Exploring Mindful Awareness through Art at Lankenau High School

Before mindfulness

After mindfulness chill

by Amelia Mraz

This year at Lankenau High School for Environmental Sciences we’re continuing our mini-retreats. We meet with students twice a year for a long morning class, right at the beginning of the day, 7:45am. A typical session starts with us greeting the students.

“How are you?”
“Sleepy,” they answer.
“We are too!” we reply. 

So we check in again, using our popular inner weather check metaphor where feelings are described through weather patterns. This time we switch it up, with food. We ask the students 

“If you could describe or connect how your feeling right now with a food, what food would you be?
“A sloppy Joe, just because.” 
“Chex mix, because there’s alot going on and it feels all mixed up.”
“I feel like a jolly rancher.” 
Sometimes we get whole meals. 

With food on the mind, and still waking up, we ease into the session together, starting with slow mindful movement. Noticing breath, and sensations in our bodies, and practicing cross body movements, which research has shown can help integrate the left and right hemisphere of the brain. Next we challenge students to do something they do every day, walk, and to look at it freshly. We ask the students questions during the exercise. 

“What would happen if you slowed down? “Can you synchronize your breath with your steps?” “What do you notice?” Then we check in again. 

“What food would your emotions be now?”
“I went from an apple to feeling like a butterscotch candy” 
Sometimes students don’t always explain why they feel like a certain food, and we are able to individually and collectively notice the shifts subtle shifts in feeling, thought, or emotion. After the movement, it is usally divided between stud

We always hear other transformations and we unpack why and how simple breathwork, focus, and connecting with our physical movement has a calming and ordering effect on our brains, thoughts, and emotions. 

Now, in a much more open state, we can turn our attention to exploration and learning. Generally we follow the openers with a question and some type of artistic expression. 

The images you see here are before and after images of the morning’s practice. The students are always very focused, letting themselves immerse in their art and sharing themselves in this creative way that they don’t often have the opportunity to do. When I saw the young woman starting the artwork on the bottom right, I thought she was angry and not going to participate. She took her paper and balled it up, pressing it into a tight crumpled sphere, smashing it so the creases were deep. Then I observed as she carefully opened up her ball of paper smoothing it out just enough to color on the lines and make them stand out. This was her “before” picture, fragmented, jagged pieces. Her work was creative, original, and intentional. Her “after mindfulness” was completely different, delicate, colorful, uplifting. 

I’m so grateful to be able to work with the students in this way, together exploring our inner worlds, how to bring joy into our day through simple re-focusing, and how to share that with each other. Stay tuned for artwork from Lankenau High School students!

Before Mindfulness

Before mindfulness is fragmented (a textured crumpled up piece of paper. After is colors and flowers.

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