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1. Ready

What is mindfulness?

Thich Nhat Hanh is a pioneering teacher of mindfulness, Zen master, spiritual leader, and peace activist, who describes mindfulness in the following way:

“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present, and at one with those around you and with what you are doing.”
Mindfulness is not the absence of thought; it’s not about being complacent; and it’s not necessarily about stress reduction, or associated with religion. Mindfulness is not an item on the to-do list that can be checked off at the end of the day, and it’s not the same as meditation. Mindfulness is a way of being in the world. It’s a
state of consciousness Brown, K., & Ryan, R. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848.
that involves being aware of, and attending to the present moment without judgment.

According to
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (Revised and updated edition). Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks.
Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) therapy, seven attitudes, or approaches to life, lie at the foundation of mindfulness:

  1. Non-Judging: Assume the stance of an impartial witness to your own experience. To do this, you need to become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to experiences and step back from it.
  2. Patience: A form of wisdom that involves understanding and accepting that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.
  3. Beginner’s Mind: Having an open, beginner’s mind allows you to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents you from getting stuck in the rut of your own expertise.
  4. Trust: Develop a sense of trust in yourself and your feelings. Rather than looking to the outside for guidance, look inside yourself and focus on being true to who you are.
  5. Non-Striving: Pay attention to what is happening without striving towards a goal. The only goal of meditation and mindfulness is for you to be yourself.
  6. Acceptance: See things as they actually are in the present. Instead of denying and resisting facts or experiences that are out of our control, come to terms with things as they are, and accept them.
  7. Letting Go: There are many thoughts, feelings, and experiences that the mind wants to hold on to (ex. pleasant experiences) or get rid of (ex. unpleasant experiences). Letting go, or non-attachment, involves letting things be, without grasping or pushing away.
In addition to cultivating these attitudes,
Kabat-Zinn Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (Revised and updated edition). Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks.
argues that mindfulness must be practiced intentionally, with self-discipline and commitment.

What is the Triune Brain?

In an attempt to develop a comprehensive schema of brain function, and heavily influenced by the view of brain evolution, Paul MacLean developed the triune brain theory in the early 1960s. MacLean dubbed this theory the triune brain because it suggests that the human brain can be divided into
three distinct regions: Reiner, A. (1990). The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions [Review of The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions]. Science, 250(4978), 303–305. American Association for the Advancement of Science.
one inherited from reptiles, one inherited from early mammals, and one evolved from modern animals. Each of these three regions controls a specific set of human behaviours.
  1. The Reptilian Brain: Inherited from reptiles, the reptilian brain is the most primitive region of the brain that includes the brain stem and cerebellum, which are responsible for regulating basic bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, sleeping, and eating. The Reptilian brain is concerned with survival.
  2. The Limbic System (Paleomammalian brain): Inherited from early mammals, the limbic system is the middle part of the brain that is responsible for emotions and instinct, arousal, reactions, fighting, flighting, and fleeing. Feelings such as fear, worry, rage, pleasure, joy, pain, and excitement arise from this region of the brain.
  3. The Neocortex (Neomammalian brain): Evolved from primate mammals, the neocortex, more commonly known as the cerebrum or cerebral hemispheres, is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as language, logic and reasoning, spatial awareness, abstract thought, and problem-solving.

Neocortex
Image retrieved from https://mindcoachingaustralia.com.au/mindfulness-and-the-emotional-brain/

The two earlier brain regions (the brainstem and limbic system) may be collectively referred to as the lizard brain because the limbic system is about all a lizard has for brain function.

What does the triune brain have to do with mindfulness?

The lizard brain reacts to situations without much conscious thought. Historically, the lizard brain responded to threats to survival, like running from a hungry lion and, unfortunately, this part of the brain is not so effective at distinguishing between threats. This means that the lizard brain treats the threat of public speaking or writing an exam, similar to the threat of a hungry lion – as a threat to your survival. Alternatively, the neocortex is the “smart” part of the brain that helps you control your reptilian urges to fight, flee, or freeze. When the lizard brain “protests”, the neocortex uses logic and reasoning to consciously attend to situations, respond thoughtfully, and put things into perspective.

