Developing Mindfulness in the Mosaic Classroom by
We have so many goals for the curriculum. But it all becomes a waste of
time if students fail to take away something meaningful to their lives. I
began incorporating the idea of mindfulness in my teaching last spring
when I joined the Community Based Learning Program. I wanted
students to become conscious of their behavior and aware of their
relationship to community. Since I was asking students to participate in
various outside activities, I wanted them to see the connection and
possibly develop habits that would serve them in their daily activities.
What is mindfulness? It begins as an attitude. People have become
numb to their environment, so they lose their own sense of
consciousness about themselves. Many go through life not wanting to
know things because those things may pose a threat to their own
perceived harmony. Freud described happiness as the absence of
suffering. People who live as Freud suggests are not living in
We cultivate mindfulness by getting in touch with our thoughts and
feelings without attachment. We develop an awareness of others. It is a
subtle process. Some meditators call mindfulness “insight”. (See The
Philadelphia Meditation Center.) Creating mindfulness in a classroom
needs to begin right away. Students need to sense that the course isn’t
just some Gen Ed requirement, but a path to the world around them and
most importantly, themselves.
Here is a model I have created to teach mindfulness in Mosaic 852, a
class that is wrought with information. Students often resist what they
see as an onslaught of facts, particularly in the science unit. When we
read and discuss the readings, I ask them to follow this model:
Step 1: Just The Facts, Ma’am
Step 2: What’s going on?
Information: What do I need
Knowledge: Do I Understand
What I Have Read?
Emotional Reaction-How Do
I Feel About this reading?
Intention: What do I need to do with
Perspective: Do I agree?
Agenda: Does the author want me to
think a certain way?
Doubt: Should I trust what have read?
Step 3: What can I do?
Of course, change is subtle or active. Mindfulness encourages subtle change—a
bit like evolution. Change is more effective when it is gradual. Then it becomes
a habit as well as a point of view.
Mindfulness in Mosaic happens when the students have a direct
experience with the reading. This is why discussion is very important as
it gives the students a voice. But it is better to give them an activity that
is meaningful. This is why I chose to work with Community Based
Learning as the program provided me with tools for the students to do
something different and have a valuable experience that they could
reflect back onto the reading. My students have taken yoga classes,
proctored exams at KIPP schools, worked at tutors in some local
churches, picked vegetables with Temple Community Gardens, tended
crops at a local urban farm, cleaned out garbage in local neighborhoods
and planted trees for neighborhood beautification. By reading and
doing, they become more aware.
I should add that it falls to us as educators to reach all 3 learning types.
Most of university teaching works with audio and visual learners,
particularly in the humanities. Mindful teaching, which can also be
action based community-learning helps the tactile learner, who are
often short-shifted in the education system, particularly with the
Awareness: I see this reading in my
Mindfulness: I know that I can apply
this reading to my daily life.
Change: I plan to practice________
because this reading affects my life.
dominance of No Child Left Behind and standardized testing in public
schools. Our students are a product of that climate. Something as simple
as teaching 5 minutes of meditation or deep breathing can make all the
difference in the classroom because we help bring the student back to
where he or she is in the present moment, not to mention that it
involves direct action on their part instead of reception.
Here are some activities that I have used:
A. (Developed by me.) This one is related to science, particularly Jenner.
I show them a movie about smallpox that also includes the threat of
biological warfare. Since I’m on a 50-minute schedule, I usually wait
until the class period. I begin the class with these questions, plus I ask
them to leave off their names so that they don’t feel some need to
impress me. I read them the assignment aloud.
Complete the sentences:
1. This movie scared me because______________________
2. This movie angered me because____________________
3. This movie made me think about__________________
4. I trust science because_______________________________
5. I distrust science because___________________________
Here is another I have done when I introduce themes related to power.
For this one, I do ask them their names. I read the questions and ask
them to answer them.
1. Do you like conflict?
2. Do you avoid conflict?
3. What is conflict?
4. Who or what controls you?
5. Do you believe you have free will?
B. I got these from a mindfulness site online, but I cannot find the
Season Awareness and Non-Dominant Hand Writing Exercise
(good for the environment unit, but this could be about anything)
Give everyone a piece of paper or ask him or her to take one out.
Put students into partners (the exercise suggest groups, so that is
another possibility.) Ask them to discuss their favorite seasons, why
they like them and what in particular do they like to see when they
Inform the students that they will now make a list of all the things
they like about their favorite season. You will give them 3 minutes.
The catch is this: each student must compose the list with his or her
non-dominant hand. They are asked to write slowly and deliberately
while paying attention to the legibility of the writing.
