What is mindfulness?

What is mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as:

paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.

In practice, mindfulness looks like:

  • Observing our breath without changing it
  • Observing the sensations in our physical body, part by part
  • Noticing what we feel: what does anger feel like? What does joy feel like?
  • Eating with the 5 senses

And doing it all with a hint of kindness towards ourselves and others by sending kind thoughts and gratitude.

It’s also important to understand what mindfulness is NOT:

  • It’s not a religion
  • It’s not about not having emotions
  • It’s not about not having thoughts – or having an empty mind

Mindfulness is a self-regulation tool.

When children learn the skill of mindfulness, they are better able to control their emotions because they have the space to choose how they want to respond.

By focusing on the present moment – with something as simple as paying attention to your breath, body or senses – you can learn to let stressful thoughts and feelings come and go, instead of getting caught up in them.

How I explain mindfulness to children and teenagers

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” ~ Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Mindfulness is essentially about finding and enlarging that space between stimulus and response.

I often demonstrate this concept by holding up both my index fingers side-by-side. One finger represents the stimulus, the other my reaction.

Without mindfulness, both fingers are close to each other, and we respond on autopilot.

With mindfulness, we create space. I move my fingers apart to show how that space gives us time to choose our response. We get to decide: “Do I still want to be angry? Or do I want to calm down?”

How children benefit from learning mindfulness

Mindfulness is scientifically proven to improve our well-being in many ways. Studies show that mindfulness practice can result in:

  • Improved attention
  • Better regulation of emotions
  • Better behaviour in school
  • Increased empathy and understanding of others (more kindness!)
  • Better social skills
  • Reduced anxiety before, during, and after a test (children have told me they experience stress while waiting for their score)
  • Less stress in general

Mindfulness also contributes to mental health

One out of every 5 children and youth in Canada (20%) has a diagnosable mental health condition,

Mindfulness helps promote a positive sense of well-being and can help deter mental health issues such as:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • depression
  • self-esteem issues

Mindfulness has also been shown to help students who struggle with ADHD to concentrate better.

When children are mentally healthy, they reach developmental and emotional milestones, learn healthy social skills, and know how to cope when they encounter problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities.

Mindfulness helps children learn to self-regulate their emotions, which in turn helps with their mental health.