Updated: May 20, 2020
In the last blog entry, I discussed the importance of us adults embodying the wellness we wish for our students or children. I’m working on that myself, and it is my own continuing effort that forms the principles underlying Mindful & Well Education. I also value turning the lens of science onto my convictions; while what nourishes each of us is individual, research has sussed out universally effective approaches for improving wellness. Mindful & Well Education’s program is based on these proven strategies.
I distilled these principles into four “buckets” that I use in working with kids: mindfulness, heartfulness, connection with nature, and embodied movement. Below is a brief overview of each. I’ll continue to reference these tenets, provide research and strategies for each, and go more in depth on them in future issues.
Connection with Nature
Nature always wears the colors of the spirit. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness. -John Muir
If there is one activity that is a magic, uplifting cure-all for me, it’s hiking and being in nature. It’s impossible for me not to feel more relaxed, clear headed, and connected after a good stretch outdoors.
University of Michigan recently published a study showing that 20 minutes per day in an outdoors/nature-ish place can significantly lower stress and anxiety levels. It’s a nice reinforcement that time outdoors has a real and remarkable impact on our brain chemistry.
We came from nature. We are nature. Nature is home, and time in the wild reconnects us to that place of acceptance and calm.
Don’t believe everything you think. -Allan Lokos
Life is available only in the present moment. -Thich Nhat Hanh
The simplest definition of mindfulness that I pass onto kids is this: mindfulness is noticing what’s happening right now.
When we are mindful, we are aware of the present moment and we check in and observe our thoughts or feelings. We notice the quality of our thoughts and may distinguish between helpful and harmful thoughts. In time, this awareness gives us agency in our thinking: we can choose not to engage in our all of our thoughts, particularly those that foster negativity within us.
Scientific studies have proven numerous benefits of mindfulness, including a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression; better sleep, and improved focus and confidence.
Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein
Instead of putting others in their place, put yourself in their place. -Amish Proverb
Mindfulness is a very powerful tool for positive change. However, research has shown that there is an even more effective practice for self-improvement: mindfulness blended with heartfulness.
We often refer to the heart symbolically in speech: something “fills our hearts” or “breaks our hearts.” We “follow our hearts” or have a “change of heart.” We associate meanings of love & relationships, virtue, and personal values with our hearts. By practicing heartfulness, we strengthen virtues such as compassion, kindness, gratitude, and generosity.
Research has shown that kindness meditation produces a significant increase in a variety of positive emotions. However, we don’t need a scientific study to know that kindness and generosity feel good; just think of the last time someone went out of their way to help you, and how that made you feel. Practicing heartfulness directly improves our state of being.
Much more of the brain is devoted to movement than to language. Language is only a little thing sitting on top of this huge ocean of movement. -Oliver Sacks
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. -Thich Nhat Hanh
Sitting-- even for just a couple hours each day-- has been lambasted as the “new smoking,” capable of causing a multitude of health issues. As a teacher, it struck me how still we expected the little balls of energy that are children to be during the school day. Yet even I often felt there was too much material to cover to make time for movement in class.
It turns out that movement actually improves children’s academic performance: a recent and large-scale study found that kids who practice extra physical activity in school improve in reading and math.
I have found movement to be especially beneficial if it emphasizes a calming of the nervous system and the strengthening of the mind-body connection. I call this “embodied movement;” examples of which include yoga, mindful walking and hiking, and Qigong. All help shift the body from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode, while also strengthening the body and focusing the mind.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the four tenets of Mindful & Well Education, or if there’s something not on this list that you consistently practice for self-care. And if you're interested in private coaching in the above tenets, please see my website for more info.