Psychologist Alina Boie, Ph.D., visited the Upper School on Dec. 5 to share the science of mindfulness and demonstrate how eight seconds of breathing exercise, done consistently, has been shown to improve both grades and emotional well-being.
“Our breathing is an anchor,” Boie told students in Baker Theater. “You have your breathing everywhere you are.”
“There’s a lot of research to show people who practice mindfulness have better results academically, because they are not as stressed and that allows areas of the brain to function,” she said.
Boie is a school psychologist for Greenwich public schools. For the past four years, she has organized district-wide social-emotional events to give students an opportunity to learn skills for emotional and academic success.
An active member of the community, Boie conducts workshops on mindfulness and bullying prevention. She has presented at national and international conferences on topics including the role of cognitive beliefs in social-emotional well-being and the cultural factors associated with emotional distress.
Her remarks at Brunswick lend themselves to the Health & Wellness theme of the 2019–2020 school year.
Boie told Upper Schoolers that brain function can be separated into two arenas ― the “thinking” brain and the “safe” brain.
Boie likened the thinking brain to a conductor for an orchestra: Just as a conductor leads musicians, she said, the thinking brain controls things like attention, decision making, and memory.
The safe brain, she said, is in charge of making sure basic needs such as sleep and hunger are met, and is the locus for emotion.
Problems occur when stress and worry aggravate the safe brain, which prevents the thinking brain from doing its work. That’s what happens, she said, when students sit down for a test and “draw a blank,” despite having studied the material for hours.
“Our safe brain is the security guard,” she said. “Only one can be in charge at any point.”
“Breathing is an excellent solution for calming down, for putting the thinking brain back on.”
Boie practiced mindfulness exercises with the boys. In one, she asked students to sit up straight and breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
“Four breaths is all we need,” she said. “Research shows this. It’s called the eight-second rule.”
“You have to practice this skill every single day.”
Boie pointed to celebrities and other successful people who practice mindfulness, and said the good news is that our brains are “so plastic” that they can be rewired with consistent effort.
“Mindfulness is all about bringing your attention to one thing,” she said. “This is my favorite definition of mindfulness: Mindfulness is paying attention to your life here and now with kindness and curiosity.”
“Mindfulness is about being kind to yourself and kind to others,” Boie said. “Send yourself one kind wish.”