Tag Archives: mindfulness

Noisy Focus: Be Mindful of the Beat

Lindsay has been teaching us this year about maintaining focus.

And what is that really?

We are so incredibly focused on multitasking that we just can’t focus. It’s crazy.

And so we’re working a little bit about how to undo that.

When we are breathing, we try to pay attention to where our mind goes. We try to focus on different body parts, and when we lose focus, we notice it, and refocus. Lose focus? Breathe and refocus. Get angry? Breathe and refocus.

It’s really about trying to figure out what should have the biggest chunk of one’s attention at any given time.

And if you’re a teen-ager, it’s even harder.

248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_I walked into the room just this morning, saw four boys sitting at the back tables, each glued to his iPad. They had focus all right.

And now, back to Lindsay.FullSizeRender 4

We did breathing, brought in a little creativity as we all came up with our own movements to breathe, and then we played this game.

One of our students got so excited of learning the pattern that she ran around the room and asked to play the game with almost everybody.

One student knew it would be a challenge, so she tried, and then she hid.

But the important thing is that she tried.

And all successes are just that: successes!


Muddy Feelings

I love it when it’s a mindfulness day.

IMG_1777It seems like we are all in such need of mindfulness, of shutting off all those things that are keeping us in a bad space during the day…

There are so many things that can throw us off. On this particular day, Suzy stayed in the class and made valentines, found Teal a place to meet with a couple of our students who have followed the Buddhist traditions, and then started working with Lindsay on mindfulness.

I was outside for a long time. With three of our students and a liaison to help them express their frustration with our educational system and the classes we have chosen to put them in.

But that is another blog post. For another day.

For right now, I want to talk to you about the part of the class that I got to see.

IMG_1772Lindsay was talking to students about things they think about and emotions they feel every day. And then we went through this amazing exercise:

She asked them first how they felt, using the list that is at the top of this post. And when they said what they felt, they put a scoop of sand into a jar of water.

Personally, I felt sick. And tired.

And one of the girls I had been talking to felt angry. And that’s OK. It’s so important to let our students know that whatever they are feeling, it’s OK.

It’s OK for me to be tired. It’s OK for her to be angry. It’s OK for us to feel tight and happy and sad and scared and all of that.248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_

And so we all put in our scoops, and then we all took turns shaking it up. This was a metaphor, done in the most artful of ways. Our emotions shake up in us all day long. We feel lots and lots. And only when we stop to breathe can we really calm down, like the sand that sank to the bottom of the jar.

And that’s why we practice. So we can know what to do when we are feeling all those feelings.

We are so grateful that Center for Mindful Learning is working with us.

We have no idea what these kids bring with them.

We have no idea how that affects their learning and their lives.

And that’s why we need to take a moment to be quiet.

And let the sand settle.


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Counter-remedy to testing… BREATHE!

Today, we had to give a common assessment in writing.

It is SO frustrating when you don’t have a whole lot of language for someone suddenly to say, “Write!” And then for you to have nothing to write about, because you don’t really know what this person wants.248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_

I’ve been thinking, though, this morning about how we might be able to use theater games to make our pain lessen… But that’s a post for another day.

After putting our students through torture, I left to see what was going on in Kevin Cross’s class. Where we did torture again. But I was sent an audio file after class was over.

One aspect of the mindfulness work that we are doing with Center for Mindful Learning is to get students to lead. We need to make them speak individually and to understand and own the task. So today, it sounds like what they did was breathe. And perhaps, after such an amazingly difficult task, that is exactly what they should have done.

I talked to Suzy after class, and she told me that the mindfulness work they did was just as challenging as the writing we did–just in a different way.

First, they did some positive talk. “Can you relax for five minutes?” Answer: “Yes, I can.”

After that, they tried to focus and concentrate on being relaxed for five minutes. Suzy said the atmosphere in the classroom went from being antsy and jittery to a really calm calm feeling. Lindsay was talking them through it, asking if they were staying focused, letting them know that if they weren’t, it was OK. They could find that focus again.

Afterwards, they talked about how hard it was, measuring with their hands. They put their hands close together to show it was easy for them, far apart if it was hard.

Suzy said as a teacher, it was difficult to NOT worry about managing behaviors. For her, it was not an easy task.

So we all have stuff to work on. And sometimes, it’s just giving up that bit of control. Wanna join us?

Take a minute or three.

Sit up straight.


Tight and Relaxed

On December 9, Lindsay from Center for Mindful Learning came in. We went through a breathing exercise and then talked about how our bodies felt. We worked on breathing and took turns leading the breathing. We tightened and relaxed.

It seems like we are always doing this, over and over. But we need it. And we need to understand our feelings. To own them. What we are moving toward is acknowledgement and then trying to know what to do with what we know. We are getting much more proficient at saying where we feel tight.

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Changing up the faces

soryupicLast week, Center for Mindful Learning’s guiding teacher, Soryu Forall, came to our class. He had never been and didn’t know quite what to expect. He came a bit late. Our school is big. And some days, parking can be at a premium. And so he came a bit late.

