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mindfulness

Thoughts on Mindfulness Meditation

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Submitted by Robert James Campbell, Ed.D., CPHIMS, CPEHR

I am always taken aback when a student or colleague asks if I can teach them how to meditate their stress away using mindfulness meditation practices.  Immediately, I recall something my mentor once told me when I was involved in a relationship with a very difficult person.  He told me:  “Robert, when that person punches you, kicks you, spits on you, kisses you, calls you a dirty name, and runs you over with their car, and it does not bother you, then you are alright. Until then you are not.”  Of course, Father Dave was speaking allegorically, and the import of his words is only heightened by a story told by Dzonger Jamyang Khyentse, a Tibetan Monk.  

Khyentse asks us to consider the cinematographer who goes to the theater to watch a film.  Because of his knowledge, the cinematographer can tell which part of the film has been generated by a computer, where a line has been dubbed, or where the leading actor has been replaced by a stunt man.  Ultimately, this does not ruin the film for the cinematographer, who leaves the theater having enjoyed the picture.  The allegory of both stories and what lies at the heart of mindfulness practice is the question:  can we enjoy life no matter what is happening to us at that moment?

By learning to pay careful attention to our breath, we learn to pay attention to other things in our lives, like the impermanence of our feelings:  one minute you have a stomach ache and the next you are jonesing for a Big Mac.  Or that thought that everything is going to “hell” in a hand basket.  It is just a thought!  Besides, not even US Air has non-stops to “hell.”  Mindfulness practice teaches you to take whatever is happening in your life and use it to learn more about yourself.  The best time for me to practice mindfulness is early in the morning when I wake up.  Generally, at that time, I have a million thoughts running through my head.  To calm my mind, I will sit in a chair, take three deep breaths, and then begin my meditation by breathing in and then breathing out.  That counts as one cycle.  I then try to complete twenty one cycles.  If my mind wanders, I just bring it back to the breath and start over.  This simple practice will help calm your mind at the start of a new day. To discover more about mindful practice, check out Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book: Full Catastrophe Living.

Robert James Campbell, Ed.D., CPHIMS, CPEHR, is an assistant professor of Health Services and Information Management at East Carolina University.

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Tags:  Dzonger Jamyang Khyentse Jon Kabat-Zinn meditation mindfulness

Using Mindfulness to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Thursday, November 29, 2018

girl meditating serene location

By Erin Brewer

Take a deep breath in, and a long breath out. Take a moment to notice how you feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Feel your feet on the floor. Whether seated or standing, allow your shoulders to track over your hips and your ears to draw back in line with your shoulders, so that your chin lifts ever so slightly. Relax your belly and give your shoulders permission to settle. Press your tongue gently against the top of your mouth while your lips part ever so slightly and your gaze softens. Now bring your awareness to your nostrils. Notice the temperature of the air going in on your next inhale, and then feel the temperature, and the texture of the breath on the exhale. Take another deep breath in, and a long breath out.

Welcome to the present moment. You have arrived through meditation.

Many people think meditation means clearing the mind of all thoughts. That’s an enormous challenge because the brain is designed to think—and it doesn’t come with an “off” switch. I explain to students that mindfulness (meditation) is awareness. It is awareness of the present moment and of the habits of mind that may draw your mind away from the present. Mindfulness practices, such as repeating a mantra, counting your breaths, or doing a body scan, pull you from thinking of the past (what’s done is done) or the future (over which there is no control) and bring you back to the now.  

Research Finds Mindfulness Effective in Reducing Stress

Stress and anxiety often result from persistent thoughts about the past or future. Young people are not immune to stress or anxiety. In fact, the number of students who experience anxiety has reached alarming rates on school and college campuses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 32% of adolescents have been diagnosed with anxiety. The National College Health Assessment reports that 64% of college students have experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the past 12 months.

Many campuses have responded by offering students services to reduce stress and anxiety. Mindfulness training is one of them—and it works. In a 2017 study, a group of adults diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder participated in an eight-week program either in mindfulness-based stress reduction or stress management education. The group that took the mindfulness course had “sharply reduced stress-hormone and inflammatory responses to a stressful situation” than participants in the stress management class.

“Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said Elizabeth A. Hoge, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor at Georgetown University.

Training the Brain to Enter the Present

Mindfulness can often reboot our systems by making a person more aware of when their mind has wandered so that they can recognize that, be aware of it, and then take the necessary steps to redirect to the present moment. This allows a person to feel less like they are stuck on a runaway train and more like a conductor who is in charge of what they will dedicate mental bandwidth to—and where it will take them.  

The practice of yoga is an excellent way to enter the present moment and reduce stress—it asks the participant to move with the breath. Each pose flows on an inhale or an exhale, and while holding a pose, rather than thinking about what is going on outside of the room, focus can be directed to alignment cues in the body. The same can be done with other activities as well, such as walking, coloring, or even doing the dishes! If a person is aware of what they are doing and moving with intention, rather than functioning on autopilot while the mind is elsewhere, then mindfulness is being practiced.

With Practice You’ll Learn to Control Your Thoughts

It’s very easy to feel like a powerless victim of your own thoughts. However, as you start to recognize habits of your mind or even awareness as to whether you tend to dwell on the past or stress about the future, you can start to take power back. Rather than being swept away, you can pause and reflect, “Oh I’m doing that thing again when I think… ” and over time you may start to notice your thoughts settling down.  

So take a moment. Notice where your mind may have wandered just now. Start to bring your attention back to this moment. Feel your feet on the floor, and inhale to a silent count of four. Pause at the top of your inhale. Then slowly exhale to a count of four. Check in, and notice how you feel: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Welcome back to the present moment.

 

About the Author

erin brewer headshot

Erin Brewer has been teaching at Landmark since 2010.  She started a yoga program at the High School in 2013, and now serves as an academic advisor and in-house yoga instructor within the Physical Education Department. Check out her mindfulness video.

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Tags:  anxiety meditation mindfulness mindfulness education stress yoga

Students Embrace the Sounds of Silence

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Monday, September 14, 2020

elementary students meditating

This is the second post in a five-part series about students, stress, and anxiety. The first article is an overview of anxiety, the third discusses how a student learned to manage her anxiety, the fourth explores how mindfulness can reduce anxiety, and the fifth covers the relationship between language-based learning disabilities and anxiety.

By Laura Polvinen, LICSW

A moment of silence. A few minutes to relax and think, or maybe not think, but just breathe.  Each morning our students start with several minutes of meditation and mindfulness during what we call the Relaxation Response. This is a time for students to focus, clear their minds, and prepare for the day.  All 167 students close their eyes or soften their gaze and quiet their bodies as they hear the first chime. They spend two minutes in silence, waiting for the second chime, which signals the end of this moment in time.

The Relaxation Response program started at Landmark Elementary•Middle School more than seven years ago. Counselors were seeing more and more anxious students who had trouble managing their worried thoughts, couldn’t focus, or just didn’t know how to be quiet within themselves. Counselors attended mindfulness training at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital to learn the methodology that would bring about the Relaxation Response.  

The Science Behind Relaxation Response

The idea of the Relaxation Response was introduced by Dr. Herbert Benson. It is a body response that is the opposite of the fight/flight/flee response; it’s a state of total rest for the body and mind. Blood pressure, heart rate, and hormone levels in the body all subdue during the Relaxation Response, and tension is released from the muscles.  

Dr. Benson noted how much anxiety conjured up this fight/flight/flee response in the body and increased both amygdala and nervous system activity. When our bodies are thinking they need to fight or flee, there is no space—or time—for frontal lobe activity in the brain, which involves higher thinking and, therefore, learning. Inevitably, when we feel anxious, school performance and focus suffer.

The Calming Sounds of Silence

The Relaxation Response program has had many iterations since it was introduced to the EMS; tutors have worked one-on-one practicing relaxation with their students, teachers have led classes of eight students in mindfulness, and small groups aimed at helping anxious students have focused on developing this skill.