That exercise can be tough or it can be a blast, depending on the
rapport you have with the class. It makes them aware of how much we
all take for granted our motor skills. Some feel more empathy with
those who may have physical limitations in which the simplest
activity can be a chore.
C. Here are some other mindfulness activities that I have done. Many
come from my background in yoga. Each one can be done
1. Breathe normally while closing your eyes. Find the gap between
the exhalation and the inhalation.
2. Guided breathing exercises: Put your hand on your abdomen and
begin a 5-part breath. Have your hand follow the inhalation. Feel
the breath leave the abdomen, go through the lungs, up the throat
and out the nose/mouth. Then exhale using the same counting to 5
but without the hand gestures. For each inhalation, use the hand
3. This exercise I got from the Integral Yoga Program:
Ask the students to sit in a comfortable position. Close the eyes
and relax. Each exercise should be performed carefully. Begin slowly,
gradually increasing the speed of all movements.
Exercise 1: Move the eyes vertically, up and down, as far as they
can go. Do this for about a minute. Close the eyes and rest.
Exercise 2: Move the eyes horizontally, from right to left (or left
to right) for about a minute. Close the eyes and relax.
Exercise 3: Move the eyes diagonally, starting up with the right
side and moving down to the left for about a minute. Then switch to
the left side and move the eyes down to the right. Close the eyes and
Exercise 4: Move the eyes clockwise just like a clock. Count 12:00,
1:00 and so forth. Do this three times. Close the eyes and relax.
Repeat the exercise moving counterclockwise. Call out 12:00,
11:00, 10:00 and so forth. Do this 3 times. Close the eyes and relax.
Ending the exercises: rub the palms vigorously for about 15 to 20
seconds. Palm the closed eyes with the hands. This brings soothing
heat to the eyes.
Discuss the exercise and ask students about their experiences. I
find that writing about it is not a good option as some find the
experience a bit agitating so they prefer to talk about it. Others
simply feel tired of doing something mandated by the teacher. These
exercises exercise the mind and help with vision, but they also bring
the participant into an awareness of the fragility of our vision.
Depending on the group, I make these exercises a metaphor for
insight into our reading.
D. I also use exercises from a lesson plan book I got from summer
training from a program called Yoga 4 Classrooms. These
exercises are intended for elementary school kids, but I have
found some of them helpful. One doesn’t have to be a yoga
teacher to learn how to do these exercises. I am forbidden from
making copies of this book (it also comes with cards for each
exercise). The exercises are numerous, so I will describe the
1. Let’s Breathe: This section includes a variety of breathing
exercises that can be performed seated or standing up.
Among them is Balloon Breath in which the student
imagines his or her abdomen blowing up like a balloon.
Another one is called “Count Down to Calm”, which is
similar to the exercise I described earlier, but the hands are
used to count off numbers.
2. At Your Desk: These poses are variations of yoga postures that
can be performed at the desk. I’ve taught poses like “Sitting
Mountain” and “Open Heart”. It is probably best to use these if
you already have some familiarity with yoga.
3. Stand Strong: These are standing yoga poses. I have been able
to do some of these in a classroom setting, but it usually works
better for an80-minute class. I’ve never done it for a 50-minute
class. Again, it is helpful to know some yoga, but the
instructions in the book are very clear.
4. Loosen Up: These exercises are designed to motivated students
to do their best and alleviate stress. For these you really have to
know your group. I have done exercises like: “Washing
Machine” in which the students stand up, think of something
they would like to wash out of their system, then they turn their
bodies from the right to the left as though they were flinging
out the problem. It feels really good.
5. Imagination Vacation: There are a lot of good exercises listed
here, but the ones I do are called “Mindful Mediations”, but I
variate on the directions. One is called “Candle Gazing” which
is done a lot in yoga to improve focus and concentration. Since
I don’t bring candles to class, I ask them to find something on
the wall and stare at it for a minute. Then I ask them to find
another point to do the same. We then share their experiences.
All of these exercises are meant to create what in yogic thought is called
“Direct Experience” I even write about it on my syllabus. Here is the
Direct Experience: The academic goals for the course are quite clear, but
they will not take root without direct experience with the ideas within the
texts. A direct experience is what is personal to the receiver: it is unique to
the individual. Something may resonate with one person in a particular text
or class discussion, but it may not have the same effect on all students. A
direct experience is an encounter with something that rings true, often
intuitively. Much of what we will do in this course will come from an
awareness of direct experience with a particular emphasis on mindfulness in
terms of external surroundings and personal insights.
So I hope you find these suggestions useful. It isn’t for everybody, but it
does work for me. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any