He and Suzy know each other. He was expecting to see her. But he saw me instead. We had met briefly at a gathering last summer, but I apparently made no lasting impression.

But he was here. And it was good. We got the room in a circle and we started talking about feelings. And what it means to be proud.IMG_0148

What a word, “proud.” How do you explain that? You can give situations in which one might feel proud, but how do you explain that? Without words? Without context?

It’s hard. Soryu said it was when you felt good about what you did. And that’s right. But it’s still kind of nebulous.

He has a fabulous mind for names. He remembered everybody after having gone around the circle once. That’s an amazing feat: to remember names that sound so different from those we are used to hearing. He confessed to me afterwards that he was able to do that only when the names were not of the culture we’re used to. He had such an easy way with banter around the students. It was awesome.

He made one great connection, with a student who happens to be Buddhist. He thought Soryu was a lama. He’s not. But he is a teacher. And he has a great laugh that shook the room.

He talked to Suzy afterward and relayed that for mindfulness, we need to be able to differentiate positive and negative feelings, and be able to say what you do to help you get through those negative feelings: When I am angry, I breathe. When I am frustrated, I relax.

We have that sentence frame down. But I don’t think we’ve got the whole concept of positive and negative feelings down. Nor do we really have that causal relationship solidified in English.

We’ve been trying to get students to mimic the sentence, “When I am cold, I wear _____.” But I don’t think there is necessarily a causal relationship present in the construction of the phrase. Rather, it’s causal that the teacher says it, so I say it back.

It was good to have a fresh set of eyes on our class. And it was good to feel like we have a direction that will help us move forward.

Getting in the mindset

Today, we had a visit from Denise and Lindsay from the Center for Mindful Learning. We are going to experiment how to bring mindfulness to students for whom English is still quite new.

Mind the Music is a mindfulness training program for teens that uses popular music as the object of concentration. It provides clear and simple techniques for cultivating concentration, clarity and equanimity.

(You can find out more about the approach at the link above. And there are some videos here of students from the King Street Center who did this work a few years ago.)

But before Lindsay led us in a relaxation exercise, we had to do some work. We had to learn the parts of the body in English and also talk a little about things we feel: Happy, sad, hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, angry, sick… There are more. And these aren’t all moods. But we are talking about beginners. This is enough to get by…

We tensed and relaxed muscles. We moved different parts of our body in isolation to the beat of Pharrel William’s song Happy.

Lindsay wanted students to volunteer songs they knew. But that will be for a different day. We need to prepare them for that. This is not the group that you look for spontaneous output. We have to prepare.

In the end, we don’t know if our students really understood what we were doing or why. But it’s a start.  Everybody participated. But we didn’t introduce the vocabulary that goes with the meditative aspect of the work. Which we might. It’s all that preparing stuff.

The grant allows for us to have Lindsay come by throughout the year and for us to take a class so we can teach others. We think it will be well worth the time.

Peace of Mind

Have you ever been uprooted from your home? The place you feel safe? Regardless of how crappy it might be?

I remember when I was in early elementary school, my nine-member family was squished into a 2-bedroom basement house. This isn’t my house, but it looked a lot like this. The post I got this from can be found here.

I always thought someone meant to finish the house, but they just left the top off. But it turns out that in Denver, there is a group looking to put a historic marker on this place. It was supposed to be a quick housing solution for returning soldiers.

I hated this house. It was too crowded for my older siblings who were growing into stinky teenagers. It was old. It was dark. It was dirty. It was crowded and messy. Too many people. Too many things.

But I loved the giant lilac bushes that dotted the back yard. I loved the sounds of summer. I loved making mud pies in the backyard, where nobody cared what the grass looked like. I loved my neighbors and the fact that we could run in the street. There were only 500 people in town. Everybody knew everybody. I felt safe.

And then, one day, we moved.

That was the first move I remembered, the second of nine I would go through until I graduated from college. Some by choice, some not so much.

Never in one place for long. Never creating deep, lasting friendships. Never knowing where we would go next.

I can’t imagine what my students go through when they leave all they know and have to give up everything familiar.

When you’re little–or even when you’re big–this loss of control can make you a little angry. A little frustrated. A little stressed. A little sad. Or even a lot.

And when that happens, it gets in the way of school and friendships and life.

And thus the grant.

And… (drumroll, please!)

My colleague Suzy King just won a grant for our class!

It’s called: Building Resiliency Skills through Mindfulness Education.

We soon will become Mindfulness experts. The program is through the Center for Mindful Learning in Burlington, Vt. The center has done this work before, with students who are much like ours.

And we think it’s just what our students need….

Our goals are to:

  • Increase trust among our students;
  • Build resiliency skills;
  • Increase confidence.

And all that in 5 minutes a day!

Think back to when you were a child and experienced loss. And then think about how you wished someone were there to help you deal with it.

Take a look at their other successes here, on their website.

Wish us luck! Or maybe just wish us mindfulness….