Impact of Practicing Mindful Breathing in Class
Many community college students experience high levels of stress due to the demands of coursework and stressors outside of the classroom. Contemplative practices such as deep breathing can reduce stress and increase focus, but students may not be familiar with or feel that they have time to engage in these practices. We hypothesized that introducing students to mindful breathing in our accounting and biology classes would help students manage stress during the semester, reduce test anxiety, and improve student performance.
To test this hypothesis, we introduced some sections of our courses to mindful breathing techniques such as square breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and victorious breathing and set aside time at the start of each class to allow students to engage in these practices. At the end of the semester, we surveyed students to assess their past and present experiences with contemplative practices and their perceptions of the benefits of mindful breathing. We also asked students to rate their levels of exam stress and to rate the general feelings of stress they experienced during the semester, comparing their responses with responses from students in control sections that were not introduced to mindful breathing. The survey results indicated that mindful breathing was a new practice to some students and a familiar practice to others. Most students felt that the practice of deep breathing at the start of each class helped them reduce stress, develop a sense of connectedness, and improve focus. However, there was no consistent difference in self-reported exam stress or general stress between students in sections with and without in-class contemplative breathing. There was also no difference in course performance, as reflected by overall course grade, between sections with and without in-class contemplative breathing. Although it was not the focus of this study, we observed that in-class contemplative breathing practice seemed to improve the learning environment and helped build trusting relationships with students.