Education A: Introduction to Mindfulness

Welcome to the Smiling Mind ‘Education A’ Module where we will provide you with an introduction to Mindfulness and its benefits.

Introduction

Introduction

Smiling Mind is really excited about supporting you to implement mindfulness strategies into your centre.  Why? Well these simple strategies can have a profound impact on both your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of your children. In this module we’re going to focus on you, whilst also introducing you to the applications in the centre and the benefits for kids.

In this module you will develop an understanding of:

  1. How Smiling Mind can support you to create a mindful generation
  2. What mindfulness is and how to practice mindfulness
  3. The difference between mindfulness and meditation
  4. Why mindfulness is important now
  5. The science behind practicing mindfulness and the research supporting the benefits for you as educators 
  6. How mindfulness can benefit young people and support their learning in the classroom
  7. How to get started

We know that as Educators in ELC, if you have a strong foundation in mindfulness practice, you’ll be more likely to use it with the children and to be authentic in doing so. 

Module overview

The module includes written information and video interviews with educators.

This module is suitable for educators at all stages of their careers.

How to use this module

This module can be completed at your own pace, which means you can stop at any time and return to the last slide you viewed the next time you log in. 

The videos in the module are followed by reflective questions, where you can type your ideas and responses to questions. Your responses will be saved permanently in your profile and you’ll be able to print them out at the end of the module.

Once you have completed the module, you will be able to print or save a certificate of completion. You may return to the module and revisit any elements for a 12-month period after the date of purchase.

Where is your mind?


I’d like you to take a moment to check out where your mind is right now? 

(observe for 10 sec) 

Were you surprised?  Were you somewhere else?

We all have thousands of thoughts per day. Scientists and psychologists can’t agree on the exact number (estimates range from approx. 20,000 - 70,000; it all depends on how we define a ‘thought’). Regardless, we have lots of them. Furthermore, the mind has a tendency to loop thought patterns over and over (referred to as rumination), so the content of our thoughts tends to be repetitive. Our minds are constantly wandering into the future and back into past. It is our minds default setting, which we will look at in more detail shortly.

This is what we’re managing and this is what children are tackling. 

Something to think about...Imagine having the ability to be able to control your attention... to put it on a task and keep it there... and how this would positively impact your life.How might it positively impact a child’s life and their ability/readiness to learn?

Mindfulness training can help us do just this.

Connect to the Present Moment

The easiest way to be mindful is through the senses. They are our vehicle. 

PRACTICE: 

To get a taste of what slowing down and connecting with the present moment feels like – let’s start with a simple exercise:

[insert Smiling Mind audio: Notice 5 Things] (to be recorded)

Notice 5 things

Okay. So that is a really simple and effective way of contacting the present moment. Perhaps it brought you more into the room you’re sitting in and this moment than when you first arrived / sat down.

Our physical bodies however are always present, so we can reconnect using our senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste) anytime we want to get present.

Who is Smiling Mind?

Smiling Mind is a not-for-profit organisation focused on building individual mental health and wellbeing through positive, pre-emptive tools based on mindfulness meditation that are accessible for all.

  • Smiling Mind launched in 2012

  • Over 2.2 million app downloads, over 32,000 education program users

  • Free app and web-app

  • Education, Corporate and Community Programs

In Education: 

  • We want young people to grow up with the skills they need to navigate our modern challenging world. 

  • We want them the ready and able to learn when they get to school and throughout their education. 

  • We teach children about their physical bodies and we believe it’s equally important to teach young people how to look after their minds. 

Our work in the corporate world funds our work and free resources in the Education world. We have created programs with IBM, Cricket Australia, BeyondBlue (app for expectant mothers called ‘Mind the Bump’), to name a few.

Our Vision





Our Vision is to help every mind thrive.


Our Mission



Our mission is to provide accessible, life-long tools to support healthy minds.


What is mindfulness?

What is mindfulness?

Let’s start by talking about the opposite of mindfulness – mindlessness.

Have you ever... 

  • Eaten lunch at your desk, without tasting a single bite, or been eating say chocolate or chips in front of the TV only to realise you’ve finished the whole lot without realising?

  • Been driving to/from work to home and then all of a sudden realised you don’t actually remember seeing what colour the traffic lights were…? Or not even remember the journey at all? Were you even there?

  • Have you ever been in conversation with someone or in a very important meeting, only to realise you have no idea what that person was saying to you? Awkward right? 

In a way all of these examples suggest a state of automatic pilot. We're going through the motions with our mind disconnected from our body.

