In the fourth and final installment of our series on student and teacher wellness, we hear from three teachers who again incorporate mindfulness exercises into course design, including daily lesson plans. The exercises serve as invitations to acknowledge and attend to our emotional, spiritual, social, and physical selves. Mindfulness exercises support the emergence of a learning-centric environment, and help us discover and then draw upon deeper layers of ourselves in order to develop as students, teachers, scholars, and practitioners.
Jenny Patton, who teaches a variety of writing courses, describes the value of journaling practices.
“To promote wellness, I introduce my students to the field of scriptotherapy* and encourage them to keep journals. Scientific research proves writing to make sense of chaos and challenging times is an effective way to combat stress. According to psychologist Cynthia Peterson-Handley, “Writing down your feelings [lets] you look at them more objectively.” In fact, scriptotherapy has been used in treatment for eating disorders, depression, addiction, and prison rehabilitation, and one study reveals that writing can benefit our immune systems.
“I share with my students a quote from the writer E.M. Forester with which I have long identified: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” On screen I display a photograph of many of the journals I have kept since I was seven years old, a now-daily practice that helps me cope with stress, make decisions and appreciate my blessings. As a writing instructor, I want my students to use writing as a tool for analysis to benefit their academic careers, their professions and their personal lives.”
–Jenny Patton, Senior Lecturer, English Department
[*See Suzette Henke’s Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life-Writing – http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/39765381 for more on scriptotherapy. -editors]
Below are two excerpts from the syllabus for the Humanistic Pharmacy (PHR 7130) course taught by Cari Brackett, who describes her approach to teaching in the following way.
“Simply delivering content is an affront to the spirit of education. Delivering content is about the teacher. Learning is about the student. The role that I expect of myself is to enter into a covenant of trust and invitation that the material I bring to them is from the very top of my intellect and that I invite them to respond from the very top of theirs and that they will be safe and respected in that endeavor. This is not a measurable thing…The message is that it’s about the student, not about the material.”
Humanistic Pharmacy (PHR 7130) Course Goals:
We will explore means of developing compassionate, creative, non-judgmental interactions with patients, enhancing the quality of care we are able and willing to provide as pharmacists. By exploring our own emotional responses to patients, we will become more fully capable of influencing patients’ lives and outcomes. We will leave the course with a commitment to humanistic care that will deepen the quality and efficacy of our professional lives, attenuate potential for burnout, and provide a cornerstone for articulate advocacy.
Reflection Exercises for PHR 7130:
Written reflection exercises are used in many areas of study. While there are varying opinions on the degree of grading rigor that is appropriate, the overarching purpose of the exercise is to encourage honest consideration of topics that can influence and change the way we behave or learn or experience life.
How commonly we sit in class or in a meeting, or in church for that matter, and hear something that feels profound! When we hear it, we know we’ve just heard something that resonates with us. Something tells us that this thought or message is powerful, and we want to internalize it so that it can direct us in some way. Moments of insight such as this can change the way we view and interpret the world, or ourselves, or others. They can be inspirations or explanations to us and ultimately, can influence the way we engage with life. And, by the time we reach home, more often than not, they’ve vanished, and that crystalline moment of understanding is lost to us.
In the Humanistic Pharmacy course, the purpose of a reflection exercise is to get something on paper before it vaporizes, and spend some time thinking through it. I would like these exercises to be short: one or two pages only. The exercise should isolate something from a reading or a class experience or an encounter with a friend, family member, or patient that caused you to have en emotional response. The emotional response can be anything: comfortable or uncomfortable. That emotional response is an indication of something that is personally important to you, and it offers a moment of opportunity to understand yourself and others better.
Unless we decide otherwise, a reflection exercise should be submitted each week by Monday at midnight. We will use the drop box feature on Carmen for this, or you may e-mail your submission to me if that works better for you. I give you my word that no one but I will read what you write, and nothing you express will be interpreted beyond what is true for you in the moment of speaking or writing. There is no right or wrong, and there will be no judgment. This is an exercise designed to help you internalize the course experience more fully. Only. It is not designed to help you accomplish any predetermined outcomes, so please speak your truth, simply and clearly, and listen carefully to your own beliefs and responses as you do so.
–Cari Brackett, PharmD, BCPS, Associate Professor of Clinical Pharmacy
Here is how Lois Stepney describes the importance of mindfulness exercises for teaching and learning.
“What I do at the start of each of my classes is have students engage with me in a mindfulness practice as a way to increase their ability to concentrate and absorb information in my class, but also as a tool to increase positive coping, reduce suffering in life, and improve overall quality of life. Teaching mindfulness and practicing it in class also helps to communicate that I am interested in my students as whole people, and their overall health and well-being is important to me. Below is a handout I give to my class on mindfulness [which includes exercises they can perform outside of class].”
