By M.A. Dagoberto Sandoval - Faculty Professor at ULACIT
Are you really aware of your own presence? Or are you living on autopilot most of the time? The truth of the matter is that our minds often just wander around, in other words, we rarely stop to think about our own presence, which ultimately means we do not experience life as it is meant to be. We must slow down and focus on the here and now, that is, we have to be mindful of what we are doing and feeling in the present moment. Mindfulness is being fully engaged with what is going on around us and within us. By paying more attention to our body sensations as well as emotions, we can reach a mindfulness state.
It has been reported that the practice of mindfulness meditation changes the structure and function of the brain having positive effects on decision-making and rational thinking, emotion regulation, learning and memory, kindness, and compassion, and decreased density in areas involved in anxiety, worry and impulsiveness (Davidson and Lutz, 2008, as cited in Weare, 2018). Thus, it can be said that the effects of this practice positively correlate with both cognition and emotion.
So if mindfulness directly affects cognition and volition, then it makes perfect sense to make use of its techniques in the teaching-learning contexts. As stated by Gutierrez, Krachman, Scherer, Martin, and Gabrieli (2019), self-control enables students to regulate their behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and attentional resources so that they can accomplish a learning goal by facilitating persistent focus, reduced stress, decreased aggressive behavior, improved cognitive performance, and enhanced resilience. The benefits mindfulness can provide to learners are clear: A student who can have better self-control is less likely to get in trouble, and consequently deviate from the tasks at hand. Also, a learner who can focus his attention tend to persist more regardless of the challenge.
There is a lot we can learn from this philosophy so we can be less absent and more present and engaged. If we can reduce anxiety and increase awareness, our existence will be more meaningful. In her paper Mindfulness and the Brain, Riopel (2019) argues that by applying neuroplasticity, you can essentially “re-wire” and “hardwire” the brain, helping you achieve greater levels of peace, health, happiness, and joy. I say we stop worrying so much about what we can not change and focus on what we can. Let’s begin with small yet huge steps like putting our phones aside for a while, and really enjoying talking to a friend face to face. Or how about taking a walk in the park without our earphones on as to actually enjoy the sounds of nature?
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Gutierrez, A., Krachman, S., Schrerer, E., Martin, R. & Gabrieli, J. (2019). Mindfulness in the classroom: Learning from a school-based mindfulness intervention through the Boston charter research collaborative. Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research. https://www.transformingeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2019-BCRC-Mindfulness-Brief.pdf
Riopel, L. (2019). Mindfulness and the brain: What does research and neuroscience say? https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-brain-research-neuroscience/
Weare, K. (2018). The evidence for mindfulness in schools for children and Young people. University of Southampton. https://ave-institut.de/wp-content/uploads/Weare-Evidence_for_mindfulness_in_schools.pdf