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

It’s nearly Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and I keep thinking about the 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.)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Children’s Author Explains How to Tame a ‘Want Monster’

Chelo Manchego is an artist and meditation practitioner who grew up in El Salvador and now lives in Los Angeles, California. He is the author of The Want Monsters and How They Stopped Ruling My World and Little Royal: A Fish Tale.

The Want Monsters features a greedy critter named Oskar who’s never satisfied because he always wants more. If he has one ice cream cone he craves the whole box, and he keeps playing video games until his thumbs hurt. Did you have a ginormous Want Monster as a kid? How did you learn to become more moderate?

Oh goodness, yes, my want monsters were colossal. My poor parents! 
I am the baby of the family and I’ve always had a very driven personality, if not somewhat obsessive, so that made it difficult for me to take no for an answer, even from myself. 

I moved to Los Angeles from El Salvador by myself. I was eighteen years old, and I had all this freedom, and the city was new to me and exciting and wild. If I wanted to eat an entire chocolate cake at three in the morning I could, and I did, many times! 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Dozen Ways to Explore the Five Senses

Focusing on the five senses is a popular way to introduce mindfulness or to bring awareness into our daily lives. You're probably already familiar with Eating a Raisin and Listening to a Bell, so for this list I've been poking around looking for activities you may not have seen elsewhere. I've also included a few of the most popular activities here at Mindful Teachers for those of you who are new to the site. 

I've drawn on a variety of sources for children and adults, and I've tried to include activities that are appropriate for as wide an audience as possible. As always, please try them yourself before sharing them with others so you can make appropriate adaptations for your particular context.


1. Human Camera: a mindfulness activity to engage the senses

Click on the green link above for this activity, which was generously provided to Mindful Teachers by Parallax Press, from the book Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community.

2. Rainbow Walk: a mindfulness activity to move the body and rest the mind

Click on the green link above for this activity, which has been consistently in the top ten posts here at   

I came up with this idea as I walked to the bus stop every day on my way to and from a stressful job.  It really helps me to calm down and focus on my surroundings, and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from folks who've used it successfully with students of all ages (from very young children to adults).

3. Ten Ways to Look at a Tree
  • far away; 
  • close up; 
  • as a color palette;
  • in separate parts: the leaves, the bark, the growth patterns, the root system; 
  • the space around the tree; 
  • symmetrically, 
  • diachronically (across time);
  • as a habitat; 
  • lightheartedly.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Be Here Now: Songs about Time and Appreciating the Present Moment

Continuing the popular series of song playlists for teachers, here are songs about growing up, seasons changing,  remembering the past, and taking action in the present.  I've included singers both young and old, as well as a couple of instrumental songs from one of my favorite guitarists.

As always, please preview the full lyrics and video before sharing any of these with your students.  And scroll to the bottom of the list for questions that can be used as prompts for discussion or writing.

All Things Must Pass, George Harrison
lyrics; video (audio with album cover); cover by Allie Farris
"Sunrise doesn't last all morning.  A cloudburst doesn't last all day... All things must pass away."

Awake, Josh Groban
lyrics; video of live performance

"A beautiful and blinding morning. The world outside begins to breathe...  Give me more time to feel this way. We can't stay like this forever, but I can have you next to me today."

AWARE A Lil' Bit, JusTme
video with lyrics
"Feel pain.  Feel pleasure.  Mindfulness helps us take action with compassion, so you see the bigger picture... Be aware of really what's up.  Present in the moment."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Three Useful Counseling Skills for Teachers (guest post)

This is my latest guest post at the Center for Adolescent Studies blog

It was one of those moments when someone’s trying to be helpful but says exactly the wrong thing. 
A student walked into the office while I was chatting with another teacher. In response to our cheerful “Good morning. How are you today?” he looked at us sadly and said, “Bad day.” 
“You shouldn’t say that,” my colleague informed him. “In English we say ‘I’m fine, how are you?’”

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mindfulness for the Middle Grades (interview)

photo courtesy Elizabeth McAvoy

Elizabeth McAvoy has more than 20 years’ experience working as an educator and professional mentor to at-risk youth. She currently teaches middle school Art and English Language Development in San Francisco, California, where she uses mindfulness to help her students self-calm and increase attention, focus, and compassion for self and others. She is the co-author (with Jacqueline Thousand) of the laminated guide Mindfulness for Teachers and Students.

Lately I’ve been featuring resources for adolescents and young children, so I’m quite interested in your perspective as a middle school teacher. What are the most effective mindfulness practices and activities for the ‘tween’ age group?