Mindfulness Concepts & Practices for Teachers

By Patrick T. Randolph

Mindfulness Concepts & Practices for Teachers

Patrick T. Randolph
Lecturer, Author, Mindfulness Facilitator, & Speaker
       "I see that mindfulness is a dialogue with myself and with nature.”
                                                                                          — Sae Yamaguchi

Although we are blessed with countless gifts, such as the ability to think and love, and the freedom to express ourselves and create, we often take such treasures for granted. Interestingly enough, one of the gifts we take for granted the most is our ability to breathe and enjoy the endless hours of life that our breath offers. This is where the concept of mindfulness can help: It invites us to embrace life and all the small miracles that we often miss throughout each day. What is equally inspiring is that one need not sit in long meditation sessions to achieve this. In fact, current research (Cao Ho My, 2020) is starting to show that short mindfulness practices throughout the day are as effective as long ones. Even simple, one-minute mindfulness activities and meditations yield a great deal of cognitive, spiritual, and physiological benefits. It is this frequent meeting with mindfulness that allows us to have a continual dialogue with ourselves and with nature, that is, with the world inside us and that which is around us. To help the reader develop a better understanding of mindfulness and its benefits, I first define what mindfulness is and offer some of the benefits for both the brain and the body. Next, I offer five short mindfulness activities that teachers and students can use multiple times during the day to reset, focus, and embrace the joys of life. These simple but highly effective practices can enhance our daily experiences and nurture our faculties of awareness and attention.
I. Defining Mindfulness
Mindfulness has become a ubiquitous term in American culture since the 1990s. However, not everyone is necessarily aware of what it means or who created it. Mindfulness, as a general concept of paying close attention to the moment, most probably dates back to our hunter-gatherer societies as a means of survival in the harsh environments of those ancient times. After all, our ancestors needed to be highly aware of their surroundings where they lived with potentially dangerous predators and other threatening elements in nature. We can thus make the argument that mindfulness, at least on an informal level, has been with us since the evolutionary beginnings of our ancestors. Formalized mindfulness, on the other hand, originated some 2500 years ago in many of the philosophies in India, particularly in Buddhism. This was a core practice used to understand more about the self and the self’s surroundings. Modern American mindfulness, however, was developed in order to meet the needs of a particular group of people. It was created by Jon Kabat-Zinn as a treatment for his patients who were suffering from chronic pain. In response to his patients’ needs, he developed an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program in 1979. This, he believed, would help them enhance their lives and promote their physical and mental health. In fact, the mindfulness activities and meditations were so successful that they quickly became a central part of his treatment for helping and curing his patients.
This leads us to the question: What is mindfulness? According to Kabat-Zinn (1994), “[m]indfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of the present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments” (p. 4). That is, the focus is on what is happening at the moment inside the mind (i.e., activities related to emotions, the senses, and thoughts) and what is happening in one’s immediate environment (i.e., the recent cherry blossoms unfolding in the trees above or a breeze gently touching our skin). Kabat-Zinn (1994) also urges us to use mindfulness as a tool to help us begin to appreciate life again if and when we fall into certain unproductive patterns of thought or action. He claims that “[m]indfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck, back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality” (p. 5).
In practicing mindfulness, we want to observe the rich world of wonders with our eyes; listen to enchanting sounds with our ears; inhale pleasant aromas with our nose; experience sweet tastes with our tongue; and feel delightful sensations with our skin. All the while, we invite the mind to stay silent and simply observe these situations; consequently, practicing mindfulness is promoting a “mindless” situation with a full and robust employment of our other faculties. Of course, the mind will usher in thoughts, but these can be calmed by the breath and by refocusing the awareness on the moment. For instance, when we observe the first light at dawn, we are only taking in the moment with our vision and perhaps the feeling of joy with our emotions, and we are doing this nonjudgmentally during that moment; we are merely letting it unfold naturally. When we taste our favorite cookie, we only let our taste buds and nose inhale the delicious sweetness. We need not judge the quality of the cookie or compare it to other cookies. We simply wrap our focus around this moment and this particularly joyful experience.
II. The Benefits of Mindfulness

