I’m eager to return to blogging again after a long hiatus. It won't be easy, as I feel incredibly rusty and out of tune with articulating my thoughts, but I'm going to give it a go anyways!
Today, I merely want you to consider one thing as you read this blog post. As you read the words below, how would you describe the difference between them as it relates to your current state of mind?
To me, the word 'contraction' implies shortening, decreasing, or tension of some sort. As for the word 'expansion', thoughts such as space, extension, and stretching come to my mind.
I ask you to think about the difference between these words because deep down the question that I have boils down to how are you currently choosing to use your mental energy? The energy of your thoughts, your words, and your actions?
Every day we are the ones who get to decide whether or not we use our mental, emotional and/or physical power to create positive and expansive thoughts or to create negative, constricting thoughts that minimize how we experience the world around us.
Writing this blog post is a genuine reminder to myself that I have the ability, day in and day out, to create empowering thoughts and actions that expand the potential of what is possible. I need to keep reminding myself that it's all about the awareness and the ability to intentionally put this practice into play in my personal and professional life.
In sharing my thoughts with anyone reading this post, I hope it is a powerful reminder that we all have the ability to choose expansive thoughts when we consciously decide to do so, but it takes practice.
A question that I have for you as you finish reading this post is:
Are you currently using your energy to expand mindfully and be at your fullest or to contract narrowly and minimize your potential?
Right now, writing this blog is a challenge for me. I am experiencing some very narrow thoughts as I have not written in ages, but through practice, I know it will become easier. Instead of thinking, "What do I have that I can share that is of value to others?", I choose to reframe my restrictive thoughts into expansive thoughts and turn them into statements that allow room to stretch, so that I can pivot towards more spacious energy, such as:
How might I share my ideas to inspire others?
To end this post, I want to ask you to take the next 5 minutes to reflect on the last couple days. In particular, that little inner voice within yourself. What are some of the things that you've been saying to yourself? Has that voice inside yourself been creating expansive language that empowers you?
Has that inner voice been constricting, causing you to experience negative thoughts and emotions?
The most important element to bring into this reflective practice is non-judgement. When reflecting, should you realize that there is constriction in your thoughts and emotions, simply being aware of these patterns is the first step in doing something about it.
A second step is to actively put into practice a simple strategy that can help flip these constrictive thoughts and emotions in order to bring more positivity to the way we think and the way we feel. It takes practice, but it can actually help to change some of the mental patterns that we create in our every day life.
Here's an example to consider:
While reflecting on the past two days, you catch yourself scrolling through social media being slightly envious of seeing other people's summer holidays and find yourself wanting to experience something more or something better during your own holiday. Firstly, in bringing non-judgement into this scenario, you must refrain from going down a dark path and simply accept that this is the way you might be feeling. Secondly, instead of allowing yourself to feel envious or desiring more, you can flip it by doing this:
Be grateful for having your own time away from work.
Be grateful for having the resources and the time to create your own experiences.
Be grateful that you have the ability to reflect and to make your own choices.
In trying to flip our own thought patterns, it is an attempt to spark a different way to think and feel. When we put this into practice (and it TAKES practice and real effort), our brains actually begin to restructure ways of thinking to bring on more positive emotions and thoughts.
Research suggests that this concept of 'scanning for the positive' can make a difference in our lives and bring on greater levels of well-being. It's not just fluff! Positivity Psychologist, Martin Seligman, has done years of research into the impact that these simple strategies can have on bringing greater happiness and well-being in our lives.
In closing, I ask that you make a genuine effort over the next couple of days to try flipping your constrictive thoughts (if in fact you are experiencing constriction) into more empowering and positive ways of thinking and feeling. For each constrictive thought, try to create 2 or 3 statements that help to reframe things in a more positive way (as I gave in the example above).
Strive to be aware of both your constricting and expansive thoughts and consider how your expansive views might help to maximize your best self.
Thanks for reading.
