Using Mindfulness as a Teacher
Lately it seems that every time I turn on the news there is a story about mindfulness and how the practice is helping many of us cope with the daily stresses of life. While the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years and was originated in the Eastern part of the world, ‘mindfulness’ seems to be a buzz word currently trending here in the United states.
But what exactly is mindfulness? According to Jon Kabat Zinn an American Professor of medicine and the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, states that, “mindfulness is paying attention; on purpose, or being in the moment and doing so non-judgmentally.”
As A K-5 Health and Wellness Teacher I explain to my students that part of being mindful is learning how to concentrate or focus on one thing at a time and enjoy fully what you are doing at that moment in time. When they come to my class and we talk about what mindfulness means I ask them what should they be focusing on right now? The answer should be my health and wellness class. I may ask them should you be thinking about lunch right now? Should you be thinking about after school? Should you be thinking about what your friend next to you is doing? The answers to all my questions are no. This is a basic way of understanding being in the moment.
But how do we as a class practice being in the moment? We start with small exercises for a few minutes and build from there. We first talk of how our brain constantly has thoughts coming in and out and how in order to calm our brains down we must sit with quiet body and quiet mind to get ready. As we sit quietly, we might visualize a color or a calm place we imagine in our brains.
I like to use the example of sitting on the beach, all alone, listening to the waves crashing over the sand. I focus only on what that sounds like or what that looks like in my head. I close my eyes and visualize this over and over pushing out any other thoughts that may arise.
The kids can pick their own quiet place where they like to go and watch in their minds like a movie. We play relaxing music for meditation and start off for just a few minutes. The children love to discuss their “quiet place” with me when we finish the meditation. It usually takes several classes to get elementary school children to be able to do this but after a few practices they love it and it is a great way for them to be self- aware of their bodies and how to stay quiet and focused.
For adults I would describe being mindful as blocking out the constant loop that runs in our heads. Focus on one thing and eventually focus on just your breath and being aware of your surroundings. I find it to be very soothing and calming and if I practice just ten to twenty minutes daily, I am more focused and ready to take on my day. Practicing mindfulness can be simply sitting somewhere quiet, closing my eyes and visualizing something calm like the ocean and eventually just literally thinking of nothing at all, it takes time but I believe we all have the ability to meditate and train our brains to settle down.
I have been an active triathlete for over eighteen years now. I started doing triathlons in 2002 when I was thirty-five years old. Since then I have competed in over forty triathlons of varying distances and last year become an Ironman Triathlete doing Ironman Louisville in Kentucky. For those that don’t know a triathlon is a race that involves swimming, biking, and running. Ironman is the longest distance of 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running in one day.
I am now fifty-three years young and I am often asked how I can continue to do triathlons and all that is demanded of my body. I train my body regularly, but I must train my brain as well. I cannot go out and do an event without working at all three sports, eating well and getting sleep but the other component most people don’t consider for athletes is the mindfulness piece that is perhaps the most important. I explain by telling people if my mind isn’t in the right place my sporting event will suffer.
During Ironman I faced many challenges throughout that day and if my mind was not fit then I would not have made it no matter how fit my body was. There were extreme temperatures outside that day, and it rained constantly for the entire thirteen plus hours I was on the course. Many athletes were pulled off the course for being too cold. My mantra that day was to be grateful to be there in the first place as it took a year of training and discipline. During that day I tried to find joy even though I was never dry the whole day, my bike malfunctioned, and my stomach cramped early in my 112-mile bike ride.
I talked to others on the marathon portion of the event to hear inspiring stories to keep my mind fit. When I came across any negativity I moved on from the person. I focused on one sport at a time, never thinking about the other two sports that I’d have to eventually complete. So, in other words I stayed in the current moment of what I was doing, I stayed mindful for each portion of the event. I told myself over and over that I would finish, that the event was no different than doing swim, bike, and run training. Honestly without the mindful meditation that I practiced during my training I would not have made it to the finish line.
Mindfulness takes patience and lots of practice, but I believe it can benefit anyone at any age. I have noticed it has helped me with my relationships with others as I do my best to truly listen to another person without thinking of the next thing that I want to say in a conversation. This is particularly hard in the fast-paced world we live in and hard for a teacher who loves to talk.
Take a moment, turn off your phone, head to a quiet spot and close your eyes. You’ll be surprised what you may find.