Students are clear about their feelings regarding the Relaxation Response saying,  “I like the quiet,” “It’s just nice to have space,” “It helps calm my nerves and focus.” Teachers note less calling out, more calm bodies, and better focus from some students in their classes. Student and teacher feedback led to this school-wide shift in the delivery model for the Relaxation Response.

Research echoes the observations of teachers. A review of research on the effectiveness of mindfulness in elementary classrooms found that "students with meditation and mindfulness training were better able to relax, focus, reduce anxiety, make decisions and be friends, all while improving cognitive function" (Routhier-MartinKillingsworth Roberts and Blanch, 2017).

This year, for the first time, the whole student body is taking part in this skill-building moment of mindfulness, and it is amazing to see. If you’ve ever walked around campus during the day you can see the bustle and hear the buzz of students.  But at 8 a.m., there is silence and palpable calm permeating the student body.  In just a few shorts weeks, students became more participatory in the mindfulness experience, looking forward to this time to prepare for the day ahead.  

Students ask in classes if they can have relaxation “again,” wanting a moment to gather themselves before diving into class material. In a world that moves quickly and our students face many expectations, they can count on this time each day where they just need to be quiet, observe their bodies, and breathe.

Kayli Routhier-Martin, Sherron Killingsworth Roberts & Norine Blanch (2017). "Exploring Mindfulness and Meditation for the Elementary Classroom: Intersections Across Current Multidisciplinary Research," Childhood Education, 93:2, 168-175, DOI: 10.1080/00094056.2017.1300496

Related: Mindfulness Transforms Culture At High-Needs Elementary School. NPR Visits an elementary school in Nashville, Tenn., that is incorporating mindfulness into its behavior management program.

 

About the Author

laura polvinen headshot

Laura Polvinen, LICSW, is the counseling team leader at Landmark Elementary•Middle School.

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Tags:  anxiety meditation mindfulness mindfulness education relaxation stress stress in education worry

Meditation Is Happening in School

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 8, 2015

By Amy Ballin, LICSW, Ph.D.

In college, I first tried meditation with the hope that it would ease my stress. I went to a workshop and learned how to meditate.  It seemed easy enough.  I understood that all I had to do was repeat a word or phrase over and over again in my head and that was mediation.  So, I started a meditation practice.  After two weeks, I decided it did not work and never thought about meditation again until seven years ago when I attended a workshop at the Benson Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine.  It was at this workshop that I understood what did not work in my previous attempt and how meditation can be life altering.

After learning the science of how meditation changes cell structure and gene pathways and reading the research that reports dramatic changes in stress levels, increased focus, and improved health and relationships,  I started meditating with a commitment to do it every day for at least ten minutes for a minimum of eight weeks before I judged it. I kept to my commitment but after about four months I stopped my daily mediation.  What happened after that was amazing.  I noticed a change in the way I responded to people and events.  I was more on edge than I had been when I was practicing meditation.  Things happened in my day that got me more upset.  I was less able to let bad things go and move on.  I went back to the Benson center and started my practice again.  I am more patient with my children and husband and I feel overall better able to handle disappointments, anger from others and other stressful situations.  In addition, some chronic health problems have disappeared.  So I now know from first hand experience that the research is true.

My colleagues in the counseling department and I are introducing the practice of the relaxation response to Landmark students.  We know that students with LBLD tend to have higher rates of anxiety compared to the typical education population.  It is with this information along with the high level of anxiety that we see with our students that we are implementing this practice.

Recently I got a call from the nurse saying a child had a stomachache.  He has been practicing meditation at home and wanted to come to my office to meditate.  We did a ten-minute meditation. He went back to class and stayed in school for the rest of the day.  The stomachache disappeared.

The science on the benefits of meditation is clear and from my own experiences and those of others that have tried it, it seems that a daily practice of the relaxation response is highly beneficial. We look forward to bringing this program to our students.

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Tags:  Benson Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine chronic health problems counseling dyslexia focus health Landmark School Landmark School Outreach Program language-based learning disabili LBLmeditation mindfulness mindfulness education mindfulness workshops stress in education
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