At this point, you might be asking yourself the following question: If humans are able to prevent themselves from acting on these primitive urges, then why is it that so many people continue to struggle with addictions, make irrational decisions, lash out, or run from seemingly unreasonable fears? Ultimately, it’s a matter of choice and awareness. To gain control of your thoughts and actions, you must first be aware of when your amygdala has been hijacked by the lizard brain, and then actively choose to engage the logical and reasoning part of your brain (the neocortex). Mindfulness helps create this awareness of thoughts and enables you to respond more rationally to a situation by creating a cognitive distance between you and your thoughts. In other words, mindfulness is a prerequisite for engaging the neocortex. Choosing mindfulness is choosing to take responsibility for your life.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

The benefits of mindfulness are clear and have been identified for a diverse group of people including patients, therapists, educators, business leaders, parents, and students. Overall,
mindfulness is associated with Davis, D., & Hayes, J. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness?. American Psychological Association.
reduced rumination and lower levels of stress, increased working memory capacity, enhanced focus and cognitive flexibility, decreased emotional reactivity, and relationship satisfaction. Brain imaging studies have also found evidence that mindfulness leads to enhanced emotion regulation: Compared to a neutral control condition, people who participated in
8 weeks of mindfulness training Farb, N., Anderson, A., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., Mckeon, D., Segal, Z., & Segal, Z. (2010). Minding one’s emotions: Mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness. Emotion, 10(1), 25–33.
reacted differently to stimuli on a cellular level. Their brains recruited a more balanced array of neural networks, which subsequently resulted in a healthier, more appropriate response to the stimuli.

In 2012, a
review of 14 different mindfulness programs Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M., Griffin, M., Biegel, G., Roach, A., Frank, J., Burke, C., Pinger, L., Soloway, G., Isberg, R., Sibinga, E., Grossman, L., & Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291–307.
found that students (ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12) who participated in mindfulness programs at school showed improvements in working memory and attention, enhanced academic performance, better social skills and emotional regulation, as well as better self-esteem. These students also reported an increase in their mood and decreased anxiety, stress, and fatigue. Additionally,
pre- and early-adolescent children Schonert-Reichl, K., & Lawlor, M. (2010). The Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Education Program on Pre- and Early Adolescents’ Well-Being and Social and Emotional Competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137–151.
(Grades 4-7) who participated in a mindfulness education program, self-reported significantly higher levels of optimism and a better self-concept, with younger students showing greater improvements in self-concept.

Mindfulness is also a beneficial practice for teachers.
A review of three mindfulness-based teacher training initiatives Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M., Griffin, M., Biegel, G., Roach, A., Frank, J., Burke, C., Pinger, L., Soloway, G., Isberg, R., Sibinga, E., Grossman, L., & Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291-307.
found that teachers with mindfulness training had an increased sense of wellbeing and teaching self-efficacy. These teachers also felt more capable of managing class behaviour and were able to establish and maintain more supportive relationships with their students.

Where can I learn more?

Mindful Schools – Training, Documentaries, Research and Additional Starter Lesson Plans for Implementing Mindfulness in Schools

Mindful – Best Practices for Bringing Mindfulness into Schools

Child Mind Institute – Mindfulness in the Classroom

PositivePsychology.com – Mindfulness in Education: 31+ Ways of Teaching Mindfulness in Schools

McGill University – The Evolutionary Layers of the Human Brain (The Triune Brain)

What will students learn?

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…

  • Describe the three evolutionary layers of the human brain (i.e. triune brain theory)
  • Clearly articulate what each brain layer is responsible for
  • Define mindfulness and understand the benefits of mindfulness
  • Understand how mindfulness relates to the triune brain
  • Recognize a wide range of mindfulness practices and express a willingness to practice various techniques
References
Beecuz

Brown, K., & Ryan, R. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848.

Davis, D., & Hayes, J. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? American Psychological Association.

Farb, N., Anderson, A., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., Mckeon, D., Segal, Z., & Segal, Z. (2010). Minding one’s emotions: Mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness. Emotion, 10(1), 25–33.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (Revised and updated edition). Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks.

Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M., Griffin, M., Biegel, G., Roach, A., Frank, J., Burke, C., Pinger, L., Soloway, G., Isberg, R., Sibinga, E., Grossman, L., & Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291–307.

Reiner, A. (1990). The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions [Review of The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions]. Science, 250(4978), 303–305. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Schonert-Reichl, K., & Lawlor, M. (2010). The Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Education Program on Pre- and Early Adolescents’ Well-Being and Social and Emotional Competence. Mindfulness, 1(3), 137–151.

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