If you are at all like me, when I first started my mindfulness practice, I thought that I was really bad at it. The first few times I sat down to do a meditation practice I thought that there was never going to be a chance that I would be able to turn my brain off and stop thinking.
Thank goodness, after a lot of time and research, I learned that we are not supposed to turn off our thoughts. Meditation and mindfulness is not about having no thoughts. It is about training our brains to take a break and be in the present moment.
See, we are not Buddhist monks living a life of silence. We are householders, meaning that we have people in our lives that we need to take care of. We have jobs, activities, to do lists and more. Therefore to expect our minds to turn off completely is impossible.
If you are someone who is looking to build a foundation of meditation, try this activity. I have recorded a video that will walk you through how to start training your brain to be in the present moment. As I have said before, our brain is like any other muscle that you have train. The more that you work it, the better it will work.
To do this activity you simply need a comfortable seat to sit in and a piece of paper and pencil. The activity that I have recorded for your is a 5 minute exercise. During your sit time, you should do your best to focus on your breath or the sounds in the room. Then, as a thought pops up, you need to simply jot it down. When the time is up, take a look at your thoughts and decide if they are past thoughts (things that have already happened that you may be thinking or dwelling about), future thoughts (to do list types of thoughts or thinking of things that will happen in the future) or present thoughts (Thoughts about what you are doing right now). You can simply note each with a “P” for past thoughts, “F” for future thoughts, or “N” for present or now thoughts.
After you take a look at your list, see if you have more of one type of thought than others. If you are a person who has more past thoughts, you may have a tendency toward depression because you are feeling regret or worry about what has already happened. If you have more future thoughts, you may have tendencies toward anxiety or worry. However, the key to these thoughts is to remember that the only time that we have control over is NOW. We cannot change the past or the future. We can only live in the now.
With more practice, you can train your brain to have more now thoughts. Especially at a time like this, living through complete uncertainty, living in the now is important. We need to enjoy the present moment and do the best with what we do have control over instead of getting lost in the worry about the future.
I hope that you will take some time to start a mindfulness practice for yourself. There is no time like the present! I would love to hear from you about how you feel about the practice!! Please feel free to leave comments!!
If you have been following my blog, you know that I have written a few posts about how I am hopeful that we will all learn something positive from this situation that we are in. While my 8 year old calls it a “crisis”, we talk about how lucky we are at the time for so many reasons. I know that there is a lot of negativity and a lot of pain right now, but my hope is that we all come out of this time having changed the way we do things and how we look at the world.
I asked my 6th graders to write letters to their future selves. I asked that they write with hopes for the future. As I started reading these letters this morning and was moved to tears, a poet was spotlighted on TV. It was so moving and exactly what I have been thinking about this time that I wanted to share it with you if you have not seen it.
So, please take a few minutes and watch. It is so worth the time!! Enjoy!!
Here is the link……The Great Realisation.
Think back to your own childhood in school. Your teacher probably had a lot of requests for you and your classmates. “Please no talking when the teacher is talking!” “Please take a seat.” “Take out your homework”. “Please pay attention!”
All of these requests have come from my own mouth at one point or another in my own career as a teacher. However, it was not until I really started to study and practice mindfulness that I realized that one of my most frequently used commands to my students, “Pay Attention”, was something that I am not sure was ever taught to them.
Think back as far back as you can in your education. Did anyone actually ever teach you how to pay attention? Do you remember a lesson on this skill? Probably not! This is one of the keys to learning, yet we never actually teach our students how to do it. Then, like so many other things, we just expect kids to be able to follow these simple directions having had no formal training in the area. We do the same thing as parents, grandparents, and so on.
This is where mindfulness can be an even more useful tool. Mindfulness helps to train our brains to focus on the present moment. It helps us to be able to be in the here and now and pay attention. As mentioned before in previous blog posts, mindfulness is a practice. It is something that needs to be done more than just once, preferably on a regular basis, in order to become good at it.