A moment of mental calmness in-between your busy school day.
How many thoughts do you think you have in just one minute? I’ve read that we have approximately 35 to 48 thoughts per minute. We think incessantly. Imagine that in just one day, we can have up to a total of 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts. These thoughts can be tallied under the categories of automatic, useless, repetitive, positive, negative, forthcoming, stressful and so on.
As teachers we are often caught rushing between classes, then to meetings and on to planning our next batch of lessons. All the while, without us even being aware of it, thoughts float and flitter around in our heads some times controlling our behaviour and our interactions with others, as well as decisions that we make.
As a mindfulness practitioner, I wondered how we might move into our meetings more purposefully to slow down just for a moment. I was looking to seek some mental clarity. In an effort to find a moment of calm just before our planning meetings, I took the initiative to try out some mindfulness strategies with the team of teachers I work with.
This was the start of the 1-minute mindfulness initiative. This provided a mental break before all meetings. Our team simply pauses together before we begin a meeting and set a timer for 60 seconds. We all sit up a little taller and take on an alert but relaxed posture. Then we just breathe until the 1-minute is over. After this 1-minute, we move right into the agenda for our meetings. My aim is to try to create the conditions for starting off meetings in a restorative way to allow everyone to come together in this simple moment of silence. I believe that just 1-minute can make this happen! It can be as simple as that, a 1-minute pause before every meeting.
In a way, it was a way for me to deliberately breathe between transitions through the day, especially at the end of day meetings. At first I led these one-minute breaks by using simple informative statements such as, ‘breathe in for 7 counts and exhale for 11’, or suggested other types of breath work. However, over time, my goal was to create a routine of 1-minute silent breaks before we began meetings ultimately removing myself as having to lead these moments. Instead, the teachers can use the 1-minute in any way they wish to ground themselves before beginning our meetings.
A few colleagues shared their thoughts after our mindful minute:
“I find that when we practice these mindfulness exercise it gives me energy and a positive perspective moving forward.”
“I really appreciate these methods and hope they continue.”
"After rushing around it is nice to settle in before the actual meetings begin. Seems like a minute is a short time, but it is enough to refocus."
Test out these simple mindful breathing minutes for yourself, your colleagues and your community.
Strive to be mindful and present. Thanks for reading.
Switch off auto-pilot mode and come alive with your senses experience Veja-De.
Have you ever experienced a series of tedious days that seem robotic in nature? Day in and day out living in repeat mode. Would this experience be similar to what Bill Murray experienced in the movie Ground Hog Day? We need to catch ourselves in these moments of time in order to awaken the senses and become more aware of life happening around us.
I want to invite you to set an intention. You’ll need to lean into this experience with fresh eyes to bring a new awareness into your day. Doing so helps to draw us out of our mental tedium and begin to focus on things differently.
Here’s the deal, you’ll need to practice Veja-De. Yes, that is right. I’m not talking about Deja-vu but instead Veja-De!
In Warren Berger’s article, The power of “Veja-De”, he focuses on the following question, “Can a shift in perspective help us to become better questioners?” Berger describes it as observing everyday surroundings with “Veja-De” eyes that help us to see the familiar in fresh ways. The familiar can become so mundane and we often times lose sight of the fact that everything around us is changing all of the time. Even though we may feel that our day to day actions are routine and methodical, they are not. Looking at the familiar with fresh eyes allows us to embrace and celebrate the ‘newness’ that every day offers us.
Veja-De captured my attention because I believe it fully connects with mindfulness. Bringing a kind and curious awareness to your everyday environment is the practice of mindfulness. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University who is known as the ‘mother of mindfulness’, talks about the act of noticing new things that keeps you in the present moment.
Below is a link to a 4-minute video where Ellen explains why we need to stop operating on auto-pilot.
This video sparked a connection to another great blog that I often read, “Slow Looking, Out of Eden by Shari Tishman link”
How often do we permit ourselves a moment or two to linger and really look at something that we've passed a million times on our daily commute to work? How often do we actively pause with a revered stare to curiously look at something that we’ve never noticed before?
