Kids learn­ing art of mindfulness

Waipa Post - - News - BY BETHANY ROL­STON

Many chil­dren at­tend af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties like sport or art — but some take mindfulness classes.

Ev­ery Tues­day af­ter­noon, a group of Waikato chil­dren gather at Cam­bridge Pri­mary School to learn about their thoughts and emo­tions.

The weekly classes help chil­dren cope with stress, anx­i­ety and anger in the class­room and at home.

The 45-minute classes are run by school teacher Rachel MacAl­lis­ter, who guides the chil­dren through a range of ac­tiv­i­ties.

Rachel de­signed the pro­gramme — In­spire Mindfulness — from her own mindfulness train­ing, six years of mindfulness prac­tise and nine years of class­room teacher prac­tise.

One of the chil­dren’s favourite ac­tiv­i­ties is a ‘body scan’ — fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions by ‘scan­ning’ aware­ness through­out the body.

Also pop­u­lar is ‘mind­ful eat­ing’ — pay­ing care­ful at­ten­tion to eat­ing us­ing all senses.

Dur­ing the classes chil­dren learn about dif­fer­ent parts of their brain and the sci­ence be­hind mindfulness.

“I teach chil­dren how mindfulness helps to calm the brain — par­tic­u­larly their amyg­dala, which is the part of the brain which makes us fight, flight or freeze in stress­ful and anx­i­ety-pro­vok­ing sit­u­a­tions,” Rachel says.

“We look at how mindfulness helps the pre­frontal cor­tex, which is the part of the brain we use for con­cen­tra­tion, de­ci­sion mak­ing, hav­ing com­pas­sion, prob­lem solv­ing etc.”

“I teach the chil­dren how neu­ral path­ways are cre­ated and how new path­ways can be cre­ated, there­fore cre­at­ing health­ier thought pro­cesses.”

Rachel says the chil­dren are fas­ci­nated by the sci­ence el­e­ment of the pro­gramme.

“Of­ten, this is the first time they’ve re­ally been taught about their brain and some of its ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

Rachel wants to nor­malise the prac­tise of mindfulness.

“Talk­ing about emo­tions and men­tal health shouldn’t be taboo.

“Mindfulness is not about emp­ty­ing the mind — it’s about notic­ing what’s there, here and now.”

For Rachel, prac­tis­ing mindfulness has made her a more present par­ent with her seven-year-old daugh­ter Is­abelle.

“Slow­ing down and tak­ing time out has a real pos­i­tive im­pact.

“It opens up that com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween par­ent and child.”

A psy­chol­ogy aca­demic agrees that mindfulness can have many ben­e­fits.

Dr Car­rie Corn­sweet Bar­ber, of the Univer­sity of Waikato, says ben­e­fits could in­clude in­creased abil­ity to fo­cus, de­creased anx­i­ety, more per­spec­tive and de­creased re­ac­tiv­ity of the stress re­sponse sys­tem.

She says the ben­e­fits de­pend on the per­son and their par­tic­u­lar needs and style.

“Noth­ing works for ev­ery­one — and noth­ing fixes ev­ery­thing.

“Mindfulness is one strat­egy that can be help­ful — it might be re­ally help­ful to one per­son, or just a lit­tle help­ful, or not at all, to some­one else.

“How much and for whom it helps also de­pends on how it’s pre­sented, and how good a fit that has with the per­son’s be­liefs and way of think­ing.”

Car­rie says there is ev­i­dence that mindfulness prac­tises can help re­duce anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion in adults.

“There’s less re­search on chil­dren and ado­les­cents, but there is good rea­son to be­lieve that it could help.”

Rachel, orig­i­nally from the UK, has been prac­tis­ing mindfulness for six years and be­lieves it should be in­cluded in the New Zealand cur­ricu­lum.

Stu­dents pay $15 per class, but her dream is to see it funded and avail­able to all chil­dren.

Rachel’s dream could be­come a re­al­ity, fol­low­ing the govern­ment’s men­tal health in­quiry, which has re­ceived sub­mis­sions about fund­ing mindfulness in schools.

The in­quiry is in the de­lib­er­a­tion phase and is re­quired to re­port to Govern­ment by Fri­day, Novem­ber 30.

Con­tact Rachel if you would like more in­for­ma­tion about bring­ing her mindfulness pro­gramme into your school.

■ Visit face­­spireMind­ful­ness or con­tact 021 0853 4566 or in­spire­mind­ful­

Photo / Bethany Rol­ston

Mindfulness teacher Rachel MacAl­lis­ter teaches ‘mind­ful eat­ing’ — pay­ing care­ful at­ten­tion to eat­ing us­ing all senses.

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