For those of you who are thinking that you just don’t have the time to take up meditation or you cannot fathom teaching children to meditate in your classroom, it is ok. Mindfulness can be taught through regular daily tasks. For instance, in this time of incessant washing of hands, practice paying attention to washing your hands. Feel the temperature of the water. Smell the soap. Pay attention to the difference of your hands feeling wet versus feeling dry. If you are at home with kids or if you want to do this for yourself, make a cup of tea, hot chocolate, or coffee (perfect since it is snowing here in NY today!) and focus on the process. Hold the cup in your hand and pay attention to the warmth on your hand. Inhale the scent of the beverage. Feel the steam as it rises on your face. Really focus on the taste and feeling of the sip that you take. In a classroom, practice listening to the sounds in the room. Practice listening to the sounds outside of the classroom. Have your students be still and quiet while noticing all of the things in your classroom that are the color blue.
Training your brain to focus on these moments is practicing mindfulness. These are the ways to teach yourself how to pay attention. In a day and age when there is so much information coming at us all at once, we need to train or even retrain our brains to focus on the present moment. It is said that we take in as much information in a day as our ancestors did in a lifetime. Imagine the effects that has on the brain. As a matter of fact, think of the last time that you were driving someplace or reading a book. Did you have a moment where you realized half way to your destination that you have no idea how you have gotten to where you are because you were on autopilot and thinking of a million other things? Have you ever gotten to the end of a page in your novel only to not have a clue as to what you just read? Your brain needs to be trained to pay attention again!
So teachers (and parents who are now taking on the role of teacher assistants) the next time you get frustrated with your student or child who does not seem to be paying attention, stop and do a mindfulness activity with them. Create opportunities throughout the day where you help them to focus on only one thing and learn to push the other things out. Turn off the television and focus on the meal you are having or the game that you are playing. Take a walk outside and look for as many things as you can that are green. Search an area of your backyard for rocks or stones and stop to really look at them, touch them, smell them, describe them. Stop and smell the roses or flowers in bloom. Think about the fact that they may never have been trained to pay attention. It may be a skill that was just expected of them. We would never just expect a child to read without learning how. We would never expect them to ride a two wheeler or write in cursive (yes, some kids still learn this, thank goodness!) without first training them. Why not take time in our homes and our classrooms to train our kids to do the one skill that will help them to be more successful than anything else?
If you have been reading my blogs, you know that I have suffered with anxiety pretty much my entire life. Finding mindfulness and yoga has been the medicine that I have needed to overcome so many anxious moments. Notice that I say moments. I, like so many, still find myself anxious about a lot. In these times, I feel like a boat on the ocean with my worries. Some days seem great and the ocean is calm. Others have moments where the waves are enormous. Last night was a night of enormous waves.
Last night, I happened to catch a glimpse of the news (I have been trying not to listen to it if at all possible). There was talk about how the plans are in place for us to go about opening everything up. While the last thing that I want is to be under quarantine forever, I do REALLY hope that we go about this opening in a very logical, well planned, safe way. When I started to think about schools being opened soon and everyone just going about their business again soon, I started to feel the ocean waves rising.
And then, just like that, just like so many things happen, I learned a new way to handle that wave. I have recently started my yoga certification. Today in class, we talked about focusing on our anchor. We did an amazing breathing exercise that helped to be in the present moment. It reminded me why mindfulness is so important. Long ago, I learned that living in the past can sometimes make us depressed. Living in the future will sometimes create anxiety. Living in the present moment is what we all need to do to make sure that we are balanced. (This is actually a beautiful quote about this from Lao Tzu). Anchors and meant to steady a ship and keep it from floating away. It keeps the boat in the present moment. Our breath can do the same.
This helped to remind me that with this pandemic and every crisis in our lives, we need not worry about will will happen in the future or what we have already done in the past. None of that can be changed. The only thing that we have control over is the right here and right now. It does me no good to worry about what is going to happen when everything is reopened. The only thing that I can do is enjoy my family right now and the time that we have together.
I recorded this anchor breathing exercise for you if you would like to try it.
