Mindful Learning: Meditating Good Grades
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh
The first time I practiced mindfulness, unbeknownst to me at the time, happened around third or fourth grade. Our teacher rounded us up for an assembly in the library. From what I can remember, the presenters were local actors, brought in to teach us their trade. Naturally, the acting tips came off as a bit trivial – like many of my contemporaries, I wasn’t an actor. Though, something did stick with me from that assembly; something they taught us at the very end.
At the time, I didn’t know I was meditating. They approached it in an organic, almost tricky way. The actors had us all lie down and close our eyes. Despite its all around cheesiness, one of them put on an ambient, Brian-Enoesque loop on his keyboard. We all surprised ourselves at the level of quiet we had attained. Maybe it was the post-lunch lag, or the “a nap actually sounds good right now” mentality, but the actors had hushed up a large group of excited students – not an easy task. As we relaxed, the soft-spoken actor instructed us to take deep, mindful breathes. “Imagine you are floating on a cloud, away from all your distractions and worries” she said.
Did I know I was practicing mindfulness? No. Did I know this technique could be used for anxieties other than stage fright? Sadly, no. But what I did know, was that I felt focused, relaxed, and attentive. Imagine our class after the session. Once a wild herd of children leaving for an assembly, we returned cool, calm, and reflective. It’s hard to recall, but I’m sure, for the remaining hours in that day, we were ideal students.
So why do I bring up this story? Because practicing techniques such as meditation and mindful breathing in school shouldn’t be a novelty. They’re proven methods for promoting focus, attention, and calmness in that pesky amygdala. For instance, in an article on Kqed.org, author Katrina Schwartz claims,
“Studies of mindfulness programs in schools have found that regular practice — even just a few minutes per day — improves student self-control and increases their classroom participation, respect for others, happiness, optimism, and self-acceptance levels.”
Any student could benefit from less anxiety. The school year is wrapping up. Are your grades good enough? Are you prepared for the ACT? Breathe in: “you can do this. Your teachers, Tutor, friends, and family are all here to support you” Breathe out: “all the anxieties, worries, and stress.” Within moments of mindfulness, a student can stop paying attention to distractions, and focus on the task at hand.
This is proving particularly beneficial in low-income schools, where students are distracted, and quite frankly, too scared to focus by the life that’s happening outside of class. In areas where most students have been victims, or know victims, of violent crimes, it’s hard for them to leave that frustration at the door. As a result, teachers in these areas spend most of their time dealing with angered, emotional outbreaks, instead of teaching curriculum. To avoid resorting to punishment, many schools are turning towards mindfulness. For example, some schools begin and end each day with a short meditation. (Watch this video from the Huffington Post to see a prime example of a ‘mindful school.’)
In addition, students are applying these techniques not just to class, but to the rest of their lives. “Students now have a common language to use when they want to calm each other down and fewer students are being sent to her office” states Schwartz, in regards to a low-income school’s principal.
Being mindful doesn’t only benefit students. Many teachers and tutors are finding focus from this practice as well. To illustrate, many believe meditation improves multitasking abilities. In How Meditating Helps With Multitasking author Tina Barseghian explains a multitasking study where meditators and non-meditators were given an array of stressful tasks to complete. The results found those who practiced meditation were less stressed when completing the tasks, and even spent more time (focus) on each individual one. “The meditators said they practiced the breathing they’d learned and listened to the little voice in their head saying “slow down.” They focused on the immediate experience and less on their evaluation.”
In a world where distraction is paramount, maybe it’s time educators started teaching mindfulness the same way they teach responsibility and honesty. All you have to do is look at the array of ADD and ADHD cases to see we need to prepare students for a changing world. In order to do so, tutors, teachers, and educators must be focused as well. To recall the wise words of a Vietnamese monk, who wouldn’t want an anchor as natural as their own breath?
Further Mindfulness reading: