Empowering students to be their very best selves takes a holistic approach. Mindfulness lesson plans for high school students help to develop the social-emotional skills needed to live a happy and healthy life. Simple right? Like any other content area, it takes a plan, process, and curriculum to make it all happen!
Are mindfulness lessons needed for high school students?
“Pay Attention! Focus! Relax!” Have you ever found yourself saying any of these phrases to a student throughout the school day?
Even with student stress levels at an all-time high, we don’t typically dedicate class time to help students learn things like self-regulation and self-awareness that help them live in the present moment.
Mindfulness lessons present an opportunity to build essential social-emotional learning (SEL) skills and address students’ mental health. The benefits of mindfulness are endless and our high school students need to practice it!
Finding mindfulness lesson plans is challenging!
While mindfulness practice is becoming more and more popular, it is hard to choose from all the different mindfulness activities out there:
- Mindful Listening
- Mindful Breathing & Breathing Exercises
- Mindful Eating
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Mindful Thoughts
And while the list of mindfulness techniques could go on and on, actually introducing these topics to students is hard! More importantly, you want students to take these techniques and turn them into mindfulness strategies they can use throughout their lives.
That is where a balanced and comprehensive introduction of mindfulness training for high school students comes in!
A 4 Part Approach To A Mindfulness Lesson Plan
Teaching mindfulness is more than just handing out a worksheet or a mindfulness curriculum PDF. We want students to not only learn key concepts but experience mindfulness exercises in a safe and welcoming environment.
The goal is that students start to understand mindfulness on a deeper level, and also can come back to the skills and techniques introduced when they are ready. To do so, PLT4M breaks down mindfulness lessons into 4 key parts.
Each 20-minute follow-along lesson includes:
Centering – allowing us to arrive and be present in our lesson together
Focus Topic Breakdown – learning about the background and breakdown of different elements of mindfulness
Movement – warming ourselves up and helping us to get ready for our full practice
Mindfulness Practice – putting mindfulness into action through guided meditation and building skills that we can continue using outside of class
Three Follow Along Mindfulness Lessons
Here are three great follow-along lessons to try with your students!
Before you start, be sure you don’t put mindfulness lessons on a pedestal. Before your students begin these mindfulness lessons, remind them that it is okay to not be perfect. That is why we call it mindfulness practice, not mindfulness perfect.
Like anything else we practice, mindfulness practice takes time and patience. It will be totally normal to lose focus today and in future sessions, but when you do, it is okay to gently come back and work to center yourself in the session.
Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening on purpose with kindness, curiosity, without judgment.
Has anyone ever asked you to pay attention? More importantly, has anyone ever taught you how to pay attention? Our attention can be trained. It is okay if you have never been taught to pay attention, but mindfulness can be a helpful tool in this technique of paying attention.
History: Mindfulness dates back thousands of years to Asia. More recently, about 30-40 years ago, scientists started studying the power of mindfulness in the United States.
John Kabat-Zinn, PhD was the pioneer behind mindfulness research and training. Dr. Kabat-Zinn, led the way to bring mindfulness into the hospital at Umass Dartmouth. He wanted to see if mindfulness could help patients suffering from anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. The results were promising.
Now that research has continued, mindfulness is being brought into schools, hospitals, prisons, companies, and corporations. Even Google has a program called “Search Inside Yourself” where they teach people about mindfulness and give them tools to be happier and healthier.
So why is it becoming so popular?
Benefits: Scientists have done extensive research on the neuroscience (brain science) on individuals who practice mindfulness to understand the benefits. Studies have shown that mindfulness:
1) Improves focus & attention
2) Improves sleep
3) Helps with emotional regulation
4) Builds compassion for others and ourselves
Experiencing Mindfulness: We can know and read about mindfulness, but to experience mindfulness is where the mind training comes in.
We can be mindful of so many different things. We can be aware of our breath, feelings and body sensations, sounds, tastes, and really anything happening in the present moment. When we pay attention to anything in the present moment, we experience mindfulness.
Here is where we can put it into practice and work to start ‘paying attention’ to all of the different things around us. It takes practice.
To understand the benefits of mindfulness, we also need to know the basic components of our brain. If you remember from our first lesson, we talked about the research done in the last 30-40 years around mindfulness and our brain. So how does it all connect?
Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC): The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is located at the front of our brain near our forehead. This region of the brain supports many of our ‘higher functioning skills.’ The PFC is involved when we do things like planning, paying attention, or trying to focus.
Scientists have found that our PFC is strengthened every time we practice mindfulness, even if just for a few minutes.
Limbic System: The limbic system is located at the back of our brain. This area of the brain is responsible for many of our emotional responses to situations. Think about the old ‘fight or flight principle. For example, when you see a bear and think about what to do next, your limbic system is kicking into gear.
