The Heavily Meditated Teacher

The Heavily Meditated Teacher

The Heavily Meditated Teacher

When you come to the Mindful Educators retreat, one of the elements woven into the day is the importance of establishing a personal meditation practice. The elements of quieting the mind, noticing the breath and allowing thoughts to slide through awareness are essential to living and teaching mindfully.

It’s okay if you’re not ready to sit on your zafu pillow for an hour each morning! Taking a quiet 10-minute walk or spending the first 90 seconds in your classroom with eyes closed and breathing deeply are valuable forms of mindfulness. Small doses repeated through the day are powerful ways to keep your steady pace. 

A meditation practice puts space into your day and into the way your brain functions. As the training ground for patience and peacefulness, it’s a way to practice slowing down our reactions. Much of the hurried day, we have a thought that we automatically believe. A mindfulness practice teaches us to notice first that a thought has arisen, and then gives us the opportunity to decide if it’s true. From that moment, you move from reacting to responding. Ideally, mindfulness gives us permission to allow the thought to pass without response.  We become less automatic in our need to do something about the thought. It is just a thought.

Mindfulness is the space that allows you to breathe through your day. It’s this space that allows you to thrive in your work and can prevent burnout by allowing the emotions and the thoughts to move through you, rather than overcome you.  

So what does this actually look like? A heavily meditated teacher is one who likely: 

  • Responds rather than reacts
  • Draws emotional boundaries to keep from over-personalizing others’ behaviors
  • Feels a connection with students that goes beyond academics
  • Changes the pace of the day and activity to best suit student (and teacher) needs
  • Feels the freedom to be creative in their unique art of teaching- even within the confines of traditional educational expectations
  • Has a peace corner or quiet zone in the classroom that anyone can use at any time
  • Understands his/her energy drives the energy of the classroom and self-regulates accordingly
  • Exudes joyfulness and contentment
  • Refuels the passion that drives their work

With cramped classrooms and schedules filled to the hilt, teachers are the first to recognize a need for space and time. But as one teacher has said, “you will never find time, you can only make time.”  Creating space in your life to breathe and move mindfully might be one of the best and healthiest adjustments to your lesson plans you make this year.

 

What yoga pose will make this kid listen?

What yoga pose will make this kid listen?

What yoga pose will make this kid listen?

Embodied Education

Thanks to a new study getting fabulous publicity, yoga is making its way into classrooms everywhere. At Mind Body Health Associates, we’ve long recognized the importance of bringing the body into the educational setting because of the way it is intimately connected to our brains. Children, especially, need their whole body to be engaged for maximum learning to occur. 

Our in-house yoga instructor, Michele Minehart, has worked with school districts offering yoga as part of their professional development, both as an experiential practice and as interventions for test anxiety. Education is eager to implement these simple tools that utilize the power of mindfulness. You don’t need to get your RYT 200© certification to reap the benefits of helping kids move their bodies and pay attention to their breath. If you’re looking to add a few tools to the toolbox, here are some suggestions:

  1. Start with breathing. Ask your kids to take a big breath before starting the next activity. Our classrooms are filled with hurry and taking a brief moment in the transition will help them to fully arrive at the next activity. 
  2. Give it only 2 minutes. Let go of ideas that you need to devote an hour of classroom time to yet another thing. Science says that 60-90 seconds is all that is required to return an activated stress response (fight or flight) to one that is ready to learn. A few deep breaths with arm movement followed by a standing forward fold, or a balancing pose on a day you feel fancy, is plenty for them to begin. 
  3. Name your targeted outcome. You’re probably not looking for kids to be able to wrap a leg around their neck. What are you looking for when you institute some form of classroom yoga? One of the most noticeable benefits is behavior change, specifically in the realm of self-regulation. You can create a habit with the children to take a deep breath when they’re angry before responding by practicing taking a deep breath while they’re not angry; over time the habit will develop. 
  4. Remember: Where the attention goes, the energy flows. Some kids may not like the classroom yoga because new things are frequently scary things (this is the body’s protective reaction).  You could meet reticence. That’s okay. Don’t use your energy trying to convince the apprehensive students. Instead, direct your attention to the ones who are participating and appreciating the experience. Success is the best PR, and the kids who are more slow to adapt will eventually want to join along. 
  5. Practice what you preach. You don’t need to join a fancy studio, but you can intentionally find ways to mindfully move your body.  Walks in nature and running are great alternatives, especially if you already have a practice. A home yoga practice can be led via youtube or free apps (Michele recommends Down Dog; therapist and yoga instructor Rachel Tincher loves the practices available on Amazon’s Audible). 

