Wednesday, March 20, 2019

4 Tips for Culturally-Sensitive Teaching

by Catharine Hannay

In a new guest post at the Center for Adolescent Studies blog, I explain how to avoid some common sources of tension between teachers and students from different backgrounds.

In his book on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, David Treleaven tells the story of Nari, a young woman born and raised in the United States. Nari was on her first meditation retreat, looking forward to her first private appointment with the teacher. 

Unfortunately, he started the session by asking
 “Where are you from?” 

Like many people of color, Nari was really sick of answering that question. Also like many people of color, she’d already felt self-conscious as the only non-white retreatant. She wanted the focus of the conversation with her teacher to be her experience with meditation, not her ethnicity.
“I’m local,” she said. “Just a few hours south.”

As she’d expected, the teacher said, “No, I mean, where is your family from?” Nari politely explained that her parents were from Korea. “Did you grow up meditating with your family, then?”

“Because I’m Asian?” 
“Yes, well, I mean…”

The teacher awkwardly changed the topic, but the damage was done. Nari felt so uncomfortable with him that she decided to leave the retreat several days early...

Can you imagine this meditation teacher starting a conversation with a White student about her country of origin? Perhaps if the student had a foreign accent, but not if, like Nari, she was speaking like anybody else at the retreat...

That said, I don’t think Nari’s teacher had any intention of offending her. It seems a case of cluelessness rather than callousness. As meditation teacher JD Doyle says, “None of us is immune from acting unskillfully. Despite good intentions, our cultural conditioning and ignorance often result in blunders and harm.”

No matter what subject you teach, I hope that the following tips will help you in your work with students and colleagues whose backgrounds are different from yours.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Video Playlist: Using the Arts to Teach Mindfulness

Here's the latest in the popular series of video playlists for teachers and teacher trainers. This time, the focus is on using the visual and performing arts to teach mindfulness to adults and kids.

Visual Arts

Artist Malcolm Dewey explains how we can quiet our minds and break out of habitual thought patterns by practicing a non-judgmental, practice-focused type of painting.

Chilean painter Fusa Deyas creates street art with a deeper message.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Can Evangelical Christians Practice Mindfulness?

Dr. Irene Kraegel is director of the student counseling center at Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has 15 years of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist, and her current work includes mindfulness training for students at Calvin. Dr. Kraegel shares her experiences and thoughts related to the integration of Christian faith and mindfulness practice at her website,

In this follow-up to an interview about How Christians Can Benefit from Mindfulness Practice, Irene discusses a Christian approach to mindfulness with Catharine Hannay, editor and publisher of

Catharine: After our previous interview, we got a comment from a reader who was very upset that you integrate mindfulness with your faith practices. Why do you think some evangelical Christians have such a visceral reaction against mindfulness?

Irene: I think it’s helpful to first acknowledge that many Christians (including those within the evangelical tradition) are quite open to mindfulness, and even eager to integrate it into their lineup of spiritual practices. Despite my frequent writing and speaking regarding the topic of Christian mindfulness, I have experienced no other encounters with Christians who are angry about an integrative approach.

Catharine: That’s an important point. I’ve also found that in my own conversations with Christians, the vast majority have no trouble with mindfulness.

Irene: Having said that, it’s true that some Christians are wary of mindfulness practice. Many of us within the evangelical Christian tradition have been taught a fear-based approach to spirituality. This stems partly from a healthy understanding of evil and sin in the world. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Activities for Exploring the Five Senses

by Catharine Hannay

"We must make ourselves sensitive and present to all... the ordinary, everyday things, that have stopped attracting our attention.. an apple, a shoe, a blade of grass, a telephone... This is easy to do; it requires just three things: 
  • wanting it (wanting to exist in the real world rather than a virtual world that is impoverished by our narrowed attention);  
  • allowing it (having decluttered our mind and expanded our awareness); and  
  • doing it (raising our head, opening our eyes and really looking)." 
from Looking at Mindfulness by Christophe Andr√©

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels 

I hope you and your students enjoy the following approaches to mindfully seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. Depending on what type of class you teach, you might ask them to discuss, write about, or draw a picture of what they experienced. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Realistic Self-Care: What Kind of Exercise Do You Enjoy?

