them to let themselves welcome that feeling and really feel it. Where do they feel it in their body? Is it in their stomach? Their brain? Their back? Ask them to tell the feeling “I know you are a part of me and I welcome you.” Then let them just sit with the feeling for a few moments. Then, have them say to the feeling, “Right now, I need to get back to my day, so please take a back seat; you are allowed to be here, but not allowed to drive. It’s okay if you stay with me, but you cannot be in control because I am in control. If it’s important we can talk more later.” Then, take a deep breath and let that feeling go.
3. Walking and breathing: First, have the students practice breathing in slowly through their noses and out slowly through their mouths. Then challenge them to make their exhale one second longer than their inhale. Have them walk and count their steps as they inhale: one, two, three, four. Then have them try to exhale one more step: one, two, three, four, five. However, many inhale steps they can take, they are to try to add one more exhale step. They can do this around the classroom or on the playground, concentrating on their breath. Again, this balances the parasympathetic nervous system.
4. Body Listening: Have the students sit comfortably and close their eyes. Have them take an internal scan of their bodies. If there is a part of their body that draws their attention, have them focus on that part and try to see what is happening. Ask, “What is that part trying to tell you? It might be saying that you’re hungry, or tired, or you need to go to the bathroom or that you’ve injured yourself in some way. It could be saying something metaphysical. Tell your body you are listening and you will take care of its need ASAP.”
5. Breath Affirmation: Chose a name for yourself that is positive and that you would like to be called. Maybe it’s a name someone you love calls you like, “sweetheart” or “honey,” or a nickname you like. Then think of something you need when you are anxious. A word like “breathe,” or “calm,” or “relax.” Then, put the two together and think the first one on the inhale: “Sweetheart,” and the second one on the exhale: “Breathe” Use this reminder silently during stressful situations: “Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale) Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale)…”
6. Reading: Reading to a child is one of the simplest ways to calm them and help them stay present.
Jacci Turner is an Amazon bestselling author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. Her MG book, Bending Willow represented Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. That book is the first book in, The Finding Home Series, and Jacci recently released the fifth book in the series, Willow’s Roundup. The series will soon be coming out in hardback for Libraries and Schools. You can find it and all of Jacci’s books on Amazon and other online outlets. Jacci is on most social media outlets or you can find her on her website at Jacciturner.com and her blog on Spiritual Practices at https://jacciturner.wordpress.com. She enjoys speaking in schools. As a former school counselor, she loves children very much.
These photos link to some great websites for mindfulness in the classroom.