In the car, on the way to school each morning, my boys and I like to play a game. We pick out 3 new things that we notice. For example, sometimes we choose a color (let’s say blue) and then find three new things that are blue. Other times we try to spot weird or silly things. We make these careful observations and then share our discoveries. We’re always so surprised to see what each of us has pointed out. These observations always end up being so different. We note the different perspectives that we have, even though we take the same route day in and day out.
Perhaps this is what the French novelist Marcel Proust meant when he said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Begin to see your world with “Veja-De” eyes.
Strive to rid yourself of the mundane in your life.
Reflect on the uniqueness of each day.
One of the joys and rewards I find delight in about teaching and sharing mindfulness is when it really begins to organically stick with my students.
I used to think that I was the only one jumping up and down, excited about teaching mindfulness practices, especially during the early days when I had just begun to share it. Despite initial bland expressions and responses when I first introduced mindfulness to my students, I stuck with it over the months and years as I was so passionate about it. I began to check in more frequently with the students in regards to how they felt about the different mindfulness practices we had worked on and over time I started to hear more and more of their thoughts. At times they expressed things that they loved about mindfulness and other times what they didn't like about it which was great feedback for me.
They surprised me with their honest reflections. For example, a student once opened up that she was so busy during the week that she was stressed out. She said that mindfulness practice was the only time that she could relax because her after school schedule was jammed up every day with either piano, Mandarin, English, or violin lessons. She said that if she was lucky, she would some times have Fridays off to play.
Another student upon reflection said he thought mindfulness was a waste of time. Trying not to react in defence, I asked him to explain why he felt it was a waste of time, so that I could better understand his thoughts.
He then went on to explain that his mother always said to him that in order to be productive and to improve himself, he had to do extra math, English, and Mandarin, so his interpretation of mindfulness was that it was 'doing nothing', therefore useless to him. I did not judge his response instead try to understand his point of view.
Receiving regular feedback from my students about how they feel about mindfulness allows me to personalize and provide choice in regards to the practice itself. For example, I often use eye-pillows with my students during the mindfulness sessions. One of my students prefers not to be still and lay down, so I allow him to quietly walk around helping me to place the eye pillows gently on the other students.
I have another student who has difficulty remaining still but still likes to take part in the activities. However, instead of remaining still, he quietly rocks back and forth or side to side as he listens. After one session he thanked me and told me that he could see what was going on in his mind. He said that he cannot be still in his head because it's like ten giant screens playing images all at once. This was a great first step to personalize my practice for him in order to help him quiet his mind.
Ending my mindfulness sessions with time to reflect is a valuable tool as it allows my students' voices to be heard. We always purposely pause and listen to one another's thoughts and opinions about the mindfulness practice.
Although they all don't fully embrace it, having done mindfulness with my students for four years now has allowed me to see that many of them are really beginning to understand the value that the practice can bring to their lives in helping to calm them, reduce anxiety and lower stress.
How happy I am to water the seeds of mindfulness in these young and beautiful minds.
“Renew thyself completely each day.”
~Henry David Thoreau
Mirror Mirror on the wall…
2016 has been unwrapped and it is the time of the year to renew again with a fresh start. Trying something new this year will have you start by practicing self-love.
Over the years, one of my most consistent goals has always been to strive to be healthy. Some years have been better than others. If I look back and take stalk, my previous goals have been to complete a full marathon, to always eat better, to give up coffee (only for a short time) and to lose some extra pounds. So you can see the common thread has always been one of a physical nature.
Given that I am now 45 years old, I see that there are certain experiences that begin to repeat themselves when a bevy of women get together. It’s common to see them begin to talk about their physical bodies, not with what it is they love about their bodies, but sadly with their endless complaints about what is wrong with their physical selves. Of course it can be in a joking manner and is usually kept lighthearted, but for so many of us we have and hold numerous misconceptions about our physical bodies.
