Tag Archives: yoga

Why Does Mindfulness Matter in Schools

07/15/16

Shanti_Generation_Educators

This is not an article about the neuroscience supporting mindful practices in schools. For that good stuff, click here and here.

Nor is this a treatise on the many ways mindful practices contribute to academic success. You can read about that here.

And click here for a well executed visual on the importance of mindful practices in the classroom.

I want to get down to the very basic foundation of mindfulness and why schools need mindful practices to flourish. It starts with a question:

What matters in education?

It’s a question I reflect on constantly and suggest every person spend some time thinking about whether you have children currently in school or not. What happens today in schools becomes the culture of society in the very near future. When I think critically about social culture today, it is painfully obvious that too many people did not learn, in their formative years, the social and emotional skills needed to navigate diversity and uphold democracy.

When we over focus on testing and standardize education, we often leave the individual needs of students out of the education process. What we now see asextracurricular (arts, music, physical education, mindfulness) are the very aspects of curriculum that make learning possible for many students because those activities meet the needs necessary for learning.

We know that children cannot learn well if they are hungry. We also know that students cannot engage well with information they do not care about. By taking away the aspects of curriculum that spark creativity and individual expression and movement and collaboration, we take away what students need to make progress in academics.

What matters in education? What matters in society?

Working backwards, what values do we collectively want to cultivate in society at large? Can we all agree that we want people to be more kind, compassionate and empathetic? Is it important to us all that citizens are skilled in problem solving and know how to weigh important decisions? Do we need more acceptance and understanding of difference? Do we care about inner and outer peace?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have made your own case for mindfulness is schools.

Mindful practices support a balanced inner life for students and teachers such that we can bring more balance, equity and consciousness to our relationships. Since every aspect of our lives are influenced by relationships; to self, others, society, it makes sense that an effective education would provide us many opportunities to cultivate strength in our ability to relate effectively.

Increased standardization of education has led some people to believe that better test scores and academic outcomes will arise from more time focused on testing. Critically thinking educators, researchers, legislators and parents know this is misguided.

The practices of mindfulness bring people back into focus in education. With people, comes back creativity, passion, spark and innovation.

Mindful practices, interwoven through the daily course of learning, support what matters most in education and society. We learn to move, breathe, think, and communicate with more grace, consciousness and intention.

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If YOU think mindfulness in schools is a cause worth supporting, please consider contributing to our SoulCycle fundraiser today. All funds raised will help deliver our new mindfulness program for teens in schools. Learn more here.

 

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Creative Imagery to Support Teen Mindfulness

April 14th, 2016

Peace Around the World

We are pleased to have our guest blogger, and favorite educator, Abby Wills, contributing to this week’s blog. Abby and her team at Shanti Generation have been steadfast with their drive and passion to promote the teaching of mindfulness to teens in our schools. In this week’s blog Abby shares with us some helpful techniques whether you are a teacher/educator, or are the parents of a teen, or simply want to hone your skills in being more mindful in your life. Shanti Generation is also looking to raise funds to support the mindfulness for teens project. So, please be sure to visit their site and show your support: https://www.crowdrise.com/ShantiGSoulCycle

Teen mindfulness practices work best when offered in context of the specific developmental needs of adolescence. It is not unusual for teens to feel anxious when beginning mindful practices. While visualization is not a traditional practice of mindfulness, the simple practice given here is supportive of the teen mindfulness process. Consider the chalkboard visualization as a scaffold to your teen mindfulness program. This visualization was born in response to young teens expressing their challenges with practicing mindfulness due to overactive minds.

Generally, I guide students to allow thoughts to come and go; to notice without judgement. With practice, many students are able to disengage from active thinking and simply watch the mind. However, for some teens, this practice can induce anxiety based on a belief that if they let go of thinking, they will forget important information. Teens have shared with me some of their mental habits of keeping constant checklists and ceaselessly reminding themselves to stay aware of particular aspects of their image or social status. To let all of that go, even for a moment, can feel threatening to their identity. Who am I without all of these thoughts? Who will I be if I don’t hold on to these thoughts? What will happen if I let these thoughts go?

The imagery of this visualization first allows students to unpack the contents of their minds, one thought at a time, and to get a visual overview of their thinking. Then, students can  experience that they are still intact even after imagining those thoughts dissolve.

This activity can be done seated cross-legged on the floor or in chairs. Check out our post here for tips on guiding your students into seated positions.

Chalkboard Visualization for Tweens and Teens

Close your eyes and enjoy a few slow, relaxing breaths. Inhale fully. Exhale, relax into your body.

Now, in your imagination, picture an old school type of black chalkboard with a metal frame and metal chalk tray. Imagine the chalkboard is very big, the size of an entire wall in a large classroom. The chalkboard is empty and clean.

