5 Mindfulness Practices You Can Engage Students in Virtually

During these uncertain times, student affairs professionals are called to seek new resources that inspire students to work through challenges.

One such resource is mindfulness. 

Mindfulness, put simply, is the ability to stay present in the moment. That may seem easy and straight-forward but practicing mindfulness takes, well, practice

`Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.` - Jon Kabat-Zinn

 It’s very easy to veer away from the present moment — to check your phone notifications, answer a recent e-mail, or Zoom into another meeting, rather than paying attention to what’s happening around you. The nice thing about mindfulness is that it serves as a resource that absolutely anyone can access, practice, and teach.

Utilizing mindfulness allows you to not only take notice of your feelings and reactions but to take control of them. This has a number of health benefits; mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, increase focus, and lessen emotional reactivity. Specific to college students, mindfulness has been shown to increase curiosity and tolerance. It can even be used to address alcohol abuse as a healthier coping mechanism for stress.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Mindfulness seems helpful, but how can it help me in my day-to-day?” Fair question.

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Increased focus can lead to increased productivity, and a reduction in stress allows professionals to more fully engage in their work in order to best serve their students. Mindfulness can also help you become more self-aware, allowing for more meaningful conversations around difficult topics.

Teaching mindfulness to students will give them one more resource to help cope with stress, anxiety, a loss of control, or a myriad of other emotions.

Before you begin your own practice, here are a few additional things to know about mindfulness.

3 Facts

1. You don’t need to buy anything or use special equipment

Sure, if you want to create a zen-like atmosphere complete with tapestries, meditation cushions, incense, and fairy lights, you can do that! But it’s not necessary. Mindfulness can be practiced literally anywhere — in your office, between online classes, while on a walk, or while eating your favorite meal.

You can practice mindfulness individually or with a group. You can do it through face-to-face interactions or through virtual means, using apps, content posted on social media, or a guided meditation on Instagram Live.

2. Mindfulness is not the absence of thought

It’s likely not possible to completely quiet your mind. Your thoughts may wander as you’re reminded of a conversation from the previous day, start thinking through your to-do list, or worry about an approaching deadline. That is perfectly fine; it doesn’t mean you’re failing at mindfulness.

With mindfulness, all you’re really trying to do is pay attention to your thoughts and then redirect them, noticing when your mind has wandered and bringing yourself back to the present.

3. Mindfulness is a judgment-free zone

When judgments rise to the surface, make a mental note of them. Then be like Elsa from Frozen and let it go.

Letting go of personal judgment helps to increase self-acceptance, which is especially useful for students as they continue to develop and learn more about themselves.

5 Practices

Now, here a few ways you can include mindfulness practices in your work.

1. Start and/or end a meeting with a mindfulness exercise

At the beginning of the meeting, ask everyone to go around and share how they are feeling. Not only will this be a supportive way to informally check in with your team, but it will also require people to pause, take notice of their feelings, and share them with the group.

Ending the meeting in the same way could help you assess how the meeting went and how the team is feeling at the conclusion of your time together. Additionally, you could also start or end with a body scan or guided meditation; there are many found online!

2. Practice during meetings 

Whenever you’re meeting one-on-one with a student, with your professional team, or with a student organization, set aside some time to practice mindfulness.

Ask students to close their eyes and sit comfortably if they’re able to do so. Then, instruct them to focus on their breathing, taking three counts to breathe in and three counts to breathe out. Encourage them to take note of how they’re feeling and to pay attention to any wandering thoughts or emotions. After a few minutes, ask students to open their eyes and share how they’re feeling following.

Whether planned or spontaneous, setting time aside for mindfulness during a meeting can help navigate situations where emotions may be running high or give the perfect boost to increase dialogue and connection.

3. Talk about it

Dr. Kathy Obear (an author who specializes in conflict resolution, change management, and inclusive environments) teaches a practice called PANning (Pay Attention Now). This practice focuses on noticing behaviors, feelings, and patterns, without judgement, to become aware about what is happening both inside and around you.

PANning is especially helpful when navigating difficult topics, identifying microaggressions, or examining privilege because it allows members to engage in open and honest dialogue and increases our ability to notice patterns of treatment.

Consider introducing PANning to your students, using it during individual and group engagements, PANning how you’re feeling, and creating a culture that values openly discussing feelings and behaviors without judgment. Not only will this practice bring folx back to the present moment, but this can also bring awareness to the experiences of both privileged and marginalized groups. For example: if a conversation on sexism is being dominated by men, you could PAN and share this observation with the group, thereby making individuals aware of something they may not have otherwise noticed.

4. Share content

There are a lot of resources available online which focus on mindfulness and meditation. Follow hashtags like #meditate, #meditation, #mindfulness, and #affirmations. Create and share marketing materials that remind students to take a moment to pause and breathe. Share guided meditations on your Instagram and Facebook profiles.

Make these posts timely and focus the meditation on topics that are most relevant to your students, such as dealing with stress, anxiety, life transitions, perfectionism, or trouble sleeping.

5. Lead by example

Students respond well to behavioral role models. So, practice and discuss mindfulness in your regular work and encourage students to do the same. Empower them to practice mindfulness as a tool they can use to take back some of their self-control.

Students can practice mindfulness before a marathon of online classes, during a late-night study session, or before a speech or presentation to their calm nerves. Mindfulness does not take a lot of time, energy, or equipment. Leading by example will empower students to see mindfulness as another resource to cope with stress and navigate their world.

When practicing mindfulness, it’s important to take note of potential distractions and find ways to minimize them. Whenever possible, close your laptop, silence your phone, and find a space that is relatively quiet and will be free from interruptions.

'The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.' - Thích Nhất Hạnh

Mindfulness will likely expose a lot of personal truths, and for students, it will also provide a resource that may make their responsibilities, both in and outside of the classroom, more manageable. Self-awareness may lead to greater satisfaction in their personal development, academic course selection, and future career aspirations. Self-compassion can increase tolerance and empathy for others. Students experiencing better sleep through mindful practices will benefit from enhanced focus, memory, and study skills.

Practicing mindfulness will not only allow student affairs professionals to be their best selves; it can also inspire students to face difficulties free from judgment and without fear. Mindfulness can also teach students how they can control their reactions to circumstances unknown.

Want to learn more or begin to practice mindfulness? Here are a few resources I love:

How have you incorporated mindfulness into your work with students? We’d love to hear your stories. Connect with us on Twitter at @HelloPresence.

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Hanah Diebold

About the author: Hanah Diebold is the assistant director of student activities at Carleton College and a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Oklahoma State University. She's passionate about food, holistic wellness, the arts, traveling, and being a lifelong learner. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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