Reposted for the benefit of your students and your own well-being: What mindset do you want to start the year off with? Remember, in my last blog, I defined mindset as consisting of thoughts, sensations, and emotions. I want to walk into the classroom with a calm and aware mindset, and I want to help my students to achieve the same. For me to accomplish this goal I need to address the component of bodily sensation.
What if the mind is clear, but the body is in pain? Your first reaction might be to unconsciously scan your body for injuries. Many of you will hopefully come up with a clean bill of health. Now, try sitting still, perfectly still, for 120 seconds. Scan your body and then ask yourself if they’re any sensations in your body that resemble pain? Is your circulation slowing down in one of your feet? Are your glutes or lumbar starting to feel agitated? Next, extend the time of your sitting by 5, or even 10 minutes. If you do this, I guarantee your bodily sensations will become the focal point, and a major distraction to your awareness.
We often ask our students to sit still and focus anywhere from forty to ninety minutes on any given day, multiple times a day; and that doesn’t include the even longer duration required for standardized testing. We focus a lot on the curriculum, but what about the process? Don’t we need to teach our students how to be comfortable in their bodies so that their minds can perform at their potential? Let’s begin with ourselves, so that when we walk into the classroom the students have a thoughtful and comfortable role model to emulate.
Start your practice with a two-minute, seated, sensation meditation. Try this in a chair similar to one from your classroom. This will help you to better understand what your student’s experience.
Straighten your spine and close your eyes. What sounds are coming to your ears? Is there traffic outside? Is someone loading the dishwasher? Forget about creating narratives around the sounds such as, “who’s that and what’s that? “ For now, just hear them, all of them. Hearing might take up your entire sensation meditation.
If you choose to continue further with your mediation, allow yourself to become aware of every physical sensation. Ignore nothing, especially bodily pain and discomfort.
Do you feel any movement of air on your face? Feel it completely. Is the same breeze hitting your hands? The air is an ocean surrounding you, touching the largest organ of your body, the skin.
Now, move from the sounds in your ears and feelings on your skin to what is going on inside your body.
Examine the rate of your breathing. Don’t try to control it. If you objectively observe your respiration it will soon settle into a state of equilibrium. Your abdominals are gently moving, in and out, allowing for the inhalation of oxygen and the exhalation of carbon dioxide. This may be where your sense mediation stops, simply sitting with your abdominal breathing. Watching it as if you were on your favorite beach, sitting or standing in front of the breaking and receding ocean.
The ability to focus on breathing can be a passageway into a relaxed awareness. If you choose to sit for longer periods of time you may soon find your heart’s beating rhythm and several other wonders that come with being alive.
How do you introduce sense-based mediation to your students? I start by telling the class about our shared ancestry.
Our curriculum spans a period of several thousand years, but human history itself is far older than the industrial age and the agricultural era combined. All of our ancestors hunted and gathered, and provided for their families by not ignoring the wind, but by smelling it for every scent that it carried. All of our ancient relatives lived in the present moment, especially when overwhelming dangers presented themselves. Humans mastered being still, or we wouldn’t be here today.
This concept can create the hook to a brief lesson in mindfulness. It can begin like this:
Imagine the saber tooth tiger at the door. Straighten your back and close your eyes so any wind change can be detected. Listen for his purr and clawed paws on the earth, calmly inhale and exhale for you must remain relaxed and ready, soon you might feel your breath as it moves in and out.”
Imagination and story are great tools to utilize when introducing new concepts and ideas. With practice, your students can become aware of their bodily sensations and through mindfulness, become more in control of their actions. This may help to develop a calm and aware mindset that can aid academic success and improve your students overall well-being.
Thank you for reading and for sharing. Stay tuned for the next installment of The Mindful Classroom.
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado