Meditation in the High School Classroom

town-sign-1148092_1280On the first day of my second year teaching high school French, I knew that my sixth period was going to need some serious magic to get them to calm down. The bell rang for class to begin, and I looked around at 35 boys (yes, 35 BOYS) who were bigger than me, all still running around the classroom, throwing papers into the trash can like basketballs, using curse words to talk about their days, and some of them were drowning out the chaos by blaring rap music from tiny headphones into their ears.

Oy vey, I thought, this is going to be my problem class.

About a quarter into the year, I started having the class come in, sit down, and take out their headphones. Then I would have them start talking about their day from start to finish–all at the same time. The kids’ yoga training company, Kidding Around Yoga, calls this meditation practice “Crazy Koo-Koo Heads.” And, when my hand goes down, they have to stop talking and stop moving. The first few times we did this, they all giggled. Then after a few times, they all would be quiet and still, enjoying their few moments of quiet time in the middle of a hectic school day.

Of course, the moments of meditation did not solve all of their issues. There were still hormone-raging arguments breaking out, and some were failing my class, but meditation certainly made class time a little sweeter. It was magic–kids that wanted to test me stopped testing and started talking to me like a person. Kids that were constant talkers suddenly became focused for a few minutes. Kids that were upset became less upset.

I started implementing a few moments of meditation in all of my classes (and sometimes created a full-length yoga class) and these are rules I learned for using yoga and meditation elements in a public high school classroom (as a classroom teacher):

1)    Don’t call it yoga. Even though we live in the 21st century, some  people are still uncomfortable with the idea of “yoga”. Avoid a lawsuit by avoiding the term “yoga” altogether. *Disclaimer: the one class I do an entire yoga class with, I asked permission from the parents first.

2)    Don’t even call it meditation. This one isn’t for the parents, it’s more for the kids.Yoga in the Classroom High schoolers’ only desire is to be cool, and once you put a label on these few moments of “chill time” then it stops being cool and they become disengaged.

3)    DO call it “chill time.” Start off by saying “today, we are going to start by chilling out a little.” This way, you haven’t made it uncool by giving it a label.

4)    Do let them giggle. High schoolers forget to laugh, so when I see them giggling out of pure joy–and not something mean–then I am overjoyed.

5)    Set rules for “chill time.” Kids like to know that they are not being forced to do something–even if it’s fun. I always say “You don’t have to follow along to your happy place if you don’t want to, but you do have to be still and quiet so that others can focus.” This works–and it gets the apprehensive kids to be still and eventually comfortable enough to meditate.

6)    Do use calming music for a longer mediation. After my students were in the routine of sitting still and being quiet in “chill time,” I started using meditative, relaxing music to guide them a little further. I still did not call it meditation–I simply used it as a background to have them focus.

7)    Work your way up. Start small with a breathing exercise. Then, as the year continues, use more techniques to clear your students’ busy minds.

8)    Do ban cell phones. It’s such a battle with teenagers, isn’t it? On one hand, they are being quiet with their phone in their hand, but on the other hand, their mind is going in all different directions with the tiny device in their face. During “chill time” it is crucial that no students have their phones out–it completely defeats the purpose of chilling out. If they are in a virtual reality, then they are not focused on their own reality in the classroom.

french blogUsing elements of yoga in my French classroom has improved my relationship with students drastically throughout the year. After they meditate–or “chill”–I trust them to focus and do their work, and they trust me to listen to them like a human being, which makes all the difference. I hope every high school implements meditation–I can clearly see a difference in their behavior and academic achievement!

 

 

Laugh to Relax

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”. Turns out, it isn’t just an old-wives’-tale. Scientist have found that laughter has the exact opposite effect on the26218514900_4aac83d0e0_z body and mind as stress! When you laugh you:

  • Lower your blood pressure by 6% (laughing relieves physical tension, so your muscles relax for up to 45 minutes after)
  • Strengthen your immune system (laughter increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies)
  • Protect your heart (blood vessel function is improved and blood flow is increased)
  • Elevate your mood (your body releases endorphins, the “feel-good” chemical, reducing stress by 28%)
  • Strengthen relationships, improve teamwork, reduce conflict and promote bonding

This is the premise behind Laughter Yoga, a complete well-being workout developed by medical doctor Madan Kataria. What starts out as forced or fake laughter soon evolves into full body laughs, tears streaming, sore smile muscles, and a great exercise for your core! The beauty of Laughter Yoga is that your body can’t differentiate between real laughter and fake laughter, so it’s all good!

