Mindfulness in school – Part 2

How do the words we use make a difference in delivering a mindfulness session in class?

Image by Gordon Johnson

The tone of voice used by someone delivering a mindfulness activity can have a significant effect on people. So too can their choice of words. It is helpful to use words that are reassuring and encouraging to participants but they must also be words that you feel entirely comfortable to use. It can be useful to use phrases that are new and particular to just these sessions so that it all feels very different to what we normally do at school and a little bit special. If you are uncomfortable with them so will your pupils be!

Children and young people often fear the unknown and may come to a mindfulness session with preconceptions and expectations. So it is important to create an open, welcoming and relaxed environment that is different from their everyday school lesson experience. Dimming the lights, playing calming music and having a ‘bridging activity’ to enter the room like taking off shoes, can help the participants fully arrive as it were, in a different time and space separating them from some of the previous moments.

Our engagement and participation in an unfamiliar activity can be vastly increased if we don’t feel pressured to join in. So using phrases such as  ‘I invite you to …’ are often used. However, this might seem a step too far for some students or younger children so I tend to say ‘’You may want to try….’ Or ‘See if you can…’ instead. We want children and young people to actively choose to participate rather than feeling that they have to. Allowing them to make choices in how they take part helps enormously. Saying things like ‘some people like keeping their eyes open, some like to close them and that’s ok’ or ‘ some people choose to sit on a chair, some like to sit cross legged on the floor and that is all fine’.

Teaching self-compassion and kindness by saying such phrases as ‘……as best you can’ allows pupils to not feel that they have to be doing this new thing perfectly straight away. ‘I’m learning to …and I can’t yet…’ can be useful phrases. Analogies can work well to e.g. Be patient with yourself like you would to a puppy wandering off the lead or a baby learning to walk and falling many times before managing to walk. ‘Minds wander – that’s OK – that’s just what they do’. This helps people see that learning to be mindful takes time and practise with many hic-ups along the way. Like learning to ride a bike we fall often but keep trying.

Analogies reinforce by creating a picture in the mind.

For example:

  • thoughts are like clouds in the sky,
  • leaves floating down a river,
  • train carriages trundling past that you notice and then see pass.
  • We can name our thoughts ‘that’s worrying, that’s planning, that’s remembering’ and then ‘Let go of ….’ them and judgements.

To help bring attention to something we can use words such as

  • Concentrate on…
  • Pay attention to …
  • Notice without trying to change anything,
  • see what’s there however it is,
  • Focus on,
  • Move your attention to… s
  • See just how it is,
  • here, right now,
  • in the present moment’
  • ‘Bringing our attention to …’

This can be challenging and so participants need reassurance at regular intervals and affirming statements such as

  • ‘That’s right’.
  • That’s good’
  • ‘You might notice a feeling,
  • a thought, or you might not’
  • ‘You might feel…or … or nothing at all’

Careful use of questions is important keeping them as open and non-judgemental as possible to foster a comfortable atmosphere e.g.

  • ‘How was that?’
  • ‘does anyone want to share anything having tried that?’
  • ‘Tell me about that….and anything else?’

Teaching and practicing mindfulness using careful communication we intend not to block out thoughts or feelings but to develop a greater awareness and acceptance of them whether they are positive or negative.  We are all individuals who experience the world differently and ‘THAT’S OK!’.




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