Something to think about

With this in mind, take a moment to consider what you think mindfulness might be. 

Mindfulness defined

There are lots of definitions of mindfulness. Here is one that we like: 

“Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity and without judgement”.

There are two parts to this definition:

  1. The first is the part about attention. Learning to focus attention on one thing, and being able to bring the attention back to that one thing when the mind gets distracted by thoughts or feelings, or something else in your environment. It’s the opposite to being on automatic pilot. Our mind and body are connected.

  2. The second part is about the attitude you bring to paying attention – being open, non-judging, and curious about what you are focusing on.

Something to think about

Do you notice that your mind wanders? What percentage of your waking hours do you think your mind wanders? 10% of the time? 20%? 30%? Or even more? 

A wandering mind

A groundbreaking study done out of Harvard in 2010 found that our mind wanders, on average, a massive 47% of the time! That means we are missing out on almost half of our lives. 

Something to think about

Reflect on where your mind has been during this module already… How distracted have you been?

This is an extraordinary human quality, being able to be somewhere in the past or future while our body is here in the present. But the downside is that if we spend too much time in the present or past, it reduces our awareness of our present moment, which makes it difficult to engage in our life and be resilient in the face of adversity.

Question: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is...

(select the correct answers) 

  • Being able to bring the attention back to that one thing when the mind gets distracted by thoughts or feelings
  • Letting your mind wander - being open to thoughts and feelings as they come and go
  • Paying attention – being open, non-judging, and curious about what you are focusing on
  • Is the absence of thought - a mind empty of thoughts and feelings

Default Mode Network

When our minds are off in the past or future, we are operating from what they neuroscientists refer to as our Default Mode Network (DMN) – a network of interacting brain regions that is active when a person is not focused on the outside world. Put more simply it is the part of our brain where mind wandering happens, which happens automatically when we are not focused on a task. 

Put another way… when given nothing else to do, the brain defaults to thinking about the person it’s embedded in. 

This means we experience life through our thoughts and ideas (rather than our senses) and research has found that this makes us vulnerable to a number of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.

Negativity Bias

The reason for this vulnerability is another evolutionary development in the human brain: the Negativity Bias.  

The negativity bias is our natural tendency to focus more on the negatives than the positives - in ourselves, in others, in our circumstances; be it in the past, in the present and when forecasting the future. 

The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones

Something to think about

When you get to the end of the day and put your head on the pillow, where does your mind go? To the things that went well or those that didn’t go as you’d hoped?  

Where does this negativity bias come from?

It was hard-wired into the brain through evolution. It was adaptive and helpful (it ensured our survival)... there was a period of time when as a species we had to be on constant lookout for threats and danger (predators etc.). The problem is it’s not as relevant now and tends to be more often directed at “paper tigers” than real ones. 

So our negative bias, coupled with a wandering mind, is the challenge we are up against. The good news it is a challenge that mindfulness can meet.

By bringing mindful awareness to how your brain reacts to feeling threatened, you can stimulate and develop a mind that has more calm, wisdom and inner strength. A mind that sees real threats more clearly, acts more effectively in dealing with them, and is less rattled or distracted by exaggerated, manageable, or false alarms. 

Our brains’ innate neuroplasticity also makes it possible to rewire ourselves toward what is good and positive. 

Question: Negative Bias

  • The negativity bias is our natural tendency to focus more on the negatives than the positives
  • The negativity bias is a prejudice against ideas we are not familiar with

Why mindfulness?

Why is mindfulness particularly important now?

Something to think about

Now that you know what mindfulness is, take a moment to consider why mindfulness is important in this day and age?

Pace, Pressure, Progress

Pressure: Working professionals ARE under more pressure than ever before. Career, family and financial challenges are top of the list when it comes to such pressures. 

PaceEverything is moving more quickly now than it has in the past. We need to work fast, everyone needs something yesterday, and each week, month and year seem to fly by at an incredibly stressful pace (and we have to keep up). 

ProgressTechnology is supposed to have given us more freedom and flexibility but it seems that it is giving us less. We are always contactable, we take work home and there is never really an ‘off’ button.

Something to think about

Have you noticed a change, even in the last 5 or so years, with social media and smart phones? (examples: in the quality of relationships and conversations, do your nights feel they go a little faster?, do feel constantly attached to a device?)

Stress

All of these things are leading to increased stress in our lives. Whilst it is different for all of us, stress is having a huge impact on us mentally and physically. Over the past 40 years there has been a 45% increase in stress. Some of the sources: 

  • The world is speeding up and with technology ever present, it’s hard to switch off.

