Here at our Toronto Waldorf school, we incorporate some very forward-thinking learning practices into our curriculum, and mindfulness is one of them.
The Waldorf Academy is a Toronto private middle school that follows the teaching theory of the early 20th century Austrian scholar Rudolf Steiner.
Though mindfulness as a concept wasn’t yet popularized in the west during Steiner’s life, we think he would have approved of the practice.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of consciously being aware of the moment – all the feelings, sensations and thoughts – without attaching any judgement to them at all.
Removing the judgement allows people to be present with what merely is, separating their emotional knee-jerk response until they understand the true nature of the moment properly.
Mindfulness allows you to not be overwhelmed or overly react to what is going on around you, instead creating the space in your mind to focus on what’s important to you.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind entirely of thought, but of clearing your mind of what stresses it, such as judgment.
Meditation is more about exploration and curiosity, of receiving our own thoughts free of negativity and experiencing them for what they are.
Becoming more aware of their thoughts and brain patterns helps makes kids more effective learners.
Mindfulness In The Classroom
There was a landmark study researching the effects of school-based mindfulness training, after hearing reports of students who outperformed their peers on tests using this practice.
The study included sixth grade students in a school in Boston, and was carried out by several research partners including Harvard University and MIT.
Four times a week, mindfulness educators took half the group through mindfulness practices, while the other half attended a computer coding class.
At the end of two months, the mindfulness group said they felt less stressed than they had before, and felt they had better self-control.
Further studies, including brain scans, mapped the positive effects – benefits that the control group did not see.
Practicing Mindfulness In Waldorf Classrooms
At Waldorf Academy Toronto, we are committed to ensuring that students succeed – not only in their courses, but also in turning them out into the world as responsible human beings.
We find that it helps your children to focus, to not be affected so much by all the distractions that are around them, and it’s become an integral part in how effective our learning methodologies are.
However, we don’t teach mindfulness explicitly. Rather, it’s put in place structurally in our teaching practices, and in our decision making and study. We model it, we live it, we strive to achieve it.
This has benefits for individual development, yes. But there’s so much more to it than that. It helps our students to work together as a group, to be open-minded and hear each other without judgment.
Why is this important? This is how innovation happens. New ideas can only come from a group of people who feel truly free to express themselves and be heard without judgment.
Rudolf Steiner gave us six exercises as part of his work in esoteric meditation. These exercises weren’t designed around the principles of mindfulness, but they fit in nicely with that philosophy.
1. The Control Of Thought
Controlling the wandering mind is the ever-present struggle of anyone who practices mindfulness, or any other form of meditation.
Focusing on a single idea or task can be difficult for some people, but with training it becomes easier. Rudolf Steiner gave us a way to do so.
Here’s one example: think of a simple everyday object. A hat, a coffee mug, a pen, or the button on your favourite jacket. Try to focus your thoughts exclusively on that for five minutes.
You may consider how it was made, what its uses are, and what the history of this object was.
Practicing this exercise logically, realistically, and faithfully each day will bring you the best results. You can choose a new object each day, or continue studying the same object.
2. The Control Of Will
To help control your will is to help train your mind to do what you want it to do. It’s easy to get swept up into the default actions we take each day, but mindfulness helps you retake control of that.
Rudolf Steiner had a solution for this too.
Choose a simple activity to do each day, at the same time each day. It can be something simple, like watering a plant or taking five minutes to watch the fish swim around in your aquarium.
It can even be a little odd. The important things to remember are that it isn’t something you’d normally do, and that you do it at the same time each day.
This may sound simple – and it is – but it’s also difficult. Doing this on a consistent basis takes a strong will and intention to complete.
Every human life will experience both joy and sorrow. The experience of some people may average closer to the heights of ecstasy and others closer to the depths of despair, but the range of human emotion is unavoidable no matter who you are.
A mindfulness practice is designed not to avoid pain altogether or preserve yourself in a state of perpetual joy. That’s impossible.
Rather, it helps you to make it through the tough times, to recognize they will eventually come to an end. At the same time, it helps you to experience the bliss of the good times, without getting too emotionally wrapped up in their continuing forever – because they won’t.
Not surprisingly, Rudfolf Steiner had an idea for this as well.
The exercise of equanimity helps achieve a balance between joy and sorry, pleasure and pain, and to strive for a mood of balance.
Tempting though it may be, resist the urge to become too deeply angry, annoyed, anxious, fearful, disconcerted, or sorrowful, nor should you be overcome by unreasonable joy or exuberance.
Feel your feelings, but permit them quietly, all while maintaining your composure. This helps you to preserve a state of inner tranquility, and to experience purer feelings.
When one seeks the negative aspects of every situation, they generally find it. This creates a false narrative of reality.
Everything has both positive and negative aspects, and you can train your mind to look for one or the other.
By looking for the good, beautiful, praiseworthy, and beneficial in all experiences, beings, and things, you can begin to notice the hidden good in all.
This exercise is deeply connected with learning to withhold judgment and criticism. By asking how something came to be, or how somebody came to act the way they do, you can foster greater understanding between all of us. It’s designed not to blind you to a genuine threat or danger, but to default toward seeing the good in the world.
New experiences can sometimes be associated with fear and anxiety. This includes bold and exciting events like going skydiving or visiting a new country, but it can also extend to even the most minor events.
For example, how many times have you heard a child say “I don’t like it” when confronted with a food they’ve never had before?
However, open-mindedness can be trained.
By allowing completely new ideas and experiences to come into your world, even if they contradict everything you’ve ever known, you become more able to experience the full range of life’s experiences.
As well, you become more capable of solving problems, since it fosters an “outside the box” style of thinking.
Once you’ve incorporated the above five exercises into your life on an individual basis, you can begin to combine them, two or three at a time.
You can try these combinations in any form you wish. The more you practice this, the more natural and harmonious they will become.
By practicing the above steps, we believe mindfulness will take hold in our classrooms on its own. However, we also do our best to foster an environment that makes it as simple as possible for mindfulness to flourish.
Here are a few ways we encourage an attitude of mindfulness in our school.
1. Encourage Children To Create Their Own Space For Practice
We don’t just guide students in the above practices, but we encourage them to create their own time and space for it.
We want them to recognize when they need its benefits the most, and then take action to regulate themselves.
In practicing these meditations when they need it, they learn responsibility for their emotions and actions.
2. Encourage Teachers To Practice Themselves
It’s not just the kids who reap the benefits of the above meditation practice – our teachers also get their own time to ensure they’re practicing what they preach.
Teachers are better able to guide their class with an attitude of mindfulness, because they can reduce their stress while they’re in the classroom, as well as see students’ perspectives better.
They’re also able to help students with their practices, and help them with their questions or challenges.
3. Spend Time With Staff Helping Them Understand The Benefits Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is about choosing to be aware, so it makes a lot of sense that you would spend time understanding mindfulness and the benefits it brings.
By spending time considering mindfulness training, you’re better able to understand its gains and therefore be more proactive about integrating it into your life.
Contact Waldorf Academy
We often hear from parents that they find a noticeable change in their children once they begin meditation training.
If you have wondered before if mindfulness has a place in school, we would be happy to show you our results.
Call now to arrange a meeting with Waldorf Academy.