Want to start your own laughter “exercise” program. Start with a game of “Pass A Laugh”. This simple game is guaranteed to get silly and warm up your laughter muscles. As you can watch in  the video below, you sit in a circle and  one child does a silly laugh “passing” it to the person sitting next to them. That 2nd person then repeats the laugh back to the 1st child and then he/she passes a different laugh to his/her neighbor. Continue until everyone has had a chance to create a laugh and  repeat a laugh.

After that warm-up, try a Laughing Meditation practice. Everyone is on the floor, stretched out and comfy. Tell your family, “On the count of 3, I want you to make your loudest, longest laugh (or witch cackle, or belly laughs like Santa, etc.)”. Then, everyone participates in the crazy laughing for about a minute. When you give the sign (maybe by saying , “Ommmm”), everyone stops, is silent, and notices what they feel throughout their bodies and minds for several breaths. Share your observations.

Make laughing a regular event at home with Joke Night.  One night a week (Fridays are good because everyone can use some relaxation after a week of work and school), set aside time after dinner for each person to tell a joke. It doesn’t take much time, but it is so valuable, and fun! Need new jokes? Check the library or online at www.azkidsnet.com or www.jokesbykids.com. It’s also a nice family activity to keep a journal of your family’s jokes. It’s a beautiful reminder of these Joke Nights, and smaller children can practice their reading skills by looking through the book.  Besides 25889019143_184de3de6a_zthe benefits of laughing, memorizing, speaking aloud, taking turns, and polite listening are all wonderful skills to encourage and strengthen.

As I learned to sing in Girl Scouts (with a small modification), “I’ve got something in my pocket. It belongs across my face. I keep it very close to me in a most convenient place. I’m sure you couldn’t guess it, if you guessed a long, long while. So I’ll take it out and put it on. It’s a great big Yogi smile!”

 

Teaching Mindfulness

“Mindfulness- A state of active, open, intentional attention on the present.”
Psychology Today

“Mindfulness” seems to be a popular buzz word going around lately, but really it’s something that ancient civilizations knew and practiced. Our “monkey minds” (as Buddhists call it) are all the thoughts we have going on, like crazy monkeys swinging from tree to tree. How do we quiet our minds and live in the moment? Why is that something we’d even want to do? Nobody’s got time for that! The world is fast with instant gratification apps and get it now features, and yet you’re reading this blog because somehow you know a monkey mind is not what you want for yourself and your children. How can we bring the ancient art of mindfulness to the present?

In the Bible there is a passage that says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Stillness is the verb we’re after. Let’s try it. Stop for a minute and take in all the sounds around you. Try to isolate each unique thing you hear. Close your eyes if you need to focus more. If you’re outside13094000313_115e0290d8_z-did you hear the wind blow? If you’re inside, can you hear the hum of the computer? Let your mind search until it’s found what it’s hearing, label it, and then let it go. Breathe. Your journey to mindfulness has begun.

How do we get our children started on becoming mindful? Truthfully, I think they’re already there and we can learn so much by watching them. Have you ever witnessed them play in all their imagination? They know how to block everything else out and be in the moment. They don’t care about the room to clean, the dog running around the house – unless it’s eating their play land- or the bills that need to get paid. Sure there is a lack of knowledge on some of those things, but the idea is still the same. Build on their natural gift. Give them the words and knowledge to know they are being mindful, present, and intentional.

Here are some ways for you and your kids to practice mindfulness everyday:

Breathe
Practice pranayama (the Sanskrit word for breathing). There are many breathing techniques that provide portable stress management wherever you are. 15600520341_6a1dde008a_z(1)Bunny Breathing is easy to do and energizing! Take three quick inhalations through your nose and one long exhalation through your mouth. Repeat. You feel better already, right? With your children, pretend your sniffing vegetables or a sweet flower in the garden. Kidding Around Yoga has a blog article explaining 10 different breathing practices for kids (and adults).

Listen without judging
Take in what you hear without placing any thought or judgment on it. We all have our worldviews and experiences that are with us. It doesn’t mean we want all of that ruling us. This isn’t a time to attach any of that to what you hear. As a matter of fact, when any of those thoughts pop up, let them go! There’s a lot of energy that gets wasted on outside things rather then placing your attention on the present. Find the present and be there. As thoughts arise, just label them as “thoughts” or “lists”, or even “music lyrics”. Don’t get frustrated or angry with the thoughts, just let them bubble up and fade away.  If you’re guiding your child, use a single object to ponder on, like a candle. Practice tratak, or candle-gazing to settle down before bed.