  • Juggling work and family life can be challenging.

  • The workplace itself…e.g. longer hours, greater workloads, job uncertainty.  

  • Life’s curve-balls (health problems, financial worries, relationship issues).


Something to think about

How does stress impact you? What do you notice in your body? In your mood?

Fight or flight response

As a result of stress, we find ourselves regularly experiencing the fight-or-flight response

The fight-or-flight response (also known as the acute stress response) is essentially a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat. The response prepares the body to either fight or flee the threat. It is an evolutionary, adaptive, hard-wired survival mechanism. 

While this response is brilliant and life saving when activated in response to a real life threat, these days it may be getting activated several times throughout your day: 

  • In your classroom…
  • While trying to get the kids out of the door…
  • Sitting in traffic…

It is also being activated by imagined/hypothetical threats and problems when our minds are off in the future.  Constant activation of the stress response is wreaking havoc on our minds, bodies (physical health problems) and emotions (e.g anxiety) 

Mental Health problems

Another reason mindfulness is important now is because mental illness is increasing. The WHO predicts that depression will be the leading burden of disease by 2020. 

In any given year: 

1 in 5 Australians suffer from a diagnosable mental illness

1 in 4 secondary students

1 in 7 primary school students

  • 65% of people do not access support

  • 75% of mental illness have their onset in adolescence up until age 24.

  • Suicide is the biggest killer of young people

Proactive approach to mental health

We teach children how to look after their bodies. What about their minds? 

50 years ago if you told someone you were going for a run they would’ve said “what from?” The benefits of exercise were not well known then. We believe this is what will happen with regards to taking care of our minds. 

Mindfulness is a proactive, pre-emptive approach to maintaining positive mental health.   

Something to think about

For you personally, how much time and effort do you spend on your physical health vs mental health? 

Think of mindfulness as ‘exercise’ for your mind.

The Science

Okay, so we’ve looked at why we need mindfulness in the busy, modern world we find ourselves in. The question is, does it actually work?

The practice of mindfulness and meditation has been around for thousands of years but has gained increasing research interest over the past few decades thanks, in part, to development is brain imaging technology. We can now see how these practices change the wiring and the makeup of our brains (this is called neuroplasticity) 

The benefits

We now have the evidence that practising this technique can help us to feel more calm, more clear and more connected.


Calm:

  • Manage stress

  • Increase resilience to change

  • Elevate immune system function

  • Improve sleep


Clarity:

  • Increase productivity and performance 

  • Help decision making 

  • Help creative thinking 


Connected:

  • Improve relationships

  • Enhance self awareness 

Smiling Mind research

Our own research conducted with 104 teachers from 12 Victorian primary and secondary schools found the following benefits for teachers:  

  • Improved sleep

  • Reduced psychological distress

  • Felt less tension

  • Had better concentration

  • Enhanced ability to describe and accept emotions

Neuroplasticity

We also now have the evidence that this practice actually changes the way our brains are structured. Mindfulness strengthens the areas of the brain that manages strong emotions, working memory, self-awareness, and the capacity for empathy and compassion. It also shrinks the area responsible for the flight or fight response and negativity bias, in turn reducing depression, anxiety and stress. 

What is Meditation?

Mindfulness vs. Meditation

These two terms are often mixed up or used interchangeably and it is important to clarify them – whilst certainly related, they are different. 

Mindfulness is really a way of seeing and a way of being. It offers an overarching model for examining the way we are living and working, the way we are relating to ourselves and others. It is living in the present moment.

Meditation is one of two ways we cultivate Mindfulness. It’s what we call a formal mindfulness practice and is essentially the act of bringing our attention back over and over again to one point of focus (or anchor). This anchor can be the breath, the body or our senses. 

Formal practice: Meditation

Let’s start by looking at formal mindfulness practice, which as we just looked at is Meditation.

Something to think about

What sorts of ideas or images come to mind when you hear the word meditation..? 

Part of what we want to do in this module (and our work generally) is to demystify meditation, debunk any myths, and show you that’s its a relatively simple, secular and accessible practice.

Some of the common myths that we encounter when introducing people to meditation are: 

  • That it’s mystical or that you have to be ‘spiritual’ to practice it

  • That it’s a relaxation exercise

  • That it’s learning to empty the mind

Let’s look at that last one in more detail...

