Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword, at least within the educational world.
Teachers are encouraged to practice mindfulness within their classroom and are hopefully given tools to use such as chimes, and employ easy breathing exercises. But what does it mean to use mindfulness in your everyday life? How can it benefit your own children, families, and lives?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and a leader in mindfulness education, mindfulness is the practice of “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
It might be difficult to imagine adding one more thing to your ever-growing life to-do list, however, when mindfulness becomes a lens through which you view all else, it’s not another box to check off and it can help your entire family in a multitude of ways.
Here is just a quick and abbreviated list of some of the benefits of weaving everyday mindfulness into your life:
- You spend less money
- You eat better food and enjoy it more
- You sleep better
- You feel less stress
- You can deal better in difficult situations
- You can maintain focus at work (or at home)
- You are more in touch with what your needs are
- Your children show interest in doing more non-screen-time activities
- Your children show more gratitude
Living more mindfully takes practice over time. There are so very many ways to live in a more mindful way.
Here is a list of 10 things for you to get started with today, with some tips on how to include your children:
- Conscious car rides: While you are in the car, notice the surrounding area that you are in and comment aloud. For example: “Wow, that tree looks like it’s really old!” or “Do you see that cloud that looks like a fish?” A good way to include younger children is to play “I spy,” because it encourages them to notice the objects and nature around them.
- Active listening: When someone is telling you something, use eye contact and respond with smiles and nods, which shows them you are actually listening to them. Avoid distractions such as a cell phone in hand and avoid interrupting. With younger children, physically get down to their levels while listening. This shows them that they have your complete attention.
- Use your nose: When you sit down to eat, take in a big, deep breath through your nose, and notice the smells of the food in front of you. Take notice of how those smells can trigger memories, moods and hunger. Comment on your observations for your children’s sake, and ask them to describe the smells of their food.
- Savor the flavor: Eat slowly and savor your food. Chew deliberately. Notice textures, flavors, and feelings associated with the food. Use all of your senses. It’s easy to eat food in such a rapid way that you miss out on lots of potential pleasure. Also, your digestive system is much happier when we take our time. With younger children, play a “blind taste test” game with a few different foods. Have them comment on the smell, texture, flavor — whatever comes up — and have them guess what foods they are tasting.
- Respond vs. react: When you feel frustration or anger beginning to bubble up, take a deep breath and give yourself time to respond by doing things like “taking five,” which can mean breaths, seconds, minutes or days — depending on the situation. When you remove yourself from the fight-or-flight reaction, it’s easier to respond instead, and manage tough situations with more perspective. We can encourage children to count to five when they feel angry. Also, you can teach them different ways to breathe that will turn their focus on their breath. For example, “lion’s breath” (sticking out tongue and making a lion face while exhaling fully) or “flower breath” (with hands pressed together, open the fingers out like petals of a flower in the inhale and close them up in the exhale).
- Show gratitude: Any chance you can, in an authentic way, thank the people around you for what they are doing. If someone goes out of their way to help you, follow up with a note to express your gratitude. With younger children, make sure to thank them for listening, for doing any chores they might have, even if it is expected of them to do it. Gratitude can immediately elevate the moods of everyone involved, and it encourages mindful noticing of the good things people do that affect you.
- All I can control is myself: Any time someone is complaining about another person or situation, try bringing them back to what they can control: themselves. Rather than join in the stress, you can choose to be more of an observer and a moderator. One big takeaway from this step is that no matter the situation, or the people involved, you can only control yourself. So coming at the difficulty from that angle may be enough to shift the focus off of the things you cannot change.
- Listen to the music: When you hear music that you like, let yourself fully enjoy it, even if just for one song. Close your eyes and let the sound take over your senses. Move your body and sway or dance, if it moves you to dance. Feel the joy that the music brings you. Let children see the effect that good music can have on people.
- Practice uni-tasking: This is the forgotten art of doing one thing at a time. If you feel like this is a luxury item you cannot afford, then just start with a few minutes. Example: Rather than putting away the groceries while starting to prep for dinner and simultaneously cleaning up the kitchen counter, just start by putting away the groceries. With younger children, when you ask them to do something, give them one step at a time. Instead of “Please put these clean clothes away and bring me down the dirty ones from your room,” you can break that down into two steps, and don’t ask for the second one until the first one is complete.
- Self-care: Notice your body, energy and mood. Take care of your needs. If you are tired, sit down and rest for a few minutes. If you feel anxious, take some time out for whatever calms you (go for a walk, take some deep breaths, call a friend, etc). You are here to help others, especially a parent, but the truth is as simple as what they say in the airplane: “Put your oxygen mask on first.” Encourage children to listen to what their bodies are telling them they need to do: wiggle, rest, sleep, eat, use the bathroom, etc.
This should be enough to get you started on this mindfulness shift in your everyday life. Remember that you are leading by example. As the anonymous wisdom states, “The life you live is the lesson you teach.”
Berwick Academy, situated on an 80-acre campus just over one hour north of Boston, serves students from prekindergarten through grade 12. Berwick Academy empowers students to be creative and bold — and strives to graduate alumni who shape their own learning, take risks, ask thoughtful questions, and come to understand and celebrate their authentic selves. Learn more at www.berwickacademy.org, or call us at 207-384-2164.
About the author: Jennifer Hill is a teacher at Berwick Academy, where she teaches Spanish and yoga, leads mindfulness groups, and coaches lacrosse. She loves to travel and spend time with her two kids (and their two dogs).