Two Simple Mindful Meditation Exercises for Teachers

It’s Monday noon and yes, I didn’t get to a Sun(Fun)day Night post yesterday. It wasn’t much of a fun day for me, but rather an extremely full day into the night. Our midterm exams are next week and I was working all day on review guides and then on revising the two exams themselves.

Yes, I felt stressed and yes, I did practice some of the mindfulness meditation techniques that I’ve blogged about here and here and here.

I post this link from The Guardian as it is geared specifically to teachers. Faculty and staff at my school will recognize these simple, yet effective techniques as we’ve been using them to start faculty meetings. And we used them as recently as this morning when our deacon used the PA system to guide the entire student body through a 10 min exercise related to Advent and the Holy Family.

As the stress level this time of year gets ratcheted up for you – whether you have midterms before Christmas or not – I hope this article and the exercises contained within help make your season merrier and brighter.

Apps You Should Know: Ten Ambient Sound-Makers and Other Meditation Aids

Readers of this blog will recall that I am a passionate proponent for teaching mindfulness and meditation to students. I’ve blogged about it here a number of times. And I have many more links describing the benefits of it as well as how to teach it. Someday, I plan to post these too.

For now, I’d like to show and tell about a number of iOS apps which can be effectively used to support meditative practices in you or your students. While I provide links to more info about each (as available), you’ll need to go to the App Store to search for and download them yourself.

Even though I use an Android smartphone, I have the apps featured here on my iPad only and not my phone. Therefore, I cannot speak to whether there are corresponding Android apps for any of these.

I’ve selected apps which are easy and effective to use, free of charge, and have either zero or minimal/unobtrusive opportunities for “In-App Purchases” (NOTE: This is accurate as what I’ve seen in the apps and also only at the time of publishing this). I hope you enjoy exploring these apps too:

Peace_Ambient Sounds

Peace – Ambient Sounds   – Free and without In-App Purchases

This is a pretty bare-bones app with only a handful of sounds. As it is free, clear of ads and w/o in-app purchases, it’s a good, basic, “starter app” to produce background sounds for meditation.

 

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WO.Audio (Red icon version) – Free and without In-App Purchases. NOTE: Search iTunes App Store with the “iPhone only” option selected.

For a free app, this one is surprisingly robust. It has both sounds and music along with options for users to create their own combinations which can be saved to the app.

 

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AmbiScience 300 Lite – Free and without In-App Purchases.

The free version of this is pretty slim on options as it functions mostly as an enticement to download their fuller versions. Yet, this app is one of the few I’ve found which also has the option to blend binaural sound waves into the mix of music and ambient sounds.

 

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White Noise Market – Free and without In-App Purchases

I’ve not used this app as much as some of the others, so I cannot speak to the depth of its functionality. That being said, at first glance it clearly has a range of sounds and functions which surpass many of the other free apps on this list. And it has this interesting map of the sources of the sounds offered by the app:

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Naturely, aka Nature Clockstand – Free without In-App Purchases.

Offering a range of sounds, an attractive image representing each sound, and a built-in timer, this app is another one with a high level of usability. I like the natural images which correlate to the audio as sometimes I’ll meditate with my eyes open and gaze at art or an image.

 

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Stop, Breathe and Think – Free with minimal, unobtrusive In-App Purchases

We’re now into a slightly different category of apps. Many of the remaining ones include audio, guided meditations, timers, record keeping of time/date meditating, and other features geared especially for novices to meditative practice. This app has a friendly, light-hearted interface. The user may “check-in” by answering a few questions and then receive a guided meditation tailored to their current need. Or, as this shot shows, the user can bypass the questions and simply select a style and length of meditation:

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Breathe2Relax – Free, no In-App Purchases

This app, while not strictly geared towards mindful meditation is designed with relaxation in mind. Designed with scientific research, this app is better to experience than to describe. So, if the screen shots above interest you, download the free app and try it out. If breathing is important to you, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in it.

 

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Smiling Mind – Free without In-App Purchases

Not only does this app have the best name of the bunch, but it includes a number of other unique features. While the mediation counter and resulting badges are similar to what is found on “Stop, Breathe and Think,” Smiling Mind is the only app I’ve found with meditations specifically geared to different age levels (see the 2nd shot above). Within each older age group is a “course list” of downloadable, guided meditations designed to teach and encourage a meditative practice. It also includes a “social media” function so your friends can observe and encourage your meditation.

