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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Teaching as a Mindful Practice

Sep 30, 2022 09:31AM ● By Angela Jamal D.Ac., M.Ed.
Teachers who have made it through the first month or so of teaching are maybe by now overwhelmed, tired and for some, ready for a vacation week. Perhaps the Monday mindset is already, “I can’t wait for Friday.” To keep teachers inspired and motivated, here are five easy lessons in mindfulness.

Lesson One: Defining Mindfulness
Mindfulness is being in the present moment and paying attention to what is and not what could be (future) or could have been (past). It is keeping a focused awareness, witnessing every feeling, situation and condition as they are happening with no judgement or avoidance.

Lesson Two: Take a Mindful Breath
Yoga teaches the science of the breath (prana). Taking a slow deep breath not only helps to calm ourselves physically, but also, mentally. Deep and slow nasal breaths activate our brain’s parasympathetic system to help the body to relax, which in turn helps our mind slow its thoughts down, creating more focused attention.

Try a few slow, deep breaths each day before getting out of bed or before students enter the classroom. Mindful breathing can also become part of a classroom routine with the students. Stopping in the middle of a lesson and asking students to take a slow deep breath in that moment can help regroup them and bring their attention to what is in the present.

Lesson Three: Teach From the Heart
Students, parents, the administration and even colleagues can sometimes take their toll on teachers. During stressful times, teachers might break down and react from a negative and destructive place. Complaining, arguing and losing hope or venting in the teachers’ lounges can, on occasion, provide some temporary relief. However, to consistently harbor such negative feelings can be detrimental and at the expense of one’s health and well-being.

Teaching from the heart is a quality of self-love. Exploring the qualities of our heart takes courage and honest self-evaluation. It is an open dialogue around our beliefs, the beliefs of other teachers, and especially those of many different students. Be mindful of the way disappointment is expressed to an unruly group of students. Question the cause for harsh reactions; could it have been the lousy morning drive in that triggered an impatient response?

Learning to be mindful is also a practice in mindful loving. It will not solve all the problems in our schools, but more love in our schools brought about by genuinely mindful people cannot hurt. Mindful teachers learn to love more and look for opportunities to praise effort. They replace negative self-talk, victimization and stressful multitasking with a cultivation of more love. This requires some level of vulnerability and changing the inner voice that says, “I am separate from everyone else.”

Lesson Four: Affirm Yourself
With awareness comes the realization that words and thoughts can hurt, but they also can heal. What we say out loud and what we think, both have an effect on our minds and bodies, and it has its way of coming back to us. How worthy do we feel about our profession, to our family, school, or community? It may depend on the thoughts and words that are used every day with colleagues, family and students.

Affirmations are attitude changers for teachers. They support our beliefs about ourselves, and they are powerful tools for enhancing self-esteem. They are not meant to enhance or support the ego. They affirm what is really true about us, as we grow in our practice of mindfulness.

Even though our mind is constantly thinking, we can choose an affirmation and bring attention and a feeling to it as if it is really happening. Our attention supports our intentions. Affirmations are wonderful ways to take our mind and emotions to a more productive place. Thoughts tend to regularly lean toward the negative, but we can choose which ones to listen and be attentive to.

Reading a positive sentence, excepting feelings without judgement and saying positive affirmations out loud provides a more mindful approach to daily self-listening and attention.

Here are a few positive affirmations to get started with:

“I am available for more: (fill in)

“I am grateful for: (fill in)

“I am worthy of: (fill in)

Lesson Five: Stay Inspired
Staying inspired is an inside job—an act of self-love and mindful awareness. Reading inspirational books, spending time in nature, or hanging out with colleagues that are saying and doing positive things, all can contribute to a more positive teaching experience. We can either give in to life’s everyday drudgery and keep waiting for the “happy day,” or we can walk into the classroom every day, bring our whole self, our strengths, our courage and our vulnerabilities. We may not always have it all together; we may not be present on most days but try to practice moments whenever possible. Just being is also a mindful practice.

Dr. Angela Jamal, D.Ac., is a retired health and wellness Boston public school teacher who is currently working as a consultant of holistic health and integrative medicine. A veteran teacher with 39 years in public school pedagogy, she is the author of two published books called The Mindful Teacher Handbook and The Spiritual Teen: Awakening to the Real You.