Multisensory Brain Break Meditations
By Dr. Erica Warren and Joy Matalon
In this day and age, students are faced with ever-increasing academic expectations, competitive classrooms, and both real and virtual bullying (Mindfulness and Learning, 2016). In addition, with technology at our fingertips and large class sizes, competing diversions are constantly challenging learners at all times of the day and in all locations. For many, this offers an enticing escape from the present moment, but it can also create a state of overwhelm that triggers the amygdala into a “fight, flight, or freeze response.” Unfortunately, both of these scenarios foster an unhealthy mindset for which more and more teachers, professionals, and parents seek a solution.
Luckily, there are a number of methods that can help students, and new research suggests that exposing children at an early age to strategies can help optimize academic, social, and emotional potential (Goguen-Hughes, 2015; Jennings, 2016). What’s more, teachers, therapists, and parents can benefit too (Rechtschaffen, 2016; Kabat-Zinn, 2017; Siegel, & Bryson, 2019). There are a number of valuable solutions that utilize mindfulness, meditation, metacognition, breathing exercises, hemisphere integration activities, and brain breaks.
MBBM was created after an extensive search through the current research. In addition, we also consulted with top experts with an intention of combining the most effective methods into a quick, simple, and multisensory approach for teaching preschool through middle school teachers and their students the needed skills to activate both hemispheres of the brain, regulate emotions, utilize metacognitive skills, as well as manage stress, learning challenges, and attentional difficulties. The underlying goal was to create an approach that gets the mind and body in optimal shape for learning.
Research in neuroscience reveals that the prefrontal cortex, which manages higher-level cognition, also plays an important role in processing and regulating emotions. Therefore, “learning involves both a cognitive and emotive schema....” This evidence has “forced us to rethink the relationship between reason and emotion. Not only does academic learning depend on social and emotional skills, but it is virtually impossible to disentangle the two" (Barseghian, 2016).
Mindful meditation is a mental training practice that involves focusing on the breath and managing thoughts and emotions in the present moment. It can involve breathing exercises, mental imagery, awareness of the body and mind, and conscious body relaxation.
According to the research, mindful meditation enables children to manage their attention, direct their thoughts, and regulate their emotions (Colzato, Ozturk, & Hommel, 2012; Modesto-Lowe, 2015; Rechtschaffen, 2016; Tang, 2017; Wisner, 2017). In addition, it is an effective way to manage executive functioning skills, distracting thoughts, and cognitive processing (Biegel, Chang, Garrett, & Edwards, 2014; Burrows, 2017; Colzato, Ozturk, & Hommel, 2012; Flook, Goldberg, Pinger, & Davidson, R, 2015; Flook, Smalley, Kitil, Galla, Kaiser-Greenland, Locke, & Kasari, 2010; Schonert- Reichl, Oberle, Lawlor, Abbott, Thomson, Oberlander, & Diamond, 2015; Vestergaard- Poulsen, Beek, Skewes, Bjarkam, Stubberup, Bertelsen, & Roepstorff, 2009). Mindful meditation also improves memory because, it calms the amygdala, feeds the brain with oxygen, and helps students drop into the moment (Spaeder, 2019; Kabat-Zinn, 2017). Furthermore, mindful meditation can prevent the deterioration of working memory during periods of high stress (Jha, Stanley, Kiyonaga, Wong, and Gelfand, 2019). Finally, mindful meditation has also been shown to increase creativity and learning capacity at large (Barseghian, 2013; Choi, Krause, & Dierynck, 2018; Goguen- Hughes, 2015). In fact, Seigal & Bryson (2019) suggest that mindful meditations integrate the brain and help children feel seen, safe, soothed, and secure.
This new mindset creates a receptive state for learning. Luckily, children are often open and able to commit to the habit of meditation when teachers and parents bring this activity into their daily lives and, if game-like activities are used to teach the process, positive outcomes increase yet again (Greenland, & Harris, 2016; Semple, & Lee, 2014; Tang, 2017; Wisner, 2017).
Deep belly breathing is a simple and mindful practice that offers many benefits. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system and it stimulates a relaxed state that helps lower the harmful effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, on the body (Kabat-Zinn, 2017; Spaeder, 2019). A hypothesis provided by Jerath, Crawford, Barnes, Harden, 2015 suggests that breathing stimulates vagal activation of GABA pathways from the prefrontal cortex and insula, to inhibit amygdala over-activity. In addition, it decreases one’s heart rate and also lowers one’s blood pressure (Brown, Gerbarg, & Muench, 2013; Spaeder, 2019). Finally, the belly breath helps to refresh the mind and enhance the ability to learn, focus, concentrate and memorize (Spaeder, 2019; Kabat-Zinn, 2017; King, D. 2018). The brain requires oxygen to function and this increased mindful intake helps students achieve clarity and increase productivity (Spaeder, 2019; Kabat-Zinn, 2017; King, D. 2018).
A multisensory approach to learning, multisensory teaching, or multisensory instruction is a way of teaching that engages students by implementing lessons that activate more than one sense at a time. Sensory ways of teaching engage greater numbers of students when compared to traditional teaching methods (Shams and Seitz, 2008). However, in my practice and materials, I like to take it to new heights by honoring all twelve ways of processing information so students remain fully engaged in the learning process.
Visual Learning: incorporates pictures, drawings, and even personal visualizations. This helps students learn through imagery.
