The practice of mindfulness helps to calm the mind, ground the body, and keep the focus on the present. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, reduce challenging behavior, improve attention, boost learning and cognitive performance, strengthen emotional intelligence, foster engagement, and enhance self-regulation. Research shows that mindfulness practices can also improve the wellbeing of students with autism and their educators.

There are many ways to practice being present-minded, so we have selected two highly researched skills to get you started. As stress mounts and there’s less and less perceived time across the day, it’s important to have mindfulness practices—reset buttons—to keep your body and mind at their best. In only a few moments a day, slowing down and tuning your focus inward to your breathing, scanning your body, and slowing the mental chatter will improve your wellbeing and increase your ability to flourish.

Everyone from executives and athletes to performers, soldiers, and yogis alike is reaping the benefits of slowing down and being mindful of their breath, how their bodies feel, and where their thoughts are in the moment. This awareness builds self-regulation, decreases stress, opens the mind to possibilities, and provides a pause in what might otherwise be a hectic day for teachers and their students with autism. Here are two techniques to consider for yourself or to use in your classroom:

Technique #1: Deliberate Breathing

As funny as it sounds to practice something instinctive like breathing, research has found many physical and psychological benefits to slowing down and paying attention to your breathing. These practices can range from two or three minutes per day to setting aside up to 30 minutes some days. Deliberate Breathing is the practice of ensuring that your inhale is slow and gets low into your lungs. Maximizing the amount of air that fills your lungs increases the efficient use of oxygen. On the exhale, you might pay attention to the sensation of the breath or repeat a calming word. If your mind is full of chatter, that is ok. Try to quiet your mind by redirecting your focus to your breath. Over time, the mental chatter will decrease. 

Technique #2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is a two-part process in which you move through the body by (1) tensing each muscle group and (2) relaxing the muscles. This skill helps you to be mindful of how different it feels to have tension in the body versus being relaxed. The skill of PMR helps reduce stress and anxiety and promotes a sense of calm and contentment. Over time, people who practice PMR begin to recognize tension in the body right as it begins and can cue the muscles/body to relax. PMR takes about 15 minutes, but you can practice it in shorter intervals by reducing the number of muscle groups targeted. Get started by trying this guided Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

Here’s how you can begin incorporating mindfulness:

  • Try practicing both of the mindfulness techniques and see which you prefer. Many phone apps and websites (e.g., headspace, Stop.Breathe.Think., Calm) provide guided practices—check them out! Being mindful starts as a skill and becomes a way of life for many.  
  • Set a goal for yourself to practice breathing. When and where will you practice? How often can you commit to slowing down and focusing on your breath?
  • Offer to lead a Deliberate Breathing practice at department meetings, faculty meetings, or over morning announcements.
  • Provide students with the option to practice Deliberate Breathing in a specific location in your classroom and at a time of their choosing.
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