In the book “Teach, Breathe, Learn”, the book’s author Meena Srinivasan sees that it is a teacher’s daily mood that makes the weather in the classroom.
And yet teachers come into the profession with no training in how to manage stress or cultivate joy, happiness and resilience.
Generally I consider myself to be pretty grounded, but the X-Ray evidence of me grinding my teeth in my sleep exposes the truth about my inability to be truly “zen”.
Mindfulness, like a “medicine for the brain”, is a technique that enables educators to listen deeply and speak compassionately. It is a kind, curious, non-judgemental awareness that we bring to each moment.
A mindful policy may include always engaging students in dialogue in order to really understand them. This means when they “push your buttons”, you resort to genuine listening rather than knee-jerk reactivity.
For those of you thinking “I have no time to be mindful!”, a simple place to start is with the breath. By bringing awareness to your breathing, you can gently bring a wandering mind back to the present. Not regretting or dwelling in the past, not looking anxiously towards the future- being fully in the present moment. Practising mindful breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which corresponds to a more relaxed state of mind. You’ll notice that with each inhalation and exhalation, you can momentarily suspend your thinking- the antithesis to a racing mind- allowing you moments of rest that are deeply relaxing and rejuvenating.
Once you have gained experience in breathing mindfully, you can move onto mindfulness of thoughts. To do this, merely see your thoughts as clouds in the sky. Every time you observe a thought, you place it on a cloud and watch it move across the sky. You are aware of the thought but you don’t get caught in it. You simply take note of it and let it float away.
Mindful walking is when you coordinate each step with your breath and silently say a positive word to yourself with each step. Listen to and feel all that’s around you, from the breeze or sun on your skin to the aroma of delicious cooking or fragrant flowers.
Mindful eating involves taking a moment to smell and look deeply at your food. Practise gratitude for the food and all of the elements that created the meal from the sun, rain and soil to the farmers, cooks and shopkeepers who participated in bringing your food to your plate. Taste deeply, savouring each morsel and chewing slowly. Put your utensils down and only lift them again when you are done swallowing.
Bringing mindfulness into everything that you do creates a sense of wonder- of awe in the beauty of every day life that surrounds us. Try mindful driving, mindful teeth brushing, even mindfully going to the toilet!
When you’re stressed-out, fearful or filled with anger your amygdala reacts, resulting in a flight, fight or freeze response. If, however, you stop and breathe in the presence of such strong emotions, you’ll be able to access your prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes thoughtful decisions. When the waves of life are especially turbulent, you can use mindfulness to dive deep into the ocean of peace you have inside.
The most powerful way we teach is through our actions. How we handle whatever comes our way in the classroom is a model for our students. For a teacher to be of real value to her pupils, she must above all be a happy person. It’s not always about what you teach but how you teach it, and the love and joy behind your teaching is perhaps the strongest impression you will leave with your students.
Being able to self-soothe through mindfulness and deep relaxation is a self-care skill that both teachers and students can employ throughout their lives.