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By Mayuri Gonzalez, School Yoga Project Director (Little Flower Yoga) and co-author of Mindful Chair Yoga Card Deck.

Mindful movement is an effective way to reduce stress and its physical consequences. When we bring a mindful approach to chair yoga, we provide an accessible and simple way to integrate mindful movement and practice into our daily life to get out of our heads, into our body, to find the present moment. 

Increasingly, researchers are saying movement can cultivate mindfulness when attention is directed in a specific manner. This is good news for those of us struggling with the concept of more formal seated meditation practices. “Yes! Let me move instead of sit still! And get the same benefits!”

This is especially relevant for children and adolescents when we consider integrating mindfulness into schools and clinical settings. Our children are movers and shakers, and this movement can act as a rich playground for mindfulness practice. When we are moving intentionally, we’re changing the shape of our body, and this in turn can impact how we are feeling in the moment. Each shape feels different in our body, and when we bring mindful exploration to these postures and simple movement patterns, we can help foster a diverse set of experiences for children to practice paying attention to, while encouraging embodiment and curiosity. 

Additionally, mindful movement can help kids prepare for more traditional mindfulness practices. The movement allows them to get some energy and wiggles out before quieter and still mindfulness practices such as thought labeling, mindful breathing, or body scans. 

3 SIMPLE MINDFUL MOVEMENT PRACTICES

I invite you to take some time exploring each of the three simple movement practices below. Don’t rush. You may wish to repeat each movement for several minutes to really encourage exploration. Remember, present moment awareness, in the midst of movement, is the single most important aspect of this practice. Don’t worry so much about getting the movement “right.” Instead bring a spirit of curiosity and care to each movement and see what happens.  

1. BLOOMING FLOWER ARMS: Begin sitting in a tall yoga seat and lift your arms out to the side, palms up, until your arms are shoulder level and parallel to the ground. Breathing in, touch your shoulders with your fingertips, keeping you upper arms horizontal. Breathing out, open your arms to the horizontal position, stretching your palms open.


2. FULL ARM CIRCLES: Begin sitting in a tall yoga seat and extend your arms in front of you and join your palms. Breathing in, raise your arms up and separate your hands so your arms can stretch over your head. Breathing out, continue the circle, arms circling back until your fingers point toward the ground. Breathing in, lift your arms back and reverse the circle. Breathe out as you bring your palms together and your arms down in front of you.


3. MOVING FORWARD FOLDS: Begin sitting in a tall yoga seat. Take a breath in and bring your arms up above your head, palms forward. Look up at the sky. breathing out, bend at your waist as your bring your arms down to touch the floor, your ankles, or your shins. Release your neck. From this position, breathe in, and keep your back straight as your come all the way back up to reach your fingers up toward the sky.

Additional Resources:

Want to learn more about integrating movement into your mindfulness practice or teaching toolkit through chair yoga? Check out: 

Mindful Chair Yoga Card Deck 
Chair Yoga for Educators and Clinicians Online Course

About the Author: 

Mayuri Gonzalez (E-RYT, RCYT)  has been practicing yoga and meditation for over 25 years since her own childhood and specializes in bringing yoga and mindfulness to children. She has taught for Little Flower Yoga since 2010 and is currently the Director of The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY offering direct service yoga and mindfulness classes for preschools and K-12 schools in the Greater New York Area, staff development workshops, staff yoga, and tools for schools nationwide.

For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Mayuri by email at mayuri@littlefloweryoga.com.

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What’s happening with our students’ brain and how can mindfulness support them? 

As a high school teacher in the Bronx for 14 years I got to meet and deeply know a lot of teens. Having those relationships taught me a lot about what makes adolescents tick. I saw that the way adults view teens impacts the way teens see themselves, and ultimately the lives they think they are capable of leading. I also witnessed how school settings can be fertile ground for greater understanding and connection, or misunderstanding and miscommunication between teachers and young adults.   

One of the high schools I worked at was a traditional school, with honors classes, Advanced Placement courses, Senior trips and proms. The other was a transfer school, where students go as a last chance for a high school degree (their prior schools failing to meet these students' needs in one way or another). In this school students call teachers by their first name, they work closely with community based organizations, and it’s where I was lucky enough to introduce mindfulness. You can learn more about that school and my experience introducing mindfulness in this Atlantic article.

