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By: Brett Bohstedt
I know. You can’t spare a second. Every moment is packed, moreover if there is any downtime the infinite scroll of tasks is haunting you. I’m feeling overwhelmed just writing that – ah the life of an American teacher. But what is this busyness costing you? Your health? Your availability to your students? Your never-ending mission to save the world? Hyperbole aside, we’ve got to stop for a moment, for the sake of our students, our job, and the element that ties it all together—ourselves.
Below I present a method for carving out some meaningful moments to help save your sanity.
The gist. Sit down, be quiet, and focus on the inhale and exhale of your breath.
This act of mindfulness – paying close attention in a non-judgmental way –is accomplished in a couple different ways. As thoughts invade, revert back to the practice again and again without criticizing yourself for being distracted. Here’s how:
Breathe through your nose. Follow the air as it enters your nose and as it exits – breathe at a normal comfortable rate. Note the temperature of the air by simply saying, “the air feels cool”, or “the air feels warm”. Sounds basic, but it will keep your mind focused on the moment – the ultimate task of being mindful.
Follow the rise and fall of your chest or stomach. As you inhale, focus your attention on the expanding of your chest or stomach. Release any tightness in your chest or abdomen when you exhale, and again breathe at a comfortable pace – deep breathing is out, unless winding up light headed and passed out on the floor is your thing.
And that’s it. The practice itself is quite basic; it’s our finicky minds that make it tough. But I guarantee if you brave the storm and commit yourself, then surely you’ll relate to the CONSTANT stress of teaching in a much different way.
Finding a place to practice is the next step. Winston Churchill knew the importance of a quality environment by stating, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” The practice space needs to be free of distraction and preferably closed off. A room with a door is ideal, and make sure anyone important knows you’re there – reducing the risk of being interrupted. I practice at home before school, but I also find moments during the school day to get recharged. When at school, I put a sign on my door declaring “mindfulness in session”.
The key to a successful practice space is to keep it regular and simple. Practice with a chair or cushion, no need to pull out all the bells and whistles here. So whether you’re like me and use an uncomfortable plastic stool (not recommended for obvious reasons) make your practice space something of the sacred kind.
How long do I need to sit in silence for? I’m recommending two minutes. Measly? Maybe. But as mentioned before, it’s all about staying regular. And you don’t run a marathon when you can only make it a mile. Use an online timer like this one; it has a nice intro and outro bell, or a simple cell phone alarm will do.
Time takes many forms. Whether it’s crawling or cruising, it’s all useful. Try bringing awareness to it and an opportunity arises to practice patience for yourself.
Teachers are demanded to accomplish numerous tasks day in and day out. Like robots, we go when told and even then it’s not enough. But unlike robots, we don’t have someone else to take care of us. We must be the ones to catch our over demanding minds in the act, and say enough is enough – this “stopping” is you being patient with yourself.
Sharon Salzberg author of Real Happiness at Work says it well, “Time can seem to be our nemesis in the workplace. Often, there appears to be too little of it—when we’re feeling overworked; or too much—when we’re watching the clock, waiting for the workday to end. Mindfulness can help us to unhook from the stopwatch, even when the atmosphere is frantic, by returning us to the steadiness of our breath. Interrupting the stress cycle of pushing, rushing, and cramming, we come to see that our illusion of insufficient time is really just that: an illusion.”
Meet your monkey mind. When practicing, expect your mind to jump from here to there at a speed only rivaled by lightning, it takes a special kind of attention to simply notice and not react, not judge.
Let whatever pops up arise, and as quickly as it came, let it go – drop the thought.
There is a space “between” thoughts commonly referred to as a resting place. Practice often and that resting place allows you the space to observe life before responding. You will then be a Mr. (Ms. or Mrs.) Miyagi, calmly and clearly tackling the million problems that are likely to occur over a single minute of your packed day.
To be successful, take it easy – a new concept, I know. But you’re in this for the long haul if you want to see results. Like surfing, you have to respond to the wave, whether it’s massive and holds you under, or hardly noticeable; with mindfulness you want to bring attention to it all. So no matter if you’re experiencing strife or serenity, you can bare it all with this practice.
Does this sound like something you want to commit yourself to?
Want to learn how to bring this practice to your classroom? Read about my mindfulness program Mindful Moments here.
There are other ways to practice mindfulness. Read here to find out how.
My explanation of how to practice mindfulness not clicking for you? Try this one.