Every year as summer approaches, I am deeply reminded of my stress levels. I become mindful of the stress, both positive and negative, that my body feels. It seems as my mind begins to slow as the teacher to-do lists get shorter and I begin to let my body speak to me again. It realizes that it is both exhausted from the year and exhilarated for summer.
As summer approaches, I enter the drone zone, where I am excited at the idea of actually being able to make it to the gym more frequently, of being able to schedule more frequent yoga classes, or perhaps joining a summer sports team, of travel, yet sometimes the idea of just sleeping in takes over. Summer is also the time where I tend to reflect on how I can not only incorporate these activities in my summer life but remember how to keep my rituals throughout the year so I continue to feel balanced in the classroom.
As a teacher, sometimes it can feel like we live in a polarized environment: giving 150% of ourselves during the school year and then when summer hits, we are re-cooperating the extra 50% we gave. We often have to re-fill our wells of giving during the summer. Every year of teaching, I would set grandiose ideas during summer of how to improve my work-life-balance, but now I am left wondering, “How can we make our lives more balanced?” Surely there has to a less polarized and more balanced way to approach a profession that I love.
As teachers, we know that students need balance and consistency. We can see and feel how deeply it affects our students bodies, minds, and ability to perform as well as connect socially with peers. When we think of our students we know that balance is not something that happens to us, it is something that we do. Balance is something that needs to be practiced consistently. Suddenly I am left wondering, why then, do we as teachers, swing on a pendulum of summer life verse school life?
Recently I have been reading Reflexes, Learning and Behavior, by Sally Goodard, because I am interested in how stress somatically effects my students. I have been reminded again of the importance of mindfulness for us as teachers. Goddard claims, “The most advanced level of movement is the ability to stay totally still and perfect balance is the action of not moving.”
An example of this would be learning how to ride a bicycle. In the beginning, when we learn how to ride, it is easiest to balance when the bicycle is in full motion. The hardest part of learning to ride a bicycle is how to slow down and stop without falling off.
As teachers, how do we learn to slow down and stop with off falling off the bicycle? How can we bring balance to ourselves? As our balance improves, we become able to slow down the bicycle and control it at slower speeds.
I challenge you to practice being present during summer: to set yourself up with consistency of mindfulness that will carry you into your next year. I challenge you to slow down the bicycle in the comfort of summer to help improve your balance.
Here are some mindfulness and stress resilience techniques from The Teaching Well that might help.
Mindfulness in Daily Activities:
What: The more you can stay present the better you feel. Integrating mindfulness into daily life is the best way to practice consistency.
How: This activity should be physical so you can focus on details of your experience. It doesn’t matter what physical activity you choose, rather the point is to focus your attention on the sensations you feel. For example, you could choose to be mindful while doing the dishes. You can focus on the feeling of the hot water on your hand, the smell of the soap, texture of the sponge, your feet grounding into the floor, the muscles in your arm as you scrub.
Strengthening the Immune System through Mindfulness:
What: Inhabiting your body and being aware of your body physically creates a stronger immune system. A body scan can make you more aware of your body’s cues. Your body loves attention and it is a way of bringing self-healing. Most illnesses sneak in when we are not present in the body.
How: Self-Healing Meditation to boost your immune system is most effective just before you fall asleep at night or just as you are waking up in the morning. You want to flood your body with awareness. Close your eyes and lie down. Then choose different parts of your body to focus your attention on: feet, legs, lower abdomen, chest, arms, etc. Try to feel the energy in those places. What is your body telling you? Send your energy to the parts of your body that you feel need it. Hold the attention for just a few minutes, and if your mind wanders, don’t judge it, just bring your mind back to the focus of your body.
Mindfulness through the Senses and the Environment:
What: Your senses can often bring your back into the present.
How: Notice three objects you see in a room and pay close attention to their details (shape, color, texture, size, etc). Linger over each objects and name three characteristics of the object out loud. For example It’s blue, cylinder shaped, and waxy.” Repeat this for each sense. Notice three sounds and now three characteristics of the sound. “Its loud, pleasant, ticking.” Touch three objects and describe their characteristics. Remind yourself that you are present with these environmental objects, you are in the here and now.
Mindfulness through Smell:
What: When you feel as though you are not grounded a pleasant smell is powerful way to bring you back into the present.
How: Carry something that smells pleasant with you, a lotion, oil, perfume, a fruit. You can also find things in your environment: a flower, fruit, herb, etc.
Here’s to a balanced summer that will help you take care of yourself so you can teach well in August.