Mindfulness and meditation can help focus the brain on tasks at hand.

A beneficial practice for children with attention challenges. 

Meditation practitioners and teachers know that mindfulness is all about present-moment awareness. I have been teaching mindfulness to students since 2016 to calm behaviors, the transition from one activity to another and to be more aware of the body in space and thoughts in the mind. The overarching idea is that with the awareness skill of mindfulness, students who struggle to pay attention or who are anxious in school could notice where their focus is and manage themselves more effectively. The following are but a couple of the many scientific studies showing how mindfulness helps improve focus and attention. 

According to Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Miami, the neuroplasticity of our brain is at the heart of why mindfulness helps with focus. “Attention is your superpower. Attention regulates how you perceive your life, think your thoughts, feel your feelings, enjoy your memories, and daydream about the future.” Dr. Jha and her team taught people with high-stress jobs how to place attention where it matters most using mindfulness. “What we gain from mindfulness [is] the capacity to keep our attention where we need it, in the form we need it… Mindfulness training does indeed have a dose-response effect, which means the more you practice, the more you benefit.”

Another article entitled Your Child’s Brain on Mindful Meditation published in ADDitude, an online magazine for ADHD, explained the results of a Harvard study in which “some areas of the brain, including areas related to emotion regulation, grew during an eight-week mindfulness program. And studies involving both imaging and patterns of activation in the brain have shown alterations correlating with greater emotional control, wellbeing, and happiness.”

Since I have been guiding and practicing meditation with adults and children, most self-report that they feel more in tune with what is going on around them, in their body and in their mind. As they learn to sit in silence and notice what is going on inside and around them, they realize how it benefits their life. 

Please note that meditation is not mental health or emotional therapy. Meditation is, however, an effective supplemental practice that can help generate peace of mind and self-control. The key to a successful practice is time and repetition. To reap the greatest benefit, meditation should be a daily activity of at least 10 minutes and according to Dr. Jha’s study, the optimal amount of time is at least 12 minutes per day. 

The following short practice is inspired by Dr. Amishi Jha’s STOP practice in which we Stop what we are doing for a moment, Take a breath, Observe what’s happening in and around us, and then Proceed with greater focus and intention.

Focus Practice Using Mindfulness

When you notice you are losing focus, whether in class or in a meeting, try this practice and invite your child(ren) to try it with you. By practicing this regularly, children will be able to do it on their own at school.

Let’s say you are in a meeting or classroom and you notice your mind wandering or your body getting jittery. The first thing is to acknowledge that you have lost attention to what is going on. You can’t remember the last thing the speaker or the teacher said, or what you were doing, maybe. The first step in mindfulness is simply noticing that attention has been lost. 

When we notice this, we bring our attention to a mindfulness anchor – commonly the breath. We take one to three deep breaths, intentionally noting the air coming in and going out of the body at the nose, the chest, or the belly. Counting these breaths is also a worthwhile practice to bring attention to the moment.

After inviting a few calming breaths, we bring our attention to the body. Where are the feet right now? Where are my hands? Where am I sitting right now? Bring awareness to any feelings in the body. Then, notice the head balanced on top of the shoulders and, if comfortable, take a few seconds to close the eyes and quickly scan the body for any sensations.

Finally, with the enhanced present-moment awareness this short practice has generated, we make the choice to come back to what is going on right now and what we “should” be doing: listening to a speaker or teacher or working on a project or assignment. We can bring renewed focus and clarity to what we are doing and feel more productive and aware. 

This practice can be done anytime we want or anytime we notice ourselves drifting off task. In time, mindfulness of what is going on right now and what needs to be happening will hone the brain’s focus and attention systems.

Originally published in The Taos News, December 8, 2022

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