Paula Azevedo, PhD
The importance of mindfulness
I’m writing this post early August 2020 during a global pandemic, and right now so many teachers, parents, and school leaders are worried about the new school year and what it’s going to look like for our kids. I know that it seems like writing about mindfulness right now seems frivolous, but actually I’m going to share with you four reasons why we need mindfulness more than ever, even during a pandemic.
Let’s first define mindfulness. There are many definitions, but the one many people go to is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
So, why is mindfulness important today?
#1 Calm the nervous system
We need to learn to calm our anxious nervous system. With so much uncertainty about the future, fear of getting sick, and overwhelming challenges we could all use a little extra support in calming our nervous system in order for us to be able to respond with mental and emotional clarity to changing situations rather than have a knee jerk reaction. Mindfulness practices help us recognize patterns of thoughts and emotions that we have when we’re in stressful situations and mindfulness practices can support us in breaking away from these patterns especially if the pattern of thought or emotional response doesn’t serve you or others well.
#2 Improve health
Researchers have found that people who practice mindfulness consistently can also improve their physical health, including improving the immune system, cognitive ability, digestion, and even better sleep. And if there’s a time we need to be more aware of our health it’s now. Now I’m not telling you mindfulness will magically protect you from getting sick, but what it does do is support you in maintaining lower levels of stress therefore not causing all of the negative inflammatory responses that our bodies can have when we’re constantly stressed.
#3 Power of discernment
Mindfulness practice also supports practitioners with the power of discernment, such as discerning between what I can control and what I can’t control or where my emotions end and another person’s emotions begin. For instance, if a child recently had a death in the family we can’t control that event, we can’t solve the child’s problems, and we can’t get lost in the emotions and pain that the child is working through, but what we can do is create a container for this child that is compassionate, understanding, empathetic, and supportive as they face this very challenging period in their life.
#4 Cultivate social awareness
Finally, practicing mindfulness is important more than ever because it can cultivate an awareness of others; in other words, be more empathetic. Mindfulness helps us recognize when a student’s behaviour is a symptom of suffering. Remember, we’re all living through a collective trauma and every adult, every child and teenager is being impacted by this traumatic event in unique ways and are going to respond to this in very different ways. So, mindfulness can improve our empathy and social awareness.
This is going to be a unique school year for parents, teachers, leaders, and of course our students. It’s more than even to cultivate our inner and social awareness with compassion and in my experience mindfulness and meditation has supported me in doing just that and more.
By the way, if you want to learn more about mindfulness be sure to check out the free resources I created to guide you on your mindfulness journey. In addition, if you’re ready to learn more about mindfulness and start your practice today I have an online course called 30 Days of Mindful Moments where I guide you through various mindfulness practices for 30 days.