To me, the mindfulness movement has wonderfully enhanced our learning how to self-care, self-regulate, and be responsible for our own well-being and mental health. Because it encourages us to rest back, widen out, and notice without judgment, it also invites us to move out of a pathology paradigm and participate in a health paradigm. It doesn’t focus on what’s wrong. It strengthens our ability to be with what is and motivates us with science validated reminders that enjoying its benefits takes practice. Regular practice slows us down, expands our consciousness, and reconnects us to our greatest asset – our health system.
When I say your health system, I am talking about the bigger forces that literally created you and are continually monitoring, metabolizing, eliminating, maintaining, integrating, and renewing you. You are a metabolic miracle, truly. Your pursuit of mindfulness is a doorway to greater access to your innate health and healing power. Every time you meditate, move into greater awareness, or relax deeply, you allow and support this system to process, balance, and re-calibrate you. The more you practice, the more space and fluidity in your system, and the greater ease and well-being you experience.
My point is that each of our systems is infinitely intelligent and always moving us toward greater health based on the present circumstances and consciousness. Just as after eating a big meal, you don’t go running because you know your body needs time to digest; in our busy, demanding lives, we can’t just go-go-go. We need to give ourselves time to metabolize the stressors and reset our nervous systems to maintain health. Like a hot bath, mindfulness supports our greater health intelligence to work with and metabolize for us.
As you make lifestyle changes and explore how to bring more mindfulness and wellness into your homes and classrooms, where are you coming from? Are you focused on what’s wrong and how to fix it or stop it, which often creates more constriction and diminishes flow and health? Or are you making time and space for your and your students’ systems to function optimally? Can you stop seeing something wrong with you or them, and instead allow, feel, and attend to what is expressed? When seen through the lens of health, everything that arises is for greater health. Can you embrace and be responsive such that what arises can be seen, heard, and processed in the service of greater health?
For me, movement and mindfulness go together. They speak to the essence of being human, which is how we come into relationship with and respond to what arises in the dynamic, metabolic flow of energy that is our inner and outer lives. How we dance with our own life-force defines who we are. It is the template for how we show up and what we teach.
I’ve spent the last 20 years bringing the same movement and mindfulness practices to education that I use in my own life. I teach them because I believe they are essential tools for self-realization and lay the foundation for embodied wisdom. They are the structures that slowed me down and shifted me into a new paradigm of possibility. They plugged me into a much greater field of awareness and intelligence in which kindness, compassion, and differentiation replaced force, judgment, and projection. I stopped believing all the thoughts in my head and started to see how I could focus my thinking and process my feelings instead. I came to understand the power of meditation, yoga, and self-inquiry to relieve my own suffering and to empower me to take ever greater responsibility for my behavior and happiness.
This is an on-going process. My life keeps moving. I continue to practice because I know that I teach from who I am being.
The same is true for you, for everyone. Whatever subject matter you teach, what matters most is who you are being. You hold the space. Your mind-body state sets the tone. The younger the students, the more they entrain to you. Your values and principles are the invisible operating system influencing how everyone feels and learns in your classroom. Yes, it’s a big responsibility and one that behooves working on oneself.
I meditate every day. It resets my nervous system and cultivates presence. It keeps me honest and in touch with deeper feelings, which translates to being more clear, sensitive, and responsive with others. I can see and hear what is really going on out there, because I’ve practiced sitting with what goes on in here.
I encourage you read the article, Seven Ways Mindfulness Can Help Teachers, by teacher, Patricia Jennings, who also wrote, Mindfulness for Teachers.
Or learn about Loving Kindness meditation as taught by Sharon Salzberg, who wrote:
Mindfulness helps relieve anxiety and can give us a real sense of connection and fulfillment, as well as insight and understanding. The idea is, by developing a different relationship with our experience, we get to see it differently. If an emotion comes up, and we start fighting it, there’s not a lot of learning going on. If we fall into it and become overwhelmed, there’s not a lot of learning going on. Mindfulness helps us develop a different, kinder relationship with ourselves, to see much more deeply into all of our experience.
I fuel myself with activities and people that I enjoy. I do something every day to feel blessed and grateful. And if it’s been a rough day, I won’t go to bed miserable. I’ll call a friend, I’ll re-read a card, I’ll watch a favorite movie, I’ll journal. Positive emotions fill our inner tank with vitality and resilience. They boost our immune systems and can transform thinking. Play is just as important for you as it is for the children you teach. Do you make time to play? Could you take a more playful approach to your daily activities?
I recommend you explore what makes you happy and do more of it. If that sounds silly or you don’t have time, check out this online course in the Science of Happiness, which I completed last year. It is full research that will motivate you to generate more gratitude and joy for yourself! It will engage you in valuable self-inquiry and offer you a wide range of practices to play with.
I cultivate self-compassion. It helps me feel my innate value and recognize the sacred journey of every life. It cultivates humility and respect for others’ struggles and leaves me being kind by default, not to be nice.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is a skill that can be learned by anyone. It involves generating feelings of kindness and care toward ourselves as imperfect human beings, and learning to be present with greater ease during life’s inevitable struggles. It is an antidote to harsh self-criticism, making us feel connected to others when we suffer, rather than feeling isolated and alienated. Unlike self-esteem, the good feelings of self-compassion do not depend on being special and better than other people; instead, they come from caring about ourselves and embracing our commonalities.
