Mindfulness Matters: Why Yin needs Yang by Rachna Shah

by Rachna Shah, Language Program Co-ordinator & Outreach Program Manager
The growing field of neuroeducation has allowed us to appreciate the impact of emotions on learning. Brain research has revealed that even though the thalamus, acting as a switchboard for the limbic system, sends messages to both the amygdala (the emotional center), and the frontal lobe (the thinking center) simultaneously, the message is first processed by the amygdala. So, what does this mean? Our emotional centre processes information faster than our thinking center, and hence we are likely to emote first. Jill Bolte Taylor validates the same in her book ‘My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey’, as she claimed “although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think”. Likewise, leading researchers recognize the significance of emotions as related to learning and teaching. Hardiman, the co-founder and director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Neuro-Education Initiative, has included emotional climate as a component in her Brain Targeted Teaching Model. Similarly, Carol Dweck has highlighted emotions in formulating her theory on growth mindset. Additionally, emotions have found their way into the field of leadership as well. The evolving field of neuroleadership is addressing the implications of emotions and emotional intelligence in managing relationships. Daniel Pink summarizes it well in his new book ‘A Whole New World’, where he mentions that after all, yin needs yang!

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In acknowledging the role of emotions, it follows that it is critical to equip individuals with self-awareness, and self-regulation strategies. Yet, in an accelerated world where even sleep has been redefined as luxury, how does one find the time, motivation, or will to notice the garden, let alone the trees, flowers, or insects? Since these strategies require one to leverage time, a highly prized commodity, it is likely to be rebuked at the proposition stage. As the stimulants in our environments are constantly battling for our attention, have we become victims, deceiving ourselves to believe that thinking, analyzing, and evaluating are superior as compared to feeling, emoting, or intuiting? Are we truly happy living in ‘victim’ mode, as we use the lack of time as a constant excuse, convinced that we are running a race focused on the goal, and hence all else is pardonable? In an attempt to resolve the paradox of the situation, as we wrestle for time in the pursuit of learning, and effectiveness, a newly packaged product - Mindfulness, is featuring across classrooms and meeting spaces across the globe. It is authorizing educators to acknowledge and appreciate the value of heightened consciousness an as integral element in learning, rather than an additive element that beautifies the process.
At Gateway, in line with Vygotsky’s notion of ‘Zone of Proximal Development’, a group of teachers and students engage in mindful exercises on a weekly basis through a scaffolded process with an experienced adult. The intention is to create a routine space within the school schedule so teachers and students can determine its significance through an experiential process. The shift from ‘doing’ to ‘being’, from ‘racing’ to ‘pausing’, and from ‘thinking’ to ‘feeling’, is approached with a plethora of responses, including, reservation, skepticism, avoidance, and resistance. These responses are expected given that humans have forgotten their natural instincts to feel. However, the initial trepidation is replaced with a feeling of empowerment, as the body, and heart finally feel heard through the process! The session usually leaves everyone in a space encompassed by tranquility, and connectedness, often seeking more. Such repetitive processes ultimately lead people to appreciate the impact of these routines on their mood, efficiency, and happiness quotient.
Just as we exercise our intellect and our bodies on a daily basis, we need to nourish our softer emotions and our affective bodies too.
Maybe we need to accept that our current stage in evolution demands us to structure time, routine and exercises to permit us to revive our natural instincts and experience the bliss of coming alive! Just as we exercise our intellect and our bodies on a daily basis, we need to nourish our softer emotions and our affective bodies too. Mindfulness, the engagement in exercises and activities to develop a moment-to-moment awareness, and the active, open attention to the present, is a viable tool available today. Yet, we need to be cognizant of the real purpose of engagement in mindfulness activities - that is to transfer this heightened sense of consciousness from an organized space to the real world, in the midst of daily activities, in the midst of chaos and mayhem. So, while we sprint along the race of life, let us remind ourselves of the swan, who paddles vigorously underneath the water but continues to glide smoothly, maintaining a calm and serene composure on the surface. The idea after all is not to cease exerting and challenging oneself, but to be mindfully aware, and present while doing so!


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