Get outside!
Go for a walk. Is that too much for your busy schedule at this time? Then literally just walk out your front door and look out and up. Look up at the clouds or out at the grass or at a bush. Bend down get close and pay attention to what you see. Look at the colors. Are there ants? Where are they going? Do a leaf rubbing with a crayon and a piece of paper. 9616677358_809a2547e5_zYou can bring that rubbing inside and stick it on the fridge. Commemorate the moment; engage in the simplicity of the moment. It’s just a matter of noticing what’s around you, not what’s swirling around on the inside.

“Grass doesn’t try to grow, it just grows. Fish don’t try to swim they just swim.”
At first it may feel like you are trying to be mindful. Eventually, it will be something you just do. The journey to just doing and being will happen through the conscious decisions you make in your daily life. Today, right where you are, you can be present. You can be mindful – active, open and intentionally aware of the present.

Focus Your Super Powers

When I taught 4th grade, common refrains in the classroom were, “Pay13093247645_bf6f428214_z attention!” and, “Focus on what you’re doing!” And then it hit me – of course the kids’ attention was scattered everywhere. With 20 other kids fidgeting and making noise, shenanigans in the hallway, windows promising a beautiful day after school, and (let’s face it) an often less than thrilling assignment, I wouldn’t be able to focus either! My students didn’t need to be reminded to focus, they needed to be taught how to tune out the world and tune into the task at hand. When outside stimuli are muted, kids can calm their mind and let go of the internal noise, too. So, we began to become Spiderman (or Spidergirl, Spiderlady, whatever title they chose).

Spiderman has several superpowers, and one of them is his “spidey-senses”. To become like Spiderman, we had to magnify our sensory perceptions. We started with our sense of 14880476788_58181bd0d2_zhearing. The children sat tall and imagined that they were going to use their ears to listen, just as a magnifying glass is used to see. Their ears were to become extremely sensitive, so much that should listen for butterfly wings or their neighbor blinking. For about 30 seconds, they were to choose one sound they could hear – the air conditioner humming, cars driving by, a teacher next door – it could be any sound but they had to choose only one. Using a stop watch, I gave the kids 30 seconds to really collect their chosen sound. At the end of the time, I gently asked them to make a memory of their sound. Then, I asked for a couple volunteers to share their sound. After each shared, the entire class took about 10 seconds to listen for that sound. This activity can be repeated regularly and in different locations. Encourage the kids to try the sound collection at home with their families.

Another way to grow super hearing like Spiderman is to use tingsha bells. Tingsha bells are like tiny cymbals joined by a leather strap that, when struck, produce a lovely lingering tone. This time, I had children sit up tall on their chairs (or on the floor), eyes closed, palms up on their laps. I told them their palms acted as extra ears, sensitive to sound waves (a science lesson, too!). I rang the tingsha once and as long as they heard th18402888735_434c64bd9a_ze sound, their palms remained up. When they no longer heard the tone, they turned their palms down. Try this a couple of times. Then, you can use it to quiet the kids throughout the school day. When they hear the chime, they turn on their spider-sense ears and listen for the end of the chime.

The next activity grows several Spiderman powers at once. Each child needs a flower (a real one, not plastic or silk). Kids hold the flower gently. Explain that when you ring a bell (or tingsha), they should use their sense of touch to explore the flower – gently touch the petals, stem, and leaves. Remind them to use their super spider senses to really feel the flower, and only the flower. Is it soft? Furry? Smooth or sticky? Heavy? The next time you ring the bell, kids are to smell the flower. Breathe deeply and notice any fragrance. Is the smell the same near the petals as the stem? The third chime will turn on the students super spider eyes. They should really look at their flower, starting at the center and notice the colors, the shades, patterns, and textures. Don’t forget the stem and leaves! All of their visual attention should be on their flower – super focus! A fourth chime ends the activity. Kids could then use their observations to write about a flower from a a spider’s point of view (a language arts and science lesson rolled into one fun activity!).

Finally, Spiderman needs a super sense of taste. For this, you pass out any piece of food (cereal, raisin, chocolate chip, etc.). I liked using grapes. They start by using all the other spider senses they’ve developed to observe the grape – look at it, smell it, and feel it. Then, kids place the grape in their mouth. Does it have a taste right away? How does it feel on the15600520341_6a1dde008a_z(1)ir tongues? What temperature is it? Then, they can slowly begin to chew the grape, noticing the juices. How does the texture change? Is there a sound when you bite? Try to chew as slowly as you can. Does the taste change? Children eventually swallow the grape. Can they still taste it? Can they feel it moving down their throat?

With enough practice and modeling, focus will become easier for your children. Just have them turn on their Spiderman powers to focus on the task at hand.

