The Benefits of Mindfulness for Students, Part Two

In last week’s post, I talked about the many stresses high school students face and the growing body of research that is showing the benefits of mindfulness practices for youth. I also discussed exactly what is meant by the term “mindfulness.” See “The Benefits of Mindfulness for Students, Part One” for more.

Here, in Part Two, I will talk about my experience teaching mindfulness to youth and describe some simple mindfulness techniques you can try yourself or share with students. I will also explore the question of how we can bring these practices to youth in an online school.

I have had the privilege of teaching mindfulness through yoga in bricks and mortar schools (currently at GDCI in Goderich, Ontario), and before that, in a youth detention facility with a wonderful organization called New Leaf Yoga Foundation.  I also work for an online school in Ontario called Virtual High School where I have been experimenting with ways of making mindfulness exercises available to students in a completely online environment. I am honoured to be a guest blogger for Hekademia to share ideas.

blog2-breatheSimple Mindfulness Techniques

The mindfulness techniques shared here are simple exercises that can help you to focus on “what is” in the present moment. The common thing among them is that they help get you “out of your head” and “into your body.”  They help interrupt the cycle of anxiety-provoking thoughts. You can share them with the youth in your life (whether you are a parent or an educator.)

  1. Breathing Technique: Lengthen Your Exhalations

Bring your attention to your breath. Notice as you breathe in an breath out. Where do you feel your breath moving in and out of your body? Now, start to lengthen your exhalations  so they are twice as long as your inhalations.  You can count as you inhale, and then double the number as you exhale. For example, if you count “in” to the count of four, exhale “out” to the count of 8. Focus on pressing all your breath out on every exhale. Continue this for one or two minutes or longer if you like.

  1. Breathing Technique: Hands on Breathing

For this exercise you can be seated comfortably or lying down. Place one hand on your ribcage and one hand on your stomach. Bring your awareness to how you feel your breath (and hands) moving as you inhale and exhale. As you relax more deeply, see if you can breathe more deeply to allow your stomach to rise as you inhale, and fall as you exhale. Continue for one or two minutes, or longer if you like.

  1. Body Scan

A body scan a wonderful way to bring your attention to all the different sensations in your body and can really help you to relax deeply. This is one of the techniques recommended by AnxietyBC, an organization in British Columbia that supports youth with anxiety. Visit their website for a full Body Scan script you can download and an explanation of some other wonderful mindfulness exercises you can practice.

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Mindfulness in Online Schools

How can we serve students in the online education community? How do we determine if youth are stressed? How can we help them deal with such pressures? In online education we do not have a physical classroom where we can lead some mindful breathing before a test or gather for a yoga session.  There are, however, ways to support students and provide mindfulness exercises to practice.

We can:

  1. Tweet or share Facebook links to online instruction in mindfulness practices. There are many wonderful resources online, such as the AnxietyBC website discussed above. Sharing links to these resources through social media can bring these resources to the attention of students and continues the conversation about youth stress and anxiety issues.
  2. Include yoga and mindfulness in online courses like Health and Physical Education. The simple techniques described above could be described in a course, and students could be invited to choose one or more of the exercises to practice.  Students could practice these exercises several times a week over a period of a month and keep a journal about the experience.
  3. Create videos that address stress and offer some simple techniques to get “out of the head and into the body.” Virtual High School has created an “Exam Preparations Stress Relief” video that is currently found on the exam prep page in every one of our over 70 courses.  A similar idea could be replicated for Hekademia clients.
  4. Communicate with students. Even though there is no face-to-face contact between teachers and students in a fully online environment, there is still a lot of meaningful communication taking place through email. Teachers may be able to pick up on cues from the student that signal stress or anxiety, and offer some strategies to cope.

Learning how to deal effectively with life’s stresses is an important part of education, and we are dedicated to increasing our students’ awareness of how they can manage stress and to providing access to these important practices. We want all students everywhere to be well-equipped to face life.

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Do you have other ideas about how we can engage students in mindfulness practice? Can you see a way for you to integrate some of these ideas into your school or classroom?

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