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.

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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!

Q and A from Finding Balance Through Mindfulness at Studio 614

I recently hosted session one of a four-part workshop series at Studio 614. Here is the Q and A from the exit tickets for “Finding Balance Through Mindfulness,” the first of the “Mindfulness for a Creative Life” workshop series.

How can I use the Wheel of Awareness practice in every day life?

The Wheel of Awareness practice is intended to help differentiate and then integrate the different streams of information (via sensation) that flow through our experiences.

Incorporating it into every day life is as easy as reminding yourself to pause and feel into your experiences.  You can ask yourself questions like:

  • How is it to hear right now?
  • How is it to see?
  • How is it to feel?
  • How is it to smell or to taste?

Just pause and be with whatever stimulus is available to you in the moment.  Notice what affect this has.

What is the best way to stick with a new habit?  

These are some tips I share in my workshops about starting a habit:

  1. Set a specific time and place for your practice each day.  Because habit is stronger than motivation, the easier and more consistent you make the practice the more likely you are to hold yourself to it later.  Create a space that is comfortable and welcoming (no need to go out and buy anything; your own bed will work).  Keep a notebook and a pencil in the space so that you have everything you need when you are ready.
  2. Let other people in your home know what you are doing.  Keeping others in the loop and letting them know why your practice is important to you will help them to respect the time and space you have set aside.  It has the added benefit of  holding you more accountable because you have shared your goals with other people.
  3. Mark your progress.  Research shows that we are more likely to do something if we see the positive results and feel like we are making progress toward our goals (duh, right?).  To this end, spend a few minutes journaling about your feelings and experiences after your formal mindfulness practice each day.  Note any progress or effects you have seen in your daily life.  Every week, quickly review what you have written and note the progress you have made.  This is fuel to keep going.
  4. Don’t set up false expectations about what your practice will be.  It’s not always going to be fun to sit in silence for ten minutes.  Let’s compare it to running.  I like to run maybe 20-50% of the time.  The other 50-80% of the time, I just do it because it is good for me.  If you tell yourself you “should” like it, you are setting up false expectations.  Just do it.  Even if it doesn’t feel good.  Like running, once you experience the results in your daily life because you are more fit, then you will be motivated to keep going.
  5. Take responsibility off of future self and place it with present self.  We all have a tendency to overestimate future self.  However, more likely than not, future self is not going to do anything present self isn’t willing to do.  Don’t project into the future about the person you will be.  Just be that person.  If you want to start a mindfulness practice, the time is always now.

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Mindfulness Practices for Testing Season: Managing Test Anxiety

In today’s educational environment, standardized testing is an inevitable reality for both educators and students. For many, it is also a source of stress and feelings of powerlessness.

As with many environmental factors, this circumstance is not likely to be changed by the individuals most affected any time soon (teachers and students), so it is a good place to explore the tools that we can change: our individual reaction to the circumstances faced.

Here are a few strategies that may be helpful during this testing season.  Ways to begin exploring what powerlessness over circumstances brings up for us, and how we can work with it in daily life.

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Ohio Department of Education Q and A: Mindfulness and Social/Emotional Intelligence Training for Teachers and Schools

I recently gave a presentation to the Ohio Department of Education on my work with mindfulness and social and emotional intelligence training for educators.  Here is a Q and A from the talk.

Can you provide resources that provide research-based support for mindfulness and SEI (social and emotional intelligence) training for teachers?  

There are three reports that I would point to for research-based support for the work I do in training administrators and teachers.  These are also the reports cited in my presentation:

  • Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students and Schools– This briefing published by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University outlines the negative impact that teacher stress has on student performance, school budgets, and teachers’ own lives.  In addition, SEL (social and emotional learning) and mindfulness are two recommended tools for combatting this stress.
  • The Mindful Leader– This research brief published by Ashridge Executive Education outlines the importance of formal mindfulness practice as a tool to improve leadership capabilities.
  • State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2016–  This research review provides substantive evidence for the use of mindfulness as a tool to mitigate the effects of implicit bias in educators.  Implicit bias has an impact on quality of education and engagement for students.

Does mindfulness require a structural approach?  

