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8 ways I practiced mindfulness this year

Here's how a middle school teacher decreased her and her students' anxiety and began to think more positively

Mindfulness has become a buzzword in schools over the past few years. Many schools have hired mindfulness professionals to work with their students and faculty. According to scientist and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

As the daughter of two developmental psychologists, I was introduced early to the concept of being mindful, though I am not proficient at being mindful in my own life. After 19 years of teaching adolescents and then having children of my own, I have become more aware of the importance of mindfulness. I decided to spend time throughout the year improving my mindful skills. My goal was to decrease anxiety in myself, my students, and my children. I also hoped to create a space where I was thinking more positively.

1. I dropped all social media for the summer
With my mindfulness mission in mind, I decided to try out life without social media for the summer. This meant getting at least an hour or two back every day (100+ hours total for the months of July and August).

To be honest, the first week was a little more difficult than I expected. I tried to meditate during the time that I had been wasting scrolling through random pictures, but I found it difficult to concentrate. I started reading instead and was able to burn through a few books in just two weeks.

Being free of social media proved to be just that: freeing. While I did return to some social media this month, I decided to not add the apps back on my phone. Having to go onto my laptop to check social media will most definitely decrease the amount of time I spend scrolling, which I hope will leave more time for my mindfulness practice.

2. I did some mindfulness training at work
Last year, I obtained a grant and brought a mindfulness consultant to our district. The training, from MindWise, was a huge hit with the 20 teachers who participated, and it helped to start a mindfulness movement in the Burlington (MA) Public Schools! The presentations were so dynamic and truly got me thinking about mindfulness as an important movement to improve the lives of everyone in my community

3. I went to Kripalu
I have never been into yoga or meditation, but when I turned 40 I wanted to go somewhere to learn how to relax. A friend recommended Kripalu, an all-inclusive retreat center in western Mass. You stay in a modest room (shared or single), hike around the beautiful grounds, and attend as many yoga and meditation classes as you want. I took the “I’m on vacation” approach, sleeping in and attending an afternoon yoga class and an evening meditation each day.

Never in my life have I felt at chill as I felt after three days at Kripalu. That feeling vanished immediately upon returning home, so I knew I’d have to do more to hold onto that incredible feeling.

4. I began taking yoga
I bought a yoga mat and looked online for yoga videos. After weeks of staring at my beautiful mat (still rolled up in the corner), I decided to check out a local yoga studio. My goal was to go at least once a week. After the first class, I could barely walk. I took a few beginners classes after that to ease my way in. I am not flexible (which had always been my excuse to avoid yoga), but I quickly caught on to the breathing and blissing out parts of yoga. Also, I found it very helpful to have a teacher to help me, offer suggestions, and be there practicing with me.

5. I used mindfulness apps
After months of practicing mindfulness with others, I wanted to try on my own. I found a quiet space and tried to relax and concentrate on my breathing. After about three seconds, my mind was racing. All I could think about were the hundreds of items on my to-do list.

I decided to download a mindfulness app. With Headspace, Calm, and Buddhify, I could practice mindfulness in my home and have the assistance I needed for free. The best thing about these apps is that you can choose the duration. Some days I opt for four minutes; other days I try for 20. Whatever the time commitment, I always feel better after a mindful moment.

6. I took an online course on mindfulness
I am fortunate to have a supportive school administration who buys in to the importance of bringing mindfulness into the schools. I was able to take part in an online course through Mindful Schools this summer. The course, which was six weeks long, included a wide variety of ways to include mindfulness into each day—for yourself and for others.

For me, the most important week focused on compassion and gratitude. We kept a daily list of things we are grateful. Making this list was a reminder to me of how fortunate I am. This feeling of gratitude was a very simple way to practice mindfulness. I look forward to taking more classes and become certified as a mindfulness teacher.

7. I practiced with my students before quizzes
I teach middle school Spanish. Most of my students have anxiety. This anxiety may not always be obvious, but it’s there. The most common cause of school-related anxiety is testing. This year, I taught my students a short breathing exercise that I encouraged them to do before each quiz and test.

8. I practiced with my children at home
I decided to teach my children (ages eight and 11) about mindfulness and meditation so that they would have plenty of time to practice and add relaxation techniques to their toolbox of coping strategies for life.

As a parent, it’s sometimes tough to teach your kids something that’s new or foreign. I found it difficult to lead my own children through a breathing exercise, so I tried some yoga classes and apps with them. While they were resistant at first, they both noticed that taking a few minutes to breathe and focus helped them. My daughter has been able to manage her stomach aches with a 15-minute meditation, and my son will often choose to do a 5- to 10-minute meditation when he is feeling frustrated about something. They both use mindfulness apps when they are having trouble falling asleep.

Whether you’d like to increase your attention span, decrease your anxiety, or just chill out a bit, I recommend trying some of these steps. They worked for me, and I hope they work for you too. Namaste!

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