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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Creating a Peaceful Transition: Meditating at the Start of Class

I begin each class with a brief meditation. Using a Tibetan Singing Bowl, I invite students to listen to the sound of the bowl as it drops off then to drop in on their breathing. Just listen to how the breath flows in and out.

The “micro” meditation lasts a few minutes at the most but seems to make all the difference. Instead of rushing into the learning process, we ease into, flow into it more gently, we slow down to go faster.

Starting class with meditation allows them space to clear their minds, to let the dust settle, to center themselves perhaps after a hectic morning, a restless sleep the night before, or a long, hard day of work (in the case of night classes in college).

A life-long meditator myself, I began introducing micro-meditations into my classes as a way to help students transition from “ordinary” life to the classroom. I realized students needed a segue—a mental bridge-- and meditation served that purpose. The research on the benefits of meditation practice in general and among students, both k-12 and college-level, is extremely promising. In my opinion, there’s enough evidence to say that meditation is like eating your vegetables or regular exercise, it’s simply good for you.

While teachers and professors are utilizing meditation in class, we know little about how the practice actually works as a primer or precursor to prepare students for the learning experience in class. My own, early research is suggesting that it’s a promising tool to use as a class starter. Students perceive the micro meditation as a vehicle to help calm their minds before class, to open themselves up to learning, to feel more relaxed, and connect deeper with classmates and the classroom environment.

Here are some of the comments students have made:

  • One of the main things that I enjoy about starting class with meditation is that I am taking a moment to take a breather. Not worry about all the million things that I must do that tends to stress me out sometimes. It is very relaxing to just focus on me and my needs instead of just work, work all the time
  • For me, the biggest effect of meditation before class is to make my thoughts clearer so that I can have a clearer mind to learn the content of the class. Because I always feel very sleepy, so that my thinking is very slow in the morning. But when I heard the Tibetan Singing Bowl think about it, I just closed my eyes and counted the seconds silently in my heart, and then my brain became blank. When I opened my eyes, my thinking became clear.
  • Once the sound from the meditation bowl rings throughout the classroom, I would often close my eyes. Then, I would focus on the sound vibrating all throughout the room. Afterwards, I would focus on my breathing, my fingertips, the cold air in the classroom, and just be aware of my presence in the classroom. Overall, it was a great experience and I would definitely use this technique in my own classroom.

Of course, not all students buy into the idea of meditating before class or find it helpful in transitioning, though the majority seem to find it useful. Also, it can take some time for students unaccustomed to meditation to adjust or embrace the practice. With that in mind, the following are tips for implementing meditation in class.

Props

I found using a prop such as the singing bowl or a bell works well, giving students a physical object to focus on and place to anchor their minds. Teachers can also use virtual tools, such as websites or apps that play various sounds. Personally, I like to hold the bowl. I also invite different students each week to ring the bowl, which becomes a sort of honor.

Keep it Short

I keep the micro meditation to between one to two minutes, very brief. As the semester goes on, I may extend the time by a few more minutes as I share different meditation methods with students. Otherwise, it works best to provide just enough space for students to clear their minds a bit, to settle down, before the learning begins.

Keep it Simple

I also find it effective to keep the meditation, especially when first introducing it to students, very direct. Initially, I simply ask students to listen to the sound of the bowl as it “drops off.” Then I might encourage them to observe the quiet or silence that follows. Finally, after they have practiced this a few times, I ask them to listen to their brief flowing in and out, as it naturally occurs. This observing the breath is known as mindfulness meditation or vipassana.

Make it a Routine/Tradition

I stay consistent with beginning class with meditation. Make it a habit or practice, then students expect it as par for the course. Some may even begin to look forward it, reminding me if I forget and rush into instruction.

Allow Sharing of Experiences

Perhaps invite students to also share their meditation experiences with each other. You might ask: “How was it?” “What did you experience?” This helps them relate and connect with each other and validate their meditative experience. However, I never require that they share this personal experience.

Trigger Warnings

When first introducing meditation, it’s crucial to let students know that contemplative practices such as meditation can stir up uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. Sitting quietly can sometimes be like holding a glass of water with some dirt in it, stopping it from moving—suddenly, as the water settles, the dirt begins to become clear. I inform students that meditation in class is voluntary; if they don’t want to participate, they can sit quietly, read, or listen to music on their ear pods. I also warn them that if they do experience flooding of emotions or sensations to immediately stop the meditation, open the eyes and focus on the other senses to bring them to the present.

I’d like to end this blog with a script you can use to implement a micro meditation.

I’d like to invite everyone to join me in a brief meditation to start the class. To prepare, please sit up straight, place your hands in your lap, and either close your eyes or if you don’t want to, you can look slightly downward. (Holding up the Tibetan Singing Bowl), When I ring this bowl, follow the sound with your mind until it drops off. Then, once the sound fades, listen to “what remains.” If you’d like, you can then listen to your breath coming naturally into the nostrils and leaving the nostrils. Just observe it without trying to do anything. It’s natural that you will have thoughts and become distracted—if you do, simply come back to the object of your meditation, in this case, the sound of the bowl or the breath. Let’s begin.