A guide to meditation for teachers and education staff

Meditation is a useful tool that can profoundly affect your sense of wellbeing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to take hours.

In this guide we have broken down the benefits of meditation – backed up by science – and a few different types you can consider trying.

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What's in this guide:

In 2020, nearly two-thirds of teachers described themselves as stressed – rising to over three quarters for senior leaders. So, it’s not surprising that so many are seeking ways to feel calmer and more resilient in the classroom, office or even in our home lives.  

In October 2020

84%

of teachers told us they were stressed

89%

of school leaders described themselves as stressed

With over 145 years of supporting the education sector to feel well, Education Support understands how challenging it can be to make time for yourself alongside your busy careers. One thing you can do to build a sense of calm is meditate.

Meditation is a useful tool that can profoundly affect your sense of wellbeing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to take hours. Below we have broken down the benefits of meditation – backed up by science – and a few different types you can consider trying.

What is meditation?

Meditation is learning to be present in the moment and perceiving your feelings without judging them. 

This can allow you to understand your emotions better. Through meditation, you can learn to pause and respond better to a stressful situation – at work or elsewhere.

Meditation has been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the network in your body responsible for bringing you into a state of relaxation. Long-term positive changes to the brain can occur through continued meditation, particularly in the part which regulates emotions such as empathy, self-awareness, perception, etc. (this part is called the left anterior insula). Meditation also improves brain efficiency, which is likely because of more sustained attention and impulse control.

 

Benefits of meditation for teachers and education staff

These effects on your physiology can help to provide a wealth of benefits to meditation for teachers and education staff. These benefits might include improved soft skills, such as self-confidence, empathy, and emotional resilience. Additionally, meditation can help with aspects specifically related to classroom practice, such as patience, focus, and thoughtful communication.

The advantages to wellbeing brought about by meditation may also help develop enhanced classroom management and better job performance. You may find yourself more present for your students, helping to be the most influential educator you can be.

Improved wellbeing 

Aside from the physical changes and improvements to the brain brought about by meditation, you will hopefully notice an improved sense of wellbeing.

Teaching can be a stressful profession. In 2020, our Teacher Wellbeing Index reported a rise in symptoms of poor mental health, including insomnia, difficulty concentrating and tearfulness.

Meditation may help you cope better with these types of signs of poor mental wellbeing. Happiness has been shown to increase through even short-term practice of meditation.

Meditation can also have a preventative effect, in relation to signs of poor mental health and wellbeing. This means that it may help stop you from becoming mentally unwell in the first place. Meditation is unlikely to remove signs and symptoms of poor mental health and wellbeing overnight, but you may live a life of noticeably better wellbeing and improved emotional resilience with ongoing practice.

Heightened performance 

If your wellbeing and mental health are both in a good place, then you will perform your best at work!

You will be able to face challenging behaviours or manage situations more readily and feel less negatively affected by them. Additionally, better wellbeing may mean that absenteeism decreases. Hopefully, you won’t have the added stress of asking colleagues to cover or trying to catch up when you return.

Being more effective and feeling better about your job will improve your wellbeing further, sparking a positive cycle of confidence and good wellbeing.

 

Types of meditation 

There are many different types of meditation, some of which you may find more helpful than others.

The following list is an overview of the main forms of meditation. We’ve then gone into more detail on the first three types below. This is because we think they’re the best place to start and easiest for fitting into teacher’s busy lives. But please explore whichever type you find the most appealing!

  • Mindfulness: This is the most popular meditation technique in the western world. It is based on paying attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. It is ideal to practice by yourself, at any convenient time. This helps you to develop awareness regarding how you feel and assists with responding appropriately to challenges.
  • Focused meditation: Concentrating with one of your five senses to focus your attention. This is similar to mindfulness and helps to refocus your attention if you become anxious or stressed.
  • Visualisation: Using all five senses to vividly imagine a scene of serenity and calm. This technique allows you to create an overwhelmingly positive sense of calmness and wellbeing which can help you to regulate your emotions at stressful times.
  • Spiritual meditation: Like prayer and used in many world religions, this is used to establish a deeper connection with a deity or the universe. Essential oils are commonly used in association with this form of meditation. Using spiritual meditation is best for those seeking a link to a higher power.
  • Movement meditation: Not limited exclusively to yoga (although that can also be beneficial), this form of meditation can involve walking through woodlands, working in your garden, or any type of gentle motion. The main aspect of this is to allow the movement to guide you. This helps to clear your mind and become more appreciative of your surroundings.
  • Mantra meditation: Using a repetitive word or sound to clear the mind, originally stemming from Buddhist and Hindu teachings. You may find this type useful if you don’t find silence relaxing or find it easier to focus on a specific sound rather than on your breathing. Using a mantra lets you remove unwanted thoughts.
  • Transcendental meditation: Similar to mantra meditation, but over the long-term. This has been popularised in scientific studies,[viii] and by its high-profile celebrity endorsers (including Tom Hanks and David Lynch). It promotes structure and is more customisable than mantra meditation. Advocates are so passionate about it that some believe that with prolonged practice, transcendental meditation can provide permanent mental wellness.
  • Progressive relaxation: By gradually tensing and releasing different muscle groups in the body, the body can achieve higher levels of relaxation. This type of meditation may be useful if you are finding physical feelings of tension associated with stress. This method will allow your body to become relaxed.
  • Loving-kindness meditation: Used to strengthen feelings of compassion for others by opening the heart and mind to send and receive positive thoughts and emotions. By employing this form of meditation, you can learn to work and live more harmoniously with others.

