Seventh grade health class gets a lesson in mindfulness
Adolescence is a time of rapid physical and psychological change, a time of roller-coaster emotions caused by the slightest hormonal fluctuation. To help students navigate this turbulent period, Friends Academy has collaborated with the University of Massachusetts on an eight-week mindfulness study as part of the seventh grade health curriculum.
Friends’ Technology Integrationist, Jonathan Felix, has studied and taught mindfulness, and is helping to coordinate the program. While he said mindfulness means a lot of things to a lot of people, he said one common definition is, “paying attention to the present moment with a kind of non-judgemental awareness.”
While most lessons in school are designed to grow the intellect, Mr. Felix said mindfulness is best described as social-emotional learning. “It’s another type of training of the mind where you observe non-judgmentally.,” Mr. Felix said. “You become an observer of your experience without being caught up in the experience. With some of the trainings we’re hoping to share with the students, we want them to choose their response so they can come from a calmer space, because often we make better decisions when we’re calm.”
Many of the exercises in the course will involve training, focusing, and learning to quiet the mind in order to better process stress and volatile emotions like anger and sadness.
“Self regulation, especially at this time, is so important,” Mr. Felix said. “It’s a very turbulent time. Students are dealing with extreme chemical reactions and physical changes. So for them having techniques to help them manage this is so important.”
While Mr. Felix acknowledged that stress is a part of life, and can even be healthy, he said constant stress can lead to physiological problems like sleep deprivation, high blood-pressure, muscle tension, and elevated sugar levels, as well as psychological problems.
“You can have a person with a highly intelligent mind, but then they’re faced with a very stressful situation and they come undone,” he said. Stress hormones have a secondary effect, amplifying reactions to emotions like anger or sadness. Mindfulness training will help students better recognize and manage these emotions.
“Some of these techniques, as simple as they are, start to allow for that,” Mr. Felix said. “What you’re doing is you’re developing interoceptive processing. You’re aware of your emotions and your body. It’s introspective.
“When you disengage from the stories you’re telling yourself, you can work with the sensations, but these thoughts can take you down, they can drive you mad, literally.”
Yoga and movement exercises will be interspersed with attentional and breathing training techniques. While adolescence can be a tumultuous time in a person’s life, it’s also an ideal time to absorb mindfulness training.
“A lot of the positive and negative habits are established at this time,” Mr. Felix said. “An adult can hear this information and it resonates with us, because we have the experience. The students don’t have much of that experience.
“Right now they’re pruning things, as far as the networks, they’re learning new things, and if they adopt the right mindsets, they can carry those well into adulthood, into old age.”