How to Teach Students Mindfulness

Our brains can create hundreds of new neurons every day until we are dead. How cool is that? Turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks. When we learn or practice something, our brains start to recognize the patterns. And when neurons recognize repetition, the repetition leads to permanence. As neuroscientists like to say, when neurons fire together (over and over) they start to “wire together” aka your brain creates neuropathways. As educators, this concept should always be in the forefront of our teaching. Teaching neuroplasticity is an empowering part of learning. When students understand how their brains work, it allows for patience and understanding in their own learning process. And it works the same way whether you are learning multiplication or mindfulness.

Ok so now you are probably getting very excited about the idea that you can teach mindfulness to your students, and through practice, they will learn the strategies, just like they learn anything else. But wait! I’m going to throw you a curve ball. Let’s stop and think for a minute…what about when the tables are turned? Do we give ourselves, as teachers, the time to build new pathways? If we know this about neuroplasticity, let’s consciously choose to organize our neural networks in a way that is positive and supportive. It actually pays off more than you may think.

What I am suggesting next is basically the oxygen mask theory in true form. It’s an invitation to learn mindfulness practices, truly learn, for yourselves, as teachers. It’s a call to action to take care of yourselves first. To prioritize your own mental health. To choose you over them, each time. Sounds harsh but here’s why it’s not. In one study, it was found that a palliative worker’s own state of being actually lowered the patient’s blood pressure and limited the release of the fatty acids that was blocking the patient’s arteries (Berkman 1992).

Their state of being. Imagine that. That entails a lot, it means everything. It includes, one’s movement, breath, attitude, perspectives, energetic output, tone of voice, heart rate, blood pressure, nervous system regulation, thoughts, emotions, to name a few. And believe it or not, we actually have the option to influence or create awareness around all of these aspects of our own state of being. Let’s explore how, although you can probably guess where I am going. Read on.

So you may not be responsible for your student’s artery health, but practicing mindfulness may be one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your students. What I am saying here is that if palliative hospital workers are able to co-regulate with their patients, imagine how our systems are communicating with our students. All that information being exchanged consciously and subconsciously. And this is not some woo woo idea, it’s actually based in neuroscience and metaphysics. Don’t worry, we are going to keep it simple here. Think contagious yawns, babies mimicking behavior of their mothers, how you may feel more calm and comforted when you sleep next to a loved one and therapy dogs soothe their owners.

Through a mindfulness practice, we first become aware of the aspects of our own state of being. That we even have a state of being. We can start to become aware of the variations, the subtleties, the influences and the implications. And once we awaken to that awareness,

we can practice. Simple strategies that we can quickly integrate into our everyday lives. These practices create even more awareness, and we start to have the space to become more balanced and more intentional. Over time, our brains make

permanent pathways and our state of being becomes more mindful. Things quickly shift from formal practice to a way in which we move through and experience life. Our state of being becomes our practice and our students feel that.

So if you’re the teacher who wants to know how to teach students mindfulness, I get it. I was you. We love our students and would do anything for them. What I am suggesting is that we do teach them. We teach them by teaching ourselves first, by learning new pathways, for our own presence, for our own state of (well)being. It is the greatest gift to yourself and to everyone around you.

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