In the chalk tray, picture several different colors of unused chalk; blue, green, white, yellow, pink, whatever colors you choose. For the next few minutes, imagine yourself writing or drawing pictures of your thoughts on the giant chalkboard. As a thought arises, put in on the board. Use as few or as many colors of chalk as you wish. 

You don’t need to try and find thoughts, simply write the thoughts that come naturally to your mind. 

Give a minute or two to continue the visualization. Give students reminders every 30 seconds to try and stay with the exercise.

Now, put the chalk down and step back. Take a look at your chalkboard. How full is it? How much space is there? Imagine beside you a bucket of warm, soapy water. Reach in a find a large sponge, When you are ready, start from the top of the chalkboard and begin to wipe the slate clean. Imagine all of the chalk colors streaming down the board as it becomes sparkling and clean.

Get more soapy water if you need it. Continue to wipe the board until it is completely empty and shining.

Step back again and observe how it feels to have a bit of space in your mind. As thoughts arise, see them come and see them go.

Use this visualization anytime you need to clear your mind and find a space of openness and peace.

If you would like to be a part of Shanti Generation’s mindfulness for teens project, please show your support by donating to their upcoming fundraiser as either a participant or donor. https://www.crowdrise.com/ShantiGSoulCycle

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director
Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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Partner Yoga for Bully Relief: One Day in Yoga Class

October 23rd, 2014

Bully_Feature

One day in middle school yoga class, something profound happened.

During roll call, I noticed a sixth grade student, new to the school, not occupying his yoga mat. Instead, he was hunched down on the floor between two tall filing cabinets. “Are you hurt?” I asked. He shook his head “No,” without looking up. I finished roll call quickly and asked students to assume child’s pose. I walked over to check out the situation.

“Are you okay, Jonas?” I asked. The teary-eyed, sanguine child peered up at me and between sniffles said, “No, not really.” I asked him if he wanted to talk about it or if he just needed some time to himself. He nodded yes.

The class began. I kept the tone quiet and contemplative. Once everyone was focused and centered, I offered students a few choices of partner yoga postures they were already familiar with and let them know they had 5 minutes to practice together. I checked back in with Jonas.

“How are you feeling?”
“Sad.”
“Do you want to let me know what you are sad about?”
“Kids.”
“Oh, are you having some conflict with students?”
“Yeah, everybody has me wrong.”
“What happened, Jonas?”
“At lunch, a bunch of kids started harassing me and calling me a p#$%^.” (We’ve edited out the slur for the purposes of this blog entry.)
“I’m so sorry. Do you have any idea what is going on with them?
“I stood up for a girl they were messing with yesterday and now they are picking on me. They said I’m too little to get anybody’s back.”
“Oh, well that’s certainly not true. Are any of those kids in this classroom right now?”
“Yeah,’ he said, hugging his knees to his chest, burying his head into his arms, crying.

His sobs caught the attention of several nearby students. I asked everyone to go back to their own mats and take child’s pose again. While students shuffled through the room, one brave girl, Kya, brisked over to me and said, “I know why he’s crying.”

She explained that a group of her friends were calling him names and saying mean things in front of lots of other students. Jonas was aware of our conversation and motioned for me to come over.

“That’s one of them,” he said.
I asked if he wanted to speak with Kya. He said yes.

As soon as Kya was near Jonas, he burst out and loudly asked, “Why do stand by and laugh while your so-called friends treat me like that?”
Kya lowered her head and said she was sorry.

At this point, the 20 other students were looking at Kya and Jonas. “Would it be okay with you both if we sit in circle and try to find some resolution to this?”
Both students nodded affirmatively.

It’s important to note here that these students attend a school where they are already accustomed to circle time using the Way of Counsel. This time, we used partner yoga as our framework for unpacking some of the issues at play in this situation, as well as explore solutions.

First, students sat back to back with a partner, bringing their attention to their breathing. I instructed students to try and feel their partners’ breathing rhythms and simply to acknowledge the other person as a human being with feelings. I asked students to remember that just because we do not understand a person, that doesn’t mean they are wrong. We can always find something in common with every other human being. Right now, we were focusing on something each and every one of us need: breathe.

We sat, focusing on our inhales and exhales for 5 or so minutes. I asked students to close their eyes while I posed a few questions and to respond by turning their palms upwards on their knees for “yes” and downwards for “no.”

“Have you ever been involved in bullying at school? Either as the one being bullied, the bully, a stander-by or an ally.” All but one student turned their palms up. Honestly, I am not sure that student understood the question since she had just immigrated from Tibet and was only beginning to learn English.

Next question, “Do you feel you have the skills necessary to take a stand for someone being bullied?” Mixed hand. Most students indicated “no.” Some said “yes.” Several said “yes” with one hand and “no” with the other.

