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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

How Mindfulness Can Help Us in Challenging Times

Mark Pallis and Christiane Kerr are the authors of Crab & Whale, a mindfulness story for children aged 2-8, based on 20 years of experience in teaching mindfulness and yoga to kids. The book helps grownups and children experience quiet moments of connection, as they become more aware of their bodies, breath, emotions and surroundings.

In this Q+A, Mark and Christiane discuss the benefits of mindfulness for adults and kids.

When Whale is stuck on the beach, Crab realizes she’s much too small to push him back into the ocean. So she shows kindness to Whale by providing a calm, reassuring presence while they wait for the tide to come back in.

With all that’s happening these days, many of us can relate to that feeling that we are very small compared to all of the huge problems in the world. Christiane, how can mindfulness help adults and kids to not feel overwhelmed?

Mindfulness can give all ages the skills to be more aware of where our attention is and learn how to bring it back to the present moment using our breath and our bodies. That often brings a feeling of space into overwhelming situations. The science of mindfulness has given us an understanding of what’s happening in our nervous system and we can use this knowledge to build those skills.

One criticism of mindfulness is the perception that it means only focusing on one’s own calmness and happiness.

Mark, you’ve worked as a human rights lawyer and started a refugee legal aid charity. How can mindfulness help people who are working hard to make a difference in their communities?

One of the common misconceptions about mindfulness is that it's simply a form of relaxation. It can certainly help you relax, but for me, one of the benefits about bringing your attention to the present moment is that you are able to be more engaged in what you are doing. So for people who are working in roles where there can be lots of baggage and pressure, mindfulness can help us focus as best we can on what's happening right now for the person we are trying to help. We can be more available to them; more able to help. 

Christiane, you started sharing mindfulness with kids while you were teaching at a Montessori school. Do you find that atmosphere particularly conducive to mindfulness teaching? Would you recommend approaching mindfulness differently in Montessori schools vs. state schools?

Christiane: Two main elements of Montessori education support the practice and teaching of mindfulness. These are the personal (spiritual) preparation of the teacher and the preparation of the environment to help the child develop independence. The teacher’s own mindfulness practice is key to effective teaching of it, and helping children strengthen their inner resources through mindfulness is particularly important to building their independence.

A multi-sensory approach to learning, and an awareness of the natural world, both inside and outside the classroom, are very conducive to mindfulness teaching. Here in the UK, many state schools have adopted these practices and Maria Montessori’s belief that “education has a role to play in world peace” is an idea that all schools could benefit from exploring at the moment.

Mark, you’ve worked in advertising and on children’s television programs. How would you like to see more mindfulness brought into those fields?

Mark: For kids TV, I'd certainly like there to be a greater choice for kids of shows that are not so frenetic and more contemplative. In advertising, I think that lots of the bigger brands have sought to tap into the 'wellness' market but they are still often encouraging us to make impulse buys or pressure us into a purchase. I think as consumers become more mindful, they'll be better placed to ask themselves - do I really need this?

One of the key themes here at Mindful Teachers is self-care for educators and other helping professionals. Mark and Christiane, as busy working parents, how do you practice mindfulness and self-care?

Mark: I am a big fan of everyday mindful moments, whether it's stirring the risotto or having a shower. I'm pretty relaxed about it, and try to be present as best I can, however I can.

Christiane: I find having a mindfulness community both strengthens and supports my practice. I always prioritise meditation in my diary as I notice that things don’t go so smoothly when it slips. 

I find remembering to appreciate the small joyful moments keeps mindful momentum going and this is something we do together at family mealtimes. If I miss a session for a few days, I don’t give myself a hard time. One of the great things about mindfulness is that you can always begin again.