Q and A from Hilliard U: Slowing Down and Mindful Moments

This Q and A from Hilliard U is all about slowing down and being mindful in the moment.  Enjoy!

How can I help my students to be more mindful?  

I always suggest to start with yourself.  When you are more clam and present, the students will benefit from this.  In addition, if you are teaching mindfulness and the modeling behaviors that counteract what you are teaching, it creates lack of buy-in and cognitive dissonance for students.  Like all people, our kiddos respond to authenticity.

I make some additional comments on how to best implement mindfulness practice in schools and classrooms in this post on Mindful Teachers.

Here is a quick gist from that post, “Unlike many other ‘strategies,’ the process of classroom [mindfulness] implementation is very much about teaching with your being. This is not a quick fix. When the adult in the room is transformed, the classroom climate changes, too. This is the ultimate goal: not to introduce mindfulness as a strategy-based intervention, but instead to change the overall climate, tone, and quality of interaction so that it is more conducive to the health and wholeness of teacher and student.”

I also provide a wealth of research on the benefits of mindfulness practice for teachers, schools and students in this article that can be shared with others as you advocate for this work.

Are there strategies I can use in the moment of stress to calm down in the classroom?

A New York Times article from November called “Breath. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing” espouses the many benefits of coherent breathing- a tool helpful for both student and teacher.  Deep, slow breaths can regulate both the body’s autonomic nervous system (which is the unconscious system that regulates digestion, heart beat etc.) which in turn affects the body’s and parasympathetic nervous system.

As quoted by Dr. Richard Brown, Columbia University professor and clinical psychiatrist, when our breathing changes,

“a signal [is sent] to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol…  When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response.  When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated.“

Heart-focused breathing is one version of this.  For instructions on this practice (and an adorable video from The Little Prince) click here.  You can combine heart-focused breathing with the “Coherent Breathing” practice from the New York Times article to make sure your breaths are really slowing down.  Maybe something like this:

  1.  Place your hands over your heart and take three slows deep breaths, counting from one to six as you breath in, then pausing before counting one to six as you breath out.
  2. Switch hands and repeat the process, counting from one to six as you breath in, then pausing before counting one to six as you breath out.

Each set of six breaths you complete is one minute.  This makes it very possible to do a one to two minute practice that can help you relieve stress.  If it is too hard to go for six seconds, maybe shorten it to four and see if that is better.

(This answer originally appeared in Mindfulness Practices for Managing Testing Season.)

How can I find time to practice mindfulness?  

We all live in the cultural framework of “time scarcity thinking.”  You can learn more about the negative effects of scarcity thinking in this five-minute sound recording from Hidden Brain.  In essence, feeling we have less of something than we need impairs our decision making in favor of short-term benefits over long-term gains.  Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan states, “That’s at the heart of the scarcity trap. You are so focused on the urgent that the important gets waylaid. But because the important gets waylaid, you’re experiencing even more scarcity tomorrow.”

Mindfulness is important to mental and physical health, to doing the work we want to do to the best of our abilities.  The time to do this practice will not be “found,” however; it will always be created.

Can we carve out 10 minutes of time every day?  The answer is yes, even if our adrenaline-soaked and addled brains tries to tell us otherwise.

Try creating a one-sentence plan and write an “I” statement committing to it.  For example,

“I will engage in a formal mindfulness practice for ten minutes at 9:30 p.m. every weekday.”  

“I will take a twenty minute walk, with no cell phone, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m.” 

Read this statement aloud to someone else.  Tell your family, or any others with whom you share your home. Ask them to help you stick with the commitment.  You may also want to make a list of obstacles you may encounter and create a plan for how you will address these obstacles.  I created Intentions Worksheet that may be helpful in the process.  You might notice that my example intention refers to the “Hilliard Incident” which will forever be an example I use on what happens when I don’t slow down!

(This answer originally appeared in Q and A: Mindfulness Session at Grandview Heights Ed Camp.)

What are your favorite resources for building a mindfulness practice?  

Here are some online recordings you can use:

Cultivating Conscious Leaders short and long sitting meditations and Mayo Clinic’s Breathing Meditations are sound recordings I started using in my classes until I was comfortable guiding groups on my own; these are a great starting place!

Here are a few apps I would recommend:

Head Space – This app claims “meditation made easy.”  My husband started using it recently and really liked it. He found it approachable and accessible as a newbie.  It is a pay service; if you sign up for a year, it’s $7.99 a month.  You can also start with a ten-day free trial.  Headspace also has some great videos on their Youtube channel that can be used when getting started.

Insight Timer – This is the app that I use.  It’s free and has a wide variety of different practices and a simple timer to use.  When beginning a practice, I would recommend Tara Brach’s Basic meditation and Jack Kornfield’s Breathing Meditation.  Both are listed in the “Top Twenty” menu.

Simply Being – This app uses what’s called an “open monitoring” practice.  This means that all stimulus are given equal attention, which has been shown to increase creativity but doesn’t have the same “focus-based” benefits of the focused attention, breath-based practice.  I use it for relaxation.

▪On the Verge – This is Cara Brach’s app that was released in conjunction with her last book.  It has some videos that are helpful.  I use her “Moving Meditation” in longer sessions to give people breaks, and I have been told it is helpful to start with this and settle in before starting a formal sitting mindfulness practice.  (I couldn’t find a link for this one- sorry!)

Other resources I would recommend include:

Gaia – This is an online resource I subscribe to for $10.00 a month for my at-home yoga practice, but it also has many meditation videos.

Tara Brach’s Podcast – Brach’s podcast has hour-long talks that include some mindfulness practice.

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-day Program – This book by Sharon Salzberg is how I got started with my own mindfulness practice.

(This answer originally appeared in Mindfulness: A Super Power: Q and A with Grandview Heights)

How can I slow down when everyone else moves so fast?  

Someone told me recently that I can learn to say no to some things so that I can say yes to other more important things.  What this means to me is that I make decisions based upon my values as opposed to what others tell me is important.  Maybe I say no to an opportunity to network with people who might help me in the evenings because I value family.  Perhaps I say no to an opportunity to  speak about a topic on which I am less passionate because I am saying yes to advocating for self-care for educators and those in helping professions.  I can make these decisions, even as others might pressure me to fill my schedule with items that meet their values instead of my own.

Annie Dillard states, “the way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives.”  A seemingly obvious statement but one that cuts to the quick.  We live our days sometimes without the knowledge that we are actually alive, and that our lives will someday end.  How do we want to live our one life?  The decisions we make moment-to-moment determines this.

So my my suggestions for slowing down are as follows: remember to breath, take time for solitude, know your own values, make decisions based upon what matters to you- not others.  These things are not easy, but I promise you they are worth it.

____________________

Hope to see you all at The Big Think this summer!  Please reach out if you have questions or are interested in learning more about how to bring mindfulness to your building!

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