If what I have mentioned above resonates with you in the tiniest, I invite you to test out this mindful body scan that I created for when you are in the shower.
In writing this I think about many female friends that I have. I wrote it firstly for myself and with all of my surrogate sisters in mind from around the world who would like to declutter negative thoughts and begin to take care of their mental health and wellbeing. I ask you to aim to practice gratitude for your body, and all of your curves, at its current state right now. Practice emotional well-being about how you see yourself and aim to delete those default narratives you may repeat over and over about your body. Aim to revive yourself in the shower each day with this mindful gratitude practice.
I really believe that this body scan in the shower will help to develop and maintain a better body image for all of my dear surrogate sisters and friends. Be kind to yourself in your thoughts, your actions and your words. Use this time and energy to flood your mind with grateful thoughts about your body.
I know it isn’t a cure all for what ails the mental image you hold of yourself, but I believe it can help in minimizing the negative thoughts we can possess about our bodies. As you would support a best friend, aim to be kind to yourself and begin to look at your body as a blessing. Shift over to a more neutral or even better yet, a more positive body image for yourself. As with any new skill the more you practice the better you get at it.
Strive to be kind to yourself, be kind to your body and be kind to others.
How Often Do You Stop?
Stop doing what you are doing right now! Take three slow and complete breaths.
Now, do it again. It takes just a minute to stop and pause.
That’s how easy the practice of mindfulness can be. When you take a moment to remind yourself that you are simply breathing in and breathing out, you start to bring more presence into these important moments in our daily lives.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Initially, I started to bring mindfulness into the classroom more for myself than for my students. Throughout the day, usually during transitions from one class to another, I would ask my students to pause and together we would take several slow, deep breaths as we moved our arms out and around in big wide circles.
Ultimately, I came to realize that infusing mindfulness into the classroom was not only beneficial for me but also for my students and the colleagues that I worked with. During morning routines such as ‘circle time’, we would share our ideas, energy and thoughts about what each and every student thought of mindfulness and soon our practice began to evolve. We began to practice more frequently and sometimes for longer periods of time. How happy I was to hear my students call out, “Can we practice some mindfulness now”.
It was these little moments that helped me to connect my students to the importance of the ‘pause’ and the power it plays in our lives which I was eventually able to share with those who I work with as well.
Teachers and students can take advantage of mindfulness by simply dropping into the moment with a purposeful pause. No matter how busy we are, we can certainly afford to stop for at least a minute a day to connect with our powerful human presence.
My husband and I like to listen to TED RADIO HOUR, a great podcast that draws attention to multiple themes in life that highlight major lessons that we can all learn from. Many of these episodes provide us with inspiration, motivation and excitement to do the things we love to do. As we listen to these podcasts, we often take notes in our journals and it’s these inspirational notes that provide the impetus for blogs or stories that we share with our friends. We love turning people on to Ted Radio Hour.
Todays blog post was inspired by the following episode:
Guest: David Steindl-Rast
What Does It Take To Be Grateful?
In David Steindl-Rast’s talk, he gently reminds us to recall a simple childhood lesson of how to cross the street as a method to build more mindfulness stop signs into our daily lives. He refers to it as:
“Stop, look, and go”
And the main message that he delivers is about taking deliberate time in our lives to construct opportunities to slow down to a halt, to be more aware of what happens around us, and look at every single moment as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s not about life being wonderful every second of the day, it’s much deeper than that. As we confront issues, situations, and moments in our daily life, we have choices. In order to best absorb what these choices are, we must stop and be aware and this is only possible by creating stop signs to bring us to a halt. And it’s only by stopping that we can begin to evaluate what the opportunities we are presented with and how to act on them.
The ‘Look’ part is about examining these moments and to ultimately make a decision about how best to move forward. Once we make these decisions, it’s about taking action and that’s what the ‘Go’ part represents in our lives.
