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?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Four Ways to Improve Difficult Relationships with Youth (guest post)

This week at the Center for Adolescent Studies blog, I had the opportunity to share my perspective on communicating with 'difficult' teens.  Here's the introduction:  
In retrospect, it wasn’t such a great idea to tell my devout Christian mother I thought I was a pantheist. 
I don’t blame her for freaking out. The poor woman must have imagined me performing Dionysian rituals in the backyard, assisted by our ever-accommodating golden retriever. 
But I do fault her for this: after the initial freak-out, there was no follow-up discussion. She didn’t ask me what I meant or give me any chance to defend myself, just lectured me on what she herself believed and why I was wrong. It was yet more evidence of how ‘difficult’ I was, always saying or doing something to upset her.
When I look back at this incident from my own adolescence, and think about the many adult-teen confrontations I’ve witnessed or heard about in my years as a teacher, one thing is clear. There is quite often a way for the adult to improve the relationship. At minimum, there is almost always something the adult should not do in order to not make the situation any worse!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Mindful Meditation Through Celtic-Inspired Art (interview)

California-based artist Erin Rado is the creator of Celtic Art Therapy using Mandalynths, mandalas that are traced like labyrinths as a form of mindful meditation. Mandalynths have been shown to help manage stress, anxiety, panic, PTSD, ADD, ADHD and autism.

How did you first become interested in Celtic art as a mindfulness tool?

Through observation. I began showing my Celtic collection as art, but when I first made what I called “meditation plates
,” people were doing more than meditating. They were entering altered states. This happened repeatedly until I realized I was effecting a change in the brain. 

Behavioral wellness professionals helped me understand what I was doing, and now I have some scientific results to support my work.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Top 3 Breathing Exercises for Anxious Kids

photo courtesy Sara Weis

The following is a guest post by Sara Weis of Go Go Yoga for Kids, an elementary school teacher as well as an experienced yoga teacher and teacher trainer.

“You will be fine. It will be fun,” I affirmed for the hundredth time as I nudged my daughter out the door for her first soccer practice. 

She's a kid, I thought. What does she really have to be nervous about? Trying new things is supposed to be exciting when you are young. It is only when you are an adult that it becomes harder to step outside your comfort zone, correct?

That may be true for a very few select kids who sail through their childhood without an ounce of anxiety clouding their pursuit of trying new activities. However, the majority of kids worry and fret, just like adults.

As a mom of three and a teacher for over 18 years, I frequently see a recurring theme of anxiousness in children, and it is completely normal. Kids get nervous or stressed. Any different event such as starting a new school year, taking tests, trying new activities, and meeting new people can bring about uncertainty, unease, and worry.

When we worry, we take short, shallow breaths which continue to ignite the feeling of unease in our bodies. Slowing down our breathing and taking long, deep breaths naturally brings on a sense of calmness and peace.

Try these three breathing exercises with your kids. These calming techniques are effective for any age, and can be done anywhere - in the morning, during a car ride, sitting in school, or before bedtime.