Mindfulness Exercises

13093869055_66e534fccc_zIncorporating Mindfulness into your classroom or home can help your little ones grow up to be calm and focused adults. In addition to being fun, these techniques are beneficial to a child’s overall well-being!

Belly Breathing
Bring both hands to your belly. As you breathe in, feel your belly rise and as you breathe out, feel your belly contract. Belly breathing is great for helping you calm down when you are feeling upset.

Bunny Breathing
Take 3 quick sniffs through the nose and one long breath out. Imagine you smell all the wonderful smells around you. You can smell nature and yummy carrots to eat! Bunny breathing is great for helping kids focus and for calming down.

Firework Breathing
Bring your hands to your heart. Take a big breath in and reach your arms up and out as you breathe out. As you breathe out, make a “paaaah” sound. Try to make your inhales and exhales as slow and long as you can. This is a great breathing technique to stay 14983040973_d19eff8e59_zfocused and alert before a big test, writing practice, or reading.

Layers of Sound
Breathe in slowly and out slowly. Open your ears really big and notice the sounds far away. Listen to the sounds outside your school or home in the distance. Notice the sounds and try not to identify them. Now listen to the sounds closer to you inside your classroom or home. Listen and notice the sounds without identifying or worrying about them. Now notice the sounds inside your body. Maybe you can hear your breathing or your heartbeat. Slowly open your eyes and note how to it feels to really notice all the sounds around you and inside your own body.

Mindful Walk
Ask the children to slowly and silently walk around the room. Put on a nature song with various distinct nature sounds. Notice the steps you take and the sounds around you. Listen carefully for sounds of birds, ocean waves, rain, wind, and more! Notice how the sounds make you feel. After listening to the song, ask the children what sounds they heard. Ask them what it feels like to really notice what is around them and how they can try this in daily life!

Loving Kindness Meditation
Breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. Send love and kindness to yourself by saying in your mind: “May I be happy. May I be free from anger. May I be healthy.” Now, imagine 15300482768_d4a8c0f62e_zsomeone you really love. It can be a good friend, family member, or someone else you love. Send love and kindness to the person you love by saying in your mind: “May you be happy. May you be free from anger. May you be healthy”. The most difficult meditation is sending love and kindness to someone you don’t like. Imagine someone who is not your friend and say in your mind: “May you be happy. May you be free from anger. May you be healthy”. Practicing loving kindness meditation helps you feel happy and good for sending love to others and yourself. This is a great method to use when dealing with conflict. Read more about the Loving Kindness meditation here.

Savasana – Floating on a Cloud

13093362565_2af7e67d39_zAt the end of each of my Yoga classes (both kids and adults), I invite my students to tune out the noise from the rest of the world, to pull the energy they’ve scattered to everyone else back to themselves, find a comfortable lying position, and just rest. This sacred time, usually only 8-10 minutes is called Savasana (translated from Sanskrit, “corpse pose”) and it is the most important part of a Yoga practice. After a good Yoga session, one with strengthening, stretching, breathing, and being fully aware and appreciative of our bodies, our physical body is ready to be still. And once the body is still, the mind gets to enjoy stillness as well.

Although it sounds easy enough to just kick back and take a break, our minds often have difficulty shutting down. There is always chatter going on in there – what is called the “monkey mind” – and it can be challenging to just settle. We often think we know what “silence” is. Even when it is quiet all around you, no noises or interruptions, that is not true silence. The silence of Savasana is a silence that comes from the inside – it doesn’t mean there isn’t noise around you, it means your mind isn’t creating the internal racket of to-do lists, song lyrics, grocery lists, worries, and so on. True silence means you are able to just be, mind quiet and body still.image

This is a tough idea for adults to understand, and even tougher to do! Kids are the same. They have worries and wishes, multiplication tables, friend problems, and a long long list of other thoughts parading around their minds all the time, too. This is exactly why Savasana is so very important to learn. I have found that for all ages, using guided imagery to encourage all the noise to quiet down is most effective. The following is a basic script I use to help my students settle into a safe, quiet space (both externally on their mats and internally in their minds). I call it “Floating on a Cloud” and I begin when everyone has found their perfect Savasana resting posture (usually on their backs). In a slow, soothing voice, read the following, adding pauses and other descriptions that you feel would assist your students in settling into stillness:

Concentrate on your breathing. Feel the cool air on the tip of your nose as you breathe in and follow that cool sensation behind your eyes, down your throat, and all the way into your belly. Now feel the warm on your upper lip as you breathe out. Each inhale makes your belly round, your tummy moving up. Each exhale your tummy moves down. Just feel your breath. In and out. Tummy up and down.

Now imagine that the Yoga mat you are resting on has become a perfectly fluffy white cloud. It cushions your body. It is so soft. It is a cloud made just for you. Can you feel how soft it is underneath you? Let you whole body sink into the white fluffy cloud.

Your legs let go of any wiggles as they relax and rest in the cloud. Your cloud just drifts across the calm sky. Let you neck and head relax and sink into your soft cloud pillow. Can you feel the warm breeze in your hair or on your face? Just rest on your cloud, drifting lazily in the sky. Softly breathing. There is nowhere else to be. You have nothing to do except feel your whole body sink into the soft, white cloud. Perfectly still. Perfectly safe. Peacefully resting.

Allow the class to remain in silent Savasana for at least 5-8 minimageutes. When it is time to come out of meditation, gently ask them to bring their awareness back to their breathing. Feel the cool on the inhale and the warmth on the exhale, but remain still. As their breath grows, energy builds in their body and they can begin wiggling their fingers and toes, opening their jaw wide for a yawn, and then slowly adding any movements that just sound yummy. Pretend to be a bear waking up from a long hibernation! But, even as they begin moving, remind them that their clouds are always there waiting for them, and they can visit their clouds whenever they need to, even in line at the grocery store or in bed if they are having trouble sleeping. They just need to feel themselves soften into their cloud, notice their breathing, and float.

Mindful Minute

Can you spare a 16298399337_54ce80ca53_zminute? Just one minute is all it takes to check out of the chaotic, busy real world, and check into your own body and mind. Mindful Minute practices are simple and effective ways to settle into an aware state, rather than just moving robotically through your day. And the best part is you can use these with kids! Parents can help their children relieve stress, even in the car or before bed. Teachers can utilize Mindful Minute tools to get their students focused on their learning tasks or to relieve test anxiety. Practicing quick mindfulness techniques can help a coach get players’ heads back in the game (just read Phil Jackson’s book, Eleven Rings). And we grown-ups can always use more ways to stop the to-do lists that constantly run through our brains.

Here are three quick and easy Mindful Minute practices to try the next time you or your favorite little one needs a brief vacation from the outside world:

Name 3: This is a quick practice in escaping the “monkey mind” that runs around and chatters all the time. Using your senses to refocus on the present gets your brain back to the task at hand.
Either sitting or standing, name 3 things:

  • You hear
  • You see
  • You smell
  • You feel

Now breathe in and out three times.

Sit and Cycle: This is an active tool to help your children release energy and re-focus in the moment. It is fun, engaging and gets that excess energy out while activating the imaginatio21240503782_622547cc33_zn at the same time.
Either on the floor or in their seat, have students lean back to lift their legs and begin pedaling an imaginary bicycle. You are going to guide them on a trip that fits the energy level and amount of time you have to “ride”. Kids begin pedaling as you begin to narrate a story of a journey. Pedal super slowly up hills, coast down narrow mountain trails, swerve around trees and pedal quickly to avoid the dog chasing you. Enter a dense rainforest, listen for the toucan’s call, and screech to a sudden stop on the beach to listen to the waves hit the shore. The more abstract and imaginary your journey, the better. Always finish by getting off the bike and resting (heads on desks or reclined on the floor?) in the soft green grass or a warm sandy beach to relax for a moment. Breathe deep, let go of your wild ride and say to yourself, repeating three times, “I am re-focused and calm.”

Silence Blanket: Set up a metronome , ticking clock, static on the radio, wind chimes or other similar simple sound-maker. Explain that everyone is going to listen closely to the sound and even more closely to the space between the sounds. Invite silence to fill the empty space. You are just going to let silence sneak in while we listen to the sound. (Wait for a moment to really let the energy settle). Now, let the silence cover you like a warm, soft blanket. Let the silent blanket cover your feet. Feel silence warm your legs. Invite the silence blanket to cover your belly and chest. Can you feel it there? Just like you pull a blanket all the way over you in the winter, pull the silence up over your head. Let your 19163297704_1e30544f82_zmouth feel silent, and your eyes. Your whole body is wrapped up and cozy, deep in your silence blanket. Breathe in and fill with silence. Breathe out and rest in your blanket. (Let the children rest for a moment, depending on their age, your time constraints, etc). Now begin to wiggle your fingers and toes. Yawn and stretch like you are waking up from hibernation. Can you still hear the silence? It is always there, even when it is noisy, because the silence is inside you. You make it silent on your inside so you can rest in your blanket whenever you need to.