Both schools were Title 1 schools, which meant the majority of the students were receiving free or reduced lunch. Both had committed, caring (and overworked) administrators, staff and teachers.  

Since leaving the classroom I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with teens in more affluent communities (one of the schools a mere 10 miles north of the transfer school) where kids are getting the best education and resources their parents and communities can generously give. I wasn’t surprised to also see committed, caring, and overworked administrators, staff, and teachers but I was surprised to see how much these teens were also struggling. 

Even though these adolescents’ educational contexts are very different, a couple of things are true for all of them. The adolescent years are challenging, confusing, and filled with changes to the body, their brain, and relationships. Adolescence is a tumultuous time of our lives!  

Let’s also not forget about technology and the impact it’s having on our children. Most of us can probably remember what it was like to be bored when we were young and not have a screen readily available. Our parents would tell us to figure it out, go outside, go play. Or they would assign us a chore to make sure we didn’t stay bored. These moments of boredom often led to free play, which is critical in child development.  According to the American Academy of  Pediatrics free play helps children develop their imagination, curiosity, and healthy relationships with the children around them and their parents.

Whether we think the advent of technology is good or bad, it is here to stay and it is rewiring our children’s minds. Many have a harder time focusing their attention and developing relationships outside of their digital persona. 

The Developing Brains of Adolescents

When I taught mindfulness to my teens in the Bronx, I often introduced the book Brainstorm by Dr. Daniel Siegel. Even though it was a challenging text for them to get through, they were engaged with the book because it was giving them insight into the way adults looked at them.  It helped them understand what was changing in their brains and effecting the way they were feeling and acting. I will summarize some of the things I shared with my students here, but if this is a topic, you think would be helpful to you or your students will find interesting, make sure to add Brainstorm to your reading list. 

Myths of Adolescence:
The way we see adolescents becomes the way they see themselves. These misunderstandings can lead to confusion and conflict for teens and adults.  Which of these myths are you familiar with?

   

1. Raging hormones cause teenagers to “go mad” or “lose their minds.”According to Siegel hormones do increase, but these levels then stay consistent throughout much of adulthood. Its not the hormones that are causing behavior changes. What adolescents experience is primarily the result of natural and needed changes in their developing brains.

2. Teens are immature and need to grow up.
The risk-taking tendencies, impulsiveness, and high emotional sensitivity of teens is not a sign of immaturity but rather an outcome of exactly what they are supposed to be doing during this developmental stage—testing boundaries, creating their own view of the world, and preparing for life beyond the family home and school community.

3. Growing up requires moving from dependence on adults to total independence from them.
The healthy move to adulthood is toward interdependence, not complete do-it-yourself isolation. Giving care and receiving help from others is the model we should be supporting.

Pause, take a couple of breaths, and reflect on your own middle or high school experience. I’m sure you can understand why adolescents struggle during this time of their lives especially if the adults around them fundamentally misunderstand them. Remembering our own experience can help us be more understanding and compassionate in the interactions we have with teens.

Qualities of the Adolescent Mind:

Dr. Siegel goes on to name the attributes of the adolescent mind as well as the benefits and challenges associated with these changes.  His book also guides reader through activities that ask adolescents to reflect and bring awareness to their internal landscape, and which support healthy communication.

  • Novelty Seeking: Increased drive for rewards and increased inner motivation to seek new experiences and feel life more fully

Upside: Being open to change and exploring new ways of doing things that lead to a sense of adventure

Downside: Sensation seeking and taking risks without considering consequences can lead to dangerous behavior

  • Social Engagement: Enhanced peer connectedness and new friendships are explored

Upside: The drive for social connection leads to creation of supportive relationships that can support and enrich teens their whole life

Downside: Adolescents might isolate themselves from other adults and only surround themselves with other teens, which can lead to increased risky behavior

  • Increased Emotional Intensity: Emotional sensitivity increases, allowing teens to feel life experiences more intensely

Upside: Emotional intensity can fill teens with energy and a sense of vitality for being alive

Downside: Emotional intensity can fill teens with energy and a sense of vitality for being alive. Emotions can rule the day, leading to moodiness and, sometimes unhelpful, reactivity

  • Creative Exploration: Expanded sense of being leads to conceptual thinking that question status quo and approaches problems with out-of-the-box solutions

Upside: Sense of wonder, creativity, and curiosity can be nurtured; new solutions and strategies for a fuller life are explored

Downside: New explorations can lead to crisis of identity, susceptibility to peer pressure, and lack of direction or purpose

Taking these findings into account highlights why mindfulness interventions are critical at this age.   

