Over the summer, I had the pleasure of working with a Long Island City High School in Queens, NY. Little Flower Yoga was asked to support teachers and students during the school’s summer Bridge program. The Bridge program serves incoming ninth graders. It is a way to get them ready for high school and they receive credit for taking summer intensives.
At first, my concern was how I (and the several other LFY teachers) would make the most of our time with students. After all, it was summer and the students would be in intensive classes for four to five hours per day, five days a week, and they were earning high school credit. Where would we even fit into their day? They had a lot of material to cover. Would we be a burden to them or even be able to offer support them with a mere five minutes of mindfulness?
I also worried about the teachers. As a former classroom educator, I can recall all too well what the stress of the job can do to the body and mind. The idea of incorporating a full mat based yoga and mindfulness program might be appealing to many, but may not be possible or practical for all. It may also seem overwhelming to educators especially, who already have so much on their plates. Staying present can be a real challenge!
Fortunately, when I arrived at the school, I was thrilled to see that most of the teachers were not only happy to see us, but they were active participants in the mindful break experience! The school had done an excellent job engaging their teachers and they were happy to participate. It was in that moment I realized that conducting 5-10 minutes of mindfulness practices (if teachers have buy in) could be the most accessible application of what we do.
The beauty of this type of mindful break is that it can be unobtrusive, accessible and can be done by anyone willing to practice it themselves! In most cases, the classroom educators spend the most time with the students, but these breaks can be done by visiting guidance counselors, school psychologists, teaching assistants, and social workers as well.
At the start of each day I worked at the high school and I would meet briefly with all the teachers and staff as they prepared for the students arrival. I would ask them how I could support them that day. Together we would come up with how they wanted to utilize a mindfulness break. We'd schedule a time of day and a length of time that worked for them. I would come during their scheduled time, and offer the students a breathing technique, a stretch/movement break, or a way of bringing relaxation to their body.
Additionally, there was a sign up sheet on the door to the mindfulness space that had been created for this Bridge program. Students could sign up at the start of their day for either a mindful movement or mindful relaxation mini session. The students were in charge of signing up and coming to their appointment. This offered autonomy, choice, and gave students the opportunity to notice when they might need a break. In these small groups, practices and techniques were offered as a way to highlight for students how powerful a mindful break can be in helping to wake up the body, or slow it down, control the breath during moments of stress, or by helping to regain focus.
It is challenging to ask students and teachers to spend 45 minutes to one hour during their day dedicated to yoga and mindfulness, so taking a few moments to move the body, relax a bit, or even take one full inhale and exhale can be a welcomed and important break for all.
The following are a just a couple of examples of what can be offered during a mindful break throughout your class or day. Remember that to make these practices really count, you should try them yourself first and fit them into your particular context.
Take five to ten minutes and ask students to see if they can notice their breath. Start by inviting them to come to a comfortable seat, and then to place their hands on their body in a way that feels supportive. Suggest some places where students might feel breathing most, such as the belly, chest, ribs, or under the nose.
Take a long pause to allow the group to really explore the experience. After a few moments, ask the group to share aloud or to quietly think about how that experience felt for them. Then ask the group to take the next couple of minutes to explore taking full and even breaths.
When time is up, maybe use a bell or singing bowl to gently bring them out of the experience. If time allows, discuss with the group how they are doing, or place them in small groups to chat about it.
More and more schools take less time for recess, P.E., and indoor/outdoor play. This means that they may not be given the opportunity to move frequently, if at all, during their day. Studies show that physical exercise can elevate the memory, improve concentration, and have a positive effect on overall mental health.
Take five to ten minutes to conduct a stretch, practice yoga poses, play a game, or even do jumping jacks. Remember to encourage students to check in with how their body feels, and notice their breath. Remind them to take breaks if they need it, and to only challenge themselves if it feels right. Have them practice being kind to themselves if they struggle with something, and keep the experience light, fun, and filled with joy!
I’m sure you can recall a time or two when you really needed your children or students to relax, I know do. In our often loud, over stimulating, chaotic, technology filled lives, finding time and ways to relax can be challenging for many.
Take these five to ten minutes to offer a relaxation technique to students. Relaxation can be done on a yoga mat, but it doesn’t have to be. Remind students that relaxation doesn’t necessarily mean they need to lie down and go to sleep. Students can relax on a carpet, on a bean bag chair, or at their desk.
Invite them to get comfortable and close their eyes if they want. Have students practice bringing awareness to their body starting from their toes, and working their way up to their head. Ask them if they notice any sensations, or tension in each part and encourage them to try and relax each body part as they go. Take your time, and pause briefly after, allowing them time to have a whole body relaxation.
These are examples of things we did at Long Island City High School but remember, the beauty of mindful moments or breaks is that they can be done at any time. Our hope is you’ll consider incorporating them into your day in a sustainable and consistent way.
If you’re interested in how movement supports your students overall well being, the LFY team recommends reading Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
Below are recordings of a mindful breath and mindful relaxation practice you can try for yourself or share with your students.
About Margot Harris
Margot is a children's yoga and mindfulness teacher. She is a New York State professionally certified school teacher with a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and a Master's in Literacy education. Prior to being a LFY certified children’s and yoga and mindfulness instructor, she taught pre-kindergarten for 11 years. She teaches all age groups in a variety of settings in Long Island and NYC schools.