Photo by from Pexels

by Catharine Hannay

When I was in grad school, I was having trouble figuring out a good workout routine, so I asked a professor,
"Have you found some kind of exercise that you like?"

She told me, 
"Every night after supper I use my treadmill for exactly fifteen minutes while I scroll through the news headlines."

I probably should have guessed the answer to my follow-up question:
"And do you enjoy that?"
"Well, I DO it!" 

O-o-o-ka-a-ay. The question was about whether you enjoy it. And I guess I'll take that as a no.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Thought-Provoking Videos About Mindfulness and Meditation

by Catharine Hannay

These brief (5-15 minute) videos explore mindfulness and meditation from different points of view. A few of the perspectives might be controversial, but I've chosen them because of their potential to spark thoughtful dialogue.

As always, please watch the full video before showing it to your class or group, and use your own best judgment about what's appropriate for your particular context. And scroll down to the end of the post for suggested questions for discussion or reflective writing.

Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation

Emerson College students and Campus Chaplain bring meditation to residents of St. Francis House, New England's largest day shelter.

This is from Peace in Schools' series of videos of adults and youth talking about the benefits of mindfulness.

Mindfulness teacher Jerry Braza discusses how paying attention can lead to personal transformation, and how anything and anyone can be used as a 'mindfulness bell' to help us focus on the present moment and connect with each other.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Realistic Self-Care: What's Draining Your Battery?

by Catharine Hannay

When I started my first teaching job, a veteran professor told me:
“Anyone can be a good teacher by killing yourself [with work]. The secret is to be a good teacher without killing yourself.”
I've heard similar remarks from nurses, social workers, and counselors. There is far too much to do on any given day, and it's only getting worse as 24/7 connectivity adds to the already-impossible demands on those of us committed to helping others. 

As my husband said after a particularly grueling day of pro bono work:

“Everybody loves that Margaret Mead quote about a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens changing the world. What nobody ever seems to mention is how exhausting it can be.”

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Exploring Our Humanity with Mindfulness

What Our Bodies Can Teach Us 

Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

guest post by Ira Rabois, author of Compassionate Critical Thinking

How can we use mindfulness, visualization and inquiry practices to teach history and what it means to be human? One avenue is to look clearly at our own body and the way our mind works.

We often overlook the obvious. We are our own most direct example of what it means to be human. And what could be more important in this time of high anxiety and threat than a better understanding of our shared humanity and ourselves? 
Ask students: Did you ever consider that inside yourself might lie answers to some of the deepest questions about human history and what it means to be a human being? 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Breath-Based Practices for Mindfulness or Stress Reduction

Photo by Neil Bates on Unsplash

by Catharine Hannay

“If you can breathe, you can meditate.” 
Sharon Salzberg 

Here are several approaches to breath awareness for adults and kids. Some of them are intended to reduce stress and anxiety, while others help us focus on whatever is happening in the present moment.

But first, a note to new teachers: I've been asked several times,
"Where can I find mindfulness scripts for my students?"  

Rather than reading from a script, please do the practices yourself several times before leading a group or class, so the phrasing feels natural to you. 

In fact, you may actually want to use recordings with your students for a while before starting to lead the practices yourself.

Why Focus on the Breath?

In Looking at MindfulnessChristophe Andr√© gives several advantages of breath-based practices.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

New Coalition Supports Mindfulness in Schools (interview)

Tracy Heilers is a yoga instructor and mindfulness instructor for pre-K through high school students and teachers. She is
the the founder and executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Mindfully (COSEM). COSEM will be hosting its first annual conference from February 28-March 2, 2019 in St. Charles, IL (outside of Chicago). 

In this interview, Tracy discusses COSEM and her approach to mindfulness with Catharine Hannay, editor and publisher of

Catharine: I was interested to see that your bachelor’s degree is in Civil Engineering. What led you toward yoga and mindfulness?

Tracy: My mindfulness path started when I was an engineer. When I’d get lower back pain from sitting all day with stressful deadlines, I sought out a remedy and found yoga.