‘Mindfulness’ is the art of ‘paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgement’ (J Kabat-Zinn).
‘Paying attention…present moment…without judgement.’ Our busy, demanding, competitive lives demand the exact opposite from many of us, much of the time, as we frantically run the hamster wheel of Life – so is this nirvana really obtainable?
The Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience…https://www.verywellfit.com/practice-mindfulness-while-running-4101858)
Imagine a lesson where the students feel this way about their learning. The Holy Grail of teaching!
Certainly the concept of mindfulness has become more mainstream in education over the last few years, particularly as a defence against the tsunami of emotions and mental challenges created by the Covid experience. ‘When teaching mindfulness is accepted and embraced, it can change the tone and tenor of an entire school’ (https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/)
Humans can foresee problems before they occur
Whilst it might be an evolutionary benefit that ‘humans can evaluate their mistakes to make sure they do not happen again, it is hard for us not to constantly evaluate our performance. Humans can foresee problems before they occur but this also means it is difficult for us not to worry about all the things that could go wrong.’ (https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2022.683827)
Learning to control these thoughts and distractions, to optimise them when needed and fade them out when not, is key to a calmer mind, less self-induced stress and greater competence overall. This is a skill that all school and college students would do well to learn – and sport is an obvious potential introduction.
‘Mindfulness makes you calmer, more rational, and more objective — qualities that any great athlete should have. The discipline that you need to practise mindfulness can be applied to sports, making you a better athlete…and mindfulness improves both physical as well as emotional well-being, an essential in sports.’ (https://timeqube.com/blog/5-mindfulness-exercises-for-athletes/#:)
Mindfulness and meditation practices are being used increasingly in the world of professional sports, to optimize performance, improve mental and physical health, and increase strength and resilience. The benefits of meditation are primarily linked to improving psychological health, regulating mental processes and coping with negative emotions. However, many types of mindfulness-based intervention can also, directly and indirectly, impact athletes’ physical performance.’ (Filipe Bastos 2021 https://mindowl.org/mindfulness-in-sport/)
‘Like the rest of us, athletes’ minds are prone to wandering and losing focus. Teaching athletes to be fully present in the moment of performance and to maintain their attention on the task at hand can help them to perform better. Mindfulness training is an invaluable method for training athletes—and others—to keep their attention on the present moment, which helps them to attain maximum performance and wellbeing.’ (https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2022.683827#ref2)
Benefits of mindfulness is that it strengthens your resolve to stick to your workout routine
It is this mental discipline that mindfulness demands that can be so useful in all aspects of life and can be introduced through education in sports, fitness and PE lessons. However, ‘it’s not always easy to stay committed to exercise…one of the benefits of mindfulness is that it strengthens your resolve to stick to your workout routine.’ (https://www.verywellfit.com/mindfulness-during-exercise-1230998#)
‘Most experts feel that the best implementation of mindfulness involves a teacher having her own mindfulness practice or at least an understanding. “It is how they teach, not just what they teach, and if a teacher is mindful in a classroom, the kids learn to be mindful,” said Tish Jennings, M.Ed., Ph.D.’ (https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/)
So, your school has the mindful PE teacher, a suitable environment and students willing to take on the discipline of mindfulness. How does it all begin?
Mindfulness is about focus and detail – the little things in life we have forgotten to be aware of and appreciate. The journey can begin by simply feeling sensations, observing surroundings, listening to sounds, noticing thoughts, focusing on steps and reflecting on experiences.
‘One way to stay present is to pay continuous attention to your body while exercising. Notice the repetitive strike of your foot on the pavement if you’re running, for instance. When strength training, consciously focus on how each muscle feels as you use it.
Remember why you are exercising
This is not about comparing your body to the exerciser next to you. Instead, it is intended to get you to focus on what you are experiencing during the physical activity. So, turn off the music and TV, and give your body your sole attention. Remember why you are exercising. If you find yourself rushing through exercise, thinking of all the things you should be doing instead, remember why it’s important to do your workout. Reflect on why you have made exercise a priority and how will this workout help you right now.’ (https://www.verywellfit.com/mindfulness-during-exercise-1230998#)
‘While the feeling of finishing a run is definitely something to look forward to, practising mindfulness while you’re running can make you more aware of your body, breath, and surroundings, and potentially help you to achieve a state of flow or total immersion. By freeing yourself from the distractions of your mind, you can experience less stress during your runs, enhance your performance.’ (https://www.verywellfit.com/practice-mindfulness-while-running-4101858)
‘Not only can practising mindfulness in sport make the whole experience more enjoyable and improve the student’s mindset in other activities too but the power of the mind can reap physical benefits too. ‘Having more focus during any physical activity is associated with injury prevention. One study showed that mindfulness-based interventions reduced the risk for injury among high school and college students, particularly if the student was experiencing stress.’ (https://timeqube.com/blog/5-mindfulness-exercises-for-athletes)
So, mindfulness in sport can positively affect so much of a student’s training, health and general wellbeing but it can seem daunting where and how to begin. Taking one small step at a time seems to be the way forward. For example:
- Deep breathing exercises can be used way beyond sports. These are helpful in any form of high-stress situation where nerves need calming.
- Keeping a diary can be a useful link between the physical and emotional sports experience. It can help the student and athlete to recognise patterns to help to optimise training programmes and overall well-being.
- Mindful activities such as yoga can help participants to find their core calm again whilst also increasing flexibility and muscle relaxation.
- Meditation can also bring greater peace of mind and calmness and can easily become part of a PE lesson warm up or element in learning a particular physical skill.
We all carry the power of the mind with us, every day, everywhere – surely this the most significant teaching and learning resource of all.