I first became aware of mindfulness when practicing yin yoga, a slow yogic form that requires one to hold difficult stretches for long periods of time. In challenging situations, I often find myself seeking those deep breaths of relaxation referred to as the ‘ujjayi breath’ or ‘ocean breath’ making it easier to focus on the here and now.
In a similar vein, I use mindfulness as a reflective lens when teaching composition online to encourage students to engage themselves as embodied writers via screens so they might begin to unpack the pandemic as a thing with which they’ve become codependent.
Students respond to readings, videos, and questions surrounding the curriculum in private journal entries as part of the coursework. To incorporate mindfulness, I provide links to YouTube videos such as Sleepy Fish – Beneath Your Waves, while asking students to identify the first five things they see, followed by a prompt requesting that they provide an optional update on what’s happening in their lives, if they feel comfortable sharing these details. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been incorporating an average of four or more such journal entry assignments over the course of each semester.
This has been useful in creating a deeper connection with students while gaining an understanding of where they are regarding potential struggles both in and outside of the classroom. Sharing and reflecting on YouTube videos and other media clips is hardly innovative as a technology form. Yet, when paired with mindfulness as a strategy it’s beneficial all around. Though I’ve yet to perform IRB approved research since using this as a teaching method, I have noticed that students communicate with me more frequently and with greater ease since making this adjustment. These assignments are also frequently referenced among student favorites in end-of-semester reviews.
In the article “Writing Material,” Laura Micciche tells us, “Writing is codependent with things, places, people, and all sorts of others. To write is to be part of the world, even when viewed as an ironic turn away to an interior space of quiet and mystery” (501). For some student writers, the pandemic itself is a ‘thing’ with which they’ve become codependent. Unlike other things writers might be codependent with such as a favorite pen, desk, or a beloved editing pet, a global outbreak of disease is less predictable and can be, at times, all-consuming in ways that may not be beneficial for the writing process. In order to bring focus to the challenges that are implicit in these relationships, particularly in the first-year writing classroom, it’s inevitable that we shed light on the workings of such to better comprehend where we can provide support as teachers. “Turning away” to a journal entry, even if for a few minutes, might provide a type of “interior space” Micciche points to so that students can begin to make peace with this less than friendly codependency while finding ways to process it through a moment of mindfulness.
- Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke UP, 2010.
- Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures). Durham: Duke UP, 2016.
- Micciche, Laura R. “Writing Material.” College English, vol. 76, no. 6, 2014, pp. 488-505.
- Perl, Sondra. Felt Sense: Writing with the Body. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 2004.
- Shipka, Jody. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2011.