Studies in neuroscience and well-being communities continue to show that mindfulness has a wealth of benefits for everything from promoting healthy chromosomes, which helps with longevity (Alda et al., 2016), to nourishing numerous regions in the brain (Walton, 2015). I would consequently like to briefly survey the benefits mindfulness offers for the brain and the body. Many of these have significant consequences for students’ and teachers’ personal growth, mental health, and personal development.
Benefits for the Brain
Mindfulness practices, whether they are short meditations or breathing techniques, help strengthen the brain and our cognitive abilities in a number of effective and useful ways. One of the most powerful benefits of mindfulness is that it increases the gray matter in the brain. This is significant because the gray matter helps process old and new information and develop neural pathways for the acquisition of new skills and information. The gray matter is also highly important for helping to maintain and promote effective decision making, for keeping our emotions in balance, and for acquiring and maintaining memories. Another salient benefit of mindfulness is that it increases the thickness in the hippocampus. This is a pivotal structure in our limbic system, and it is one of the central locations that promotes learning and memory. So, if mindfulness increases its thickness, it means we can take in more information, learn more effectively, and remember newly acquired information at a higher level (Davis & Hayes, 2012; Walton, 2015). As a consequence of the above, mindfulness heightens our attention, focus, and awareness.
Benefits for the Body
Mindfulness also benefits our physical body in numerous ways. Neither time nor space will allow me to detail each one here; however, I will offer three very significant benefits that are both encouraging and driven by a great deal of research. First, mindfulness improves our immune system. Martinez-Borras et al. (2022) discovered that mindfulness practices enhance our Immunoglobulin A (IgA). This is a key protein in our blood that helps fight off illnesses, burnout, and fatigue. Second, mindfulness is also a great natural ingredient that assures healthier sleep patterns and a restful mind (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Getting a peaceful night’s rest will, in turn, create a focused mind, nurture a better sense of self, and promote a heightened focus and awareness in our waking hours. Third, mindfulness fosters longevity (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Although the studies are ongoing, many neuroscientists and mindfulness research centers in the US are discovering that meditation and mindfulness practices help maintain a healthy telomere length, which seems to have a direct correlation with longevity. Certain mindfulness practices like the loving-kindness meditation or variations of this are very powerful, particularly for women (Hoge et al., 2013).
III. Mindfulness Practices
The key to starting any new practice is to begin slowly and with small steps. I would thus like to offer some short and easy-to-implement practices that teachers can use and also employ in their classrooms. Below are five such practices I recommend. They are effective, useful, and can be done at any time during the day.
Waking with Gratitude Practice
One of the best ways to commence the day is by offering gratitude to your body before you get out of bed. The practice is simple: You look at your body and give thanks to it for allowing you to experience yet another day on this earth. After all, your body carries you around all day, and it never asks for anything in return. For more on this practice, see my YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/shorts/tyNKvpkBop4. A variation of this can be used in class by taking a moment for the students to offer gratitude to their bodies before class starts.
The One-Minute, Short Heart-Breath Practice
This is a practice I created for those to see that mindfulness can be practiced in short bursts and yet be as powerful as longer meditations. To do this practice, you relax your body, stand straight, or sit down with integrity. Place one hand over your heart so that you can feel its beat. Then, take three long and slow breaths. It is best if this is done with your eyes closed. When you are finished, open your eyes with a smile and give gratitude to your heart. For a demonstration, please go to my video at https://www.youtube.com/shorts/-PSl16ky3wQ.
Standing with the Hugging Breath Practice
The standing with the hugging breath practice is another very short but powerful practice. You simply embrace yourself three times; and, as you do this, you also breathe in slowly and release your breath slowly so that each embrace and breath are united in a peaceful and loving way.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
This practice can be done multiple times during the day, especially when you feel that a possible stressful situation is about to unfold. It, however, can also be used before class begins to get everyone focused and on task. The procedure is based on the practice of slow breathing techniques. You inhale slowly for four seconds, hold that breath for seven seconds, and then release it for eight seconds. This is typically done three times for a complete cycle. The following video contains a detailed demonstration and a note on the physiological and cognitive benefits of the practice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nXuE712ChA.
The Loving-Kindness Meditation

This meditation has, as noted above, been associated with longevity and the increase of healthy telomeres in women. This practice can be done in one minute or extended for a few minutes. The essential idea is that it is based on love and kindness to oneself and those connected to the meditator. You repeat “May I be happy, may I be well, may I embrace love, may I be filled with kindness, may I embrace peace.” Once you complete the meditation about yourself, you can then substitute that with a loved one or even a special place. For a focused meditation on the self, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gez7f_1tnFk.
IV. Concluding Statements
“[W]hen I do mindfulness, I feel like my mind and body, which always seem to be separate and separated, become one.” 
                                       — Sae Yamaguchi
Practicing mindfulness is as natural as breathing, and the benefits are indeed plentiful. However, when the words “mindfulness” or “meditation” are mentioned, people often envision long periods of time where the practitioner must sit in isolation and sacrifice any social interaction. What I have tried to show in this piece is that mindfulness is always there for us, waiting to be befriended. It is a very uplifting practice and one that can be done at any time and in any place. The short activities I offered are a testament that mindfulness practices can be fun, easy to do, and rewarding in the process. If one can breathe, then one can practice mindfulness and yield the many benefits it offers for the body, the brain, and the mind.

Alda, M., Puebla-Guedea, M., Rodero, B., Demarzo, M., Montero-Marin, J., Roca, M., & Garcia-Campayo, J. (2016). Zen meditation, length of telomeres, and the role of experimental avoidance and compassion. Mindfulness, 7, 651-659.
Cao Ho My, G. (2020). Why shorter meditation is the best way to start. Thrive Global. Retrieved from https://community.thriveglobal.com/why-shorter-meditation-is-the-best-way-to-start/
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? American
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Hoge, E.A., Chen, M.M., Orr, E., Metcalf, C.A., Fischer, L.E., Pollack, M.H., De Vivo, I., & Simon, N.M. (2013). Loving-kindness meditation practice associated with longer telomeres in women. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 32, 159-163.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: MJF Books.
Martinez-Borras, R., Navarrete, J., Bellosta-Batalla, M., Martinez-Brotons, C., & Martinez-Rubio, D. (2022). Changes in salivary immunoglobulin A, stress, and burnout in a workplace mindfulness intervention: A pilot study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(10), 6226.
Walton, A.G. (2015). 7 ways meditation can actually change the brain. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/?sh=4ad9fbeb1465

Patrick T. Randolph specializes in vocabulary acquisition, creative and academic writing, speech, and debate. Patrick has been awarded three “Best of TESOL Affiliates” (2015, 2018, and 2021). He has also received two “Best of CoTESOL Awards” for his 2017 and 2018 presentations on observation journals and creative writing. Patrick received the “Best Session Award” from MinneTESOL (2019-2021), and he has published New Ways in Teaching with Creative Writing (2020). Patrick lives with his wife, Gamze; daughter, Aylene; cat, Gable; and puppy, Bubbles, in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Image credit: www.pixabay.com

Spring 2023 - Volume 51, Issue 1