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October 10, 2019
Quiet settles across the classroom as Corbett Prep kindergartners prepare for a moment of mindfulness. Sitting on the floor with teachers, students close their eyes and pick an anchor spot – placing their hands in front of their faces to feel their breath or on their chests or bellies to notice them rise and fall.
For a couple of minutes, everyone is still. Then, teachers softly encourage the students to wiggle their fingers and toes, listen to the sounds around them and think about how they feel as they gradually open their eyes.
“My breath is warm,” a girl confides.
“I feel calm,” one little boy says.
Mindfulness has entered the mainstream in schools, workplaces and at home as people gain understanding of its many benefits. The calm in the classroom is temporary, but the results can last a long time. Researchers have found evidence that mindfulness can change your brain.
Mindfulness is a type of focused attention that increases awareness of the present moment without judgment. In 2011, Harvard researchers discovered that the brain’s structure changed after eight weeks of a mindfulness stress-reduction program.
The Harvard team found that certain regions of the brain that control empathy and emotion regulation thickened. Meanwhile, brain cell volume decreased in the amygdala, the area of the brain that controls our “fight or flight” response to stress and the tension and anxiety we feel in those situations.
But mindfulness research goes back decades. The Contentment Foundation, which developed a research-based wellbeing curriculum for schools, points to more than 50 years of studies on the practice.
Studies have shown that mindfulness in schools can help students focus better, improve their behavior, increase empathy toward others and strengthen their ability to regulate their emotions. For adults, a regular mindfulness practice can reduce stress, stave off burnout and improve memory.
Corbett Prep worked with the Contentment Foundation to pilot its wellbeing curriculum, known as the Four Pillars of Wellbeing. A nonprofit organization, the Contentment Foundation is made up of a team of international experts from many different disciplines, including educators and researchers from top universities such as Yale and the University of California, Berkeley.
The Four Pillars offers schools tools to cultivate wellbeing, starting with mindfulness. Corbett Prep tested the curriculum in 2016, providing feedback and recommending changes. Now the school is an international model school for the program, available to train others.
Anyone can practice mindfulness. PreK3 students at Corbett Prep learn to sit quietly and breathe just as well as their older Middle School schoolmates. Start with a short time focusing on your breath and gradually increase how long you sit. Corbett Prep teachers tell students to breathe normally but pay closer attention to how their bodies feel. Distractions are normal, and students learn to acknowledge them and let them go.
You can also be mindful while you’re moving around. Mindfulness involves staying focused on the present, and adults and children can practice mindfulness while taking a walk and soaking in all the sensations around them. You can mindfully eat your lunch. Parents can even pass time in the car pickup line with mindfulness.
It’s more than break from busy days. It’s a boost for your brain.
*Sponsored. Originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.