Self-compassion is not self-pity, self-absorption, or self-indulgence. It is simply a mindset of caring and curiosity for our own process, which helps us develop the inner resources to be able to care about and serve others. The Dali Lama’s translator in many books, Thupten Jinpa, describes it as: the instinctive ability to be kind and considerate to yourself – the put on your oxygen mask first before helping others’ approach to self-care – which makes a big difference when you are dealing with the demands of raising children, dealing with a difficult boss, or facing a relationship crisis.
These are 3 practices that work for me (there are more to come :). They help me self-regulate, be mindful, and feel playful with whatever arises. If you know it’s time to up your self-care in order to be the mindful, responsive teacher / person you’d like to be more often, I would be happy to support you with some ideas, suggestions, and coaching. Just email me and we will schedule a call. If there are many of you, we can schedule a conference call.
Look forward to connecting!
Leah @ move-with-me.com
Stress and traumas, large and small, are a part of daily life in our new digital age. Online, we and our children witness regular devastation from crime and weather, wars and refugees, terrorism, teen suicide, cyber humiliation, addiction, abuse of all kinds, and mass shootings, sometimes in schools. In light of this constant media exposure to the dark side of humanity, we owe it to our children to make concerted efforts to connect to each other, nurture and acknowledge our light, goodness, love, and heroism, and most importantly, to teach and practice emotional resilience. Having emotional resilience is essential to long-term health. It means that we can process the impact of hurtful, harmful, and even traumatic events and, in doing so, grow the power of our hearts. It means that we know how to use what we don’t want as compost for cultivating what we do want. It means developing the ability to self-care such that we can benefit from our own experience and shine more brightly, compassionately, and authentically. Self-regulation and emotional resilience lay the foundation for being empowered and wanting to be of service
How equipped are our children are to deal with stress or the traumas they see if not experience personally? Anonymous media commentators spout off about everything from gun laws to bad parenting, to mental illness and bullying. But if you stop and really listen to what our kids are saying, you’d know that arguing about the above topics is not part of the solution. Instead, look at teen social media accounts. You will hear the voices of a children who are confused, overwhelmed, and often in despair. Their ability to cope with the normal downturns that life presents is obviously compromised. Their school environments are toxic with competition, boredom, and dis-empowerment. They post 12 selfies a day and rate their own self- worth based on the number of “likes” their precocious pose lands them. They rate each other with a sense of arrogance and shallowness that dismisses and invalidates virtues such as kindness, compassion, and acceptance.
A recent article in The Atlantic about sexting tells the story of a Virginia county that was shocked after an investigation revealed that it is THE NORM for our teens to send nude or inappropriate photos to their boyfriends/girlfriends. Authority’s had to come to terms with the fact that if they enforced the law, hundreds of teens would have been facing felony charges of child pornography.
The digital age has desensitized our children. Exposure to sex and violence through media and video games has made fantasy and reality difficult for the developing teen brain to differentiate. The convenience of instant communication behind the veil of a screen allows them to verbally accost each other with no inhibition. Monitoring their digital interactions can be a full time job for any parent, already pushed to the edge by their own stress. We are drowning.
Our educational system uses catch phrases like, “No child left behind”, and focuses on Common Core Standards to grasp on to any last hopes that America remain a super power and produce “educated go-getters” and “tomorrow’s leaders”. Meanwhile, Suzie is posting her selfie sporting a precocious pose waiting for Tommy to give her the thumbs up so she can feel a modicum of self- worth for the next 5 minutes, but Tommy is too busy playing a game of Call of Duty to notice.
We cannot go back. We have entered the digital age. The media and video game developers are not going to develop a conscience overnight. Parents are not going to always be able to be at home engaging kids in other activities. Our children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week in school. It is time to use a few of those hours to teach our children how to both engage safely and respectfully with each other and to cope with the lives WE have created for them. It is time to give them the tools they need to navigate the landscape of the digital age without losing connection to their innate humanity and greater communities. It is time to make emotional resilience and self-regulation the main topic when deciding how we will teach, support, guide, and resource our children for the future.
If you have not yet instituted regular rituals with your children that develop mindfulness, it’s time. The research from neuroscience, education, child development, and positive psychology all agree. Practices that cultivate self-awareness and the ability to self-care enhance social-emotional learning and executive functions. They also nurture a positive affect or attitude, which has been shown to widen our literal and figurative vision. We know that feeling good, connected, and cared about improves problem-solving, academic performance, creativity, resilience, and health. In other words, not taking time to regularly participate in some kind of mindful exercise is actually inhibiting student potential and progress.
Where to begin?
As teacher/parent, you are the model and the music in the space so mindfulness begins with you. Start any sort of practice for yourself and commit to doing it regularly. It could be 10-20 minutes a day of loving kindness or any other kind of meditation, or 30 minutes 2-3 times a week of yoga or a walking meditation. It doesn’t matter what, except that it be an activity that you resonate with and feel more focused, settled, and present after practicing. This shift in your own regimen will source much of what you bring and eventually develop for your classroom or homeschooling schedule.