It certainly helps.  However, the benefits of mindfulness on an individual level are also significant.  According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness practice benefits include:

  • Reduced rumination
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved working memory
  • Increased ability to focus
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Higher relationship satisfaction
  • Improved overall well being
  • Increased empathy
  • Reduced psychological distress

In addition, mindfulness changes the structure of the brain.  This article from The Washington Post interviews Harvard neurosceintist Sara Lazar on the exact structural differences in those with a formal practice.

How can we convince administrators to incorporate this?  

Mindfulness and SEI training for teachers both solves problems currently facing the educational system and has multiple benefits currently being sought.  One problem it can help to solve is the high rate of educator turnover and burn out, which costs school districts both time and money.  If teachers can be better supported through improved culture and additional self-care resources, retainment will be less of an issue.

The second is the impact on student outcomes.  Students who have teacher who experience less stress have higher levels of social adjustment and higher academic outcomes (see Teacher Health and Stress Brief for more information).

The third reason is the social and emotional intelligence gains, including increased resilience and improved ability to relate to others, that students will experience as teachers model mindfulness and SEI for students and change the culture of the buildings in which they work. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and EQ expert, “Teachers are the crucial models for kids in this domain [EQ}…  teachers teach it by their being, by how they handle it when two kids are having a fight, how they notice that one kid is being left out and make sure that he’s included, by how they tune into the social dynamics that between kids looms so large in kids’ lives.”

What data is available on how mindfulness has made a difference in the classroom?  

This article called “When Teachers Take a Breath Students Can Bloom” from NPR describes explicitly some of the research for how mindfulness training for teachers impacts student learning outcomes positively (for example, improving students reading scores).  In addition, according to the Teacher Stress and Health research brief cited above, teacher stress negatively impacts student outcomes.  If teachers are less stressed, kids perform better.

Is this being implemented in Ohio Schools?  

I am implementing SEI and mindfulness training in Central Ohio School districts right now.  My multi-tiered approach begins with the adults working with young people (which is best practice) and will eventually lead to whole-school implementation.  Projects are catered to the needs and budget of the district in which I am working, but in all cases, I use a transformative model of adult education in which I seek to shift the perspective of the educators.

Where does this fit in with all of the other things teachers have to do?  

Mindfulness and SEI training provides tools to help teachers do all of the things they need to do without sacrificing their humanity, their health, and their wholeness.  Educators who have worked with me leave feeling more capable of doing all that is required of them and often take more time for themselves after the experience is over.

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Questions?  Comments?  Leave your thoughts below.

Pivot to Your Passion: Q and A

On Feb. 20, I hosted an event called “Pivot to Your Passion” at The Wonder Jam with my good friend Autumn Theodore (of Autumn Theodore Photography).  Here is the Q and A from our event.  Enjoy!

Is transitioning to more independent work always stressful?

Autumn: Not as stressful as showing up for a boss every day. 🙂 There are undoubtedly several things you have to learn how to do to be successful that have no relation to your industry. For example, as a photographer (I just like taking photos!), I have also become an accountant, a web developer, a marketer, a designer, a writer, and so many more things. If becoming all those things excites you, DO IT! It will be great. But if you absolutely hate the idea of doing all those things, figure out if a) it’s worth it, b) you can hire others to handle the things you don’t like, or c) if pivoting to this particular passion isn’t worth it to you. (And that’s ok! It’s like dating. When you find the right passion, all the work will be worth it!)

 

How can I organize my ideas into a plan/map? and How do I become discoverable?

Autumn: I believe both of these questions can be answered in the same way – it depends on who you are, what industry you’re in, what your interests are, how you organize your thoughts, your life, your business. Because of my recent pivot, plus my marketing background, I’d be happy to chat with anyone who feels interested in pursuing these questions further. Feel free to email me at autumntheodore@gmail.com.

 

How do you further develop body sense/awareness?  

Brandi: Try a body scan practice!  The Insight Timer app is totally free.  You can download it and search for “Body Scan” for some really good options.  

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Ten TEDTalks to Change Your Life (for the better)

Here are 10 TEDTalks to change your life, per a request from Grandview Heights staff who took the Mindful Growth course with me last week.

