In recent years mindfulness has become a trend adapted by the western world linked to promoting improved health and well-being. Studies show that mindfulness can help with a myriad of things, including stress and anxiety. As experts in educating girls and supporting their mental health, The Mount School York continually look to new ways to help boost the girls’ well-being. With a steady increase in profile, mindfulness is obviously making a lasting impression in today’s tech-fuelled society. But what practical applications could mindfulness education have in a school?
The Mount’s approach to well-being begins with the school’s Quaker values; simplicity, truth, equality, peace and social justice. These core values help imbue the girls with a sense of calmness and community. The Quaker practice of Silent Meetings, or rather ‘gathered stillness’, has been part of The Mount’s ethos since the School’s inception in 1785. Today the school continues to take time to come together as a community to be still, to think and to reflect.
At its most basic concept, mindfulness is the quality of being conscious or aware. It is associated heavily with quiet, breathing techniques and meditation; the Quaker school’s silent meetings can undoubtedly be associated with mindfulness. When reflecting on their time at The Mount, many old scholars report that the Silent Meetings have contributed to their ability to be self-disciplined, or as old scholar Naomi Sheldon says, they “were an introduction to meditation.”
The Mount was recently praised for its approach to girls’ mental health, in a 2018 report by the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate, noting, “Pupils know when to seek help; they described with great warmth the mental health support they receive from medical staff.”
Cindy Magyar, the School Nurse, is herself an avid supporter of mindfulness and the positive effects it has on mental health. “Meditation and mindfulness is becoming widely acknowledged and scientifically validated as a powerful tool in supporting mental health,” she states. Nurse Cindy teaches Health & Well-being within the PSHE curriculum and incorporates mindfulness and meditation into these sessions. College girls were so inspired by their lessons they chose to hold a Morning Meeting about Mindfulness for the Senior School and have begun using a recommended meditation app.
In the Autumn term, Year 7 girls enjoyed a residential visit to Carlton Lodge, during which Nurse Cindy took them through a simple meditation exercise. The girls later took the reins themselves when one of them led a yoga session for the girls and their teddies. On returning to School, the girls used their initiative to create a quiet space to be used for yoga, meditation or to simply have time out.
“I am so impressed that the girls have used their enthusiasm in creating this quiet space in School. During the meditation and yoga sessions at Carlton Lodge they demonstrated so much maturity. It is such a positive sign that they have taken on board the learning and the importance of looking after their well-being. And of course it is great for their teddies too!” said Cindy.
Mindfulness also promotes compassion, another concept that is not new to The Mount. Working groups of staff in the Junior and Senior School have received training in Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), which promotes mental and emotional healing by encouraging people to be compassionate toward themselves and others. In the Senior School, this learning is passed on to the students during Form Time and through teaching strategies in lessons.
Naturally, mental and physical health go hand in hand. During Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, Reception children learned that keeping a healthy body helps a healthy mind. In PE, girls have appreciated the increased activity in not only formal sports but also fun games such as ‘Just Dance’, giving them time to relax and enjoy exercise during their working day. Next term also sees the introduction of ‘Mindfulness Walks’ to the activities programme, allowing girls the time to enjoy the School grounds and the pleasure of walking to release worries and cultivate a sense of peace.
— Mount Junior School (@mountoutdoor) February 7, 2019
At its core, The Mount endeavours to imbue young learners with character traits that will help them become more resilient in life. Traits such as: perseverance and grit, confidence and optimism, drive and ambition, community spirit and tolerance. These characteristics closely resemble those qualities that studies suggest mindfulness can help deliver. While mindfulness has a place at The Mount, it is more accurate to say that, thanks to the school’s all-girl Quaker ethos, mindfulness is not simply a trend but has always been at the heart of a Mount education.