And the voices are Aussies, reminiscent of Andy Puddicombe, creator and founder of Headspace.

 

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Mediation Timer Free for iPad – No In-App Purchases, ad supported

This simple, yet elegant app does one thing well. Although it doesn’t offer guided mediations or ambient sounds, it’s an excellent free timer. I use it every day to measure my 10 minutes of mindfulness. The free version is ad supported and has a couple fewer minor features than the inexpensive full version (which I purchased). I like how the user can set the time as well as sounds to mark intervals within the meditation. I use a deep chime sound for each 2:30 and then a specific bell at the end of the full 10 minutes. The app keeps track of my time and provides a number of key data points upon request. And I particularly like the option to easily post my meditation time on Twitter or facebook.

 

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Calm in the Storm (Stress Management) – Free, without In-App Purchases

This app is also different then the others listed here as it is designed specifically for people who suffer from high levels of stress and/or anxiety disorders. As you’ll see in the third shot above, there are guided meditations and relaxations within this app. These are set within the context of anxiety management and development of a plan to address anxiety and stress as they arise. For some, this app may literally function as a life-saver.

Do you have experience with any of these apps?

What additional apps have you used for ambient sounds and/or meditation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washing Dishes Is A Really Great Stress Reliever

OK, it’s Sunday night (ugh!) And of course I worked much this weekend, but didn’t get as much grading, planning, etc done as I wanted to do.

As I was getting ready to head downstairs to do my Sunday night task – folding laundry – and my every night task – washing dishes – I came across an encouraging article about the value of what I’m about to do.

Time Magazine offers a brief, yet insightful article about a study which showed that washing dishes can be a great stress reliever – if you do it mindfully. I like the reading excerpt which the researchers had one group of subjects read:

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes. This means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly. Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

After the group which read this excerpt, washed dishes and then responded with higher levels of inspiration and lower levels of nervousness, it lead the study authors to conclude:

“It appears that an everyday activity approached with intentionality and awareness may enhance the state of mindfulness,”

I’ve written on this blog previously about the many benefits of mindful meditation. And I have many more articles to share and reflections to offer on what I’ve discovered regarding the benefits of it. But, I can’t share these now — I have dishes to do and laundry to fold!

Headspace Free Trial & Videos

Recently I described how I used the Headspace app to help my students learn how to mindfully meditate at the start of each class period.

On my own, it took me a few more than ten days to complete the free trial of ten sessions.  Although I am now meditating using a different app with nature sounds, I can highly recommend the Headspace trial.

After signing up with an email address and password (or signing in with your facebook account), you can access the ten free sessions. Don’t worry, no credit card is required at this point.

The screen looks like this, via a web browser on a computer:

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Click on session one and a cute, 1 1/2 minute animate will begin.  If you want to jump right to the audio for the first session, close the video and proceed.

There is also a free iPad/iPhone app that you can download via the App Store.  Search under “Headspace.”  You won’t see it on the screen that comes so you need to change the search to “iPhone only” (upper left side).  You’ll then see the app and have the ability to download it.  After signing into it (with a username/password you’ve set up through the website), you can access the 10 free sessions.

Image of HeadSpace App

 

And here’s links to some YouTube videos featuring Andy and the Headspace content:

Andy TED Talk

What are the benefits of meditation?

The mind as a blue sky

Expectation in meditation

Teaching Students About Mindful Breathing & Meditation

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been learning about the many benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  At the start of Advent last December I began a practice in my classes which I hoped would prepare students for Christmas.  During the first six to ten minutes of class, I had them use their iPads (as my classroom is essentially paperless) to write in a private Gratitude Journal while quiet music played.  After they completed this, they were to close their eyes and focus on their breathing.  As I wasn’t sure if I’d continue this class time after Christmas Break, I didn’t offer them much instruction in mindful breathing beyond a few simple suggestions.

On the day after break, I gave my students a short, confidential, Google Survey – a few questions and space for an extended response.  You can see the results and comments here:

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I was pleasantly surprised – more than 80% of my students felt we should continue the gratitude journal/mindful meditation time (and a slightly higher percentage wanted to continue the later than the former).

I knew I needed to teach the students more about how to practice mindful meditation.  So I turned to an app/website that I started using recently – Headspace.  While there’s a not-insignificant subscription fee to access all of the resources, they offer a free set of 10 x 10 minutes audio sessions.  I’ve used these sessions and have benefited from them.

