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.

 

Mind Body Health Associates Logo

Contact Us

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. 

Mind Body Health Associates Logo

Contact Us

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. 

Mind Body Health Associates Logo

Contact Us

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.

Contact Us

Spring Cleaning for your Mental Health

Spring Cleaning for your Mental Health

Spring Cleaning for your Mental Health

 Once the seasons shift to allow the windows to open, we start to shed our inclinations to burrow much like a bear coming out from hibernation. As we stretch our legs into the springtime, take a moment to notice the natural energies that arise. Perhaps you recognize the pull towards the sunshine, opting to walk instead of drive, or you finally garner the energy needed to wipe down the winter’s dust from baseboards and ceiling fans that you hadn’t noticed for the last three months.

Whatever the case, the rhythms of the vernal months direct us toward a season of release. “Spring cleaning” isn’t a chance activity; our predecessors understood the inherent value of letting go of winter’s residue (and germs). Even our religious cultures lean into this notion, with the tradition of Fat Tuesday lending itself to the act of cleaning out the pantry before the fasting season of Lent. The wisdom of Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, employs a spring practice of reducing to a mono-diet that is low (or free of) salt, to help the body release the waters it has retained.

A period of taking in less and even ridding yourself of the excess in your environment will, through the mind-body connection, shift your experiences. Research has shown that reducing clutter in your physical space will change your brainspace, which is why Marie Kondo (of the life-changing magic of tidying up fame) says, “a cluttered room leads to a cluttered mind.”

This spring, consider a brief moment of evaluating your life circumstances to notice if there’s an element that needs to be released. Perhaps it’s an old thought pattern or defense mechanism that once served our bodies and minds as a form of protection; instead we can look to new patterns that allow us to grow, much like the tulip breaks free of its underground bulb to bloom. Or maybe you could look at a habit, mindlessly or even joyfully adopted, which has now become a starting place for stress.

The world is alive with a fresh energy for growth and your mind and body share that capacity for change.

Contact Us

Recipe: Golden Milk

Recipe: Golden Milk

Recipe: Golden Milk

You can find a few of us in the office starting the day with this delicious, nourishing, and warming start to the day. It has its roots as an Ayurvedic staple (Ayurveda is the sister-science to yoga, rich with ancient wisdom), but functional health experts tout its benefits, too. The herbs and spices involved are great for warming the body, decreasing inflammation, and amping up your immunity – perfect for these seasons when you spend more hours indoors, sharing air (and germs) with other people. 
You can search variations of this recipe, but here’s what our yoga instructor, Michele, puts in her cup:

2 cups unsweetened almond milk (if you tolerate dairy well, then using cows milk is fine, especially when warmed)
1-2 tablespoons honey or real maple syrup
1-2 tsp. ground tumeric (if you can find fresh or dried, even better!)
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced open
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. black pepper (or one turn of your grinder)
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp. ghee (or coconut oil)

Bring this to slight boil and let simmer. Pour it through a strainer into your mug and enjoy as a start or an end to the day. 

Contact Us