‘It stops the scary stuff’: pupils thrive with mindfulness lessons

Schools in deprived areas teach meditation to help those affected by violence

A mindfulness class at English Martyrs primary school on Merseyside.

English Martyrs Catholic primary school in Litherland is a stone’s throw from one of Merseyside’s most notorious areas for gangs and gun crime, and most children at the school have been affected by the violence.

It is an unlikely place, perhaps, to find a thriving mindfulness teaching programme. But English Martyrs is one of a growing number of schools in deprived parts of Britain that are embracing meditation techniques to help vulnerable children cope.

“We see a lot of pressure put on children’s shoulders due to family circumstances, parents losing their jobs, financial stress, anxiety about crime, fear about homelessness,” said headteacher Lewis Dinsdale.

“Children internalise things, but what mindfulness has done is bring a number of quieter children to the surface – children who we’d never have known were going through such anxiety and stress at home. They haven’t wanted to speak to their mum and dad about it but it’s coming out in these sessions.”

One nine-year-old-boy confided that “petal breathing” – where the children open and close their fingers in time with their breath – helped him to forget about “all the scary stuff”.

“If I concentrate on my breathing, the worrying thoughts just go ‘pop’ and disappear,” he said.

Nationally, the Mindfulness in Schools Project said it had trained nearly 2,000 teachers this year, a jump of 40% on last year, and much of that growth came from schools with higher than average proportions of vulnerable children.

But for cash-strapped schools, it’s not cheap. Dinsdale said that he had to find £2,500 to train one member of staff. “As a head teacher you’re always looking at the bottom line, and that’s a lot of money,” he said.

The investment had paid off, he said, not just helping with children’s mental health but improving their academic performance too. He described how some children used to have panic attacks when sitting Sats. One girl had been physically sick on her test paper. He was critical of Ofsted inspectors for not being more tuned in to the benefits of mindfulness. “It’s frustrating because it isn’t a box that they have to tick,” he said.

English Martyrs headteacher Lewis Dinsdale is enthusiastic about the benefits of meditation for young children.

Dinsdale has been so convinced by the positive effect that the school has now introduced mindfulness workshops for parents too. “Some mums and dads are at breaking point and they’re taking it out on the children. They don’t know who to turn to,” he said.

The Raise the Youth Foundation in Bolton, a non-profit independent school, teaches children who have been excluded from the education system. Many of them have suffered abuse, lived on the streets and been in and out of foster care. “We are their last hope,” said Jason Steele, the school’s founder.

He said that the school brought mindfulness into the curriculum two years ago, though at the time he was far from convinced that it would have any significant effect. “I thought they’d be playing up,” he said. “But what’s surprised me is that all of them have taken something from it, some more than others.”

Steele said children at his school were probably among the most difficult young people to care for because they were used to pushing people away. Mindfulness, though, had built their self-esteem and was now a hugely positive force in their lives.

“It’s helping them to engage with the present rather than worrying about the future or blaming the past for everything,” he said.

Many of the teenagers have missed years of schooling; most have never sat exams before. He said that before mindfulness became part of the curriculum, they would do everything they could to avoid taking tests.

“They would just run around school slapping people, calling them Muppets, ripping paper, just really low-level behaviour,” he said.

That type of disruptive behaviour has not gone away, but it has tailed off. It happened because they were scared of failure, he said. That had been their life experience. “But showing them how to do meditation is helping them learn about relaxation, it’s given them a confidence they never had.”

Mindfulness Improves Job  Satisfaction

Mindfulness in the workplace can improve productivity and more.

Posted Oct 23, 2018

A new study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology has found that mindfulness training offered in the workplace can improve productivityand work-life balance. The randomized controlled study was conducted in a 60-person marketing firm and compared a 6-week versus half-day seminar on mindfulness.

Mindfulness involves the art of paying attention and being curious about the present moment without judging or being critical. Researchers found that a 6-week mindfulness training program was more helpful than a half-day seminar to improve attention, self-reported job satisfaction, and a positive attitude toward work. These findings are part of a growing body of research suggesting that mindfulness improves job satisfaction, rational thinking, and emotional resilience.

Other researchers have suggested that mindfulness could reduce motivation in employees, potentially neutralizing its positive effect on performance. In a recent study published in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers found that mindfulness did not improve performance on tasks. They suggested that mindfulness teaches one to be more accepting and less concerned about the future. People were calmer and more focused, but expected to put in less time and energy into a task.

However, tasks at work vary in scope, timeline, and complexity. Over the long-term, possessing more calmness, patience, and resilience likely helps people more effectively approach and problem-solve challenging tasks over time.

The regular practice of mindfulness has been linked to better stressmanagement and work-life balance as well as long-term mental and physical health. Mindfulness has even been linked to younger, healthier brains in brain imaging studies and slows aging at the genetic level. Mindfulness has also been shown to significantly lower health care costs.