There is promising, if nascent evidence, that mindfulness can support adolescent wellbeing by supporting development of their prefrontal cortex (where empathy, thinking of consequences, and other executive function skills live), by enhancing their ability to focus, and helping them name and regulate their emotions. In addition, studies of adults participating in mindfulness interventions like Mindfulness Based Stressed Reduction “suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” These research studies, coupled with my experience teaching adolescent, makes it easy to argue for introducing mindfulness interventions to adolescents.   

Introducing mindfulness to teens can be especially rewarding and challenging. Working with adolescents can bring to the surface the unresolved feelings and painful experiences we faced as adolescent. To be effective with this age group, we must reflect and turn to our own practice. We also have to make sure that when we offer mindfulness to adolescents it is relevant and engaging otherwise we won’t be able to truly support them. 

The following reminders are helpful when working with teens. 
Some of these apply to all age groups, but they hold special importance when working with adolescents.
Adolescence spans from the ages of 12 to 24. This is one of the most confusing times of our lives, even when things are going well.

  • Remember what your adolescence was like, and have compassion!
  • Students’ feelings should be validated always, but especially keep this in mind now, because many adults are dismissive of the strong emotions of teens.
  • Practices, conversations, and activities should be relevant tothe students’ lives.
  • Learning should be student centered when possible, and students should be given opportunities to share and interact with one another.
  • Students tend to be sensitive about the way they are perceived by others, but they might not fully understand how they perceive themselves. 
  • Support healthy identity formation by creating a culture of acceptance of individual difference and respect for personal boundaries.
  • Avoid stereotypical language, and recognize your own assumptions and biases.​

This is just the beginning of a conversation.  Little Flower Yoga has activities specifically designed for this age group.  Check out our Teen Deck as well as our Teen Webinar on Wed, Dec 5 at 7:30 PM, EST, which goes into more details about creating engaging experience when working with adolescents.   

If this is a topic of interest we hope you’ll find these resources helpful.

ABOUT ARGOS GONZALEZ:
Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY.

For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com.  

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  1. Gratitude is the ability to be thankful and to see and appreciate the good that’s in our lives. As an educator, mother of two children, and program director, gratitude is both professionally and personally important to me.

In my own life, gratitude helps me keep a wider lens to allow my mind and heart to stay open. Often, when life gets busy or things get challenging, it easier to get fixated on what is wrong or troubling me. Although this is normal, I have found, that in these moments, I can intentionally practice gratitude to help to shift to a more positive space. I can pause and chose to reflect on a few things that I am grateful for right now. When I remember to do this, I immediately feel my heart and mind expand to more possibility and I'm not as contracted. 

As a mother and educator, I witness the many potential benefits of installing mindfulness and gratitude practices from a young age. Children can so easily understand the idea of gratitude and I see how it can contribute to their overall sense of awe, happiness, and wellbeing. Learning these practices as children, when their brain and mindset is developing, with the support of their family and school community can help them build a solid foundation for mental health as they grow into adulthood.

Gratitude doesn't just feel good. Making a habit of gratitude can also be good for us. Like other positive emotions, such as joy, love, and compassion; feeling grateful on a regular basis can have a big effect on our lives. 

New research is starting to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health. In an interesting study highlighted by the Greater Good Magazine, 300 adults (mostly college age) saw significant mental health benefits in just 4 and 12 weeks of writing gratitude letters. Here are some of their findings: 

  1. Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions: When we intentionally consider how grateful we are to others, it can be considerably harder to ruminate on negative experiences. This can shift us aways from toxic emotions such as resentment and envy. 
  2. Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it: The simple act of appreciating something or someone is enough to reap the benefits of gratitude. And, we can also encourage our children to share their appreciation when they feel moved as well. 
  3. Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain: Interestingly, when compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner.

Here are some ways I like to unpack gratitude with the children I work with: 

Favorite Gratitude Quotes: 

This collection of some of my favorite gratitude quotes can also serve as inspiration for a thankful heart. You can post them in your classroom and invite students to add their reflections on the quotes on chart paper in a gallery walk or use them as conversation starters in a sharing circle. 

