Do your mindfulness students fall asleep? Daydream? Use the time to plan their evening? Giggle? Try to distract other group members?
These responses might have a variety of reasons behind them. Your students may in fact be tired, unsure of the instructions, or engaging in their habitual social roles.
Or –they may be stressed and therefore having difficulty engaging in the practices, even if they’d like to. Perhaps there was a car accident on the way to school; perhaps their beloved pet is ill and dying; perhaps there is violence in the home or neighborhood.
Because it is impossible to know which of our mindfulness students on any given day are arriving to the session in a fight/flight/freeze stress reaction, following trauma-informed guidelines will allow the greatest number of students to engage in the practices, and thus gain the benefit of them.
Mindfulness practices have many short and long term benefits, and research shows these benefits may be even greater for those who come to them with increased stress or trauma histories. Therefore, these guidelines are even more important when we are teaching to groups known to have traumatic stress due to PTSD, high ACES scores or a current acute trauma such as the death of a parent.
- Give control to the participants through options and choices – When our brain is stressed, feeling out of control, anything that sounds like a demand or command will increase this sense of being out of control. Give options and choices early and often—eyes open or closed? If open, on your lap, on the desk, on the floor?
- Teach ways to self-sooth and calm in advance – When someone is trying to be present—therefore not fleeing or freezing, “fight” is a common response of the brain. Therefore teaching simple methods to self-sooth and calm the nervous system when encountering self-critical thoughts prior to any mindfulness or awareness exercise enhances control. Learning to notice when we are stressed and taking steps to down-regulate our own nervous system is an valuable life skill.
- Begin with orienting students to time, space, grounding and doing a practice to down –regulate the nervous system. Why not start the practices in ways known to calm and sooth, bring us into the here and now, and away from other times and places that might include unpleasant memories?
- Limit silence until students know how to work with it constructively. Our minds wander most during silent meditation, and it wanders preferentially to the unpleasant, due to the negativity bias of the brain. Learning to work with the wandering mind one of the things that builds new neural networks in the brain. Limiting silence for beginners can help grow confidence in the practices.
- Increase structure in the class and in the meditation itself –Structure can provide a sense of security so look for ways to increase it. “If you can name it, you can tame it” is a neuroscience truism. Teaching naming skills for present-moment experiences. Find ways to break down meditation instructions into manageable steps.
Author Bibiography (Evidence-based research and theoretical underpinnings for Trauma-informed and Trauma-Sensetive Mindfulness)
Magyari, T. 2016. Teaching Individuals with Traumatic Stress (invited chapter) in Resources for Teaching Mindfulness: An International Handbook. Eds. McCown, D., Reibel D., and M. Mikozizi. Eds. Springer.
Magyari, T. 2015. Teaching MBSR and Mindfulness to Women with Complex Trauma Stemming from Childhood Sexual Abuse (invited chapter) in Mindfulness-Oriented Approaches to Trauma Care. Eds. Folette, V., Briere, J., et. al. Guilford Press.
Sibinga, E, Kerrigan, D, Stewart, M, Johnson, K, Magyari, T, MS, Ellen, JE. 2011. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Urban Youth. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine. Volume 17, Number 3, pp. 1–6.
Kerrigan, D, Johnson, K, StewartM, Magyari T, Hutton, N, Ellen, J, Sibinga, E. 2011. Perceptions, experiences, and shifts in perspective occurring among urban youth participating in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Volume 17, Issue 2, May, Pages 96-101.
Kimbrough, E., Magyari, T, Chesney, M, Bernan, B. 2010. Mindfulness Intervention for Child Abuse Survivors. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Volume 66 (1): 17-33.
Sibinga, E., Stewart, M., Magyari, T., Welsh, C., Hutton, N., Ellen, JE. 2008. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for HIV-Infected Youth: A Pilot Study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. Volume: 4, Issue: 1, 36-37.
Want to learn more? Do you work in schools or other settings with youth? I’ll be giving a three hour workshop at the upcoming Bridging Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference, Feb 2 – 4th in San Diego where I will expand on these guidelines, and apply them to a variety of mindfulness exercises, meditations, retreats and program components for youth. Join me by registering here: http://bridgingconference.org/.
Want to bring this work to your organization, group or conference?
Presentations , experiential workshops and professional education trainings are available. Variable lengths from 1 hour up to weekend workshops (20 hours) for full training. For more information,contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.