….and take a deep breath. That is my theme for this holiday season, and it was inspired by a conversation with a teacher at my children’s school about mindfulness. I know mindfulness is a “hot” topic these days, but after talking with my daughter's teacher and participating in an adult mindfulness class, I am now a believer in this practice.
At Westtown, students begin learning and practicing mindfulness in the lower school. Shelagh Wilson, a first grade teacher at Westtown, who studies and practices mindfulness, describes it to her students as “ learning to pay attention on purpose.” She introduces her students to this practice with mindful listening (perhaps to a bird, a clock) and then leads them to mindful breathing and heartfulness.
As Shelagh explains to her first graders, there is a science behind this process. When we breathe we calm the amygdala (the part of our brain that controls our emotions). This calming allows the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that helps you plan and make decisions) and the hippocampus (the part of the brain that control your memory) to do their jobs. As adults, we know if we take emotion out of a situation, we will make better decisions. Think of the power of teaching our children to do this at an early age!
When I asked Shelagh if she had any examples of how she saw mindfulness change a child she shared the following: She noticed a first grader taking a big breath during circle time. She asked him after class about it and he said, ”I had to take a mindful breath because I was about to do something I shouldn’t.” Another child said, “I took a mindful breath when I was reading and it helped me calm down and figure out the word.”
After my conversation with Shelagh, I took part in a nine-week adult mindfulness class as part of Westtown’s fall community events. I explained the class to a friend; she laughed and said “who has time to sit and think about being mindful during the holidays?” Yes, the holidays are filled with stresses good, bad, self-induced, avoidable, and unavoidable - all the more reason for an adult mindfulness class. It was amazing to see the diversity of the group that gathered and to hear the different reasons that people were motivated to come.
A few reasons that I heard were:
Going through a big transition on in one’s life (new job after 13 years in one field) and looking for tools for coping with change
Anxiety - how to deal with it and channel energy elsewhere
Pulled in too many directions and hoping for a better work/life balance
Have heard and read a lot about mindfulness but wanted to learn more and experience it
I am certain that we all walked away with something a little different from the class. As I look back, I’m reminded that mindfulness is intentionally being in the moment. This is a simple thought but a BIG intention for all of us in a world that encourages multi-tasking 24/7.
I think we are on to something and to making this world a better place...one breath at a time. I challenge you, during this busy holiday season and beyond, to mindfully take a deep breath!