  • “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer
  • “Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” — Margaret Cousins
  • “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” – Henri Frederic Amiel
  • “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder
  • “Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” — Lionel Hampton
  • “Gratitude isn’t a burdening emotion.” — Loretta Young
  • “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie

Other Conversation Starters:  

  • What are some things in your life you are most grateful for?
  • Is there anything in your life that you might take for granted?
  • Were you ever told to “be grateful”? How did that make you feel? What happened?
  • What are your special gifts, talents and likes? Which are you most grateful for?

3 Gratitude Activities: 

Trace the Source: Where Did That Come From

Children can have the mindset that things just “appear” in front of them. (for example, new shoes may come into their lives when they need them, or often a meal is just “served.” They are sometimes unaware of how those shoes or that meal are the product of a long line of efforts from various people.

To show students that everything is interconnected, have them research an object of their choice, tracing how it gets to them. In the shoe example, that would include a process that starts with a designer, manufacturing, and distribution to the mall before their parents can purchase the shoes.

Gratitude photo hunt

Send students on a photo hunt at the beginning of the week. Using their tablets, phones, or cameras, have them capture objects or moments for which they are thankful. At the end of the week, have them share their work in a presentation or via a shared Pinterest board.

Gratitude Flower

  1. Start by cutting out a circle from colored paper. On the circle, write “Things I’m Thankful For” or “I’m Thankful For” or write your name or family name, or evenan overarching thing you’re grateful for (i.e., “my family”). 
  2. Next, use a template or freehand cut to create flower petals. You can use several different colors for a bright and vibrant flower, or the same color for a more uniform looking flower.
  3. On the flower petals, write down things you are grateful for. These can be things like the sunny weather, having wonderful parents, or a promotion at work.
  4. Glue or tape these petals to the center to create a flower. This is your gratitude flower! 
  5. Check out this link for some wonderful examples of a gratitude garden in a school! 

You may also like the following: 

About the Author: 

Mayuri Gonzalez (E-RYT, RCYT)  has been practicing yoga and meditation for over 25 years since her own childhood and specializes in bringing yoga and mindfulness to children. She has taught for Little Flower Yoga since 2010 and is currently the Director of The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY offering direct service yoga and mindfulness classes for preschools and K-12 schools in the Greater New York Area, staff development workshops, staff yoga, and tools for schools nationwide.

For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Mayuri by email at mayuri@littlefloweryoga.com

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When new books to share mindfulness and yoga with teens are released, we typically await them eagerly, as this can be a hard population to reach and good resources are scarce.

Mariam Gates new offering, This Moment is Your Life (and so is This One), exceeds all of our expectations and provides teens and tweens with a powerful, yet simple and engaging, guide to bring mindfulness into their daily life. 

The book is a joy to explore, with interesting exercises, beautiful illustrations, and a friendly tone that never feels patronizing. Mariam is clearly a supporter of the brilliance of young people. Her belief in their power and potential lives in every page.

This is a guide I wish I had had myself during my adolescent years, but I'm learning from and enjoying it now as an adult as well. I look forward to sharing it with our students and clients. 

BOOK DESCRIPTION 

Don't just do something, be here.

The key to happiness is being able to find comfort in this moment, here and now. When you are completely present and not distracted by regrets, worries, and plans, even for a little while, you begin to feel more confident and can deal more easily with everything you experience. This is mindfulness: paying attention to this very moment, on purpose and without judgment--simply being present with curiosity.

This engaging guide, packed with simple exercises and endearing full-color artwork, provides a handy starting point for bringing mindfulness into your daily life. Chapters on meditation, yoga, and mindful breathing explain the benefits of these practices, and you are free to pick and choose what to try. There are quick exercises throughout, and a more extensive tool kit at the end of each chapter. The final chapter offers satisfying five-day challenges that map out ways to pull all of the book's mindfulness techniques together in your day-to-day life.