During a class period, I started by showing this very short animated video produced by Headspace. I then showed this great, less than 10 minute,TED talk by Andy Puddicombe in which he engagingly articulates how to begin a meditative practice.  For further introduction I showed this animated video by Headspace and concluded with this cute one:

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I then led the students through a 10 minute meditation.  Calmly and quietly, with relaxing music in the background, I walked each of my classes through much of Andy’s direction given in the 10 x 10 minute free sessions.  I could tell by the immediate response on the faces of my students that the time was well spent.

This introduction was more than three weeks ago.  We’ve gotten into a routine now where my students write in their gratitude journal, sit up straight, close their eyes and focus on their breathing (I say these words at the start of each class to remind them of our procedure).  It’s great to see my students doing this and to feel the stillness and calm in the classroom as they are engaging in it.

Now that they can engage in general meditation, I plan to soon connect a number of important Catholic prayer practices to it.  There’s a long tradition of contemplative prayer, centering prayer, lectio divina and Eucharistic Adoration within the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Mindful breath meditation is the foundation upon which these specific practices are built.

About a week or so after I taught the students this practice, I had solid verification of the value of it.  A freshman girl visited me after school and enthusiastically said, “Mr. Kohut, what you taught us about meditation really helped me today.”  She went on to tell me that she’d been asked to read at the funeral service of a friend’s mom.  Not surprisingly, she was extremely nervous about doing this.  But, in her words: “I did the breathing and other things you taught us and I calmed down.  I was able to do the reading and I know my friend really appreciated it.”

My goodness – how rarely I so quickly see the beneficial results of my teaching and have a student express her thanks for it!

I am watching my classes carefully to see how else individuals and the class community are changed by this practice.  I’ll survey the students again at the end of the year to get their thoughts about what they’ve gained.  I imagine though that I’ll see the benefits of the daily mindful meditation and prayer long before I hear about them in a year-end survey. I’ll let you know what I see and hear…

 

Mindful Meditation is a 21st Century Skill

It’s another Snow Day here in Central Ohio.  The measly 3 to 5 inches we received overnight pales in comparison to the “historic” storm they are about to get in NYC, Boston & Philly.  One reason I like living where I do is that we get Snow Days without paralyzing snow.  And we’ve already had three of them in January!

It’s been a while since Tera, Rachel or I have been able to post.  It goes without saying that a teacher’s life is a full life! My to-do list, which always includes posting here, always seems to get longer and not shorter.  I’ve been collecting links and ideas though.  Hopefully I can post a few today when I’m not catching up on evaluating student work.

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21st Century Skills have been getting much attention the past view years.  Myriad well-funded websites exist and there are no shortage of posters and graphics such as the one above or this one:

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This poster is one of many resources found here.  I like the dozen and a half skills listed, but I think a critical one is omitted here and in most lists of 21st Century Skills – Attention or Mindfulness.

A fact of modern life is the temptation to becoming distracted from the task at hand – be it participating in class, doing homework, or even driving.  The dangers of “distracted driving” were driven home to our school recently when speakers from Impact Teen Driving shared their tragic story of a loved one’s death from an auto accident by a distracted driver.

Focusing attention is a skill that can be taught and developed. An M.D. from the esteemed Mayo Clinic featured in this Atlantic article writes: “We have multiple set exercises throughout the day where you basically bring intentionality to your attention…they involve no newfangled brain-training software, or really anything at all new to neuroscience or philosophy.”  His website, stressfree.org offers useful techniques illustrated by engaging videos to teach the five core principles of “gratitude, compassion, acceptance, meaning, and forgiveness.” He’s created this fact-filled, cute, whiteboard video entitled “A Very Happy Brain” that could be enjoyed even by younger students.

Cultivating gratitude, being in the present moment, and mindful meditation have been shown to have many psychological, academic, and inter-personal benefits.  There are no shortage of succinct articles which both describe the benefits of mindfulness and offer ways to practice meditation.

So how does this relate to educational technology?  There are a growing number of apps which can facilitate meditative practice.  Aside from using technology to teach meditation, I think we also need to educate our students in ways to be attentive to assigned learning tasks rather than succumbing to the massive temptation to distraction living within their iPads or Chromebooks.

This attentiveness is a vital 21st Century Skill on par with any of the other essential skills listed on the posters above.  So, how do we teach it?

In the next post, I’ll share how I am doing it in my classroom. How have you done it in yours?