With younger children, it’s important to start with simple sensory activities and to do them regularly. Examples are: listening to the sound of the bell until it disappears, or feeling the raisin on your tongue melt, or noticing the rise and fall of your belly as it breathes, or watching the lines of the tree drawn on the water drawing board evaporate. The process of observing via one sense organically brings children into a present, focused, calm, and open state.
I recommend also introducing and practicing how to breathe fully and smoothly; how to slow inner speed to better notice, name, and reflect on what goes inside and outside; how to self-soothe and self-care; and how to ground and center body and mind through games and yoga. It’s wonderful to also include affirmations, uplifting songs, movement stories, and partner yoga. Note: as you read this, are you mentally sorting these activities to the “if there’s time” category? If so, please review the research highlights:
Embodied Self-Regulation Skills using Bilateral or Intentional Movement –
- Decrease off-task behavior in preschool age children (Dr. Jennifer Dustow, Cornerstone Educational Preschool 2-year Autism Project, Nov 10, 2009)
- Improve creative problem solving, language skills, and memory (Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., The Cognitive Benefits of Play: Effects on the Learning Brain)
- Increases attention span and ability to ignore distractions and concentrate better
- Enhances behavioral regulation, metacognition, and overall global executive function
(Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children. Journal of Applied School Psychology Vol. 26, Iss. 1, 2010. Lisa Flook, Susan L. Smalley, M. Jennifer Kitil, Brian M. Galla, Susan Kaiser-Greenland, Jill Locke, Eric Ishijima, Connie Kasari)
Cardio Exercise –
- Over-rides the body’s physiological response to stress
- Improves the cognitive control of attention
- Enhances academic performance. The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience. 2009 Mar 31;159(3):1044-54. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.01.057. Epub 2009 Feb 3. Hillman CH, Pontifex MB, Raine LB, Castelli DM, Hall EE, Kramer AF)
- Stimulates the release of BDNF, which grows the brain (Ratey, 2008)
- Improves the cognitive control of attention
- Enhances academic performance (Hillman, CH, Pontifex, MB, Raine, LB, Castelli, DM, Hall, EE, Kramer, AF, 2009)
Slow Intentional Movement – yoga
- Unifies (integrates) mind/body experience (Journal of Cognitive/Behavioral Practice 2009)
- Organizes whole-brain function for optimal learning (Dennison and Hannaford, 1999)
- Improves executive functions – not seen from aerobic exercise (Science 2011)
To empower you to introduce and integrate more mindfulness into your teaching, there are lots of resources.
We developed the 30-week Movement & Mindfulness Curriculum with the sole intention of helping you become a more effective teacher and enhance all your goals for children. Our program offers a wide range of mindfulness building activities intertwined with movement because science has shown that movement is integral to optimal development and the way into children’s joy, confidence, self-control, and executive functions.
Additional options and ideas can be found at:
Move with Me Mindfulness Videos
Yoga 4 Classrooms
We understand it’s challenging to institute new classroom rituals.
Like any lifestyle change, it takes desire and persistence.
We encourage you start where you are and take just one step.
Let yourself be inspired by the compelling research to access any of the resources and support available and launch even one mindfulness practice this year.
When we launched Move with Me Yoga Adventures 3 years ago, our first official customer feedback came from Mike Russo, Early Childhood Center Director, Davis-Munson Air Force Base. He wrote:
The MwM Yoga Adventure Programs are so much more than kids exercise DVDs. They are a terrific enhancement to our curriculum by truly supporting all developmental tasks and standards. We use them for PE and motor skills, early literacy and creative thinking, direction following and concentration as well as social-emotional learning and impulse control. Teachers are also using the “Adventure Skills” throughout the day. Now, kids are not just controlling their impulses, they are learning how to redirect their thoughts and choices in a positive way, which really shifts and empowers them.
His words burst my heart. I was so happy that in new hands, the resources were working as planned. Since then, though we’ve had lots of enthusiastic and appreciative feedback, fulfilling our mission to increase the quantity and quality of movement, play, and embodied self-regulation skill building in classrooms has been slow. Physical and social-emotional activities still seem to take a back seat to standard academic ones, though brain, development, and education research tells us to flip that priority, especially in early childhood.
The good news is that I am feeling the tide turning. Recently, the Education & Mental Health Director of a Head Start Association in PA told me that her team is seeing more and more attentional, behavioral, and learning issues. They know they need to support the children they serve with more movement and mindfulness and are ordering curriculum for all 23 centers. Another OT supervisor in VT has all 5 schools in the district onboard to implement use of the yoga/movement story video classes, health & self-regulation skills, and mindfulness games and activities. I was even interviewed for a Mindful Class Management Tele-Summit!
To inspire and support more of you in turning the tide in your classroom, we are including the interview here and offering a special bulk discount on summer orders.
Be a healthier, more active and mindful classroom this fall. Help your students BE BETTER AT EVERYTHING!