Mindfulness: Bringing PRESENCE and AWARENESS to the NOW
“Learning to be in control of your own mind, instead of letting your mind be in control of you.” –Dr. Marsha Linehan
“What” Skills – OBSERVE < DESCRIBE < PARTICPATE
“How” Skills – With ACCEPTANCE/NON-JUDGMENTALLY < ONE THING AT A TIME < EFFECTIVELY
Accept/non-judgmentally – What do you need to accept and view non-judgmentally? What is a judgment?
One thing at a time/One Mindfully – When is this hard for you to do? How do you feel/think/act when you choose to do one thing at a time, despite it being hard?
Effectively/Doing what works – Letting go of the feelings that do not help you. Being present, aware, and engaged despite the challenge. When have you been effective in the past? What helped you?
Some benefits of mindfulness for yourself and for the people we seek to serve:
- Enhances attentional control
- Reduces automatic responses
- Improves the ability to then thoughtfully choose a response
- Helps a person to tune into their wise mind/intuition/spirit/heart
- Increases the capacity to experience joy and happiness
- Helps with accepting things in life that cannot be changed right now
- Helps to clarify what can be changed right now so problem solving can begin
- Increases the ability to skillfully, and successfully use other healthy coping skills
Examples of Mindfulness activities to increase calm, reduce anxiety, creating a sense of immediate control/presence that you can do at home to get grounded in the PRESENT.
- Focus on your breath – Get into a comfortable position and just notice the experience of your breath going in and out. Pay attention to what each breath feels like coming in through your nose or mouth, and notice how your lungs expand like a balloon. Then notice how it feels when you exhale. You are practicing observing and describing one thing at a time.
- Mindfully eating – Hold the piece of food. Observe its appearance, texture, and scent. Put it in your mouth and slowly, with awareness, begin eating. Notice the tastes and sensations of the food in your mouth, even the sound of eating. You are practicing observing and describing one thing at a time and non-judgmentally.
- Focusing on a scent – Choose a scented lotion. Sit back in your chair or find a comfortable and relaxed position. Close your eyes and begin to focus on the smell of the lotion. Let go of any distractions or judgments. Notice how the smell makes you feel and any images that may come to mind. You are practicing observing one-mindfully and non-judgmentally.
- Noticing Urges – Sit very straight in your chair. Throughout this exercise, notice any urges – whether to move, shift positions, scratch an itch, or do something else. Instead of acting on the urge, simply notice it. You are practicing observing, describing one-mindfully, and distress tolerance.
- Observing emotions – Notice the emotions you are experiencing, and identify how you know you are having these emotions. What labels come to mind? What thoughts and body sensations give you information about the emotions? Describe to yourself where you feel the sensations. You are practicing observing and describing.
- Listen to the “silence” – Sit quietly and just listen to what is going on around you. Try to shut off your other senses and just focus on what your ears are able to tell you. You are practicing observing and describing one thing at a time.
- Blowing bubbles – Get some bubbles. Dip your wand in the bubbles and begin to blow some bubbles. Focus all of your attention on this one moment on the bubbles. Notice the bubble shapes, textures, colors, and so on. If you become distracted by other thoughts, gently bring your attention back to the bubbles. You are practicing observing one-mindfully and non-judgmentally.
- Banging the drum – You can practice this one with your family members. One person starts to make a beat on a table, and then the person next to them adds to it. All family members continue to add to the beat until all are drumming on table and keeping their beat. You are practicing participating in one thing at a time.
- Sing a song – You can practice this one alone or with a family member. Just sing a song, throwing yourself into fully participating in this one moment by the act of singing a song. Notice any judgments about your singing and/or the singing of others, and just throw yourself back into singing heartily. If you begin to think about the song ending, gently bring yourself back into participating in singing the song. You are practicing participating in one thing at a time, non-judgmentally, one thing at a time, effectively.
- Letter of Validation – Write a letter to yourself that will encourage you when you read it again. You are practicing to observe and then describe, non-judgmentally, and one thing at a time.
- Praying – Get into a comfortable position and talk to your higher power. Focus on nothing else in this time and space except communing with your higher power. You are practicing participating, one-mindfully and non-judgmentally.
–Lois Stepney, MSW, LISW-S; Lecturer, College of Social Work; and Training and Development Manager for The Center for Family Safety and Healing located at Nationwide Children’s Hospital
You can keep up via Facebook and Twitter with further responses to our questions about student wellness with #OSUVoices and #wellness.
You may also find the following OSU resources helpful.
Counseling and Consultation Service: http://www.ccs.ohio-state.edu/
Student Advocacy Center: http://advocacy.osu.edu/
Suicide Prevention Program: http://suicideprevention.osu.edu/
At-Risk Simulation Training: http://ucat.osu.edu/participate/at-risk
Office of Student Life Student Wellness Center: http://swc.osu.edu/ The Center offers the following confidential services: coaching on general wellness, financial wellness, and nutrition; hiv/sti testing and support; support for victims of sexual violence; substance addiction recovery and support.
The Resource Center at the Office of Distance Education and eLearning: http://odee.osu.edu/resourcecenter
Take a look at this month’s UCAT Book Giveaway for what brain research is revealing about practices that can positively impact learning.
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