Sunday, March 18, 2018

Go Go Yoga for Kids: Yoga Lessons for Children (recommended book)

Sara Weis is a mother and elementary school teacher, as well as an experienced kids yoga instructor and teacher trainer. So she has a lot of useful suggestions for how to structure and pace a class while keeping kids safe and engaged. 

But her biggest strength is as the creator of fun yoga-based activities. Her new book, Go Go Yoga for Kids: Yoga Lessons for Children has dozens of games and activities: Yoga Bingo! Princesses and pirates! Not to mention the four seasons, birthdays, the Olympics, and trips to the farm and circus. (Although I suspect one of the most popular themes might turn out to be the "Quick-and-Easy No-Time-to-Plan Kids Yoga Lesson.") 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mindful Listening: Only If You Listen Can You Hear

The following is a guest post by Ira Rabois, author of Compassionate Critical Thinking, explaining the ways that mindful listening can be integrated into academic courses.

I had a discussion with a friend yesterday. I made what I thought was a logical and possibly obvious suggestion to help him with a difficult problem he was facing. The result was my friend yelling back at me all the reasons not to do what I suggested—and then apologizing.

I realized he wasn’t arguing with me but himself. He was shouting back against the universe that had sent him the problems, hoping the vehemence of his objection would obliterate the reality. So today, when he brought up the topic again, I just listened, sometimes asking questions to check if I understood, and empathizing with him. The result: he came to his own conclusions.

I've seen this dynamic many times in the classroom. Students often argue a point not because they truly believe it, but because they don’t want to believe it. They hear something from friends or family and don’t want it to be true and want you or the class to argue them free of it. They might feel conceptually stuck and want a way out. They might say there is no such thing as love, for example, or all actions are selfish, because they fear a life without love or they have been hurt by the selfishness of friends, and don’t want to feel their own lives are meaningless.

Instead of dictating answers of your own, which will often be resisted, ask questions to help students better notice and understand their own experience and improve their ability to reason. For example, if a student says love is impossible or an illusion, ask them one or more of the following:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Using Mindful Questioning to Enhance Academic Learning (interview)

Ira Rabois has many years of experience as a secondary school teacher, instructor in the traditional Japanese martial arts, and meditation practitioner. While teaching for 27 years at the Lehman Alternative School in Ithaca, N. Y., he developed an innovative curriculum in English, Philosophy, History, Drama, Martial Arts, and Psychology, and refined a method of mindful questioning. He writes a blog on education and mindfulness. Mr. Rabois is the author of Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching.

What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

First, what does mindfulness mean? Mindfulness is a study of mind and heart from “the inside.” It is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations illuminating how interdependent you are with other people and your world. 

Without being judgmental, it notices whatever arises as a potential learning event. It is both a practice, as in meditation, and is also a quality of awareness or of being in the world.

When I first started teaching, like most educators, I made a number of mistakes. When you make a mistake, it is easy to get down on yourself, and then you don’t learn all that you could. 

The more mindful I became, the more I could take in, the less judgmental I was, and the more I thought of my students as my teachers.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Compassionate Critical Thinking (recommended book)

"Often, you have little choice in what material you teach; the only choice you have is how the material is taught... When a teacher enters the classroom with awareness and genuine caring, students are more likely to do the same."

Compassionate Critical Thinking by Ira Rabois

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Songs about Regret and Forgiveness

Here's is the latest in the popular series of song lists on compassion, gratitude and so on.  This time, the focus is on regret, forgiveness and reconciliation.  

Music styles include ska, Sesame Street, and salsa-infused hip hop, so hopefully there's something for everyone. 

Teachers, I've included a brief snippet of the lyrics for each song, but be sure to watch the full video and read the full lyrics before sharing any of these songs with your class. I try not to include anything offensive, but with a readership on six continents teaching pre-K through post-graduate, I can't guarantee that everything will be appropriate for your particular context.

Apology Song, The Decemberists

lyrics; video (audio + album cover)
"I'm really sorry, Steven, but your bicycle's been stolen. I was watchin' it for you 'til you came back in the fall.  I guess I didn't do such a good job after all... So I wrote you this song in the hopes that you'd forgive me even though it was wrong."  

Begin Again, Rachel Platten
official lyrics video
"I need a wrecking ball. I want the sky to fall. I feel so small tonight... I need a tidal wave. Come and wash away all the mess I made  to make it right. I need to make it right."

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Children's Author Teaches Yoga, Mindfulness, and Compassion (interview)

Susan Verde has bachelor's and master’s degrees in Elementary Education and Reading Remediation, and is a certified kids yoga and mindfulness instructor as well as an award-winning author of children’s books. Her upcoming books include Rock N Roll Soul (May 15th), I Am Human, and Hey, Wall! (about street art and community). Susan lives with her 3 children in East Hampton, NY and speaks and gives workshops throughout the United States at yoga studios and elementary, middle and high schools. 

Why did you choose to call your books I am Yoga and I am Peace rather than “I Do Yoga” and “I Feel Peace,” or “I Practice Yoga and Mindfulness”?

