A sound investment – transformational silent sitting

Rosemary Dewan

Rosemary Dewan is the CEO of the Human Values Foundation which promotes the importance of teaching human values in schools. Since 1995 it has been providing practical, cross-curricular programmes for personal development and behaviour management, integrating SMSC, PSHE education, Citizenship, PLTS and SEAL.

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Website: www.humanvaluesfoundation.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Silent sitting is an important part of a values education programme. It is an opportunity for children to quieten the mind and body and to be peaceful for a few minutes. It draws out the inner virtue from even the most aggressive children, allowing them to contact their inner source of wisdom.

Many young people are growing up without ever discovering an inner peace or finding this essential quality in their parents.

Silent sitting helps participants discover their true selves, not as others see them. When children are still, they are able to see things as they really are. As with all of us, children can get tensed up and suffer from negative emotions like anxiety and fear. When these emotions are present, children cannot concentrate fully.

Developing the whole person and awakening their full potential

The whole personality is more than mind and body. It is soul, heart, imagination, intuition and social awareness. Enormous benefits can be gained from encouraging children to manifest their full potential at a higher level.

When children are involved in silent sitting, they find peace and wisdom by discovery and inspiration, which in turn allow them to rely less on outside agencies for direction and guidance, authority and security. In other words, it helps them to become more responsible in making their own decisions about their feelings of what is right and what is wrong.

It has been said that the right hemisphere of the brain is associated with the natural visualisation and creative side of our character. Over a period of time, the author of the Human Values Foundation’s values education programmes noticed significant changes with her own group of children due to silent sitting. Their visual perception, written, verbal and artistic development became increasingly expressive, more detailed and exciting. In fact she found that some of her pupils’ best work was produced after silent sitting sessions.

Some teachers may feel a little hesitant about silent sitting because they may consider it to be linked with religious practices but it is nothing more than being still.

The tremendous levels of noise and powerful distractions in today’s environment have increased the hyperactivity of our children. Research indicates that the most destructive forces in some classrooms are the noise level and amount of movement. Coupled with the fact that a few children are very distracting for other members of the class, there seems to be a great need for children to be still for a while during part of their day – and in time, children eagerly ask their teacher, “When are we going to have silent sitting?”

An approach to silent sitting

There are several ways to approach silent sitting. One technique is to explain to the children that it is a very special time – a time that will give them more energy for life and help them to concentrate better.

The children are invited to sit in a comfortable position, with back and head straight but relaxed. Once settled, they close their eyes and the teacher can take them through five stages.

1st stage

Relaxation and deep breathing are important, so tensing and relaxing parts of the body, from toes upwards, helps the children to get in touch with their bodies.

Next the teacher asks the children to breathe in slowly to the count of 3 or 4 seconds and out slowly to the same count and repeats this twice more. As the children breathe in, they are encouraged to imagine warm feelings, such as happiness, joy, peace, love, etc, and as they breathe out, they are invited to release all their pent-up feelings, all their negativity, such as sadness, tiredness, anger, annoyance, boredom, jealousy – so that they sense them all coming out of their bodies and all their ‘upsets’ disappearing.

2nd stage

This is an opportunity for the children to concentrate with closed eyes.

In a soothing voice, the teacher may say something like, “In your mind, imagine a tiny flower, or candle flame or star. Concentrate on this for as long as possible (one minute for beginners) watching any pictures that come into your mind. Allow them to pass through, always bringing your mind back to the flower, flame or star.”

3rd stage

During this third stage, intuition and imagination are heightened. At this point the children are learning to turn inward for guidance and intuition and discover self-awareness, perhaps though some guided imagery.

With some soft, gentle background music, in a calm voice, the teacher tells the children that it is a very special time - a time which, in their minds they may go on an imaginary journey. They may go anywhere – through meadows, across a stream, up a hill, down a valley, into a beautiful garden, wherever they like, taking a mental journey and picturing it in their minds.

4th stage

After a minute or two, the teacher instructs the children to return along the path they chose, back into their places and after tensing, relaxing and stretching – the children open their eyes and gently relax out of the exercise and repeat to each other, the date, or count three objects in the room that are the same shape or colour – anything that will help them to ‘root back’ into the present.

5th stage

Children may wish to share experiences. They may want to create pictures or written work. It is helpful to encourage them to share their experiences briefly, especially their feelings.

Typical comments are that they feel very refreshed, free of tension, like a new person, invigorated and much stronger inside.

Recently the head of a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), who has started using silent sitting as an integral part of values education, remarked on the vast improvements in the children’s progress - and within a surprisingly short time. She felt that the noticeable changes were due to the individuals being much calmer and therefore far more receptive and eager to learn.

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