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Month: April 2019

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music

For the past decade, mindfulness has arisen as a valuable tool for educators.

But mindfulness’ value in the classroom has only just begun to become clear.

Now, it’s inspiring others to find new and creative ways to teach mindfulness and other related qualities.

One such example is a Toronto instructor who is using music to help students learn about mindfulness, kindness, and teamwork in a fresh new way.

Musical improvisation teaches students about mindfulness and kindness

It might not be the first thing you think about when you imagine mindfulness in the classroom. But one Toronto instructor is using music to teach mindfulness– and to great results.

Clinton Ackerman, a graduate student working on his music and social work master’s degree, started a musical improvisation class at Saskatchewan’s Glen Elm school for his thesis one year ago, as first reported by Toronto publication The Province.

“We’re turn-taking, without conflict,” says Frei, a Glen Elm teacher who collaborated with Ackerman to offer the class to his students. “We’re patient; we’re mindful listeners, right? We can build off each other, which means you have to be mindful of what the person next to you is playing. It’s all intertwined into everything Clinton planned for us here.”

Ackerman’s project teaches students about soundscapes while also instilling skills and qualities such as mindfulness, teamwork, and decision-making.

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music
A student participates in a mindfulness exercise. BRANDON HARDER, THE PROVINCE

A class in sound and mindfulness

Ackerman’s twice-weekly class starts and ends with each student taking part in a short meditation session.

He says mindfulness, “has really been a great tool for us to just stop what we’re doing, get in the zone, prepare ourselves for what’s about to come.”

Next, they work on practicing to identify rhythm, pitch, and learning how to play together.

“But then because it’s co-operative and it’s creative, there’s a whole other wealth of skills that they’re working on as well,” says Ackerman. Those skills include conflict-resolution, decision-making, and patience.

“As teachers and instructors, we try to teach to our students’ interest,” said Frei on how the duo approaches what material students work on.

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music
Teacher Taylor Frei assists student during a music exercise. BRANDON HARDER, THE PROVINCE

Ackerman and Frei have students work to create soundscapes that match situations they can relate to, such as scenes from a video game and their favorite films.

“If we can create a connection, help them get in touch with that, and use that to help them regulate, to help them make positive decisions… it’s going to benefit them.”

Mindfulness through music

The class began small, but it continues to grow well past its original 5-week timeline.

One year later, the class is going strong thanks to a Saskatchewan Arts Board grant.

“What’s really cool is to kind of see their growth even from last year to this year. It’s night and day,” said Frei on seeing students develop through the project.

“It’s been a huge difference,” remarked Ackerman.

But this is only the beginning of what music and mindfulness may be able to contribute to another.

A meta-analysis of all known studies on mindfulness and music found several promising leads.

For one, music may be able to enhance our ability to enter a mindful state. That makes it a useful tool for practicing and developing mindfulness. And that’s something Ackerman’s project supports.

But that’s just the beginning. Music and mindfulness together have shown to be a promising pair in therapeutic practices for several conditions.

10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus

It’s a daily struggle.

You sit down at your computer, ready to tackle your day. And then it happens.

A notification pops up – you’ve got three new emails. Before you can open them, there’s an instant message on the bottom of your screen.

Then you hear your phone ping and think, “Is that the sound of a calendar reminder or just a reply on my social media post? I’d better check before I start working…” And so it goes.

Sound familiar?

In today’s notification-obsessed world, it’s harder than ever to focus. Distractions like these can really add up.

Not only do you lose time reacting, but it also takes time to refocus. In fact, according to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being interrupted.

Fortunately, technology doesn’t always have to be a distraction– it can also be a tool to help you focus.

10 Mindfulness-based tools to reduce distractions and improve your focus

We’ve gathered 10 of the best mindfulness-based tools that put the power back in your hands. Tools to reduce distractions and help you get your best work done.

These technologies will help you focus by blocking interruptions, removing distractions, getting you in the zone, and reminding you to take short breaks for better productivity. Ready to have a more mindful work day?

Let’s take a look!

Tools to reduce distractions

Our culture often feels the need to respond to everything the moment it arrives, but it’s really not necessary.

Tools like these allow you to pause the continuous stream of information for a period of time, so you can concentrate without interruption. You decide when to check emails, texts, and instant messages– not the person sending them to you.

Inbox Pause by Boomerang

Inbox Pause stops new email from coming into your Inbox until you’re ready. You can receive emails automatically on a schedule of your choice.


If you feel anxious about not checking emails immediately, you can set up an auto-responder to let people know when you check messages and how they can reach you in case of an emergency.

Inbox Pause is part of an email productivity tool called Boomerang, which is available through Google, Outlook, and iPhone. They have a free plan that includes the inbox pause feature.

Windows 10 Focus Assist or Do Not Disturb for Mac

Regardless of whether you use Windows or a Mac, you can pause notifications on your computer. Microsoft calls it Focus Assist in Windows 10 (known as Quiet Hours in earlier versions).

