Sunday, June 17, 2018

'Check Up From the Neck Up' Relaxation Practice

The following is a guest post by Evalyn Gaskell of Harmony LifeBalance.

Several times a day one can practice “check up from the neck up,” especially when there is a lot of mind activity going on, like:

  • feelings of being stressed, 
  • what to do, where to go, 
  • what’s happening tomorrow (or an hour from now), 
  • what happened yesterday, what was done, not done, said, not said, 
  • am I criticizing or judging myself or others, 
  • etc.  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Self-Care Through Self-Awareness and Self-Compassion (interview)

Evalyn Gaskell, M.Ed., is a retired Social Worker and Special Education teacher and is certified in Reiki and E.F.T. (Emotional Freedom Technique). She offers individual wellness, mindfulness and self-care sessions through her holistic private practice, Harmony LifeBalance, as well as community workshops and group guided meditation classes, in North Carolina.

One of your favorite practices is “check up from the neck up.” How can this help stressed-out teachers and counselors?

This practice helps us to become more aware of our own behavior, emotions, and thoughts. It can be utilized as a mini-relaxation, mini-break, stress reduction and centering tool. It requires us to become aware, paying attention to our “mind chatter” just for a few moments. This process helps us to become centered and present.

There is a well-known saying, “This too shall pass” and whatever is going on in one’s life always passes. Using self-help tools helps us to be the commanders of our own lives. As Louise Hay says, “Changing your thoughts, changes your life.”

[Instructions for 'Check Up from the Neck Up' will be posted next Sunday, June 17th.]

Your work incorporates both guided imagery and mindfulness. Could you briefly explain the differences between these two types of meditation?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Power of Forgiveness: Quotations for Reflection and Discussion

Here are perspectives on forgiving those who've wronged us, forgiving our own mistakes and imperfections, and feeling lovingkindness toward others without necessarily condoning their actions.

Teachers, I don't necessarily recommend giving this whole long list to your students. I like to provide a lot of options so you can choose what's most appropriate for your particular context.

The Meaning of Forgiveness

Donald Altman, One-Minute Mindfulness:
"Forgiveness does not mean we forget a violation or injustice and allow it to reappear in our lives.… Forgiveness is an extraordinary gift we give to ourselves and others.  No one can grant forgiveness except you, which makes it not only powerful but also empowering."

Sunday, May 27, 2018

More Than Saying Thank You

Activities That Encourage Awe for the Ordinary

photo courtesy Brandi Lust

The following is a guest post by Brandi Lust of Learning Lab Consulting, adapted from her book Myths of Being Human: Four Paths to Connect with What Matters.

It’s so easy in life to take our human experience for granted. Right now, hundreds of thousands of cells and dozens of body systems are operating in such a way that you get to breath air, move your fingers, and read these words. While it’s easy to forget our luck in being alive, we can reorient ourselves toward gratitude through attention and awareness. 

In Myths of Being Human: Four Paths to Connect With What Matters, I describe 4 paths to connect with what’s most important in your life. The four paths are mindfulness, gratitude, growth, and connection. 

Gratitude, the second path, is defined in the book as, 
“more than saying ‘thank you.’ It is also more than recognizing when something exceptional happens and appreciating it. Gratitude is about cultivating awe for everyday human experience—the good and the bad.” 

This is an important skill to cultivate because, unfortunately, our bodies can work against positivity. Research shows we pay more attention, for longer, to a negative stimulus. However, gratitude can help. It’s hard to feel grateful and fearful at the same time. 

The following is a gratitude practice from the book, followed by a modification that can be used with students. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Myths of Being Human: Four Paths to What Matters (recommended book)

"We live in a world of distraction, and simply being human means our lives are complicated. If we do not clear a space for ourselves within, we could end up lost and wandering, looking for the elusive 'right answer' based wholly on external clues. The solution to this is not more action, but instead cultivating a space of internal stillness."

Brandi Lust, Myths of Being Human

Myths of Being Human: Four Paths to Connect with What Matters is based on Brandi Lust's eight-week training program on mindfulness, gratitude, growth, and connection. It can be used as a self-directed program, the core text for a facilitated group, or as a supplement to an existing mindfulness class.