During this crisis, I have been playing a mix of teacher to my students, teacher to my own children and mother. I have had a need to increase how often I am doing my mindfulness and yoga practices! I have also found my mind wandering to a lot of thoughts about my teaching career. I have been a teacher for 23 years. I officially have been a teacher longer than I have not been a teacher. When I first started teaching I remember so many colleagues complaining about one thing or another and always saying ” but it won’t last long! Everything in education comes and goes as something new”. I believe it started with phonics, then reading programs, rubrics, teaching portfolios, and now state testing and modules. There is always something being tested and thrown at teachers to “try to improve the education of our students”.
However, what if this “Global Pause” is the greatest lesson that educational institutions could have? Hear me out…I have now been “virtual teaching” for almost a month. In this time, myself and my colleagues literally packed up what we could carry to our cars and began to recreate what we do in our classroom through google classroom from folding tables in our living rooms. We have had to adjust our grading systems and canceled state testing and regents exams. These are all things that teachers have wanted to see go away for years because they have taken the focus off the child and created a system where teachers feel like robots and students feel very much the same.
During this crisis, it has been so refreshing to be able to create lessons again that not only help students to learn new skills, but that are focused on their well being and interests. I have seen a shift from “rigor” to “let’s take care of the whole child” again. This is something that has been so lost in our system over the past number of years. It is the MAIN reason that I started to incorporate mindfulness into my classroom. years ago. I saw such a need for us to take a pause in our day to make sure that the students mental health and well being was taken care of. This Pandemic Pause has us thinking about the homes that our students come from again and focusing on making a more inclusive and equal system for all students no matter their economic status. Now, please do not get me wrong… I know for a fact that there are tons of educators who have been focused on these things and have worked hard to make these issues their fight. I work with some of the best counselors and social workers around who have fought for kids relentlessly. I am just saying that it feels like this epidemic has brought these issues to the forefront for all of us. While there are still requirements to fulfill and directives from administrators coming our way, right now, we are shifting our focus a bit more due to the situation we are all living in.
Before this pandemic struck, education was feeling to me like an assembly line. As hard as my colleagues and I would fight to get others to see that not every child learned at the same pace, could pass the same tests, and needed services and help that we were told that we could not provide, things just did not change. It felt as though the end result of a test or a grade was the focus and not the well being of the child. It felt like we stopped seeing students as children and more like data and widgets. Rigor was the mantra and yet there were kids breaking down with anxiety and depression everywhere. Parents were pushing. Administrators and school boards were pushing. The media and politicians were criticizing.
Since this pandemic started, I have seen more of an emphasis on getting kids to art projects. play music on their front porch for neighbors and dance in the street (social distant of course). This is in stark contrast to the cutting of arts and music courses in schools. We have seen many emphasize the importance of working out, eating healthy, and getting outside more. Again a stark contrast to cutting physical education funding and recess time. I have seen more of a demand to lessen the amount of school work for children so that they have more time with family, more time to read books of their choice. and more time to connect with friends (online rather than in person of course). My big question is…shouldn’t this have always been important? Shouldn’t we have been focused on these aspects of educating the whole child all along? Is it only good in a time of crisis and something that we will forget the minute we go back to the “way it was”?
I have also seen a great emphasis on compassion and kindness. This is something that I REALLY feel was lacking when before the world shut down. We are making time to write hand written letters again to friends and loved ones. We are actually stopping to say hello as we pass people taking walks in the neighborhood rather than just walking by with our heads down in our phones. We are asking others how they are doing and looking for ways to cheer people up who may be struggling. We are realizing that those that we held in high esteem in our society…the rock stars, professional athletes, and celebrities are still good people, but it is the doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, and all who are working to keep us safe and save lives who are the true heroes and the people that we should look up to.
If we do not learn something BIG from this pandemic, I am not sure what to do. If we cannot take what we are learning about how to best take care of our students as humans back into our classrooms and revisit a system that no longer feels like it takes every part of the child into consideration, have we lost a big opportunity? If we don’t take a look at how we are doing things during this pandemic with our students and take some of this back to our school buildings, are we making a big mistake?
