At the end of each semester-long mindfulness class, I surveyed my high school students and asked, "When did you use mindfulness the most outside of the classroom?" The most popular answer: sports teams. This was for both male and female students.
As a former high school athlete myself, I understood this well. When I was a teenager, the only way that I would have taken mindfulness practice seriously was if it related to sports. Nothing else mattered to me. This is still especially true for some of my male students. I remember one student who didn't pay attention in class until we talked about how he could use mindfulness to get better at skateboarding. After two weeks of using mindfulness while learning new tricks -- instead of getting angry when they didn't work -- this young man was hooked.
Teaching mindfulness in the classroom is only the first step. For students to make it a practice beyond the classroom, they must find mindfulness relevant to their lives. Once students have one moment of "Aha! Mindfulness is real!" outside the classroom, they are much more likely to continue the practice and keep it in their toolbox.
Below are some popular and effective ways for introducing mindfulness outside of a traditional classroom setting. These settings can complement classroom teaching or be powerful stand-alone activities.
Mindfulness in sports is getting increasingly popular, but coaches have been using it for years. Most famously, Phil Jackson introduced mindfulness to his teams, including to his star players MJ, Shaq, and Kobe Bryant. Jackson's mindfulness coach, George Mumford, just came out with a new book documenting some of his work with Jackson's teams. Currently, the Seattle Seahawks have mindfulness coaches, and Russell Wilson is a big fan. These are some powerful examples to have in your pocket if you get any pushback from your athletes about introducing mindfulness practice.
However, I find that athletes love mindfulness practice. I have introduced it to the Brown University men's lacrosse team and the high school lacrosse team that I coached in the San Francisco Bay Area. Athletes all know that they play their best when they get out of their own heads. Mindfulness is the best tool that I know to help athletes let go of a mistake, focus on the positives, and regroup for the next play. Unfortunately, there is no set curriculum that I am aware of for the coaches and athletic trainers of high school or younger athletes to adopt. (If you've heard of such a curriculum, please post below.) There is an excellent book, The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment Approach, that outlines how to teach and use mindfulness with athletes of all ages. This is hands down the best tool that I've encountered to help coaches and athletic directors understand how teaching mindfulness is effective for athletes.
A bonus: if you can get jocks -- a dominant cultural group at many schools -- to adopt mindfulness, it opens up space and acceptance for other students to practice it as well.
I would argue that the wilderness is the most effective setting for introducing students (or anyone, really) to mindfulness practice. In the wild, your mind is more tuned into your senses. And importantly in this day in age, students and faculty do not have their cell phones or computers to distract them. The mind is primed to pay attention, quiet down, and notice its own workings.
If your school has a wilderness program, mindfulness is easy to incorporate into your days on or off trail. You could practice mindfulness for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening using some of these exercises. Throughout the day, ask your students to simply stop and notice where their mind and attention are. You don't have to radically change your outdoor program to incorporate mindfulness. In fact, I would argue that an hour of practice a day is a powerful and effective way to deepen your students' experience in the natural world and give them a solid taste of mindfulness.
Retreats are a great way to complement classroom teaching or function as a stand-alone event. You could run a weekend (or weeklong) mindfulness retreat during freshman orientation, senior trips, spring breaks, winter terms, or at any point throughout the school year. Think creatively about how mindfulness could be incorporated into a pre-existing trip or as its own unique opportunity for your students.
For retreats, it is best to have experienced retreat teachers/deep practitioners, as teaching a retreat requires a deeper level of practice that is very different from the classroom. Inward Bound Mindfulness Education is the leading national organization that teaches secular retreats for teenagers. Their daily schedule includes periods of silence and small-group relational mindfulness activities -- a journey in and out of silence -- and practice suited specifically for teenagers. My favorite retreats to teach (PDF) involve practicing mindfulness in the morning and then spending the afternoon in the natural world. This way you can get the best of both worlds.
In the comments section below, please share any student-centered mindfulness experiences that you've had outside of a classroom setting.