Such a simple activity. Think about it for a moment and as you reflect on what David Steindl-Rast says, all we need to do is ‘Stop, Look, and Go.”
What messages resonate with you and your teaching in regards to his simple philosophy? How can we take the ‘Stop, Look, and Go’ idea and apply it to student learning. How can we slow down the ever increasingly busy lives of our students to help them become more aware and present. Can we help them create more stop signs in their constantly changing world? I believe that we can and strive to do so.
Always be aware of the power of pausing.
Practice creating stop signs in your own life and the lives of those who you teach.
Don’t forget to be more mindful of your breath in slowing things down.
Parent Lead Conferences
This past week our school held Parent Lead Conferences. The purpose of these meetings was for teachers to listen to parents speak about their child and learn more about them as a person and as a learner. Guiding questions were provided as a starting point for parents to answer ahead of time to prepare for the meeting with teachers. Each conference was only 15 minutes long and the parents were asked to attend with their child present.
See the guiding questions below:
When we began, I felt a heightened sense of attention and found it so interesting to see the student interact with their parents.
It was during these meetings that I found myself deliberately implementing several mindfulness practices particularly related to listening. I first began to remind myself that it was time to slow down to be fully present as I listened while putting aside my internal commentary for the moment. Physically, I became aware of my seat and how I was sitting in it, ensuring that my shoulders began to soften. I aimed to sit tall but not too stiff or rigid.
Checking in with my own body language was critical as I aimed to be warm and welcoming which meant positioning myself at the best possible angle to parents and student. I began a concerted effort to soften my face and practice being truly present.
While being very aware of my attitude, I strived to bring the intentions of curiosity, kindness and patience into being as I sat attentively to listen to what the parents had to say about their child.
Slowing down with the breath to be fully present is the essence of mindfulness, so I took a couple of slow soft breaths to simply be more aware. Every step was allowing me to drop into the moment on a much deeper level.
By slowing down I was able to observe and pay attention to the non-verbal cues being given off; those subtle facial expressions, affectionate patterns of interaction and certain body language being conveyed. Each of these subtle interactions offered a window into our students’ lives, their relationships at home and how they cope and respond. This fundamental skill of listening is so simple, yet it’s power lies in its practice. Maintaining and sustaining this level of attention and energy was an absolute necessity as we had several conferences in a row lined up that day.
What I have learned is how valuable it is when you give your students and their families your full attention for just those few minutes. I believe that really increasing this ability to be deliberately present not only improves the awareness of your own body language, listening skills and level of presence but it also allows us to walk away having fully enjoyed connecting to the our students while getting to know their families a bit more in the process.
How do you ensure you get yourself into listening mode and fully present when dealing with parents and students?
Which strategies help you be more present with those you work with and teach?
In what ways can you improve upon your ability to listen on a deeper level?
One of the books I just finished reading is Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World written by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
Jon Kabat -Zinn provides an introduction to the book, “The world is all a buzz nowadays about mindfulness and this is a wonderful thing because we are sorely lacking if not starving for some elusive but necessary element in our lives.” The 8-week program that Mark and Danny have designed is evidence-based, arising out of the curricula of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The book offers an excellent exploration of the practice of Mindfulness.
The link to the website is http://franticworld.com/ . You will find many free resources to guide you through some of the mindfulness practices. My personal favorite taken from the book is an 8-minute mindfulness practice of body and breath to help you tune into the sensations of your body. This practice invites you to pause and consciously release any tension and stress from your body. This body scan allows to you relate to your body in a healthy way that is firmly rooted in the present moment.
Surely you can pause and take 8 minutes out of the 1,440 minutes of your day to rebalance.
I highly recommend this straightforward and helpful book to anyone who wants to live life with more equanimity. Remember, just reading the book and saying, “Oh yes, I’ll be more mindful in my life now” won’t exactly help. You’ll need the discipline to put it into practice and know that mindfulness requires a strong commitment. As with any new skill, approach it with a growth mindset. I wish you success in this endeavor.
