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Mindfulness at CBA

Friday, March 21, 2014

Click here to watch Margaret on The Hampton Roads Show!

Learning to Breathe (L2B) – A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance” – was introduced into our MS C-Day schedule on Fridays at CBA this school year.  The curriculum was developed to give students the tools to practice present-moment awareness, foster emotion regulation, and manage stress.  In the workbook, mindfulness is defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

The workbook is designed to be taught in either a 6-week or 18-week format, depending upon the amount of time available per session, and each lesson addresses a letter from the acronym B.R.E.A.T.H.E. which stands for: Body, Reflections, Emotions, Attention, Tenderness, Habits, and Empowerment.

How did you begin using mindfulness in the classroom?

I began reading about mindfulness over a decade ago and attended a retreat in the fall of 2010.  I have been personally practicing mindfulness and meditation consistently on a daily basis for about a year and have experienced great results.  This is my first year teaching at CBA, and last fall I mentioned to my director, Mary Morgan, that I had successfully used deep breathing exercises previously as a way to get students focused at the beginning of each class.  Mary then found the L2B curriculum online and asked if I would be willing to teach that in conjunction with our other Leadership Curriculum on Fridays.  Of course, I said, “Yes!” and shortly thereafter, I began using the quick body scan exercise at the beginning of each of my Language Arts classes, as well.

What is the distinction between a mindfulness practice and the body scan you lead at the beginning of your classes?

A very simple definition of mindfulness is “paying attention.”  And of course, we can all benefit from a mindfulness practice anytime, anywhere.  A body scan is intentionally taking the time to pay particular attention to what is going on in the body.  The L2B curriculum uses the acronym B.R.E.A.T.H.E., which represents Body, Reflections, Emotions, Attention, Tenderness, Habits, and Empowerment.  In the lessons, students learn the practice of paying attention to their thoughts, which in turn drive their emotions, and ultimately manifest in their physical bodies.  During the body scan exercise, I guide them through the process of bringing their awareness to their bodies from head to toe, reminding them to pay special attention to any places they may be carrying stress, and then intentionally relaxing those muscles and releasing that stress.  I also ask them to notice their thoughts without judgment and practice letting go.   Our minds generate an endless stream of thoughts, called “monkey mind,” and during the body scan, we notice our thoughts. Then, when we notice that our minds have wandered, as they will, we can bring ourselves back to the present moment by bringing our awareness back to our breathing.       

Are you aware of any other schools in which mindfulness is part of the curriculum?

I don’t know of any specifically, however, in Congressman Tim Ryan’s recent book “A Mindful Nation,” he writes about the many organizations all across America in which mindfulness is now being practiced regularly, including many schools.  The forward in the L2B curriculum was written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and coincidentally, he also wrote the forward in Congressman Ryan’s book.

Have you seen a difference in the students since you began the practice?

Oh, absolutely!  In the beginning of this school year, I witnessed many of our students struggle mightily to even sit still for a minute.  Those same students are now able to quiet themselves and still their bodies for several minutes at a time.  Students are also better equipped to deal powerfully with the challenges they face academically and socially.  This conversation on mindfulness fits perfectly into your theme of “Spring Cleaning for Your Mind” as students “clear the cobwebs” in their “chattering minds” long enough to focus on the task at hand.  We know from research that there is a direct correlation between a student’s social-emotional and cognitive development, and through practicing a moment-to-moment awareness of what is going on in their thoughts and in their bodies, they are better able to make wise choices from a place of conscious awareness. 

Has mindfulness helped you in your teaching practice?

Without a doubt!  Teaching is a wonderful profession and is also incredibly challenging on many levels.  My mindfulness practice within and outside of the classroom definitely leaves me feeling more centered, and able to deal effectively with whatever is going on in the moment.  I encourage teachers, students, and frankly all human beings to consider adopting a mindfulness practice of their own…a real “Spring Cleaning” of the mind!