What we think meditation looks like…

A lot of people think meditation is about clearing the mind. Many people say they’ve tried meditation but can’t do it because their mind is too active... that they can’t clear their minds. 

Mindfulness is not about clearing our minds or having no thoughts. Thoughts are constantly coming and going. There is no “off” switch.

What meditation really looks like...

This is more what it looks like. As you sit quietly you may actually notice just how active the mind is and may get a sense of having more thoughts.  

This is normal and natural. 

Our goal is not to get rid of thoughts, nor to only have nice / happy / positive thoughts. Our goal is to allow them to do their thing, to come and go, and retain our attention on whatever it is we’ve chosen to focus on in the meditation, e.g. the breath. 

So we end up with awareness, clarity and space despite the other thoughts. 

Formal Meditation

So let’s give it a go! We will try a formal practice from the Adult section of Smiling Mind App now.

As we’ve mentioned, our minds are very good at distracting us with thought about the past or the future or simply critiquing what we are doing. So be prepared for the possibility of being distracted during this practice. 

It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong or “can’t meditate”. 

Each time you notice you’ve been distracted simply gently bring yourself back to the meditation. 

Play a meditation:

Formal Meditation Debrief

How did you go? If it was your first time, was it what you expected? Did you get distracted? 

As mentioned before, this is what our minds do and it is by NOTICING THAT WE’VE BEEN DISTRACTED AND RETURNING OUR ATTENTION TO THE BREATH (for example) THAT WE BUILD OUR “MINDFULNESS MUSCLE”. 

It’s like exercise for the brain and over time our capacity develops to stay focused on whatever it is we choose to focus on. 

Informal mindfulness

This way of seeing and being can be woven into our daily lives. 

We want to be able to bring the same attention we just brought to the breath (in our formal practice) to our everyday lives. We want to be ‘mindful’ for more than just the 10 minutes we are meditating. 

Something to think about

Take a moment to consider what day to day activities you might be able to use as a vehicle for cultivating mindfulness. 

Now set yourself some homework – pick this task and for the next week or so try and bring mindful awareness to this task (however interesting or boring it may be)


Some examples:

  • When you get your first cup of tea or coffee in the morning
  • Brushing your teeth
  • When you greet someone – really pay attention to what they say
  • When interacting with your partner? Your children? 
  • Walking
  • Playing with the dog
  • Colouring in
  • Singing, Dancing
  • Eating

Ideal learning environment

Changing gears a little bit…

Something to think about

CLOSE YOUR EYES FOR A MOMENT and imagine your ideal learning environment –  policy, processes and curriculum aside – what is your ideal learning environment for your children?
What would that look like?
How would the children be feeling and behaving?
How would you as an educator or parent be feeling?

Perhaps you came up with things such as…engaged, calm, attentive, focused.

So, how can mindfulness help?

Mindfulness supports learning in the classroom

We know that educators and parents try everything to help kids to learn. I.e. wonderful activities, great books, imaginative play, craft, excursions, etc. For many kids you this works well. However, we don’t necessarily reach all kids – sometimes they’re just not listening, or there minds are elsewhere, they’re difficult to engage.

This may be because they haven’t been taught yet to pay attention, we haven’t given them the tools to manage their wandering minds. This is one of the incredibly powerful gifts of mindfulness. Training our minds to pay attention.

With mindfulness, we lay the foundation for life-long learning and help you support kids to be able to learn to the best of their abilities. 

What's Next?

What’s next?

So where to from here? 

Personal Practice is very important and you it’s the first step. We know that if you have experienced mindfulness practice, you will be able to model a mindful way of being for children and be a more authentic and effective teacher.

YOUR NEXT STEPS:

  • Download the Smiling Mind App – try out the adult meditations.

  • Diarise your practice

  • We recommend - Practice 3 x weekly for next 5 weeks (This is the level 1 adult program)

  • Try a practice in the staffroom or with family


Meditation Tips: put your phone on silent, try and do it at the same time of day, same place… helps form a habit.

In your setting

  • Once you’ve downloaded the App – have a look/ listen through the ELC content 

  • Watch you-tube videos online – youtube.com/smilingmindtv  (these are educational animations & teacher and student testimonials) – optional if you want to learn more!

  • Start a Mindfulness Working Group (so you are the champions, and you’re supporting each other)

  • When you’re feeling ready – introduce a brief meditation practice into the ELC environment on a regular basis

  • If you’re doing Module 2 (Education B), you will learn a lot more about the practicalities of bringing mindfulness into your centre. 


END OF MODULE