#1- Kelly McGonical, “The Upside of Stress” – McGonical shares how the way we view stress changes the physiological repercussions that stress has for us.

#2- Brene Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability” – Brown discusses her research on the “whole-hearted” and how their ability to be vulnerable also allows them to be courageous.

#3- Brene Brown, “Listening to Shame” – Brown talks about the inverse of vulnerability and how shame keeps us from connecting with others.

#4- Matt Killingsworth, “Want to be Happy?  Stay in the Moment” – Killingsworth shares his research on how “mind wandering” keeps us from being happy; his study is the largest on happiness to date.

#5- Carol Dweck, “The Power of Yet” – Dweck explains how mindset shapes our ability to grow.

#6- Angela Lee Duckworth, “Grit: The Power of Perseverance” – Duckworth describes the key to success in any field (grit) and why we should bring it into schools.

#7- David Steindl-Rast, “Want to be Happy?  Be Grateful” – Steindl-Rast describes gratitude as the root of happiness, not a product of happiness.

#8- Julian Treasure, “Five Ways to Listen Better” – Treasure gives a quick, informative talk on the value of silence and listening.

#9- Amy Cuddy, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” – Cuddy explains how a two-minute practice can give you more confidence and change the ways others see you and the ways you see yourself.

#10- Larry Schwartz, “Nature.  Beauty.  Gratitude.”  – Videographer Schwartz presents the video on gratitude narrated by David Steindl-Rast along with his other time-lapse nature images.

Mindfulness and Creativity: Q and A with the Columbus Museum of Art Teaching for Creativity Institute

What does mindfulness have to do with creativity?  So much.  Check out this Q and A with CMA‘s Teaching for Creativity Institute from an event I did on January 21 on mindfulness and self-care to find out more.

How does mindfulness assist in the creative process?  

Creativity is an inherent aspect of the human condition. However, our mindsets, beliefs and self-talk can create obstacles to accessing it.  Mindfulness cultivates ways of thinking and being that can counteract these obstacles.
To use an example, I facilitate an activity where I ask participants to make their brains out of Play-Doh in either an abstract or a figurative interpretation.  They are then asked to explain their brain in a small group discussion.  Afterward, each person reflects independently on the sensations, thoughts, and feelings experienced during the activity.
When we share our reflections, I most commonly hear people say things like:
•   “I was nervous because I didn’t know if I was doing it right.”
•   “I compared my brain to other people’s, and I felt like mine wasn’t as good.”
•   “I was worried about sharing my brain because I didn’t know if others were going to judge me.”
This type of limiting self-talk is automatic for many of us.  Feeling as if there is a right way to do things, comparing with others, and worrying about how we might be judged are all obstacles to our creativity. Mindfulness is a way to distance ourselves enough from these self-limiting beliefs to engage and share safely what is within.
For more on the connection between mindfulness and creativity, check out the Mindful Creativity page on my site.

Does it get easier to be mindful?  How will I know when I grow?  

It does get easier…  sometimes.  Our brains naturally wander, and formal mindfulness practice is one way to “train” our brains to not do this as often.  I have had my own mindfulness practice for a couple of years, and I have seen many very positive results in my life, but there are still times when I am triggered and engage in rumination, negative self-talk etc.  It just happens with less frequency.
There is no clear cut timeline for when and how each individual person will grow and how.  Many research-based programs are eight weeks of daily practice, and there are documented results that this will create some brain change.   At the same time, each person has their own disposition.  Some people are naturally more mindful than others, too.
On a personal note, I was not one of those “mindful” people before I started this journey.  My brain had a lot of stories, there was a lot of rumination, I often disappeared into my own world and noticed little around me.  Change may have happened slower for me because of this.  However, I also needed the practice a lot more, which gave me the impetus to continue.  There are negatives and positives to every situation.
You can know your own growth by keeping track of your day-to-day life.  When I first started my practice, I journaled after every sitting and noted how I was feeling in that moment, how that day had been for me emotionally, and times when I had experienced moments of mindfulness (or lack thereof).  This created a way for me to look back and see that, yes, I was in fact making progress.
Change research shows noting small successes can help us to continue.  They give us hope.  I think the journaling helped me with this.

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