Kids have a BS sniffer and can sense if you don’t believe what you’re saying.  Integrate the idea of moving your body as you notice your breath and the present moment so that you can teach the tools with honesty and integrity. 

Trauma in the Classroom

Trauma in the Classroom

Trauma in the Classroom

“He just won’t sit still, always trying to escape to the bathroom or sharpening his pencil or something.” “She cannot keep her hands to herself!” “We caught him stealing again.”

Thanks to ongoing training in many school systems – Findlay City Schools, to name one – teachers have come to understand that the negative behaviors experienced in a classroom setting, specifically among younger children, are often the direct result of traumatic experiences. More and more, we find teachers able to vocalize that a student’s challenges aren’t simply due to intelligence or even poor decision making. Science has strong evidence to show that early exposure to emotional abuse, neglect, or other adverse childhood experiences shape the development of young brains and bodies differently than those of children raised in healthy and well-resourced households. 

Recognizing the impact of trauma is a large and sometimes arduous first step in the journey toward helping children find health, and it necessitates its own training. (For more info on adding that to your school’s professional development, contact us.) As teachers and community members, we can – and should – offer empathy and support to these young people. 

We can use our roles as leaders to offer students something beyond sentiment and referrals (both of which are critically important). We can offer them learning spaces that emphasize autonomy.  We can teach them tools for self-regulation, and we can help them acknowledge the messages that the body sends to the brain in an attempt to protect it from future harm. 

Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW, who has worked with teachers and in numerous school systems throughout her career has found several elements to be helpful for the personal and professional development of our society’s nurturers.  

Don’t take it personally. It sometimes may seem as if a student is deliberately testing your boundaries – and she/he might be!  But this is crucial in his/her ability to build trust in you as a caretaker.  It’s possible to be loving and firm at the same time, and the best way to do that is to remember that this has nothing to do with you as a person or as a qualified educator. Testing boundaries is typical behavior for students, especially from those who have experienced inconsistency with the adults in their lives. If you focus on the student-teacher relationship, learning will happen. In clinical language, we’re focusing on healing the disrupted attachment the child has experienced with caregivers.  Once the child knows you can be trusted the ABCs and 1-2-3s will fall into place.  

Prepare the container. The brains and bodies of individuals who experience trauma work differently than those who are more accustomed to healthy environments. A traumatized brain signals more quickly and more often that it is in potential danger.  This is the body’s way of keeping the person safe. This is helpful when there is an actual threat; however, the body reacts even in non threatening situations when there is only perceived danger.  Among other behaviors, this presents as test anxiety, acting out, shutting down, and hyperactivity in the classroom.  There are several simple mindfulness-based interventions available to assist children (and adults!) in returning the learning center of the brain to full functionality.

Self-regulation is key. Biologically, we’re wired to follow the energetic and emotional lead of those around us. We’ve all had non-classroom examples of situations where we can sense a person’s anger and feel our own physical reaction to it: perhaps listening to a patron berate an apologetic waitress or walking into a room where a couple has just had an argument. Our own throats go dry and hearts beat a bit stronger, right?  We are, as Brene Brown teaches, creatures wired for connection.  Young people are especially sensitive to the emotions of those around them.  Interacting with individuals who have experienced trauma requires calm and centered responses.  As a leader, your work is to be aware of your triggers so you can respond to challenges instead of react out of habit.  Simple mindfulness exercises, when practiced outside of challenging situations, are more easily accessible in times of stress.  When you do become emotionally activated, knowing what helps bring you back to a place of centeredness is essential to maintain your own self-regulation. 

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The Power of Paying Attention

The Power of Paying Attention

The Power of Paying Attention

From their very beginnings, our children demand, and warrant, a massive amount of attention. During the infant years, we’re paying attention to hourly shifts and changes so we can appropriately respond to their needs – does he need a new diaper? Is it feeding time again? Into toddlerhood, we’re monitoring the terrain dangerous to walking and small objects they could potentially swallow. This is the most basic way that we love our children through behavior: we keep them safe.

As children grow and develop, it might feel as if our attention isn’t required because they can finally make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich or operate the shower without fear of drowning. What parents don’t often realize, however, is that our attention is still very necessary: it simply shifts direction.

Underlying all childhood behavior is an emotional component and a need the child is seeking to meet. Unlike the newborn years where the needs are primarily physical in nature (changing a wet diaper meets comfort and health needs that also work to meet the emotional need for safety, love, and secure attachment), parents of older children must learn to adjust their attention toward the needs higher on Maslow’s hierarchy.  Elements such as a sense of belonging in the family and social acceptance also drive behavior later in childhood. As children develop into pre-teens and teenagers they begin their search to meet a need of identity formation and accomplishment as they explore and connect more with their own sense of individuality.

