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Through mindfulness, we become more empathetic and compassionate.

Many parents and educators have heard of SEL, or Social-Emotional Learning. In many schools, SEL has been incorporated into classrooms through activities that help students understand themselves and others. According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” There are five “core competencies” that CASEL has identified to be important in nurturing social-emotional health: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. 

Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Mindfulness helps us recognize and accept present-moment thoughts and emotions and can also help people handle stresses in life. Through mindfulness, we become more empathetic and compassionate. 

Social-Emotional Learning and Mindfulness work well together to nurture healthy relationships. The areas in which mindfulness contributes directly to SEL are self-awareness, self-management and social awareness. By cultivating an awareness of what is going on in the body and mind right now in the present moment and accepting this with gentleness and kindness, we understand and manage our emotions, thereby nurturing positive relationships and decision-making.

The family practice on this page brings together self-awareness as well as acknowledging what others are experiencing.

A Circle of Mindful Awareness

Begin by sitting in a circle with our backs to each other towards the center and the front of our body facing outward. The circle should be as small as is comfortable so that each person is either in physical contact with neighbors or at least close enough to sense their presence.

  1. Designate a leader who will guide the group, reading step-by-step directions.
  2. First, we bring our attention to the breath, counting three or four deep breaths to relax and settle the nervous system and mind. While we breathe collectively we are aware that others in the circle are breathing, and we may be able to hear and feel that as well.
  3. With the energy and atmosphere settled, we imagine the breath as a river of energy flowing through the body, stopping now and again at different areas, such as the head, neck, shoulders, abdomen, arms, legs, etc. (Leader can guide this body scan).
  4. Next we will invite any emotions that are present for us, allowing the mind to join the experience. What is an emotion that is present for you right now? Give this feeling a name by labeling it: sadness, excited, happy, tired, etc.
  5. Let’s now notice where in our body we feel the emotion we just recognized. This may be an area of tightness or warmth, coolness or tingling. With a quick body scan, where is the emotion the strongest in the body?
  6. Now we will take turns saying our name, the emotion and where we feel it in our body. For example, “I’m Neveah, and I feel happiness in my heart."
  7. Moving around the circle, each person acknowledges those who spoke before them, repeating their name, their emotion and where they feel it. Lastly, the person shares their own name, emotion and body area.
  8. We continue this circle activity until everyone has had a chance to repeat their neighbors’ information as far back as possible to the first person, ending with their own. To finish, the first person who started the activity will try to recite all of the other names, emotions and body parts.

I recommend the leader be sensitive to the age and awareness level of each family or group member. Some young children may find it challenging to remember everyone’s emotion and body part. There should be kindness and acceptance as the person tries their best to remember before sharing their own information. The activity is not about who can remember the most; rather, it is an opportunity to build self and social awareness through mindfulness.

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and creative director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes and coaching for children, families, classrooms and individuals. For more information please visit the website mindfulfrontiers.net

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Anne-Marie Emanuelli

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