ACG Strathallan Executive Principal Robin Kirkham explains the technique and benefits of integrating the Pause, Breathe, Smile mindfulness programme into the school.
As a teacher of theatre to youngsters, I have used mindfulness techniques for many years. An important discipline of acting is mind/body awareness. We teach students to be conscious of their own bodies, use their diaphragm to breathe, remain still for prolonged periods and use all their senses in the present moment. Drama lends itself to mindfulness practice.
Students learn how to focus on their breathing in order to engage with the present moment. The purpose of teaching mindfulness is to provide students with skills that help them overcome negative emotions such as anger, stress and anxiety while enhancing their performance and enjoyment of life.
What actually happens in a mindfulness lesson?
Typically, students are led in a physical exercise that uses breath and movement to make them more aware of their bodies and senses. This is followed by a period of silence in which the teacher keeps the students focussed on their breathing while they sit and relax. If the mind wanders, students are instructed to bring their full attention back to their breathing.
These practices may have a particular image to focus on, such as breathing in oxygen that has been donated by living plants and breathing out carbon dioxide as a gift back to the plants.
Focus on the moment
Once the practice is over, students carry out an activity connected to the main idea of the lesson. An example is where students make a jar containing liquid and glitter. Shaken up and allowed to settle, this “mindjar” is a metaphor for a confused, muddled state of mind that given a few moments of quiet stillness (mindfulness) settles to a calm, focussed, lighter, brighter state.
Our mindfulness lessons often end with the most popular exercise of all – mindful eating. Students are taught to take the time to feel, smell and taste a piece of fruit, savouring all the sensations associated with its consumption.
Benefits to students
Our mindfulness trial has confirmed for me that students’ understanding of their emotions, and the way their brain learn, is developed through this practice. I have seen evidence that through the practice of mindfulness, students are calmer, clearer and more open to learning. Furthermore, the more regularly they practice mindfulness, the more effective it becomes.