With the appeal of a workbook or guided journal, and full of examples relevant to tweens and teens today, this book will be your trusted companion as you begin the valuable, stress-relieving work of being still with skill.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR

Mariam Gates has a master's degree in education from Harvard University and has been teaching children for more than twenty years. The founder of Kid Power Yoga, she now devotes herself to training children and adults in yoga and mindfulness. She is the author of the picture books Meditate with Me, Good Night Yoga, and Good Morning Yoga. She lives with her husband, Rolf Gates, and their two children in Santa Cruz, California.

Libby VanderPloeg is an illustrator and designer living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She grew up in Grand Haven, Michigan, on the edge of the Great Lakes, and since then, she has lived in Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York, and Stockholm. She's created book covers and editorial illustrations for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Design*Sponge, among others, and as well as a line of cards and prints that she sells via her Etsy shop and in stores.

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Equanimity is the ability to be balanced even when facing difficult circumstance. Its attributes are mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper especially in the midst of difficult situations. These can be difficult qualities to embody especially when working with students.

Due to the nature of teaching, educators must make countless choices throughout the day and because of stress and other pressures it can be difficult to stay emotionally balance. However, successful educators are often able to face this pressure and support their students because they can keep cool and maintain their love for the job. Luckily equanimity is a state of mind that can help all educators and can be cultivated with mindfulness.

Researchers"describe equanimity as a state and dispositional tendency that can be developed over time through specific contemplative practices.” It is a particular way of seeing and experiencing situations. They explain, "equanimity transforms our sensory-perceptual and cognitive-emotional systems to widen our perspective on experience, more readily engage incoming sensory information, and more efficiently disengage cognitive-evaluative and emotional-reactive behaviors when appropriate.”

In other words, equanimity means having a greater understanding of an experience in a way that doesn’t illicit judgment or a strong emotional response. This quality of mind is extremely helpful to educators who often must contend with complex situations and support the varied academic and social and emotional needs of students. 

In addition, equanimity also supports wellbeing. The researchers of the aforementioned article conclude that "equanimity captures potentially the most important psychological element in the improvement of well-being.” Having a greater understanding of why we are feeling a certain way, or why our students behave and perform as they do, can support us in not overreacting and having greater emotional balance.

We might, for example, remember that we didn’t get enough sleep the night before or that our students might be stressed about an upcoming exam. Knowing those things can help us understand situations with a bit more wisdom and can help us have greater compassion for ourselves and our students. This kind of insight helps us make more skillful choices and supports healthy relationships, which is good for everyone’s wellbeing.

Mindfulness Supports Equanimity
As the authors also mention, contemplative practices such as mindfulness support developing equanimity. Mindfulness supports this quality of mind because it strengthens the ability to bring awareness with kindness and curiosity to a situation, and orients us towards cultivating calm and concentration.

Bringing awareness to a situation with kindness and curiosity allows us to be open to the possibility that any given situation, as challenging as it may be, has something to offer us.

This sense of assurance help us remain calm and allows us to focus on what truly matters at any given moment. Having strong emotional responses often get in the way of seeing things clearly and sometimes force us to act in unkind and unwise ways, which only create more complications and rarely help us resolve a conflict or misunderstanding. They also tend to exacerbate an already challenging situation because it can add to a sense of overwhelm and despair.

Equanimity shouldn’t be confused with aloofness or not caring, however, which presents itself with not wanting to engage with or disassociating from an experience. Equanimity is the ability to use our capacity for understanding and greater perspective so we’re not carried away by our emotions. It does not mean we ignore how we feel.  

We acknowledge the circumstance and bring kind and curious awareness to it. Equanimity arises from our non-judgmental awareness—or the ability to see and feel without getting caught up in any given situation so we can maintain a sense of balance or peace. Bringing this approach into the classroom can help us address our students’ needs more effectively and will help us make more skillful choices as we balance all the pressure of teaching.

This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!

ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com. 

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Sometimes the hardest person to be compassionate to is ourselves.

Compassion or, "noticing another person’s pain, experiencing an emotional reaction to his or her pain, and acting in some way to help ease or alleviate the pain” often comes quite naturally when directed at someone we care for or love. When it comes to the way we speak and act towards ourselves, however, we often lack this same self-compassion.

Dr. Kristen Neff who has written and done research on self-compassion explains, "self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness—that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.”  Dr. Kristen Neff's helpful description offers us insight into how self-compassion can support us and why it is is sometimes  difficult.

