What does mindfulness actually do for you?

My own practice has always influenced the attitude I try to bring to my teaching. Mindfulness gives me a context within which all parts of my job can fit. No matter how awful the day, or the year, or the pressure, or the exhaustion, there is an option to be aware of the wider context of each situation. No matter how excellent the lesson, or the moment, or the pupils’ learning, mindfulness means there is more chance of noticing the experience and being grateful for it. 

The space mindfulness can create allows the opportunity for a broader, more honest and accurate awareness to arise. So whatever the situation: good or bad, stressful or easy, a moment of mindfulness brought on by regular long-term practice of meditation can make you happier, more grateful or, at least, less upset. Subsequently, this wisdom will allow more compassion and kindness to arise foryourself and those around you. 

In the last 5 years I have started to teach mindfulness to pupils within our school curriculum and in the last two years to groups of staff within the academy trust. Teaching mindfulness in the classroom is a fundamentally different way of working. I am offering my pupils an experience and an approach to day-to-day life that they can try. I set ‘home practice’ not homework, which of course is impossible to take in and mark anyhow. But if it doesn’t work for them, no bother – as long as they have given it a go.

There is no doubt that the mindfulness course I teach is having an impact on the pupils. Each year between 65% and 75% of pupils have said that they are likely or very likely to use mindfulness in the future. This year, when I have started to ask students to write down an example of when they have used mindfulness, the responses were fabulous. The responses ranged from the immense, “When my granddad was ill in hospital I used mindfulness and became more okay with my sadness” to the mundane “I was worried about my Science test but after I did some finger breathing I just got on with it.” 

In the MBSR courses I have run for staff the reactions have been equally positive. But I am always wary of claiming a measurable impact from mindfulness. I do not want people to come to mindfulness or meditation wanting to achieve a goal. 

“If we are meditating for wellbeing, we are telling ourselves we don’t have that well being; and so we perpetuate a state of deficiency.” (Gelong Thubten from “A monk’s guide to happiness”)

Instead I believe that mindfulness and meditation are providing children and adults with the opportunity to be happier in their lives and kinder to those around them and also to themselves.

Starting Mindfulness

First things first, you don’t have to have a mindfulness teacher because all you need to know is

Breathe in and know you are breathing in; breathe out and know you are breathing out.

That is it. So yes, you could say anyone who is a mindfulness teacher is a fraud because as far as I can see all the guidance you need is in that phrase. Yet nearly every mindfulness teacher you meet or can listen to will openly state they are unable to follow that instruction the whole time or probably even half the time.

So attending a class or following a course will help you see that mindfulness is also ‘present moment recollection’ as Christine Feldman described it. Just this breath and this moment…. but then this breath has passed and this moment is gone and you have to start again or, if you are fortunate, carry on. Within “breathe in and know you are breathing in; breathe out and know you are breathing out.” is a lifetime’s experience and wisdom. Mindfulness whilst simple and clear is also not to be summed up in a pretty meme or statement. Those are just the start.

So being in a class or following a course allows you to practice mindfulness in many moments and the practice is made that much easier by having a teacher who can help you help yourself and being with other participants to let you know you aren’t the only one feeling these things and thinking those thoughts.

The mindfulness teacher can only be a guide, it is the mindfulness that will teach you again and again in each and every moment you are aware of.