Mindfulness in the workplace is most likely beneficial, whether the end goal is productivity or – more broadly speaking – employee wellness. A 6- to 8-week training program that goes beyond a half-day seminar is more likely to be effective.

If employers are looking for ways to improve job satisfaction, productivity, and potentially lower costs, the practice of mindfulness in the workplace is a worthwhile long-term investment.

References

Slutsky J, Chin B, Raye J, & Creswell JD. Mindfulness training improves employee well-being: A randomized controlled trial. J Occup Health Psychol. 2018 Oct 18. doi: 10.1037/ocp0000132

 

How to practice mindfulness exercises

LIVING Sep 21, 2018 Mayo Clinic News Network

Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling in the moment. - Dreamstime

Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. Practicing mindfulness exercises can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation has been studied in many clinical trials. The overall evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for various conditions, including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

Preliminary research indicates that meditation can also help people with asthma and fibromyalgia.

Meditation can help you experience thoughts and emotions with greater balance and acceptance. Meditation also has been shown to:

  • Improve attention
  • Decrease job burnout
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve diabetes control

What are some examples of mindfulness exercises?

There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness. Some examples include:

  • Pay attention.

It's hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favourite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.

  • Live in the moment.

Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.

  • Accept yourself.

Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.

  • Focus on your breathing.

When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.You can also try more structured mindfulness exercises, such as:

  • Body scan meditation.

Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body.

  • Sitting meditation.

Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience and then return your focus to your breath.

  • Walking meditation.

Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length, and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.

When and how often should I practice mindfulness exercises?

It depends on what kind of mindfulness exercise you plan to do.

Simple mindfulness exercises can be practised anywhere and any time. Research indicates that engaging your senses outdoors is especially beneficial.

For more structured mindfulness exercises, such as body scan meditation or sitting meditation, you'll need to set aside time when you can be in a quiet place without distractions or interruptions. You might choose to practice this type of exercise early in the morning before you begin your daily routine.

Aim to practice mindfulness every day for about six months. Over time, you might find that mindfulness becomes effortless. Think of it as a commitment to reconnecting with and nurturing yourself

 

Why not use your commute as your quiet time?

Train meditation and skipping the coffee are two pro tips for a healthier morning commute

The Hamilton Spectator 11 Aug 2018 MORGAN SMITH

Guided meditation on apps like Calm, or finding a piece of instrumental classical, jazz, world or new age music and taking deep breaths can help turn your commute into a meditative experience.

As August arrives, the summer commute into work becomes a sweaty endeavour marked by crowded bodies, the stench of city garbage and exacerbated FOMO (“fear of missing out”) from missing another perfect beach day.

But imagine a weekday morning when, instead of rushing into the office with a sweating iced coffee and pit stains to match, you were calm. Confident. Even looking forward to your workday.

Wellness experts think such a thing is possible, part of a movement that prizes self-awareness and making small, conscious steps toward a healthier, fulfilling life — like adjusting your morning commute routine.

Judy Manisco, a registered nutritionist and dietitian in Chicago, believes that slight meal adjustments could drastically improve commuters’ well-being before work. “The key is to wake up early enough where you’re not running around, stressed about getting to work on time, but pacing yourself and eating a healthy breakfast before work,” she says.

Manisco suggests a balance of protein and carbohydrates to keep you full and energized until lunch. Her favourite breakfast? “A protein shake made from organic soy milk, raw, unsalted walnuts (they’re high in nutrient-dense omega-3 fatty acids), a variety of seeds, oat bran and either a stalk of celery or a handful of spinach,” Manisco says. For sweetness, she recommends adding natural cocoa or a date.

If you skip the protein shake, Manisco recommends wholegrain toast, a handful of nuts or seeds, and a cup of fruit. She warns against coffee. “Caffeine will get your heart and adrenals pumping artificially, and thus could have you feeling unnecessarily anxious or depressed,” Manisco says.

Diet isn’t the only trick to incorporating wellness into your morning commute. Paying attention to posture and movement can also help.

Jason Kart, a practicing physical therapist for 10 years and the owner of Core Physical Therapy in Chicago, says lower back and neck pain are the most “common ailments” among his working patients. “When you sit for a while, you turn your postural muscles off and you start using passive structures like cartilage, which breaks down easier,” Kart says. “Humans are built to walk around and look for food, so when you’re sitting, you’re not activating those important spinal muscles, but instead causing a steady breakdown of muscle tissue.”

Kart takes Metra to work each morning and notices the same behaviour causing neck pain among commuters: “text neck.” “Text neck” occurs when you lean your head over your phone, straining your neck muscles and thus causing joint pain. To alleviate this, Kart recommends a simple fix: “If you’re standing on the ’L’ or Metra, the movement of the train helps you practice stability and balance and work your postural muscles,” he says.

