Guest post by Areta Verschoor, North Shore Yoga and Black Cat Studios

Today’s guest author is friend and yoga instructor, Areta Verschoor. This post about mindfulness can help educators support the social emotional learning (SEL) of students and staff.

Areta teaches yoga in several studios in the Chicagoland area, including North Shore Yoga and Black Cat Studios. She teaches to inspire and empower physical well being, spiritual balance and awakening for everyday life.  Her classes are warm and light with an emphasis on breath connection, mindfulness meditation, balance, physical awareness and opening of the heart.  Areta studies the mind-body connection that yoga provides and is certified in adaptive yoga for disabilities, trauma, and loss; traumatic brain injury; eating disorder recovery; and 12 step recovery. Her teaching specialties include vinyasa and gentle yoga, teen yoga, meditation, and pranayama. Areta brings deep knowledge to her teaching, helping each person find ease and strength in their body, no matter how they arrive on the mat. Step into her light, bright energy to find new joy in your practice.

Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. 

A widely-accepted definition of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of  mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. MBSR is a secular practice that focuses attention to the present moment to calm the mind from worries about the past, future, and busy to-do lists. 

Practicing mindfulness to bring on a state of calm and quiet is said to decrease feelings of anxiety and stress. Under stress, the brain releases “fight-or-flight” jolts of adrenaline, which can affect the developing brains of children and increase the likelihood of long-term mood disorders. Harvard researchers found that a structured school-based mindfulness intervention was associated with a reduction in perceived stress, and improvements in sustained attention among student participants. Study authors noted the potential value of mindfulness interventions in school. The paper includes a set of references about mindfulness in educational practice and recommendations for integrating mindfulness into classrooms. Similarly, a 2019 EdWeek article noted that mindfulness and meditation in classrooms can “decrease stress and anxiety, boost working memory, focus attention, reduce emotional reactivity, and increase relationship satisfaction.” Read more, in an article by the Harvard Gazette about mindfulness and in an article about schools across California that are investigating the impact of mindfulness in classrooms to reverse the effects of chronic stress.

Areta ends yoga practice with guided meditation, focused attention to breath, or a body scan to help her students release tension and leave class in a calm and relaxed state. Areta provided us with a guide for practicing mindfulness. Take a deep breath, settle into your space, and try out the steps of the guide. 

Think about how you might use this guide in your classroom. What a wonderful way to spend a quiet ten minutes with your students. Where in your schedule could you find several minutes to support students’ practice of mindfulness?