• Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Support Our Ability To Focus In A Distracting World?


    Paying attention and focusing can be extremely difficult for everybody.


    Children are often asked to focus and pay attention, but they’re not always explicitly told how to do it or given opportunities to practice. Adults are often expected to multitask and juggle many responsibilities, and yet these behaviors are costing us productivity and increasing our stress. Fast Company magazine suggests not multitasking in order to increase our ability to focus. It cites A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College, who claims that “multitasking decreases concentration by as much as 20% to 40%. Brain activation is reduced up to 53% when we are asked to perform dual tasks versus being able to devote our attention to just one task.” Yet most of us are probably in the habit of doing several things at the same time.

     

    While we are trying to juggle numerous responsibilities, we’re also being exposed to competing sources of stimulus. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Coming to our Senses, explains that we’re often “perpetually preoccupied, lost in our mind, absorbed in our thoughts, obsessed with the past or the future, consumed with our plans and our desires, diverted by our need to be entertained, driven by our expectations, fears…. And therefore we are amazingly out of touch.” 

     

    We are out of touch with our bodies, with our surroundings, and perhaps even the task at hand. People often drive home without remembering if they stopped at all the stop signs, or they find themselves in a middle of a conversation they have lost track of, or, in the case of students, they may be unable to answer a question after having their names called [MS3] repeatedly. This is because we often don’t even realize that we’ve lost focus. 

     

    Because we are constantly bombarded with stimuli and information that our minds need to sift through, it is crucial that we bring awareness to what’s distracting us and how it’s impacting us. For example, while phones and other technologies allow us to easily interact with each other (increasingly via a screen), they also can cause a lot of stress. All our devices are having an impact on our attention span and our ability to focus.

     


    Attention span is typically defined as the amount of concentrated time spent on a task without becoming distracted.


    So how much time is that for the average adult? A study of Canadian media consumption set out to answer this question. Time magazine reports that “researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs)…. [They] found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.” According to the article, that’s one second less than the attention span of a goldfish! But what’s more concerning is that the study linked the changes in our brain to the new technologies it’s being exposed to.

     

    The study also “confirmed generational differences for mobile use; for example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded ‘yes’ when asked, ‘When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,’ compared with only 10% of those over the age of 65.” In other words, our children’s lifestyle habits and choices are being influenced by technology use, which impacts the way our kids focus and pay attention. Read the NPR article “Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, for Better and Worse” for arguments on how the ways our children’s brains are changing might be helping and hurting them.

     

    What’s clear is that we have to develop the skill of paying attention and focusing. Mindfulness can support us in doing this in two ways: It can help us notice when we’ve lost focus and have become distracted, and it can help us then place our attention where we want. These are two distinct skills that have to be developed concurrently. 

     


    To help our kids manage distraction, we can support them in anchoring their attention through mindfulness activities.


    Willoughby Britton and Ariell Sydnor, in their chapter “Neurobiological Models of Meditation Practices: Implications for Applications with Youth” in Teaching Mindfulness Skills to Kids and Teens, describe several approaches to support students’ mental health.

     

    One of these is focused attention (FA) practice. It “involves intentionally directing and sustaining attention on a chosen object or anchor of attention (e.g., the breath, a visual object, a sound) while ‘deselecting’ other stimuli…. The meditator’s goal is to remain anchored, monitor the mind’s wandering, and return attention to the object when the mind has wandered.” These practices can help us and our kids practice focusing and train our brains to be able to manage distraction by first noticing we’re distracted and then bringing our focus back to where we want it to be sustained. Anchoring our attention to our sense experience is a simple and effective way to help us and our students focus. 


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com. 


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  • Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Of Everyday Movement Support Well-Being And Stress Management?

    There are many ways mindfulness of movement supports our well-being.


    Mindfulness of movement supports readiness to learn and a sense of embodiment benefits both students and teachers. In this edition, we'll look more closely at the ways mindfulness of everyday movement can encourage us to move more, helping us release stress and tension, and how it can be a wonderful way to insert more moments of mindfulness into our lives.

