By Ashleigh Boyce, High School Teacher, Fitness Instructor, Coach
As students deal with a multitude of changes within their school settings and personal lives, school systems now have the opportunity to help students build resilience and combat stress through mindfulness. Mindfulness tools such as meditation, breathwork, progressive relaxation, and yoga can help students develop techniques to learn how to self-regulate. While mindfulness tools can help students to reset when dealing with symptoms of mental health conditions or emotional irregularities, they can also teach students how to soothe their nervous systems, to aid their immune systems through breathwork, and teach them strategies for improving their sleep and overall quality of life.
While school districts push for mindfulness within the classrooms, the lessons are often limited due to lack of staff training and time constraints within the curriculum. These little “brain breaks” and “movement breaks” may provide students with temporary relief in the moment, but are they providing students with the necessary tools to apply these techniques outside of the classroom setting? If you ask most of our educators what their goals are as teachers, many will answer that they want to teach their students a love of learning or they want to help change or affect their students’ lives in a positive way. So what can districts do to support these goals?
The implementation of personal wellness or mindfulness classes, rather than the traditional physical education class setting or as an elective class for our high school students, can help to set students up with lifelong tools which can help build resiliency and assist the overall physical, mental, and emotional growth of our students. A personal wellness class can incorporate various mindfulness tools, including but not limited to: yoga, restorative yoga, progressive relaxation, meditation, breathwork, grounding tools, affirmations, and intention setting.
So what are these techniques and how can they help our students?
A typical hatha or vinyasa style yoga class can allow students the opportunity to find movement within the body while connecting to their breath and finding presence within their physical practice. Restorative yoga can provide an opportunity for students to settle into their physical practice with the purpose of achieving a deep relaxation. Restorative poses help students to settle into the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help to soothe them and teach them how to regulate when their bodies are so used to utilizing their sympathetic, or their fight or flight, responses. Restorative yoga can help to ease symptoms of anxiety while impacting the quality of sleep. If you’re a parent of a teenager or even a teacher, you’re well aware of the lack of sleep these students get, and in a developmental stage where more sleep is needed, restorative yoga can be a great help. Yoga International provides a great restorative yoga DIY props list that can help make yoga more accessible for all students. Follow the link here: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/diy-restorative-yoga-how-to-easily-make-your-props-at-home.
Progressive muscle relaxation and body scans can provide students with an opportunity to explore how tension shows up in the body and how we can utilize the mindful introduction of tension in the body to train or teach the body how to relax. How many of us can immediately bring to mind the areas where we deal with the most tension and stress in our body? Imagine you were taught to acknowledge and regulate how and when it showed up when you were younger? Maybe it would have been a game changer.
Breathwork, meditation and grounding tools may be considered different techniques but they all allow students to stay in the present moment, rather than diving deep into anxieties or stress about future events or past events. Breathwork requires concentration and the biomechanics of breathing is vitally important to maintaining respiratory health. Meditative practices, whether visual, guided, or through mantras, can provide opportunities for students to reflect and notice which emotions or thoughts come up. When we explore what goes on when we are silent, we can better manage emotions that come up and work through them. Grounding techniques allow us a moment to reset and regroup before spiraling into panic attacks or any symptoms of emotional irregularities. They bring us back to the present moment.
Affirmations and intention setting activities allow students to focus on their strengths and set reasonable, specific goals for themselves. Affirmations remind students of who they are and what they are capable, while intentions help them to stay organized, focused, and resilient. The co-creator or 7 Mindsets, a Social Emotional Learning curriculum,Jeff Waller, provides a breakdown of affirmations based upon different issues that students may face in their stages of human development. Check out this link for affirmations you can incorporate at: https://7mindsets.com/affirmations-for-students/.
There are so many effective tools that can be utilized but how can we fit all of these tools into mini mindfulness lessons? Developing curriculums based off of these mindfulness techniques can teach students how to regulate their own emotions and stressors through the exploration of these different techniques. With the rise of mental health conditions affecting students within our communities at a younger age, what are we actively doing to step in and make a change? Reaching out to local school boards and administration can be the first step in making these changes.
A personal wellness class can provide students with a designated space to work through any physical, emotional, or mental needs with the proper guidance from trained teachers or coaches. While a typical student’s day is filled with regimented classwork and extracurriculars, personal wellness and mindfulness classes can be the one part of a student’s day where they can truly focus on their inner work. It could be the one class that could truly change or save a student’s life.
Ashleigh is a diehard Jersey girl and health enthusiast. Ashleigh grew up as a three sport athlete and currently is a high school health and PE teacher, as well as a fitness instructor and lacrosse coach. Ashleigh came into yoga after two knee surgeries and is a firm believer in finding contentment within our yoga practice as well as outside of it. She believes we should be proud of each step of our journey, enjoying the growth process throughout it, having fun, and not being fearful of challenges. Ashleigh’s love of books, laughing, fitness and hard work along with her light, fun energy will bring you a flow that challenges you physically, inspires you mentally and encourages you spiritually.