 

Mindfulness 

Using mindfulness, you focus on and accept all of your thoughts as they pass through your mind. You do not reject or ignore any, even if they are negative emotions or feelings. Instead, you learn how to be with and process these thoughts and feelings.

Scientific examination has shown that regular practice of mindfulness can reduce stress and improve happiness.

Mindfulness has also been shown in some studies to have benefits to physical health. For the circulatory system, it has been used to lower blood pressure and treat heart disease. Additionally, mindfulness has been employed clinically to improve sleep, reduce pain, and help with gastrointestinal difficulties. Furthermore, mental illnesses can be reduced by using mindfulness. People have seen benefits regarding eating disorders, depression, substance abuse, relationship issues, and obsessive-compulsive disorders by regularly practicing mindfulness meditation.

How can I fit it into my day?

This practice is about being in the moment, so it can be undertaken at any time.

If you have five minutes while you wait for your next class to come from the other side of the school, or you’ve run to the toilet but still have a moment before the break time bell rings, then mindfulness could really work for you.

Sit quietly in your seat – or even on the loo – and focus exclusively on your breathing. Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth. Once you’re concentrating on your breathing, which should take about a minute, allow thoughts and emotions to flow through your mind.

While keeping the rhythm of your breathing going, focus on each thought and let it be processed in your mind.

You may also notice elements with your other senses, such as an aroma or a sound. This is all perfectly normal, as the purpose of mindfulness is to live solely in that moment and to not consider the past or the future.

Be kind to yourself. If you get distracted, that’s perfectly normal. Just note this – perhaps with the word ‘distracted’ – and return to your breath.

If you practice this for just five minutes a day, you may surprise yourself with how quickly you get the hang of it and start to feel more present.

                                                                                              

 

Focused meditation 

This is very similar to mindfulness, though with less emphasis on thoughts and breathing. Instead, it is recommended that you choose a sensory stimulus – such as a sound – and focus wholly on that.

As with mindfulness, the idea is that you are in the present moment for this to work for you.[i] You’re suggested to home in on your chosen focus and try to block out anything else.

If your inner monologue starts to wander – by considering future plans or thinking about previous stresses, for example – actively focus on your stimulus again. If it’s not working for you, then don’t beat yourself up about it. This takes practice, and you should be proud of realising that your mind has wandered.[ii]

How can I fit it into my day?

Again, this can be done in just five minutes, making it ideal for the hectic life of teachers.

Be sat down for this, preferably not standing up.[iii] Your body should be in a position of comfort and relaxation, though preferably without lying down (so you don’t drift off to sleep!).

If you are sitting on a chair, you should try to sit at the edge to relax your pelvis, and your feet can be flat on the floor. Whether sitting on a chair or the floor, it is recommended to have a cushion behind you to not hunch your shoulders so your spine can stay tall.

The idea is that you really experience whatever it is that you’ve selected to be your focus. For example, if you have chosen a particular sound, concentrate on the sensation of the sound entering your ears and the feelings which that sound causes you to have.

Again, if your focus starts to wander, don’t worry. Just note it, and return to whatever you’re focused on.

You could set a timer on your phone in between classes to fit this in and build a moment of calm into your daily schedule.

 

Visualisation 

If, like many people, you find it difficult to clear your mind and focus on something like breathing, visualisation may well be the right technique for you. This encourages an active imagination rather than an empty one. Visualisation is about picturing positive images and ideals in your mind, with the only limit being whatever you can dream up.

As well as helping to improve wellbeing and potentially achieve your life goals, visualisation can also enhance creativity by encouraging your imagination. Furthermore, it can improve your self-image by letting you see yourself in a positive light.

How can I fit it into my day?

As a teacher, you could visualise a calm classroom with all students engaged in their work. The class has answered the register appropriately and have been actively listening to your explanation of today’s topic.

Now, they are sitting working well, not chatting off-topic, not drawing graffiti in their exercise books, not hiding each other’s bags, not throwing glue sticks around. All is peaceful and idyllic.

However, it doesn’t have to be something specifically related to what has been causing you stress. Many typically picture long sandy beaches with clear seas or snowy vistas across impressive mountain peaks.

As long as it is something that brings calm to you, it can work. Various visualisation practitioners also discuss the idea of this process helping one to focus on one’s goals and dreams. This could be professionally (picturing yourself as a Deputy Head), romantically (seeing yourself with a future partner), or personally (visualising yourself achieving any kind of goal, such as reaching a marathon finish line).

Whatever you choose to picture, it is still important that you are relaxed and calm. So, you might want to take a moment to sit and focus on your breathing before you begin. Once you’re ready, close your eyes and visualise your chosen mental image as you inhale, then focus on how that image makes you feel as you exhale.

It’s as simple as that!

You can repeat for as long or as short as it feels good for, then open your eyes when you’re ready to finish.

Give them a try, and let us know how you got on! Did you have a favourite type of meditation? Would you like more information? Let us know via Twitter or Instagram @EdSupportUK

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