For the final question, I asked students to keep their answers to themselves for now. “What do you think we can do as a school community to make sure everyone feels safe here?”

Now we moved into a standing partner posture wherein students face each other, holding hands. Then, bending their knees, they lean their weight back as if sitting in a chair. This partner pose requires a great deal of trust since students are relying on their partners to hold them up. If one partner lets go, the other will certainly fall. This pose also requires myself as the teacher to fully trust the innate goodness of my students. All of this granted trust, from teacher to student, from peer to peer, creates a tangible, embodied sense of support. Period. NO matter what has happened in the past or what may occur in the future, at that present moment, there exists a classroom of adolescents fully supporting each other; physically, mentally, socially and emotionally.

After practicing this partner pose several times; articulating alignment, honing attention to breath, we enter a short, but powerful discussion while still standing. We talk about what it means to support our peers. We talk through several related themes: the nobility of supporting someone even if you don’t actually like them, our shared responsibility for each other’s safety, and the detriments involved with letting someone fall. In adolescence, these questions are intriguing, provocative, right on point with their inherent fears, anxieties and hopes. Perhaps this is one reason we see so many young people trying on the behaviors we call “bully.” Teens want to know where their power lives.

Partner yoga poses give teens a keyhole into their real source of power. They learn how powerful it is to support their peers and to take a stand for each other. They cultivate compassion and empathy by entering relationships with peers where, for brief moments, the stakes are high, but there is no competition. In other words, teens learn to see the other person as a living, breathing, feeling being and to care for their safety and well-being. These are the barest necessities of accomplishing partner yoga poses. The enrichment deepens from there and extends far beyond the practice session. As one teen student put it, “When we practice yoga together, we make a bond that sticks outside of the yoga room. We are just more connected.”

The bond and connection this student speaks of is exactly what we need to help forge between adolescents if we want to alleviate bullying. Both the bullies and the bullied and everyone standing by feel alienated, alone, and lack a sense of belonging. We can talk with teens until we are blue in the face about how ineffective bullying is to create lasting feelings of power and security, or we can give them an embodied experience of connection with their peers.

For a limited time, we are accepting registrants for our 500 DVD giveaway. Educators: sign up to receive a complimentary copy of our “Partner Yoga for Teens” curriculum. Click here to register.

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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Get Teens Talking About Mindfulness

September 25, 2014

TeensTalk_featured

Teens hear their peers’ voices and words in very different ways than they hear their parents and teachers. This is why getting teens to talk about their mindfulness experiences is a pivotal component of effective teen yoga classes.

I encourage teen yoga teachers to “get good” at facilitating potent group discussions. The benefits of the practices are enriched when teens dialogue about their challenges, goals, and achievements. Teens learn from each other’s shared experiences and get new ideas on how mindfulness can impact their lives.

Here are a few pointers to keep the discussion on track and democratic:

Write main topics and inquiries on the board or chart paper for everyone’s reference.

Set a time limit knowing you can always cut it short or extend, if needed.

Pose a specific set of inquiries such as, “What if your partner is having a tough time balancing in a pose that is easy for you? What is more important: to support your partner or practice harder poses?” Then ask for volunteers to answer. Give a few moments for students to raise hands or signify their desire to respond.

Resist the impulse to always call upon the first student who raises their hand, especially if it’s always the same student and his/her hand shoots up with an eager “oooooh, I know, I know.” For certain, eventually call upon that student, perhaps second or third. However, there is no surer way to a dead end discussion than to allow one voice to consistently set the tone or dominate the conversation. The eager student will learn by listening first to others ideas and letting those ideas integrate with their own. And, students who are more reticent to respond will be encouraged to do so if they feel they can enter in a more humble way.

Keep on eye out for meek students who really do have something to share, but don’t raise their hand or signify their desire to participate. Pose the question, “does anyone who has not responded yet want to share an idea?” Make eye contact with students who have not yet shared. Give them the opening without necessarily calling out their names. Be sure to let students know that while you would love to hear from everyone, it is perfectly fine to participate as an observer and listener. Let them know that holding space for others is just as vital to community as sharing explicitly. This will help to both alleviate any pressure to respond that quieter students may feel and send a powerful message to students who always share, but have a difficult time listening.

Limit your own commentary between students voices. In other words, you do not need to comment after every student shares! If a student shares an idea you find questionable or curious, try posing the question to the group for further discussion. For example, a student says, “I think if my partner isn’t as good at a pose as I am, I will tell them I am going to ask the teacher to be reassigned to a new partner because I really feel like practicing hard poses today.” I might respond, “Okay. Does anyone have a different idea on how to deal with that situation? How do you think your partner might feel if you said that to them?” Let the group respond. Teens hear feedback so much differently from peers than from teachers. As much as possible, guide teens to do the teaching themselves. You can guide a group of teens to water and let them show each other how to drink.