And for car drivers who can’t stand during their commute? Consider the headrest. “Bad posture is so common among drivers ... they should practice keeping their head lightly against the headrest and avoid a slouch position,” he says. “This will gradually alleviate back and neck pain while driving.” At work, Kart suggests periodically moving around to engage the postural muscles most commonly associated with neck and back pain.

After considering your stomach and your spine, think of your brain. One of the most popular sectors of wellness is mindfulness. Darrell Jones, general manager of Chill Chicago: Meditation and Massage and a meditation instructor, meditates on the train during his commute and recommends the practice to anyone who wants to feel “calmer and happier” entering their workspace.

Annoyed by the loud chatter or the loudspeaker on the train? “Incorporate those sounds and how they make you feel into your meditation,” Jones says. He recommends the guided meditation on apps like Calm, or finding a piece of instrumental classical, jazz, world or new age music and taking deep breaths while asking yourself questions such as: “Who do I want to be, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen today? Do I want to be a jerk, or a kind soul? Do I want to embody possibility, or show up exuding impossibility?

“An easy meditation game you can play is taking a deep breath, with your eyes closed, each time the train door opens, and exhaling when it closes,” Jones says.

The most important thing, according to Jones, is cultivating a calm, positive mindset before launching into a routine. “If we can prioritize our wellness in small ways, or create a mindset of possibility before reading a horrible piece of news or a frustrating work email ... that could improve your whole day,” he says.

 

Discovering Self-compassion Through Mindfulness

Hamiltonians Barbara Smith and Mary Linda Burgess teach an eight-week course focusing on how we can treat ourselves with kindness

LIVING 02:48 PM by Emma Reilly  The Hamilton Spectator

MINDFULNESS

Clinical social worker Mary Linda Burgess (R) and psychotherapist Barbara Smith are the instructors of a mindfulness and self-compassion course, a research-based practice that encourages self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and balanced, mindful awareness. - Gary Yokoyama , The Hamilton Spectator

Barbara Smith and Mary Linda Burgess want you to take care of yourself.

Smith, a psychotherapist, and Burgess, a social worker, aren't talking about treating yourself to an afternoon latte or getting a pedicure (though they both agree that there's nothing wrong with a little self-pampering).

For Smith and Burgess, this type of self-care goes much deeper.

"This isn't 'Go out and do something.' This is, 'Come in.' Be with yourself. Ask yourself what you need," said Burgess.

“We in the Western world have this really severe inner critic that beats us up all the time, which is not true in the rest of the world. This is what this course is really designed to address: this inner critic.”

Barbara Smith

Psychotherapist

“We eventually run out, if we don’t take good care. Self-compassion offers layers of self-care that aren’t taught in other programs.”

Mary Linda Burgess

Social worker

Smith and Burgess are the founders of Mindful Self-Compassion Hamilton, an eight-week program that uses mindfulness — the practice of focusing one's awareness on the present moment — as a tool for practising self-compassion.

"We in the Western world have this really severe inner critic that beats us up all the time, which is not true in the rest of the world," said Smith. "This is what this course is really designed to address: this inner critic."

Their course, which runs for eight, three-hour sessions, is a blend of meditation, short talks, experiential exercises, group discussion, and "homework" — exercises for participants to practice at home.

The class focuses on developing the three key components of self-compassion: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness. Our internal critic, say Smith and Burgess, leads us to self-judgment, isolation, and either overidentification or avoidance of negative emotions.

"What happens when we're angry, or sad? We try to push it away. So whatever we resist, persists," said Smith. "So the idea here is not to push it away, but to stay with it, to allow it, to be with it. And paradoxically, it tends to soften, and it's OK, once we're facing it."

"We're not the Energizer Bunny. We don't go off screen and get a new battery put in, and come right back," said Burgess. "We eventually run out, if we don't take good care. Self-compassion offers layers of self-care that aren't taught in other programs."

The benefits are many, say Smith and Burgess. They point out that there are over 1,400 articles on self-compassion in the psychological literature, and that research shows that self-compassion is strongly associated with fewer negative states like depression, anxiety, stress, shame, and negative body image. At the same time, it's strongly linked to more positive states like happiness, life satisfaction and optimism.

Smith and Burgess — who met when they were both working on the Hamilton Family Health Team — run roughly three courses every year, each of which is different depending on the makeup of the class. The people who attend are from all walks of life: different age ranges, different professions, and different backgrounds. The course isn't meant to be a substitute for therapy, though it can help to support those who are in counselling.

The course follows a curriculum written by Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin's department of educational psychology, and Chris Germer, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. Both Smith and Burgess have gone through training in order to be certified to teach the course.

Those who have taken the course say self-compassion has helped them to feel more grounded, calmer, and more able to cope with difficult situations.

"It meets a need for folks that traditional programs — for example, self-esteem programs — doesn't address. Self-compassion is what the world is lacking. It meets that need on a deeper level," said Burgess.

ereilly@thespec.com

905-526-2452 | @EmmaatTheSpec

ereilly@thespec.com

905-526-2452 | @EmmaatTheSpec