Each section begins with a 'myth' (or common misunderstanding) contrasted with the reality: 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

An INCRAmental Approach to Building Rapport with Youth

I had the opportunity to share my perspective on working with youth in a guest post on the Center for Adolescent Studies blog:

I dreaded my weekly staring contest with the man who was supposed to be treating my depression. He’d start each session by asking me a probing question, then silently wait for my response.  
Since I felt too intimidated to talk about my recent suicide attempt, we just sat there awkwardly looking at each other until the end of the hour... I didn’t have any reason to trust him or believe he could help me. It felt more like I’d been sent to the principal’s office for misbehavior, even though I hadn’t hurt anyone but myself. 
Many years later, I was fascinated by a scene in the TV show Mad Men where Sally Draper chats with a child psychologist while playing the card game Go Fish. This is what my colleague Dr. Sam Himelstein calls an INCRA, or Inherently Non-Clinical Relational Activity. 
Dr. Himelstein explains that an INCRA is “an activity to help take pressure off the youth so the relationship can develop organically.” Playing cards is just one example. It could be taking a walk, listening to music, or baking cookies. An INCRA is essentially any activity that helps build rapport with youth, takes the pressure off a tense situation, or helps them calm down if they’re triggered or traumatized.

Photo by Crown Agency on Unsplash

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Realistic Self-Care: What Does Your Body Need?

I know three super-responsible women who are constantly on the go, taking care of their own children as well as their students or clients, never taking a break... except when they get migraines and have to cancel everything and stay in bed all day. 

Personally, I've never suffered from migraines, but I have noticed that the more stressed and preoccupied I am, the more likely I am to catch the flu. And I've finally let go of my tendency to return to work far earlier than I should, which only makes it take longer to recuperate (not to mention the risk of infecting other people, which isn't exactly responsible or kind). 

Your situation may be different.

Perhaps you need a glass of wine (or two or three) every night after work to unwind... 

or perhaps you don't exercise or eat healthy meals because you're in survival mode pretty much all the time...

or perhaps you spend several hours a day hunched over a desk and then slouch your way home on your commute only to spend the rest of the evening slumped on the sofa mindlessly consuming snacks and infotainment.

None of this makes you a bad person. 

However, it does mean you need to start taking better care of your body.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Mindful Moments in Nature

The following is a guest post by Bianca Brownea certified children's mindfulness and meditation facilitator who offers classes and  workshops in Cape Town, South Africa.

Mindfulness and nature. For me, the two go hand in hand. There is something about being in nature that encourages me to pause and be still. 

Maybe it is the abundance of fresh air. 

Maybe it is that wonderful, earthy smell. 

Maybe it is the soothing sounds of nature. 

Maybe it is an awakening of all my senses that helps me to be present in the moment. 

All I know is that nature is my go-to place to find the calm within. 

It is for this reason that I run my “My Parent and Me!” mindfulness workshops in our nearby forest whenever possible.  

Recently we had a wonderful workshop in the forest with the focal point being the river. Despite the severe drought in Cape Town at the moment, the river was still flowing gently. What a privilege to be able to sit on its banks and listen to the soft, soothing sound of the flowing water.

“I breathe slowly in, I breathe slowly out.  
My breath is a river of peace. I am here in the world.  
Each moment I can breathe and be.” 
~ from “Breathe and Be” by Kate Coombs.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Songs About Nature and the Environment

Here's the latest in the popular series of song playlists for teachers. This time the focus is on protecting the environment, appreciating nature, and treating all creatures with respect and compassion.

As always, please read the full lyrics and watch the full video before deciding if a song is appropriate for your particular context.  And scroll to the bottom of the post for questions to prompt reflection and discussion.

Come Walk with Me
Liz Weston
lyrics not available; video with singing by Martyn Wyndham-Reid and photos of nature
“Where wren and robin sing in the green and leafy shade... All this I will show you as we wander hand in hand. Come walk with me, and learn to love the land.

Global Warming, Niyorah
lyricsaudio + album cover
Global warming, the cry is out. The earth is getting hotter, without a doubt. The glaciers are melting in the north and south. Our lives are about to change.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Using Mantras While Teaching Kids Yoga (guest post)

The following is a guest post by Sara Weis of Go Go Yoga for Kids, adapted from her books A Complete Guide to Yoga with Kids and Yoga Lessons for Children.

We live in a fast-paced world and so do our children. How can we, as adults and teachers, help children connect with themselves and others and also learn to enjoy the moment they are in? 

What we think about ourselves can often impact how we develop. 
  • If we feel we are inadequate, then we'll behave like that. 
  • If we believe we are special and loved, we will most likely behave as if we are special and loved. 

This is one reason why affirmations and mantras can be an important tool to help children develop positive foundations on which to grow.  A positive self-belief system built in childhood will hopefully stay with a person throughout their life.