Integrate more mindfulness into your you life, practice daily, and remember to breathe.
Last Friday was a public holiday in China, it was Labor Day. We had the day off and how happy I was to have the freedom to putter around the house. Looking though book shelves I happened to open up one of my dusty old journals from 2010. In it I found a poem I had hand written and copied from Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. It was first printed in 1948. It is my inspiration for this post today.
These ten intentions provide practice, purpose and pleasure and act as daily intentions that help to keep us tethered to the present day. They do not propel you into the future with overwhelming thoughts but help to keep you anchored to the here and now. They fully embody the practice of mindfulness.
Do you know how many minutes we have in a day? Every day we are given the gift of 1,440 minutes. Each day the clock is reset and again we receive another 1,440 minutes. Mindfulness allows us to aim to stay present for just one minute at a time and to build on this with regularity throughout our day. Here are the ten intentions.
1. Just for Today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life-problem at once. I can do some things for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep them up for a lifetime.
2. Just for Today, I will be happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, that “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from within; it is not a matter of externals.
3. Just for Today, I will adjust myself to what Is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come, and fit myself to them.
4. Just for Today, I will take care of my body. I will exercise it, care for it, and nourish it, and not abuse it nor neglect it; so that it will be a perfect machine for my will.
5. Just for Today, I will try to strengthen my mind, I will study. I will learn something useful, I will not be a mental loafer all day. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.
6. Just for Today, I will exercise my soul. In three ways:
(a) I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out.
(b) I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests just for exercise.
(c) I will not show any one that my feelings are hurt. They may be hurt, but today I will not show it.
7. Just for Today, I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible, talk low, act courteously, be liberal with flattery, criticize not one bit nor find fault with anything, and not try to regulate nor improve anybody.
8. Just for Today, I will have a program. I will write down just what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. It will save me from the two pests of hurry and indecision.
9. Just for Today, I will have a quiet half hour, all by myself, and relax. During this half hour, some time, I will think of God, or meditate so as to get a little more perspective of my life.
10. Just for Today, I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love and to believe that those I love, love me.
Being in the moment is what mindfulness is all about and striving to sustain a level of awareness with equanimity requires mental effort. It takes discipline and grit to practice mindfulness everyday. Personally I strive to take mindful breaks though out my day not just when I am sitting still but also when I am with my family, jogging, working, eating and doing daily activities around the house. This poem helped me get through one of my runs today. In my mind I wanted to stop and walk as I felt too hot, too tired, too sweaty and not very motivated. My mind shifted when I remembered the words to this poem. The chant in my head was ‘Just for today I will run 10 kilometers and be in the moment to enjoy my healthy body’. I want to make more of an honest effort to do just one intention or all ten. I challenge you to do the same.
Stretch your body, stretch your mind and stretch your breathe just for today.
Between now and June 19th our school calendar has only 8 weeks left. Just thinking about that makes my heart palpitate with a bit of excitement and anxiety. Many people are always counting down, crossing out the days and weeks on their schedules and wishing away the time but I think it is critical to slow down and savor these moments. These moments after all are what make up our precious lives.
Jon Kabot-ZInn defines ‘Mindfulness’ as being aware in the present moment, paying attention in a particular way without judgement. This takes mental effort every day. Honestly, I understand the desire to race towards the summer months, where we have weeks off with our families. It’s hard not to fantasize and romanticize about spending time with our family and friends, wherever home may be.
This week my intention is simply to create more space in my head, my heart and in my life to be more present in the moment.
I aim to ask myself these questions every day and to work on a daily reflection at night.
What worked today?
What did you do that kept you in the present moment?
Were you aware of your breath?
What didn’t work?
What distracted you?
What is your ultimate heartfelt desire?
What is your intention for tomorrow?
What is your next step forward?
Strive to stay in the now, be aware of your breath, go easy on yourself.