A look inside mindfulness

Darci Witthoft and her students spend 10 minutes on Mondays to practice mindfulness.


Cameron Cook and Sadie Rhomberg

By definition, mindfulness is the state of being mindful or aware of something. But on a psychological level, mindfulness is a technique where one focuses their full attention on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings and sensations but not judging them.
Mindfulness can be practiced any time, any day and anywhere. Mindfulness can be achieved through meditation or pauses to breathe. The objective isn’t to be in a state of total serenity, but to be more aware of the present.
While the concept may seem relatively easy, practicing mindfulness can be tricky.
English teacher Darci Witthoft is a firm believer in mindfulness and practices it at home and with her students. At the beginning of the school year, she told her classes that every Monday they would do a ten-minute guided mindfulness practice. Witthoft now starts her class with a short meditation.
Witthoft became interested in mindfulness when a former West employee and friend of hers, Keri Eness-Potter, became a certified mindfulness instructor.

“She’s the one who introduced me to the idea,” Witthoft said. “And it’s so popular now that I’ve been hearing a lot about it.”
Witthoft then took a class through Grant Wood AEA about mindfulness taught by Christine Allen, and has been practicing mindfulness ever since.
“I’ve started meditating,” Witthoft said. “I am a novice, but I try to meditate at least three or four times a week. And it helps, it really does.”

For Witthoft, having an instructor is helpful.

“Having group and teacher support is very helpful as you are learning what it is all about,” Allen said. “Mindfulness sounds simple but is very difficult to do.”

Since the class has ended, Witthoft has used a guided voice recording to practice mindfulness.
Witthoft says she feels relaxed after meditating.

“I’m a hyper person,” she said, “so it helps calm me.”
In addition, mindfulness isn’t constrained to a single method.

“There [are] so many different forms,” she said. “Anyone can do it, anywhere… there’s walking meditation, you can lie down and do body scans, there are just so many ways to approach this.”
After experiencing personal benefits, Witthoft decided to take mindfulness to school.

Mady Nachtman ’18, one of Witthoft’s students, has fully embraced the idea of Mindfulness Mondays. In part because she suffers from anxiety, Nachtman not only meditates in class, but on her own time as well.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” she said. “I like getting to take a little moment to calm down before going forward with class.”
Natchman tries her best to follow along with the recordings Witthoft uses, but mindfulness isn’t always as easy as it seems.

“I try to follow along,” she said. “It’s hard. I think it’s harder than some of the stuff we actually do in class. It’s hard to keep focus… on letting everything go.”

According to the American Psychology Association, continued practice of mindfulness reduces stress and improves short term memory and focus. But it’s unclear whether those benefits apply in the classroom setting.

“It’s more about exposure,” Witthoft said. “We don’t do it consistently, and we try Mindful Monday, but things get in the way.”

Despite the relatively sporadic schedule, Nachtman thinks that she performs better in class on days the class practices mindfulness.

“I get into a zone,” she said. “It gives you time to settle into the classroom and it makes me more comfortable.”
The setting can be an issue as well as the less than ideal time constraints.

“In the classroom, it’s not ideal with 25 to 30 other people with you,” Witthoft said. “[But] I’ve received positive feedback from those who have been introduced to it and have taken it upon themselves to do it on their own time.”

Some of the students, however, don’t see the point in mindfulness. Jack Wolf ’18 feels that Mindfulness Mondays interfere with the school day, and don’t have any impact on him.

“I just don’t think it’s a good use of class time,” he said. “If people want to meditate, it should be outside of class… the classroom should be a place of learning. I feel like we could go right in and learn instead of taking a break.”

Wolf also senses what he considers a “religious feeling” though he could not specify to which religion he equated the practice.

“I just don’t see it as useful,” he said. “I would never do it outside of class.”

Witthoft wishes the district would embrace the idea of mindfulness and thinks it’s possible; with a more regular schedule, she believes mindfulness could help students in their day to day lives.

“It’s not like it’s an expensive thing to do,” she said. “It’s about finding the time and training people to know what they’re doing.”

Whether or not the district will embrace or reject mindfulness in the long term, Witthoft has hope for its continued popularity.

“Anyone can do it, anywhere at any time,” Witthoft said. “It’s free, and it’s empowering.”