Wrap up the discussion with your commentary including a brief review of main ideas shared, your own wisdom to fill in any open questions you feel compelled to expand on and an outlook for how this discussion bolsters their practice. “Okay, time to move on to our physical practice. This was a powerful discussion on how to support each other, when to ask for help and how to help your partner find their center. I’d like to add that I trust you all to be compassionate and empathetic in your responses to each other. You all know how good it feels when another person really listens to your needs. You get to be that kind of listener for your partner today. Listening is absolutely critical to a safe partner yoga practice.”

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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The Mindful Educator’s Bookshelf: The Mindful Brain by Daniel J. Siegel

November 21th, 2013

mindfulbrain

Sharing resources I’ve collected and created over my teaching and learning career is one of my passions. This blog series offers insights into books covering a broad range of topics contributing to mindful education, including yoga, meditation, democratic education, pedagogy, diversity, culture and more.

Choosing the first book of this series was both difficult and a “no-brainer.” There are so many stellar publications I gain inspiration from. I wanted to offer something a little off the beaten path and at the same time highlight a strong resource to get this series flowing. When I flipped though The Mindful Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel, I was reminded of the impact this book has had on my work. It’s not that the book professes some altogether new information, but it validates, with hard science, what I have always found to be true and effective in my teaching practice.

I recall reading this book on an airplane ride to teach a school yoga training in Tokyo. The book was part of my research for my master’s thesis. I wondered if my fellow passengers were aware of my constant nodding. In fact, the book has more lines highlighted, pages post-it tagged and paragraphs notated than not!

Here I will share a few key passages and commentary to help you determine if this book contains knowledge you want.

“A mindful approach to therapy and to education involves a shift in our attitude toward the individuals with whom we work. The active involvement of the student in the learning process enables the teacher to join as a collaborative explorer in the journey of discovery that teaching can be: We can embrace both knowledge and uncertainty with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and kind regard. The teacher does not have to be a source of the illusion of absolute knowledge. Together, educator and student can face the exciting challenge of developing a scaffold of knowledge that embraces the nature of knowing and its inherent context dependence and subtle sources of novelty and distinction” (Siegel).

This concept of teacher as participant rather than leader of the learning experience is one I believe can have a critical impact on teacher-student relationship in the realms of mindfulness and yoga. Abuse of power and egocentricity continue to grow in the modern iterations of these ancient practices. I believe the evolution of these disciplines will involve a new paradigm of teacher-student power dynamic. The teacher of yoga no longer spends decades in practice and study beofre taking on a few students. Most modern yoga teachers are beginners ourselves. There is no need or efficacy in pretending to have some absolute knowledge. When we enter the learning process with curiosity and wonder ourselves, we mirror those same qualities in our students.

“Reflection on the nature of one’s own mental processes is a form of “metacognition,” thinking about thinking in the broadest sense; when we have meta-awareness this indicates awareness of awareness. Whether we are engaging in yoga or centering prayer, sitting and sensing our breathing in the morning, or doing tai chi at night, each MAP [mindful awareness practice] develops this capacity to be aware of awareness…mindful awareness involves reflection on the inner nature of life, on the events of the mind that are emerging, moment by moment” (Siegel).

This “awareness of awareness” concept that Dan continues to develop throughout the book is the predecessor to self-regulation. Have you seen the movie Bully? Remember the scene where the mother of the boy being physically attacked on the bus asks him about his day. The boy is silent. He has no skills for expressing his experience. News has recently emerged about Adam Lanza, the Newtown school shooter, reporting that his mother inquired about his school life with no response from the boy. When kids and teens learn how to become aware of their awareness, they gain access to a host of skills that are paramount to mental health, including the ability to notice and express emotions. Otherwise, feelings and thoughts, especially painful ones, go unseen and end up pooling in a dark place that eventually finds expression. Unfortunately, that expression is all to often from an unconscious need for resolve, rather than a state of awareness.

“Each of us has a mind with great potential. We have the possibility of creating a world of compassion and well-being and we have the capacity for mindless violence and destruction. [A new powerful lesson] has been in the profound plasticity of the human brain. We can actually focus our minds in a way that changes the structure and function of the brain throughout our lives. As a mindset, being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgments offers a powerful path toward both compassion and inner well-being. This is what science verifies and what has been taught over thousands of years of practice” (Siegel).

What great news! We can change, or evolve, our brains from the fear-based circuitry that upholds violence to a more compassionate state that supports well-being. As Dan illustrates in detail with this book, “being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgments” creates a gap between our entrenched beliefs based on past experiences and the possibility of experiencing our lives fresh and new, with courage.

Thank you, Dan Siegel, for the critical work you do in supporting mindfulness in education. To learn more about Dan and his work, visit his website.

Abby_Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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