The practices of mindfulness and yoga are really ones that we embody, not just engage in at a distance. They are ways of being in the world. 

When I work with kids doing yoga and mindfulness they become the practice. When we are in tree pose they are trees…exploring how it feels in their minds and bodies. 

Once you understand that you are something, it informs how you live your life.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

5 Common Misunderstandings about Christians and Mindfulness

Last fall, I was contacted by a school that received the following message from a parent:
"Our family takes our faith very seriously, and this kind of practice goes very much against what we believe... I respectfully request that these 'mindfulness' assignments and classroom practice stop."
They were looking for "any suggestions... to help this parent understand that we're not attempting to promote any religious activities or anything that will contradict their Christian faith."

The request couldn't have come at a better time, since I was about to spend the weekend at a Christian retreat center.

No one I spoke with on the retreat had any trouble with Christians practicing mindfulness. In fact, the spiritual director said he uses mindfulness as a way to calm his mind and focus his thoughts so that he can be more present and authentic in his prayer, rather than reciting by rote. 

I also had a long conversation with a fellow retreatant, a devout Christian who practices yoga and is studying in the renowned MBSR teacher training program at the University of Massachusetts.  She said that the deeper she goes into her mindfulness practice, the closer she feels to God.  

In these conversations, as well as a follow-up phone call to my sister after I got home (she's a pastor) we talked about how unfortunate it is that there's a persistent misunderstanding between some Christians and the mindfulness community, especially when people on both sides are so well-intentioned.

I hope the following post will help bridge the communication gap between secular mindfulness teachers and Christians who have a negative view of mindfulness. (Each of the five misunderstandings is based on similar statements I've heard multiple times from secular mindfulness teachers or read multiple times on Christian blogs.)

Misunderstanding #1: "Nonjudgmental awareness is immoral. If we don't judge anything, we just let everyone do whatever they want, no matter how bad it is."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion for Children and Healers (interview)

photo courtesy Dr. Heather Krantz
Heather Krantz, M.D. completed the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil and trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC). She has also trained in the Mindful Schools curriculum and Mindfulness-Based Childbirth & Parenting. She has written two books for young children, Mind Bubbles: Exploring Mindfulness with Kids and Heart Bubbles: Exploring Compassion with Kids.

Your books are intended for kids aged 4-8. What advice would you give to teachers and parents who want to introduce mindfulness to young children? 

I would tell parents to keep it light, fun, and simple.  I think you can teach children to use the breath as an anchor that they can come back to when they get caught up in difficult thoughts or emotions like worry or sadness or anger or even when they just need to settle themselves.  I explain that the breath is friendly and is always there for them as an anchor to return to in order to calm themselves.  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Realistic Self-Care: Is It Possible to Keep All the Balls in the Air?

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.” 

Brian Dyson, from his 1991 commencement speech at Georgia Tech

The following post was co-written with my sister, “Pastor Deb.”

Catharine Hannay (MA TESOL, MS Communications) is the founder and editor of Mindful Teachers. She has twenty years of experience as a teacher of English to refugees, immigrants, and international students.

Rev. Dr. Deborah Hannay Sunoo has a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and has twenty-five years of experience in church ministry. She is the pastor of Magnolia Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington.

This post grew out of a series of conversations about the challenges of balancing self-care with care for our families and the people we serve in our work. We've also done our best to support each other during quite stressful circumstances over the past five years. Our mother died of brain cancer last summer, and we both had to make quite difficult decisions in various aspects of our lives. 

After talking to many fellow educators and clergy, as well as nurses, doctors, social workers, and counselors, we've realized that while the details may be different, the basic challenges are quite similar across all of the helping professions. Even for those of us doing God’s work, we’re still only human. Working 24/7 year after year after year simply isn’t sustainable.

Mom taught us to have a very strong work ethic (she published several books while teaching full-time), but she also had a favorite motto whenever the family tendency toward perfectionism was getting out of control:
 "When all else fails, lower your standards!"   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Secular and Spiritual Perspectives on Gratitude

I keep thinking about the Thanksgiving blessing my uncle gave a couple of years ago based on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Be grateful in all things.”

The idea is to be grateful 
in all things, not necessarily for all things. This was quite a moving prayer, as it was such an awful time for our family—both my mother and my uncle himself were seriously ill. We weren't at all happy about the challenges we were facing, but we did feel tremendously grateful for the outpouring of love and support from our friends, colleagues, and neighbors.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the many, many serious issues all over the world, I think about all of the fine people I've met through Mindful Teachers: mindfulness teachers, yoga instructors, educators from pre-K to post-graduate, nurses, doctors, social workers, and counselors. Different fields, different cultures, different beliefs, but a shared commitment to living and working with mindfulness and compassion.

Here are a variety of perspectives on gratitude from both faith-based and secular sources. 
There's a lot we can learn from going deeper into our own traditions, as well as from approaching other traditions with an open mind and an open heart. 

(Teachers, there are suggested discussion questions at the end of the post.)