On your mac, it’s called Do Not Disturb. These tools work for desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. Take time to get familiar with the options, rather than letting the default setting disrupt your day.

Do Not Disturb for Android and iPhone

Just like the tools above, you can pause notifications on your phone, both Android and iPhone. Many of us are juggling multiple devices – you may have a laptop open, the phone next to you, and tablet across the room.

Make sure you check out all the do not disturb settings available. Otherwise, you might find yourself reacting to whatever technology is making a noise!

10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus
Inbox Pause by Boomerang gives you amazing control over your email. You decide when emails arrive. Any exceptions are easy to set up.

 

Tools to avoid procrastination

We’ve all fallen into that black hole of social media. Whether you love reading about the latest Game of Thrones episode, watching cat videos, or commenting on politics, we’ve all been there.

Two of these tools let you limit access to certain websites or apps for periods of time. The third tool is geared toward writers who want a distraction-free interface to avoid any temptation to stray from their work.

Freedom

Freedom is a website and app blocker. This tool has some great customization features to make it work for you. You can block only certain sites, the entire internet, or everything except the sites you need.

Freedom also allows you to schedule your blocks in advance – you can even save frequently used blocks so you don’t have to set it up every time. Think you can be sneaky and check your phone to access a blocked site? Freedom can sync blocks across all of your devices.

They offer a seven-day free trial. After that, you can pay $6.99 per month, $29 per year or $129 for lifetime access.

FocusMe

FocusMe offers a similar service to Freedom. Like Freedom, you can block specified websites and apps using a scheduler or as needed.

However, it doesn’t sync across devices (yet). It works with Mac, Windows, and Android – iOS is coming soon.

FocusMe has some additional features like break reminders and a built-in Pomodoro timer.

This is a popular productivity technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. FocusMe is a nice all-in-one tool if you’re trying to be more mindful and productive.

At the moment, their Android version is free. For Mac and Windows, it’s $6.99 per month, $30 per year, or $119.99 for lifetime access.

FocusWriter

FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free writing environment. No icons, no toolbars, no notifications – nothing to take away from your writing.

To access additional features of FocusWriter, you can move your mouse to the edges of the screen. Then you can use spell check, choose a theme, set up timers or alarms, and even assign writing goals.

This program is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X for a voluntary donation.

10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus
Tools like Freedom allow you to police yourself when it comes to internet usage. Customize the blocks based on your personal weaknesses.

Tools to help you get in the zone

Although the jury is still out on the connection between music and focus, many people report that music (and certain sounds in general) enhance their focus.

These tools offer two ways to use music for greater concentration.

Focus@Will

Focus@Will is a unique music streaming service. They offer specially curated and produced music tracks designed to improve your focus.

They claim, “Scientists have discovered that depending on your personality type, there is a specific type of music that when engineered just right, puts your brain into a flow state making you hyperfocused and exponentially more productive.”

Based on their research, they assign types of music based on a questionnaire you answer when signing up. However, you can listen to any of the music in their collections. Focus@Will offers a two-week trial, then it’s $89.95 per year.

Noisli

For some people, music can be distracting in and of itself. You might prefer a little background noise instead.

Noisli is a site that allows you to create your own set of background sounds by combining clips from rain, water, wind, and more.

As one user says, “Perfect for working to — enough background noise to help me concentrate but not distracting enough to prevent me from being able to read or write. I love being able to layer the sounds and change the volume simultaneously as well!”

Noisli is available for $1.99 on Google Play and the App Store. It’s also free on the Chrome Web Store.

10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus
Focus@Will offers over 25 channels of specially curated and mixed music based on neuroscience research. By taking a questionnaire, they’ll recommend the best channels for you.

Tools that remind you to take a break

We’ve talked a lot about staying focused on your work, but taking short breaks is also important to maintain overall productivity.

Instead of mindlessly taking a social media break, try these two tools to pause, take a deep breath, and recenter yourself.

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is brilliantly simple. It displays a countdown timer for two minutes on top of a peaceful nature scene. If you move your mouse or touch the keyboard, it will start again. Available for free on any browser.

Time Out

Time Out promotes a similar idea – that you need to pause throughout the day. However, it has more features.

The default settings offer a “Normal” break (typically for 10 minutes every hour) and a “Micro” break (a brief pause of typically 15 seconds every 15 minutes). This helps you remember not to tense up too much for long periods. You can change or remove either kind of break, or add new ones.

Available on the App Store for free or you can make a donation.

10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus
Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is exactly what it sounds like. A simple way to take a mindful break in your day.

Use these tools to reduce distractions and get your best work done

You don’t have to be a victim of constant interruptions.

 

Use these tools to reduce distractions as well as maximize your focus, so you can get your best work done.

Are there any others you’ve found that help you reduce distractions and improve your focus? Let us know in the comments!

