The power of mindfulness and learningMar 05, 2023 — Rebekah Hayward
So, let’s talk about the power of mindfulness and learning. As we know, learning can take place in many forms and many settings. From studying in the classroom to learning about ourselves through experiences in our personal lives. Learning can be challenging and difficult at times. In fact, learning journeys are rarely easy. Learning requires focus, concentration, a certain level of understanding to engage with the content and an environment which can facilitate this. What would you say if the simple act of mindfulness could positively impact all of these factors and have a positive effect on how you learn?
Maslow states that when basic emotional and physiological needs are met, such as food, shelter, safety, belonging and self-esteem, self-actualisation is able to happen. This is where, as humans, we can engage in being the best we can be through seeking personal growth and a desire to accomplish. This is where Maslow suggests we have our optimal learning experiences as we accomplish our goals.
There is vast research to show that mindfulness supports the emotional stability that Maslow suggests and is imperative to achieve self-actualisation. Mindfulness provides us with the opportunity to center ourselves. It allows us to become aware of how we feel and to acknowledge what may be taking up space in our minds. We can intentionally use mindfulness techniques to calm our body and mind such as breathing, meditation and positive affirmations. This in turn can reduce the negative effects of stress and distraction, therefore allowing your body to focus and engage solely on the learning at hand by being present and in the moment.
Harvard News defines mindfulness as “increased, purposeful, non-judgmental attention to the present moment." Due to this, mindfulness is often used in the medical and psychological fields to reduce stress and manage anxiety. However, more recently it has also been used within education to improve engagement and support social-emotional development. This has led to better academic outcomes in various educational settings, positively impacting learning.
Mindfulness can promote empathy in people when learning about others. It allows us to accept ourselves and to have compassion. When we learn to do this for ourselves, we can do the same when learning about others. Regular mindfulness practices can develop respect and kindness for others including different cultures, races, ethnicities, gender identities, and varying levels of abilities. As humans we never stop meeting and mixing with people, so the ability to learn about others in this way is very important.
Research implies that practicing mindfulness is a great tool to control, sustain and direct emotions and attention towards learning experiences. This supports us in regulating our cognitive behaviors in order to work towards a learning goal. Doing so can enhance emotional and attentional resilience and increase self-control. Boston University research suggests that the self-control developed through mindfulness allows for high engagement levels in children and adults resulting in interactive learning experiences taking place. Interactive learning experiences allow us to focus on all aspects of the learning including facial expressions, gestures, actions, words, sounds and environmental factors as distraction is dispelled. Through this experience comprehension is deepened, learning is absorbed and retained more clearly.
Do you often get that feeling when you have recently learnt something, and you are trying to recall the information or tell a friend but only parts of the learning are coming to you?
That is because active recall of information can be difficult when we are constantly learning new things. Boston researchers found that practicing mindfulness before learning expanded students’ capacity to learn and consolidate new information. One reason for this was that students were able to fully comprehend what they were learning and properly focus, therefore supporting consolidation and as a result, information recall was easier. Boston Research demonstrated this through a case study which found that students who practiced mindfulness habits before and during lessons performed better on tests and had higher grades.
Principles of mindfulness
The Harvard School of Education provides some principles of mindfulness, and two in particular actively support learning in and out of educational settings.
The first is to focus on building consistency when it comes to learning about and practicing mindfulness. This allows time for discovery about which mindfulness practices work best for you, and which ones best support your learning experiences. As we know, consistency provides the best results and allows for continual discovery of new practices which can support optimal learning.
The second is to ensure you make time to practice mindfulness before and after learning experiences. Learning happens all the time, so finding time in the morning and throughout the day to incorporate mindfulness practices can give you the best results for positive interactive learning experiences. Practicing mindfulness after learning in particular can also support reflective learning which is an intentional process that mindfulness also values as important.
As humans we never stop learning, so it can be encouraging to know that mindfulness is a tool available to support this lifelong process that can be difficult at times. It can help us to emotionally regulate, develop empathy and focus in our many learning journeys. As a teacher myself I have seen first-hand how mindfulness can support the learning process in addition to in my personal life. I have seen it have positive effects on those who are neurodiverse and support general behavior in the classroom. I use mindfulness techniques with my class often as I can see first-hand the beneficial effects it has on the children’s learning. So why not be intentional about your own learning and every learning experience you have going forward, by using the mindfulness tools that work for you? This can support consistent learning and discovery to enable you to understand, consolidate, recall and be reflective of your learning.
If you’re not sure where to start, the Medito App has a pack called ‘Teachers’ which can be used by anyone wanting to use mindfulness to support their learning. The pack supports you to discover different mindfulness techniques and talks you through how to use them. It aims to support a healthier, more productive learning environment and has great guided practice to get you started. So, there you have it - a challenge to yourself going forward to intentionally be the best learner you can possibly be.