If this feels like a lot, well, it can be!  What’s a parent to do? At risk of oversimplifying, the answer is: simply pay attention. Notice patterns. One of the biggest risks of today’s fast-paced world is parenting that is “present but absent.” Our parent-minds venture toward the more obvious needs demanding our attention and begin to give less attention to the quieter, more subtle things our children still need.  As a parent, it may feel good to know our child can put himself to bed on his own, and we may miss his need for that special snuggling time from young childhood where the day ended with warmth and affection. While children don’t necessarily consciously notice this, they do have an inner way of adjusting their own volume to attempt to demand our attention when we don’t give it readily.  This can range in presentation from tantrums and yelling to self injury, depression, and other quiet, numbing behaviors.

At its root, in many forms, what our children want and need from us is connection. The same connection that keeps them safe and fed in the early years also builds their personal confidence and teaches them how to establish meaningful connections with others and within the world as they grow older. Giving them your loving attention beyond words, by establishing eye contact, being willing to sit at their level, and putting away distractions – even important ones – helps them to learn the skills necessary to build meaningful connections with you and with others.

In this way, over time, we learn how to respond to particular events and situations with awareness rather than being prone to simply react based on surface behavior. Take a moment to remind yourself of your child’s developmental capabilities in relationship to your expectations. Celebrate that your child is attempting to meet a need, and help him find a way to get that need met that is healthy, appropriate, and within the values of your family.

The 5 Senses Check-in: Spring addition

The 5 Senses Check-in: Spring addition

The 5 Senses Check-in: Spring addition

  1. Make note of the color that is quickly changing across the landscape – greener grass, bright crocuses, and longer hours of daylight.
  2. Sniff out the earth’s work – even the smell of mud and earth carry with it a promise of something new.
  3. Listen for new hope – baby birds in the morning makes it a more pleasant way to wake up.
  4. Get a taste for the greens – our early asparagus, kale, and arugula help us connect with the brightness and lightness that await our days.
  5. Walk (barefoot!) – notice the texture of the ground beneath you as you take a brief walk, making connection with all the changes underfoot.

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Partnership

Partnership

Partnership

Conversation hearts that read “QT Pie” can be adorable at the beginning of a relationship, but after 15+ years of marriage, messages that say “I went ahead and cleaned up the dog poop” actually go further to add vitality to a partnership. “We don’t fall in love and then get married; instead we get married and then learn what love requires,” says theologian Stanley Haurwas. Romance has its place within a relationship, but experience tells us that people want a living situation that supports their individual contributions to the world with companionship. We’re looking for partnership.

Mind Body Health Associates co-owners and therapists Landon Dunn and Holly Schweitzer Dunn work to create partnership in marriage and in their work-world. Having healthy systems and structures within their personal relationship has enhanced their work life because they’re practiced at looking for one another’s natural gifts and allowing that person to lead from their competence.

Both Holly and Landon recognize it’s not just about the role they play. They each complete tasks to keep the business – or the household – running smoothly.  Trust makes the relationship, business, and household systems work. Each person believes the other is capable to meet and overcome the challenges that arise.

“Landon and I are somewhat unique in that we split everything in terms of household responsibility down the middle,” Holly said. “We know this arrangement does not work for every family, but for ours it is key to things running (mostly) smoothly. There really aren’t male or female-specific roles.  We both raise our children, fold the laundry, work in the yard, and run the business. ‘Everything together’ is our motto.”

This lifestyle also depends on dedication to structures to help keep the balance. They keep a routine splitting dinnertime responsibilities and school drop-off duties 50/50. In this way, Landon and Holly each are afforded a few evenings to come home, sit down, and enjoy dinner after work. The key, the couple agrees, is seeking to understand and meet their individual needs as well as their partner’s needs as equally important as his or her own. “When the seven day structure is balanced, there is less need to keep score,” Landon said.

A family structured on partnership has allowed both Landon and Holly to function in patterns that lead to better individual and relational health. With less energy focused on who is doing what, or wondering if their partner is doing enough, both individuals find space to work on their own wellbeing. Less attention goes toward “what needs done” and instead is directed toward working through their own “stuff.” From that place of health, they can support and encourage their partner and children, feeding a healthier cycle of living.

In honor of love, Landon and Holly revere the wisdom of Khalil Gibran on the spaces between lovers:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

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