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Putting Your Oxygen Mask on First: Mindfulness and Stress Reduction

dropAs we begin this last stretch of the fall semester, spend a few minutes to take care of yourself.

Flight attendants always remind us to put our oxygen masks on first, before we assist others.  This might be a good time of year to take that advice to heart, and engage in some stress reducing activities for ourselves. In a recent article by Stephanie Jones et al from Harvard Ed, mindfulness is discussed as an effective tool to navigate stress: “Mindfulness practices have been used in medical and military populations with evidence of effectiveness and are now being applied in education settings with the goal of helping educators be less reactive and more reflective, responsive, and flexible.” – from Educators’ Social and Emotional Skills Vital to Learning.

Below is a simple mindfulness exercise from The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching.


A Simple Breath Awareness Mindfulness Practice

  1. Find a quiet place.
  2. Sit on a chair so that both feet are flat on the ground. If possible, sit in a relaxed but upright posture in which you are supporting yourself rather than leaning on the back of the chair.
  3. You can do this practice with open or closed eyes. If your eyes are open, gaze downward toward the floor in front of you. Relax your gaze so that you are not focused on anything in particular.
  4. Take three deep breaths—slowly inhaling and exhaling.
  5. Return to your normal relaxed breathing pattern and notice where you feel your breath entering and leaving your body. This could be in your nose, in your chest, or in your belly. Allow your attention to rest on that feeling of your body breathing.
  6. At some point, you will notice that your attention has wandered from your breathing, and you are thinking about something. Simply acknowledge that you are thinking, whatever it might be about, and return your attention to the sensation of your body breathing. This provides the opportunity for you to notice what you are doing and come back to your breath and the present moment.

Try this breath awareness practice for about five minutes a few times in the next week and comment below about what you notice.


Two programs that focus specifically on mindfulness in education are:

Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE for Teachers)
A Program of the Garrison Institute’s Contemplative Teaching and Learning Initiative 
In a recent study by the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State University, CARE was found to improve teacher well-being, efficacy, burnout-related stress, time-related stress and mindfulness.

Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques in Education (SMART)
A Program of  PassageWorks in U.S. and University of British Columbia in Canada
SMART in Education alumni report that the impact of the program goes far beyond improved personal well-being. The benefits of this transformational experience also extend to relationships with family, friends, colleagues and students. See 2013 study on the SMART program: Mindfulness Training and Reductions in Teacher Stress and Burnout by Robert Roeser et al.

For more information about mindfulness, see www.mindful.org/resources.

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