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.

Monday, March 26, 2018

How Our Own ACEs Impact Trauma Work with Youth (guest post)

I am honored to have the opportunity to write another guest post for the Center for Adolescent Studies blog.

Here's the introduction... 

While you were growing up:
  • Were your parents or caregivers unloving, unsupportive, or neglectful?
  • Were you threatened or abused?
  • Did you witness the abuse of one of your caregivers?
  • Did you live with anyone who had a mental illness or a problem with alcohol or drugs? 
These are all examples of ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences. The term ACEs first appeared in a study of the relationship between childhood trauma and adult illness. 
Over the past few years, there’s been an increasing awareness of ACEs and interest in trauma-informed teaching and therapy. We should also keep in mind how much our own trauma histories may continue to impact those of us who work with youth. 
In her book on Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dermoot Lipsky explains that

“Some people feel driven to work in a field that is connected to an earlier trauma in their life; consciously or not, they intend to master the haunting echoes of a previous time… The more personal our connection to our work, the greater the gifts we bring to it—perhaps. 
At the same time, the more we identify with the type of trauma we’re exposed to, the greater the impact on us may be… to the point that we experience their anguish in a debilitating way… 
We can sustain our work with trauma only if we combine our capacity for empathy with a dedication to personal insight and mindfulness.”

You can read the full post at:

Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels 

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.