I know that there are many educators right now feeling very overwhelmed with the situation that has been dealt to us. Some are learning technology and programs on the fly so that they can send lessons to students. Others are trying to balance teaching, parenting, and tending to sick loved ones all at the same time. It is a very hard situation to make work. Between zoom faculty meetings and countless emails from students, it sometimes feels like there is too much to juggle. However, I am completely in awe of how those same teachers who feel as though they are struggling are still doing whatever they can to make sure their students are taken care of. Whether it be delivering meals, making individual phone calls or online meetings, google meet ups, zoom classes, singing songs. driving through neighborhoods with their cars decorated, many are feeling the pull to really make sure that their students are taken care of…mind, body, and spirit!
My hope is that when we all do get the chance to return to our classrooms, more administrators, school boards, politicians, and parents will remember this time as a time when teachers really made something very difficult work with out even a blip in time. I hope that they will go back to listening to us as professionals and care takers. I hope that we will all take a look at the educational system that we have and start more conversations about what we learned from this time and how we might go about doing this differently. I am not saying that we need to have a system without accountability, tests, and exams. I also understand that we need ways to close the great divide that is happening in schools. However, can we please take the lessons from this pandemic and start to think on a more global level? Can we stop making every child a piece of data? My hope is that parents will see the need to be our partners in education more than ever. I hope that many in our society will see that we were one of the constants that children had in their lives during this time and maybe what we do every day should be valued. I hope that those who are making educational decisions see that teachers do work hard to make education work even in times without APPR and scheduled observations. Many teachers do go above and beyond for their students without being asked to.
One of my biggest fears is that we go back to schools and go back to the old way of doing things without learning and changing with what has happened to us. None of us are going to be the same after this. We cannot expect our students to be the same. Let’s face it, there has always been students who were coming from home where their parents had lost their jobs and they were hungry. Did we give it as much attention then as we do now? We cannot expect to teach them the same ways that we did before. One of the biggest skills that I was taught when learning to be a teacher was the skill of monitoring and adjusting. Are we as a society going to monitor and adjust to this new reality?
I feel like we have been given a big pause that will be followed by an even bigger fork in the road for both education and society as a whole. Do we jump back into an educational system that was flawed by money constraints, inequities, testing and data above all else or do we look at things differently and learn what is really important to educate our children. Is standardized testing teaching our children how to be empathetic problem solvers who can get through trying times or should our emphasis change to the things that we have learned work during this crisis? Does an emphasis on homework and grades give our children time to be creative thinkers, problem solvers, and the innovators we need right now? What skills are we teaching in our schools that will help our children to be able to cope with the new realities that this pandemic has created?
My thoughts on this seem to be scattered and a bit unorganized, but I feel as though it is a sign of the time right now! My mindfulness practice have really sparked a lot of these thoughts. It is amazing the thoughts that you can have when you give your brain a pause and allow it time to consider and ponder. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please feel free to comment and share what you think!!
Today has been a rough day. From the moment that I woke up, I have been filled with emotions. Tears have come very easy on and off all morning.
It all started with my morning mindfulness session. I typically meditate every morning. One thing that people do not realize about mindfulness and meditation is that it is not always meant to simply clear your mind. We are all human and our minds are always working. Sometimes, sitting still brings up a lot of emotion and that is ok. It is how you learn to handle those emotions, sitting with them and not judging yourself or the emotions, that is important.
Then, it was thinking about all of the nurses, doctors, police officers, grocery store workers, and so many others on the front lines that brought me to tears. I happened to see a very moving montage on TV that sparked it. I have been struggling with this new reality, but I cannot help but think that these people are just total and complete heroes. We owe everything to these people as they sacrifice everything to keep us safe. While sometimes it seems very difficult to stay inside and away from others, it cannot even compare to what these people are dealing with every day. So thank you to all of you who are on the front lines!! We appreciate you so much!!!
I also think that emotions came when thinking about the fact that this weekend is Easter and it has always been a time to be together with family. I am missing hugging my mom and dad right now. They stopped by yesterday to bring over masks that my mom had made and we always just meet from a distance in the driveway. I cannot invite them in or hug them. I hate it. I know how much my kids miss them and their other grandparents. I also know how much we are missing getting together with all of our family to celebrate. It made me very sad.
