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Understanding and Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is showing up everywhere I look: a segment with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, cover stories in Parade Magazine, Time and Scientific American, as well as frequent stories in the New York Times. You might be wondering, what exactly is Mindfulness and how is it related to Engaged Teaching?

PresentFirst and foremost, mindfulness is a mental capacity we all possess – the capacity to pay attention to our own experience as it happens in real time.

We can be mindful of any sensation, thought or emotion, such as:

  • Sensations of hot water coursing over our body in the shower
  • Thoughts we have about an upcoming presentation
  • Emotions we feel toward our selves and others

Unfortunately, in our busy, stressful lives we tend to focus more on what we have to do in the future or what has happened in the past. We generally do not have the habit of being IN the present moment and regarding it with curiosity.

And that is a great loss. When we are present to our unfolding experience and regard it with curiosity rather than judgment, research has shown that many benefits occur:

  • Decreased Stress
  • Increased Focus
  • Improved Wellbeing
  • Greater Compassion and Kindness
  • More Satisfying Relationships

>> More Information on Research Findings

Mindfulness and Engaged Teaching

At PassageWorks we make a connection between mindfulness and each of the 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching. Mindfulness helps us open our hearts and welcome the unwelcome, observe our own thoughts and emotions, be present and responsive to what is happening with our students and colleagues, have greater capacity to greet strong emotions and find our way for setting respectful boundaries.

What can we do to develop mindfulness in our lives?

PracticeThe short answer is “practice”.

When we create time during our day to regularly engage in simple exercises that strengthen our habit of mindfulness we discover that mindfulness begins to spontaneously infuse the rest of our lives. It’s like going to the gym and then being physically ready to take a jog or swim when the opportunity arises. Mindfulness practices help us be mentally and emotionally ready for whatever life brings to us.

Here are some suggestions to begin a mindfulness practice:

  1. Try to find three times during each workday when you can take a minute or two to stop and check in with yourself. Be curious about what effect this has on your life.
  2. Explore our Mindfulness Resources page.
  3. Consider participating in one or more of the upcoming courses or opportunities below.
  4. Try the Pause Practice below.

Pause Practice Instructions

  • Stop
    • Stop moving and doing. Find a place you can sit, stand or lie down and be quiet
  • Take Three Deep Belly Breaths
    • Breathe in through the nose and fill your torso from bottom to top.
    • When you exhale, let the air out from your chest and then your lower torso
    • Repeat 3 times and return to a natural breath
  • Turn Your Attention to Physical Sensations
    • Turn your attention to noticing the sensations wherever your body meets the floor or a chair. How does it feel? What do you notice purely as a physical sensation?
    • Notice air temperature on your skin and the feel of clothing against your skin
    • Notice sensations in your muscles, joints, organs, etc.
  • Turn Your Attention to Your Thoughts
    • Notice how your mind feels – alert, sleepy, foggy, clear
    • Notice the qualities of your thinking – fast, slow, connected, disjointed
    • If you notice what you are thinking about, try not to get engaged. Just notice the topic and move on.
  • Turn Your Attention to Your Emotions
    • Notice whether there are any emotions present – left over from before the practice began, in anticipation of what will come after the practice, or from the practice itself.
    • Notice if you can feel any physical sensations of the emotions in your body –throat, chest, stomach, etc.
  • Throughout the Practice, When Your Mind Wanders From the Object of Attention Notice That it has Wandered and With Kindness Return it to the Object of Attention: Breath, Sensations, Thoughts Or Emotions
    • Your mind will wander and you will notice, eventually that it has wandered. In that very moment you are practicing mindfulness. You have not failed or made a mistake. This is the practice: placing attention on an object, having the mind wander and returning attention to the object with kindness. Think of training your mind with the same affection with which you would train a puppy.
  • Throughout the Practice Regard What You Find With Curiosity Rather Than Judgment
    • Be interested in what is there in the moment rather than wanting to get rid of it or get more of it.
    • Welcome the unwelcome; it is.

Upcoming Mindfulness Opportunities

20-Hour Mindfulness Course for Educators
June 3-June 22, 2015 in Boulder, CO
PassageWorks will be offering its SMART in Education course to educators and members of the public in a new format spanning five meetings in June.

Working with the Stress of School Leadership: Mindfulness Retreat for Principals and Assistant Principals
June 17-19 in Lyons, CO
Join us for a weekend retreat to explore mindfulness and the benefits it can bring to your personal and professional life.

Mindfulness in Education Network National Conference
June 26-28 in Denver, CO
PassageWorks Institute is offering the Friday Pre-Conference Workshop on The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching. Friday night and Saturday offer presentations and workshops on mindfulness in education.

Contemplative Fellowships for Educators
Sponsored by The Hemera Foundation
The program provides retreat scholarship support to people who currently work full-time in pre-K or K-12 education, or are enrolled in a Master’s degree program in education. If you are new to meditation or have never attended a retreat longer than a weekend, you are eligible for full funding (find out more)

New book by Patricia Jennings, Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom (The Norton Series on the Social Neuroscience of Education)

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