Inspiration

Mindful Coaching: How to Support Student Athletes

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We live in inspiring times – we’re seeing professional athletes come out of the closet as meditators and motivate young athletes to develop not only their physical performance, but their “inner game” as well. I started teaching mindfulness as a performance enhancement technique for teen athletes and have seen a real change in their way of being, as athletes.
Focus and attention, body awareness and the ability to immerse yourself in the present moment – these are skills in both high-level athletic performance and  mindfulness meditation. My students see that natural connection very easily. A lot of them are in individual sports like golf, tennis, swimming, and cross country. They are under so much pressure! They’re often well-coached and supported at home and at school, with lofty incentives like college scholarships hanging over them.
Individual sports, higher stakes
Team sport athletes have certain social benefits that can buffer disappointment and failure. One study found that team sport athletes enjoy participation more than individual sport athletes (Tauer & Harackiewicz, 2004). When students enjoy their sport, they feel more motivated and perform better. Individual sport athletes have demonstrated generally lower self-confidence scores and higher anxiety scores on self-report measures than their team sport counterparts (Zeng, 2003). So the stakes, and the stress, may be higher for individual sports athletes.
Part of being an athlete is to strive towards mastery in their sport. However, often athletes are caught up in comparisons with their ideal best self and expectations of their own performance. Like all distractions, the pressure to continuously improve comes from external and internal sources. The mark of a great athlete and skilled meditator is not the ability to be without distraction, expectation, or pressure, but to continue in spite of it.
The mark of a great athlete and skilled meditator is not the ability to be without distraction, expectation, or pressure, but to continue in spite of it.
I needed mindfulness as a student athlete, but didn’t have it
I grew up playing both individual and team sports throughout my childhood. Sports were the catalyst for my highest highs and lowest lows. It wasn’t the only setting where I was emotionally dysregulated, but it was the most predictable. I had high expectations of myself and my performance which often ended in disappointment because you can’t always win and you can’t always play well.
While I continually struggled to manage these intense emotional experiences, there was one constant. My dad. He was always there, often coaching when I was younger and in the stands when I played for my school’s teams. It wasn’t that my dad was always cool, calm and collected, it was more so that he was that way when I needed him to be. He was always a shoulder to cry on, always present and supportive through all my internal and external battles. When anything went against my expectations, I was a mess. I’d argue with the refs and even curse my dad sometimes. But he gave me the space to calm myself. I know that’s why I enjoy doing the work I’m doing now so much – he was a model of mindfulness.

How mindfulness helped one student athlete conquer his anxiety
I recently had the pleasure of working with an 8th grade swimmer who was having trouble with performance anxiety. The time clock is an objective measure of success in swimming, and it was starting to haunt him. As he failed to live up to his times from previous seasons, his father got worried, and may have ramped up the pressure he was already feeling from his coaches. His father made it abundantly clear that he thought his son’s trouble were “between his ears.” That’s why he brought me in. But this too was affecting the young swimmer’s confidence. At one point he said to me, “I’m trying my hardest, but I’m still thinking too much.”
“I’m trying my hardest, but I’m still thinking too much.”
Dad and son met with me weekly for six sessions. We talked about performance but most importantly, we practiced mindfulness. There is no replacement for the experiential practice. Nothing I can say can make as much impact as the direct experience of practice. In short, we learn best by doing.
Getting started with a student athlete
These practices can begin and end any introductory coaching session, with groups or one-on-one.

Start with teaching mindfulness of breathing and send students home with homework like this guided audio practice on Mindfulness of the Breath.
Teach a body scan so they can notice points of tension and stress. Homework: listen to this guided audio Body Scan Practice.