One of the reasons self-compassion can be extremely difficult is because we’re often our harshest critic. A lot of our self-talk can be filled with judgment and blame, which makes it hard to be forgiving and loving towards ourselves. It also often prevents us from acting in a way that will actually alleviate our suffering like asking for help. Self-critique can isolates us and make us feel like others won’t understand us and the lack of connection makes us feel worse. 

That's were mindfulness steps in to help.

We can use mindfulness to bring curiosity and kindness to the way we see ourselves and our actions. When we make a mistake and notice ourselves speaking harshly to ourselves, we can remind ourselves (the way we might remind a good friend) that it’s okay to make mistakes and that mistakes often offer us valuable lessons. When we notice through mindful awareness that we're feeling lonely or exhausted we can practice self-compassion and give ourselves what would be most helpful in the moment.

Dr. Kristen Neff offers practices and audio recordings that can help us be more self-compassionate. She offers activities that can help us be kind and generous towards our body and practices that support greater understanding towards ourselves and the things we feel and think. Below find a list of some of the activities she suggests.

  • How would you treat a friend? A writing exercise that asks us to think of the ways we would support a good friend who was struggling and compare it to the way we treat ourself when we’re struggling
  • Self-Compassion break: This activity asks us to take a mindful break when we’re experiencing difficulty and to acknowledge what we’re feeling. It then prompts us to be kind to ourselves.
  • Working with critical self-talk: In this activity we’re asked to notice when we’re being self-critical, make an effort to compassionately soften the self-critical voice, and reframe the inner critic in a friendly and helpful way.
  • Self-compassion journal: This writing exercise is meant to encourage us to reflect on the ways we might feel bad or judge ourselves on a give day. It then asks that we use mindful awareness to access our sense of common humanity and to reflect with kindness on the events of the day with some greater understanding.

For more resources from Dr. Kristen Neff on self-compassion including video, workbooks, publications, trainings, and more make sure to visit self-compassion.org.

This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!

ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com

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Compassion means to "suffer together.” It is the ability to feel the pain of others and be moved to do something about it. It is a skill that takes practice and can be developed. Compassion is also good for us. Compassion supports mental and physical well-being "and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our lifespan.” Compassion also supports greater connection to others and helps us feel a sense of belonging. Research findings suggest, “people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression; studies show that they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.” By practicing mindfulness and compassion, we can tap into something greater than ourselves. In other words, mindfulness and compassion practices helps us trust and feel more connected to others.

Paul Ekman, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, describes different kinds of compassion. In his taxonomy of compassion he describes familial, global, sentient, and heroic compassion. He explains our ability to emotionally resonate with others and be compassionate begins through familial connection. The seed of compassion is "planted through the caregiver-offspring bond.” If that seed of is not planted, he believes Charles Darwin and the Dalai Lama would argue the individual will struggle in life. As educators and caregivers we can help our children nurture this seed and perhaps even plant it by practicing mindfulness and compassionate awareness of others.

Ekman describes global compassion as our ability to feel the pain of strangers suffering around the world as when we feel great sadness and are moved to help after a hurricane or earthquake impacts another part of the world. Ekman argues this skill will be crucial for the future of our children and our world. Indeed, if we want to help our world find peace and find solutions to the challenges we’re facing, we need to develop our capacity for global compassion. He describes sentient compassion as “highest moral virtue” and as having compassion towards all living things including insects. Mindfulness can help us understand how all beings are interconnected and support sentient compassion.

Ekman also describes heroic compassion or “altruism with a risk.” There are two kinds, immediate and considered compassion.  In immediate heroic compassion the person acts without thinking as when they “jump onto the subway tracks to rescue someone.” In considered heroic compassion a person is willing to put themselves at risk, expects no reward, and can maintain this stance for years. Ekman believes that by understanding the reasons why some people have an easier time being compassionate while others struggle, we can learn how to be a more connected and trusting world. 

Cultivating mindfulness and compassion of others can be a powerful way to feel connected to the world.

To cultivate compassion Greater Good Magazine suggests:

  • Thinking of friends and loved ones you can turn to when in need.
  • Practice compassion meditation.
  • Put a human face on suffering when reading the news or when on social media.
  • Look for commonalities between yourself and others.
  • Not playing the blame game.
  • Practicing mindfulness awareness practices.

For more information and compassion practices you can also go to Mindful.org.

This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!

ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com

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