Auditory Learning: involves learning through listening. This helps students to learn how to focus on and determine the salient information from what they are hearing.
Tactile Learning: consists of touching or feeling objects or artifacts. It also involves the encoding of information when taking notes or drawing things out.
Kinesthetic Learning: encompasses learning while moving one’s body. For many students, movement can help enhance engagement in learning and memory of information.
Sequential Learning: entails teaching students in a step-by-step manner that sequences instruction by time, alphabetical order, or a numerical series. This prepares students for outlines, timelines, completing long-term assignments, and keeping materials organized.
Simultaneous Learning: involves teaching children how to categorize materials. This prepares students for webbing information, conceptualizing main ideas, understanding flow charts and diagrams, as well as keeping materials organized.
Verbal Learning: incorporates teaching children how to process ideas aloud. This helps students participate in class discussions and feel comfortable expressing ideas.
Interactive Learning: consists of teaching children how to work with others. This trains learners to collaborate and work in groups.
Logical/Reflective Learning: encompasses teaching children how to reflect upon or think about what they are learning. This prepares students to work independently and process ideas internally.
Indirect Experience Learning: entails teaching children how to watch and learn from a demonstration. This helps students attend to and glean information from vicarious learning experiences.
Direct Experience Learning: involves teaching children how to use their own environment to learn. This informs students that continuing education is ever-present in our everyday surroundings and that there are fabulous learning experiences available through museums, aquariums, historic sites, and other locales.
Rhythmic Melodic Learning: consists of teaching children how to use melodies and rhythm to learn. This provides students the tools to utilize beats, songs, or melodies when trying to memorize novel information.
For new information to be encoded into memory, it passes through the amygdala, an emotional filter, before it goes to the prefrontal cortex. When students’ brains become anxious, highly confused, or overwhelmed, the activation of the amygdala puts the brain in a state of “fight, flight or freeze.” Learning comes to a halt because the information is held up in a part of the brain that is unable to make sense of and encode the content. Even if students are comfortable with the pace or content, “a point often arises when the amygdala exceeds its capacity to manage information through its networks into memory” (Godwin, Almeda, Seltman, Kai, Skerbetz, Baker, & Fisher, 2016; Willis, 2016). Brain breaks can be used to restore the emotional state needed to reboot the amygdala and return it to an optimal state for the flow of information (Godwin, Almeda, Seltman, Kai, Skerbetz, Baker, & Fisher, 2016; Willis, 2016).
It is common knowledge that the brain’s two hemispheres are joined by a bundle of nerves that pass across the corpus callosum. Although this pathway exists, it is not always used, and many people get by just using half of their brain. However, by utilizing the power of both hemispheres, students can create an internal environment for optimal learning.
Mindfulness, as well as physical activities, get the hemispheres communicating (Siegel, D. & Bryson, T, 2019). Crossing the midline activities/exercises are any physical movements when the arms and/or legs cross an invisible line that separates the right and left sides of the body (Siegel, D. & Bryson, 2019). When this is done, both hemispheres are activated and bilateral coordination is also developed. For almost every activity that we perform, hemisphere integration is essential because it allows us to unite and comprehend multiple sensory inputs (Siegel, D. & Bryson, T, 2019). Dr. Dan Seigel suggests, “A healthy and productive mind emerges from a process called integration" (Siegel, & Bryson, 2019).
I worked with a dream team of experts and we have combined these theories and practices in a multisensory format to help preschool through middle school students learn mindful breath meditations and self-regulation approaches that calm the amygdala, activate both hemispheres of the brain, and get the mind and body in optimal shape for learning. This publication offers a number of multisensory resources to help students and their instructors learn and practice daily mediations.
As students learn to manage their breath and meditate, they can be introduced to the audio meditations.
Background sounds can aid in the meditation process when a teacher, therapist, or parent wishes to use the scripts or just want to complete the visual and tactile activities with some sounds (the beat can help students count out the 4-2- 4-2 or the 4-1-4-1 breath).
Visual/Tactile Meditation Directions:
Kinesthetic Meditations Directions:
Teacher and Parent Manual for Multisensory Brain Break Meditations
Color My Best Breath Experience
Busy Bumblebee Finds His Breath and His Way Home (also available in Module 5)
Busy Bumblebee Finds His Breath and His Way Home
Visualization Meditation Scripts
How to Use the Visualization Meditation Scripts
Visualization Meditation Scripts
Busy Bumblebee Finds His Breath and His Way Home (also available in Module 3)
Butterfly Breath Mediation Playing Attention
Slow Down Sloth and Hummingbird Body Scan
Manage your Energy Control Station Meditation - Increasing Energy
Manage Your Energy Control Station Meditation - Decreasing Energy
Bubble Breath - Being Your Best Self
Additional Breath Meditations and Handouts
Tactile Meditations Directions
Tactile Meditation Presentation.pdf
Tactile Meditation Handouts
Tactile Meditation Scripts
Kinesthetic Butterfly Breath Meditation
Kinesthetic Slow Down Sloth Meditation
Puppy Pause Breath Meditation
Kinesthetic Bumble Bee Breath Meditation
Kinesthetic Meditation Scripts
Directions for Drum Beat and Nature Sounds
Bird Sounds and Drum Beat (5:17)
Ocean Sounds and Drum Beat (4:18)
Rainforest Sounds and Drum Beat (4:23)
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Dr. Erica Warren