I also was thinking about how life has changed forever. I have to believe that once this is all over, things will never be the same. That makes me sad for my children. I feel so sad for all of the seniors out there missing out on this last year of high school. I feel sad for kids in kindergarten missing out on this very special year. I feel bad for all of the kids missing their wonderful teachers (my daughter misses her 3rd grade teacher more than anything I have ever seen in my life and it breaks my heart). I visited a student of mine yesterday and had to wave to her from her front lawn for social distance. It was so great to see her smiling face, but heart breaking that she ran to me and wanted to give me a hug and I had to push move away from her. She did not understand.
What I have learned though is that emotions are not a bad thing and definitely not something to be ashamed of right now. We are all dealing with this in our own way. When this all started, I thought that I would be able to be strong through it. What I have learned is that the longer it goes on, the harder it is to give myself a break. I still want to be the best for my kids and sometimes I don’t feel like I have the energy or patience to do it.
I read an amazing post yesterday that equated this feeling and this pandemic to being on a plane. Sometimes, when we are flying, we may hit turbulence. The pilot will come on and talk to the passengers in a calm voice letting us know that we are going to be hitting some bumps and that the flight attendants will not be serving snacks or drinks for a while. We need to put our seat belts on. No one sounds panicked in that moment. We are also reminded to put on our oxygen masks first before helping our children. That is what is happening now. We must be taking care of ourselves so that we can best take care of our children. We need to be the ones not sounding panicked while the news blares data and numbers that they do not need to be worried about. However, it is ok to realize that we have to take the time to let the emotions out and to take care of ourselves so that we can be the best for them. Many parents are playing teacher, parent, chef, hairstylist, therapist, etc all day long. It is a lot of turbulence.
One of the things that I decided to do was to think about the positives of this all being over and being able to hug those people I miss again. I recorded my mindful minute for my students on that idea. Here it is. Feel free to give it a try. I hope that it lifts your spirits and helps you today!
This unprecedented time has been teaching me something new every day. Every day I try to find out what I can take away from this pandemic. My most recent revelation is that my anxiety is heightened by my expectations. I don’t know about you, but when this whole thing started, I immediately decided that I needed to become the best teacher ever finding every possible fun activity for my students. I was enticed by the idea that we did not have to stick directly to a curriculum and finally had a bit more flexibility. I was spending hours trying to figure out ways to make this all fun and exciting for my students. Before I knew it, it was like so much that I take on in the past. I felt like I was burning out quickly…and it was just week 2. At the beginning of all of this, I also thought that I was going to work to be the best mom ever during our time quarantined together. I was going to set up work stations in my home for each of my three kids, myself and my teacher husband. We were going to work gloriously through all of our assignments and online classes and everyone would be as on task as we are when we are all away at our respective schools. Guess what…that has yet to happen. Of course, I blamed myself for the lack of structure even though I equipped everyone with paper, binders, a cup of freshly sharpened pencils and work spaces adorned with pretty table clothes. I also started looking at this time as an opportunity to get every nook and cranny of my house cleaned and organized just like I had always dreamed of doing while driving home from work so many times. I thought that this was the opportunity to get all bills paid and a system of organization created like no other! I wanted to be the Julia Child of dinner making and have fun breakfasts on the table when the kids came downstairs because, after all, that is what I always told myself I would be if I ever got the chance to work from home. Oh, did I mention that I also conjured up the idea that I would become a work out champion and lose 20 pounds by week 3 of this whole thing???
Well, as you can imagine, not one single part of my day looks anything like these expectations. Most days start with me picking up the living room from whatever everyone has left behind the night before. Breakfast is usually cereal or toaster strudels made by the kids themselves. The house is picked up and some rooms have gotten some deep cleaning, but then they tend to get messed up pretty quickly. Last night’s dinner was frozen pizza and chicken nuggets and because of other nights like that, I have gained 5 pounds. My anxiety most days has been pretty high to say the least.
