With the growth of mindfulness in classrooms around the country and the world, a number of misconceptions have arisen about mindful practices which deserve to be clarified.
The Myth: “Mindfulness is just another form of mind control over our children.”
The Reality: Mindfulness actually helps children gain control of their own minds so that they’re not always being victimized by stress and negative thoughts and emotions.
The Myth: ”Mindfulness has children doing specialized breathing exercises.”
The Reality: Students are asked to simply breathe in their normal way, and pay attention to their inhalation and exhalation by noticing the rise and fall of their chest or belly, or the rush of air through their nostrils. The focus is on awareness of normal breathing, not special breathing techniques.
The Myth: ”By withholding judgment of their thoughts and feeling during mindfulness, students suspend their critical thinking and moral and ethical beliefs.”
The Reality: Mindfulness asks students to be nonjudgmental toward the thoughts that flow through their mind as they focus on their breathing (or walking, eating, or stretching) during mindfulness practice. This has nothing to do with suspending critical thinking or any moral or ethical beliefs that a student might have (and there is no research evidence that mindfulness changes these beliefs). It simply suggests that for the duration of the mindfulness session students let any thoughts and feelings come and go without reacting to them or getting tangled up in them.
The Myth: ”Mindfulness communicates to a child that he should always be calm, always clear-headed, and always in control.”
The Reality: Mindfulness helps children engage in the self-regulation of their thoughts and emotions, so that they are better able to handle the stresses of life.
The Myth: Mindfulness is a form of hypnosis where students are told to visualize images that may be harmful to them.
The Reality: Mindfulness does not use visualization as part of its method, nor does it employ methods used by hypnotists to put their subjects in a trance.
The Myth: Mindfulness puts students in a vulnerable state where they can be invaded by evil spirits.
The Reality: Mindfulness simply asks students to pay attention to their breathing (or walking, stretching, or eating) and notice any distractions without judgment. Students are in control of this process at all times and are not put into any type of special state of consciousness where they might be vulnerable.
The Myth: Mindfulness is not backed up by rigorous scientific research.
The Reality: While research on mindfulness in the classroom is still in its infancy, the early signs are encouraging, suggesting significant positive changes in executive functioning, emotional self-regulation, and improved working memory, among other affirmative results.
I recommend that before implementing a program of mindfulness in a classroom or school, teachers hold a meeting for parents and the community where the benefits of mindfulness are described, its positive impact on reducing stress discussed, the neuroscience of mindfulness explored, and where parents have the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any misconceptions they may have (it’s also recommended that educators build in a brief session where parents can experience mindfulness directly for themselves).
For more information on implementing mindfulness in the schools, get my book: Thomas Armstrong, Mindfulness in the Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Concentration, Compassion, and Calm.
This article was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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