     

    Most of us know how important movement is for our physical well-being. Physicians encourage lots of exercise to maintain a healthy body and mind. Many of us, however, have a hard time being active and sticking to our exercise regimen. The New York Times article, This Year, Make Your Fitness Resolution Stick encourages folks to maintain their fitness goals by explaining, “studies have shown that increasing the amount you move every day, by using a standing desk, walking your dog or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.” The study cited in the article itself concludes, "Both the total volume of sedentary time and its accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts are associated with… mortality, suggesting that physical activity guidelines should target reducing and interrupting sedentary time to reduce risk for death” in U.S. middle-aged and older adults.


    Clearly movement is important and yet many struggle to maintain their exercise and movement goals.  


    The article cites the abysmal statistics of people who actually keep their exercise resolutions two months after starting them (37% for folks in their 20’s and 16% for folks over 50). It also states that although "150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise like speed walking or swimming, or 75 minutes per week of intense exercise, like H.I.I.T. (High-Intensity Interval Training) or jogging, is the minimum amount of exercise needed to achieve maximum medical benefit…. The most effective form of exercise is the type that someone will consistently perform.” 

     

    Being consistent and sticking to an exercise program is the most important thing. It can be extremely difficult, however, to include movement and physical activity into our daily life or even for our students in the classroom. Most of us spend too much time sitting and so do our kids. Many students sit throughout the day and get minimal recess or physical education. This can make it extremely difficult for them to focus and learn but also creates sedentary habits that can have damaging effects on our children’s long-term health.

     

    This is where mindfulness of movement can support us. By inserting mindfulness into the movement we do every day in our lives and in the classroom, we can strengthen our mind and body connection and begin to recognize when our bodies (and our kids’ bodies) need more exercise or movement.

     

    There are countless movements we repeat throughout the day without noticing. We walk around our classrooms or workplaces, sit and stand, open doors, wash hands or dishes or fold laundry, but we’re not always fully present. We ignore (and fail to teach our students in a visceral way) the intricacies and truly ingenious ways our body is communicating with itself and interacting with its surroundings when performing even the simplest of movements. 

     

    If we bring more awareness to these everyday movements, we will be regularly inserting mindful moments into our and our children’s lives. It can motivate us to do more movement throughout our day or to take mindful movement breaks with our kids. We can then feel and sense for ourselves (and share with our students) the benefit of, for example, getting up  to stretch after sitting at the computer or desk for hours or going for a mindful walk before starting our work or school day. Next time you stand from your desk, walk around the room, or go wash your dishes notice the sensations in your body with kindness and curiosity. Ask yourself if there is something you can offer your body right now to support your health and well-being.

     

    Consider inserting mindful movement breaks for your kids as well and encourage your students as they walk in the hallways to simply feel the bottoms of their feet or to notice how their breath and body feels after they come back from recess or phys ed class. If we can bring mindful awareness to the way we move through the world, we will surely strengthen our mind-body connection and bring awareness to what parts of our body need support.

     

    Mindfulness, Movement, and Stress


    There are countless studies that explore the relationship between stress and both mindfulness and exercise.


    A Harvard Health Blog describes a study that suggests "that it may not require much physical activity to provide lasting emotional resilience.” Another NY Times article talks about resiliency in the face of stress: "exercise can channel your stress response into something constructive... [and] appears to be a form of stress inoculation….Exercise doesn’t eliminate stress, but it does give your body the physical conditioning it needs to recover from it." A lot of these findings extend to anxiety as well. You can read more on how exercise helps with anxiety here and here.

     

    Stanford lecturer and program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Dr. Kelly McGonigal offers another perspective. In her book The Upside of Stress, she explains that not all stress is bad. After all, it is our body's stress response that energizes us and keeps us safe when we are in dangerous situations or wakes us up when we hear the alarm ring in the morning. To be clear, McGonigal is not saying that chronic stress is good for you, but suggests there is reason to believe that changing the way you look at stress and perhaps even embracing the energy it releases can help us manage it more skillfully.

     

    In her Ted talk she explains, “people who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.” 

     

    This suggests we bring mindful awareness to stressful situations, to pause and observe how the stress is impacting us. After this pause we can attempt to reframe our experience, gain perspective, and make a choice that can better support us during the stressful moment.

     

    Perhaps we’ll decide that taking a mindful movement break like walking or stretching is the best thing we can do. Harnessing both the power and benefits of mindful movement can have a tremendous impact on our practice and the way we handle stress.

     

    If you’re interested in more, read about the nine ways mindfulness reduces stress and listen to a recorded audio practice from Mindful magazine.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

    Read More


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