Inside the limbic system, the amygdala is responsible for sending hormones to our bodies. Sticking with the bear example, the limbic system would trigger the adrenaline to run.
But nowadays, we don’t run into bears as much. Instead, we might have a test, big game, or other things that trigger this stress response.
Practicing mindfulness can help to regulate and control our responses and reactions to different types of situations.
The Fist Example – Dr. Dan Siegel: Dr. Dan Siegel helps to paint a picture of the connection our different parts of the brain can make through a simple illustration with our hand.
If you can imagine, your hand is your brain. When we roll our four fingers over our folded thumb, we are creating our different parts of the brain. By doing so, our PFC and limbic system are connected, and our thumb is the amygdala, covered up. When our hand is a fist, our different parts of the brain work together to regulate emotions and be on our A game.
When a stressor comes along, we might ‘flip our lid’, opening up our fingers, and now our PFC and limbic system are not ‘connected’.
Through mindfulness, we can work to reintegrate our brain and get the PFC and limbic system to work together. It can help us to be more calm, focused, and alert. But this takes practice!
Breathing: Our breath is connected to our different emotional responses.
Inhaling often gets us ready for the fight or flight. Inhaling is connected to what we call our sympathetic nervous system. Think about a time you took a big gulp of air when you were feeling stress.
Exhaling often allows us to relax, regulate, and calm ourselves down. Exhaling is connected to what we call our parasympathetic nervous system. Think about that soothing, long exhale you take when you might be trying to calm yourself down.
Practicing Mindful Breathing
By training our body and mind through practice, we can take our mindful breathing and exhaling and apply it into our lives during moments of stress or anxiety.
This skill is a powerful one as it allows us to help regulate our emotions and become connected to that deep breath. Think responding instead of reacting!
Today we focus on ‘letting be’ and mindfulness of emotions. Emotions can be described as energy in motion.
There are so many different ways to feel an emotion. There are so many ways to describe an emotion. We can feel so many kinds of emotions all in one single day. Happiness, stress, boredom, nervousness, stress, love, silliness, the list goes on.
When we can open up and allow whatever feeling it is, we can allow that energy or emotion to take its natural course. In this letting be, emotions will arise, and we can recognize them and allow them to be, rather than resisting them.
For so many of us, we don’t want to feel certain things. But in that resistance, we end up creating more of what we don’t want. What we resist, persists.
With mindfulness, we can open up to our experiences and notice how we feel. Remember, mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment on purpose with kindness and curiosity. Emotions are happening in the present moment. So we can be with those moments with kindness and curiosity, but it takes practice.
Labeling Emotions: How do you feel when you see or hear different emotions listed. Try it out here. Notice how you feel the different emotions in your body:
4) Gratefulness or thankfulness
You may have noticed that you feel these different emotions in different parts of your body or mind. For example, with gratefulness or thankfulness, you might feel it in your heart. Where with sadness, you might feel a drop in your belly.
With mindfulness, we can notice these emotions, and it can be helpful to pause and recognize what it is. You can even label it. Rather than pushing it away, you can let it be and welcome whatever is here.
Let’s take a look at this poem together and talk briefly about its relation to the mindfulness of emotions.
The Guest House – Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
In this poem, Rumi talks about welcoming emotions in our bodies. That is mindfulness in being open and receptive to what is here.
Practicing Labeling and Recognizing Emotions: Today in our lesson, we will practice labeling and recognizing emotions by remembering when we received a compliment. So many times, we let compliments big and small slip by. With mindfulness, we can work to soak in
those positive experiences and will do so together in our lesson.
8 Session Mindfulness Lesson Plan PDF
The mindfulness activities showcased in this article are just a start! PLT4M has put together 8 sessions in this mindfulness curriculum PDF. Included in this PDF are 8 total activities, including a number of short-form sessions. These short-form sessions are a great quick way to add mindfulness into any class or curriculum for the first time.
Key Takeaways on mindfulness lessons for students
Schools are quick to bring in professional development opportunities that focus in on SEL or stress management. But finding a long-term solution to incorporating mindfulness lesson plans for high school students takes more than just a one-off professional development session.
Helping students to develop mindfulness strategies they can use both in school and in their lives will greatly benefit their mental and physical health. We often focus on physical activity in physical education, but we cannot lose sight of the need for the social, mental, and emotional development of our students as well.
What about mindfulness curriculum for middle school?
Mindfulness curriculum is available for every age level from elementary school to adult mindfulness. Middle school students could use the mindfulness curriculum outlined above, or they could start with some of the shorter form activities provided in the mindfulness curriculum PDF!
Does PLT4M have other PE activities for high school?
Yes! PLT4M has a wide range of PE activities for high school students ranging from fitness, yoga, weight training, nutrition, dance, and more! At PLT4M, we believe in helping students develop the complete picture of health and wellness.