Imagine holding a jar containing glitter and water. The glitter rests on the bottom of the jar waiting for its chance to move. You shake the jar and watch the flecks of glitter swirl and tumble through the water. Then you pause and place the jar on a table and watch the glitter slowly settle to the bottom. In this exercise, the jar represents your mind and the glitter all of the thoughts and strong emotions we can experience on any given day. It can be easy to let these thoughts and emotions swirl and tumble in our minds. But when you pause and take a moment to place your attention on the present moment, perhaps focusing on your breath, you allow the glitter to settle. Your mind becomes clear. I often use this Glitter-in-a-Jar activity with young people to help them visualize how busy our minds can become. This is a tangible example that helps them understand the abstract concept of mindfulness.
Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword in our society. In the past few months, I have read articles about mindfulness in Time Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. A sentence in the Time Magazine article titled “The Mindful Classroom” (October 3, 2016), captured my attention. It states, “Educators increasingly believe that mindfulness can be an antidote to three of the biggest mental-health challenges that face kids today: anxiety, trouble paying attention and bullying.” But what exactly is mindfulness? The Cambridge Dictionary defines mindfulness as, “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.” When I talk about mindfulness with young people, I often say that mindfulness is when you pay attention, on purpose, to the present moment.
Most youth in my programs at OC know that mindfulness is something I am passionate about. But they are often surprised to hear that I have only known and practiced mindfulness in my own life for less than a decade. I first learned of mindfulness through my yoga practice and as a yoga teacher working with both children and adults. When I started practicing mindfulness as an adult, my first thought was that I wish I had been exposed to this tool when I was younger to help me manage daily stress and the general challenges of growing up. In my children’s yoga classes, I began to incorporate short mindfulness games into our programs. Students in my 11-13 year old class commented on how calm and relaxed they felt after our mindfulness games. They began to ask for more mindfulness. This is when my mindfulness journey truly began!
As a registered nurse by training, I had the feeling that I wasn’t the first person to notice the effects of mindfulness in adults and children. I wondered what scientific research had been done on the topic and what this research had shown. Research into the benefits of mindfulness activities in adults is extensive and has shown that these activities decrease stress, help ease anxiety, improve sleeping patterns, prevent illness, and reduce depression. While research on the benefits of mindfulness activities in children is still emerging, the early results are remarkable. A few of the many benefits children practicing mindfulness have demonstrated include increased attention and ability to focus, improved emotion regulation, and reduced stress. This research reinforces my personal experiences.
When I started working as a Facilitator at Open Connections, I was excited to share mindfulness with the young people in my programs. In Group Tutorial II programs, we weave mindfulness into our day in a variety of ways.