However, I did realize something yesterday. My lesson for yesterday is that this is not a “vacation” or time off. See, this time is not anything that any of us could have prepared for. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be a work from home mom during a pandemic. Never could I have imagined teaching my 6th graders from a fold out table in my dining room. Never could I have prepared for any of this uncertainty. Never could I have prepared for being the mother of kids during a time when everyone is trying to live every day while worrying if they or a loved one will be the next to get sick. What I need to learn in this time and what I hope that everyone can learn….. we need to take a pause. We need to remember that while we may be home and have some time away from work, we are also dealing with a pandemic! We are dealing with scary news at every turn. We need to take this time to take care of ourselves and our loved ones in the best way that we can. We may never get (and hope we don’t get) this time again. It is ok not to get every big project that you think you need to get done completed. It is more than ok to take a nap in the middle of the day so that you feel rested. It is ok to snuggle up with your kids and watch a funny show rather than make them sit for hours doing online school work. Teachers, it is ok to lower your expectations for yourselves and your students when it comes to the lessons that you are sending. None of us know what others are going through right now. Everyone is behind closed doors. While we may be connecting more through zoom meetings and Facetime chats, we don’t know how this is really affecting others. So, my goals have changed for this time. My new goal is to use this time to recharge and rest so that when we are all able to go back to living, we can do so with great vigor!! I am going to tell myself every day that it is ok not to have great expectations for the day. It is ok to work on me and to rest when I can. It is ok to worry more about checking on the well being of my students each day rather than sending them long and involved lessons because their mental health is more important right now than anything else. My dear friend and yoga teacher Mari, from Soul Candy Project, always reminds us in class to press pause. Learning to do that in yoga helps us to remember to do this in our every day lives. I am going to really start taking that advice! I hope that you will too!
Here is my latest mindful minute video that will help you to press pause today! Have a great day!
As an athlete, it is important that you can move out of your mind and into your body. This is so important for so many reasons. If you are an athlete, I want you to think about this question…could you teach someone to take the perfect shot on goal? the perfect foul shot? make the perfect save? Could you explain exactly how the body should feel in these situations? Have you ever really stopped to FEEL how your body feels in these situations? Probably not. Being able to not only know how to teach someone through explaining or showing how to do these things is essential. However, think about how much better able to replicate the perfect shot or save would be if you could explain or remember how it feels.
Having the right form comes from a few things…one is the knowledge of body positioning but the other is muscle memory. Today, take some time to go outside and mindfully shoot on goal, hit the ball, or whatever you need to do for your sport. Do this multiple times really being in your body. Pay attention to how the perfect shot feels so that you can explain it to someone else. Coaches, do this as well. If you are going to teach your players how to take the perfect shot, shouldn’t you know how to explain how it feels? This exercise takes you out of your head and into your body. It helps you to take the emotion out of what you are doing and allows you to focus more intently. This also helps you to train the parts of your body that you need to make those perfect shots or saves. If you are able to really feel the muscles needed, you know where to focus your training. Getting in touch with the feeling of the shot or save allows you to get in the “zone” so that you are better able to focus on the strategy of the game in key situations. As an athlete, I never used to understand why we would practice the basics over and over and over. I now know that it was so that we could FEEL what we were doing and master that feeling so that it became second nature.
Another great exercise to help to train your brain to really FEEL what is going on in your sport is a body scan. Click HERE for a guided exercise from Stop, Breathe, Think to practice this body scan. This is a great exercise to not only for athletes in training, but also helps to relax.
Click HERE for the video of this exercise!
If you have found that breathing exercises are an anchor for you, here is a great one to practice. It is based on the old childhood game of follow the leader. In this practice, you follow your inhales and exhales as they travel in and out of you. This helps you to notice your breath and focus. You should pay attention to how the breath feels going in, the pause between in the inhale and exhale, and then how the breath feels leaving your body. You can breath in through the nose and out through the mouth if that feels comfortable.
This is a great exercise to do with children or anyone who is trying to establish a focus on breathing. It is calming helps the brain and nervous system to relax. Enjoy!!!
I am lucky to not only have two teenagers in my home, but also a 3rd grader. For her, this quarantine feels very different than it does for her older brother and sister. I have to imagine that many young children are struggling in different ways with everything that is going on. It is never too early to teach kids mindfulness. As a matter of fact, I think that the earlier we teach our children this tremendous life skill the better. Here are a few ways to introduce and practice mindfulness with children:
I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde. (Click HERE to hear the book read aloud!)
Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance (Click HERE to hear the book read aloud!)
A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles Book by Thich Nhat Hanh