10 Best Mindfulness Meditation Apps to Manage the Craziness of Daily Life

If you’re feeling frazzled by the demands of modern life, you’re not alone.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 79% of Americans feel stressed every day. But we have good news. You don’t have to jet off to a month-long meditation retreat to reap the benefits of mindfulness.

It may sound counterintuitive, but your smartphone (you know, that thing in your pocket that you love-hate?) might just be your best tool for managing stress and helping you focus.

Mindfulness meditation apps are an inexpensive way to test the waters with a new mindfulness practice.

But they’re also great for trying out meditation if you’re new to it as well. 

So, ready to give it a try? We’ve gathered the ten best mindfulness meditation apps ideal for beginners, but with room to grow.

Here are the 10 best mindfulness meditation apps to manage the craziness of daily life.
Continue reading 10 Best Mindfulness Meditation Apps to Manage the Craziness of Daily Life

How One School Transformed Student Behavior by Replacing Detention with Mindfulness

“Meditation calms me down and stuff.”

– 4th-grade girl, Holistic Me program

Should we replace detention with mindfulness?

That’s the question now posed to schools all across the U.S. as a result of the work by the Holistic Life Foundation.

In 2001, brothers Ali and Atman Smith, along with friend Andres Gonzalez, returned home from college to start the foundation. It started as an after-school program with the purpose of bringing the benefits of yoga and mindfulness to their Baltimore, Maryland neighborhood.

But what started as a small after-school program with 20 boys from local Baltimore grade schools (mistaken in the beginning by much of the neighborhood as a gang startup) has now blossomed into a national movement.

As a result, it’s made parents and educators everywhere question the value of traditional disciplinary measures. And, along with it, the power of mindfulness as a potential replacement.

Holistic Me brings mindfulness to Baltimore’s youth to surprising results

Founded as the HLF’s flagship program in 2002, Holistic Me is an after-school program designed to teach yoga, mindfulness, and other well-being practices to Baltimore’s youth.

Since beginning at Baltimore’s Windsor Hill Elementary seventeen years ago, the program has expanded far beyond Baltimore. It now serves the surrounding Maryland communities in:

  • Boston
  • Charlottesville
  • Minneapolis
  • Louisville
  • Somerset County
  • Asheville, and
  • Madison
The foundation now helps an astounding 10,000 children in the Baltimore area alone, with the Holistic Me program serving 160 pre-K to 5th-grade students every school day:

HOLISTIC LIFE FOUNDATION MINDFULNESS PROGRAM
Source: Holistic Life Foundation

Mindfulness as a replacement for detention?

Arguably the most remarkable result of the Holistic Me program has been the transformation in student behavior.

How remarkable? Since implementing the program, Robert W Coleman Elementary School has reported 0 suspensions, an incredible improvement in such a short period of time. 

It’s been so effective that the school decided to take things further and create a ‘Mindful Moment Room’. Students would be instructed to practice mindful breathing during the duration of their stay in the room, as opposed to traditional detention.

Since implementing the room, the school says it’s played a big part in reducing suspensions in addition to the program.  

SHOULD MEDITATION REPLACE DETENTION SCHOOL IMAGE
Source: Holistic Life Foundation

Mindfulness in the classroom (for teachers and students)

The remarkable story of student transformation through the Holistic Life Foundation at Robert W Coleman Elementary School is incredible enough.

But the benefit of mindfulness in the classroom is well-documented.

Studies on mindfulness in the classroom have shown that regular practice helps improve student focus, improve emotion regulation, and reduce stress levels among other benefits.

However, that’s just the beginning. Studies have also shown that teachers receive similar benefits when they adopt the practice themselves. Those benefits include reduced stress, reduced chance of burnout, and greater efficacy.

Should mindfulness replace detention?

So, should mindfulness replace detention? Should schools everywhere have their own Mindful Moment Room?

That’s a question that educators need to answer for themselves.

The topic of mindfulness at school, from questions of how it’s implemented to the way it’s taught, are still being debated.

But there’s no mistake that mindfulness and similar meditative practices are of huge benefit to both students and educators. And the sky is the limit for programs like Holistic Me.

“When I first started I was kinda bad… now the breathing has calmed me down.”

– 7th-grade boy, Holistic Me program

Robert Plotkin of Mindfulness for Technology Featured on the AATH Laughbox Podcast

Our very own Robert Plotkin, Mindfulness for Technology founder, was recently featured on the Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor’s (AATH) Laughbox podcast.

Listen as Robert talks with host Chip Lutz about how technology affects our brain and how to integrate that technology into your mindfulness practice.

You’ll learn:

  • A simple mindfulness practice for learning how to use your smartphone more mindfully
  • How the “reptilian” brain affects our behavior
  • And a powerful tip for managing your technology use

Listen to Robert on the Laughbox podcast (iTunes) or via Laughbox.AATH.org.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

Sign up to receive a free, 5 minute guided meditation that helps you gain control over your smartphone, instead of being controlled by it. 

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