Try this “mindfulness of thought” exercise with a young athlete
At Session Four, after my student and his dad were oriented to the basics of mindfulness, I wanted him to begin to defuse from his thoughts and touch back into the joy that first brought him to his sport. “Cognitive fusion” is the automated effect that thoughts can have on feelings and behaviors. When we’re able to be a bit removed from the ongoing flow of our thoughts, we experience a separateness that helps to defuse our identity and actions from our familiar, conditioned “task masters.” Most simply put: you are not your mind, if you can observe it.
Here’s a sample script of a mindfulness practice that I’ve introduced to my student athletes.
Introduction. Today we’re going to focus on thoughts. Until today we’ve painted thoughts as a distraction. But thoughts are not the enemy. Today let’s see if we can we make friends with our thoughts by inviting them into our awareness. When we shine our light of awareness on thoughts, they have less power over the way we feel and act.
Find Your Center. Shift from doing to being. Find your anchor in the breath or your seat and commit to it. Resting your awareness gently, allow your attention to be natural. Begin attending to your attention so that you can appreciate that moment when you realize you have floated away from your anchor. Then return with kindness. Begin accumulating attention in this way.
Clouds in the Sky. Imagine attention as a vast blue sky. Our thoughts are the clouds. Unavoidable, inevitable. Some large, some small. Others move quickly through our view and others stay for longer. Some clouds look just like ones we’ve seen before. But look closer: you can see they are unique. Spend time attending to your clouds, rather than pushing them aside or turning your attention elsewhere.
Begin noticing thoughts as they arise, and watching them as they pass away. Do this with bare attention so that you can remain a little separated from your thoughts. Object and observer. When you get drawn into a thought, just like we always do, gently guide back to your center, your place as the impartial observer.
You are not your thoughts. As we watch and observe, we realize that thoughts arise on their own. Thoughts think themselves and therefore we are not our thoughts. Allow yourself the pleasant peace of remaining separate but aware of the comings and goings of thoughts. Notice how thoughts pull us this way and that. Remain centered in the body and the breath.
Let’s continue silently observing thoughts until you hear the sound of the bell.
2 mindfulness practices for coaches
As a coach, I pull inspiration and practices from many great teachers to be able to create practices that land with student athletes. Here are two concepts or practices that I reflect on and that particularly resonate with my athletes.

Understanding the “shadow side” of self-improvement. Jon Kabat Zinn’s Mindfulness for Beginners is an excellent overview of the attitudes we can cultivate as coaches to help our student athletes. I particularly appreciate this very short talk, which reveals  the “shadow side” of self-improvement. When we cultivate instead an attitude of non-doing, we can become aware of the tension that striving can cause.
Practicing losing “the self.” Here are three teachers and the resources they offer for this practice:

Shinzen Young’s excellent 11-minute guided practice released on the 10% Happier Podcast
Joseph Goldstein’s talk
Stephen Levine’s book Gradual Awakening

When we offer fundamental mindfulness lessons for athletes, they can be less self-conscious, and in time their performance improves. Learning to switch gears provides a reprieve from their constant pursuit of mastery, and allows them to savor the benefits of mindfulness long before they feel they’ve achieved “mastery.” It helps us as coaches, too, to enjoy the process of the unfolding arc of our work.
 
Dave Charny, M.S. is the founder of Charny Performance Coaching in Philadelphia, PA. He’s a Mindful Schools Certified Mindfulness Instructor, Class of 2014 and a Clinical Psy.D Candidate at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). He provides workshops and training for parents, teachers, coaches and business professionals emphasizing mindful movement, mindful communication, and how to integrate formal practice into our everyday lives. His work pushes people to test their comfort zones and challenge their inner critic.

Thank you, Dave, for sharing your practice and expertise with student athletes! Dave was certified by Mindful Schools through the Mindful Teacher Year-Long Certification Program. Learn more about the upcoming 2019-2020 program.
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How Mindfulness Allows Students of All Ages to Develop Self-Awareness, Resiliency, and Compassion

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“Please get your bodies ready,” the eager four-year old directs her peers, one hand resting on her teacher’s hand with the other poised to ring the bell. After a short interlude filled with rustling sounds, 19 preschoolers are settled on the rug with their legs crossed, hands resting on their laps, and eyes squeezed tight. Their ears are tuned to the sound of the instrument their friend has rung three times. As the sound dissipates, they each raise a hand to signal the close of their mindful listening practice.
“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally… Exposure to mindfulness training by a skilled teacher can nurture emotional balance…foster greater stress resilience and greater social intelligence and cooperativity – just what one would hope for from an enlightened and engaged citizenry.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn in Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life
A Tool for All Ages
getting ready for junior kindergarten
In my teaching career I have led some of our tiniest learners, active adolescents, anxious college students, and intrigued educators in mindfulness lessons. Mindfulness techniques introduced in educational settings offer our students techniques for dealing with whatever comes their way. I’ve seen a three-and-a-half-year-old “find a quiet space to just have some breathing time” in the midst of a rowdy after school playdate. It is inspiring to watch as some of the youngest learners begin accessing their own power to attend, display self-control, and exercise compassion towards others.
Mindfulness has given young teens tools to tackle stressful homework assignments without melting down and college students techniques for handling a panic attack. It is uplifting to witness young, anxious, over-stimulated teens begin to share openly about their daily struggles with academic responsibilities, social confidence, and self-reflection. Whether it is anxiety around academic life, social issues, or habits we find ourselves falling into, mindfulness instruction can offer all of us tools for life.
Mindfulness has a Profound Impact on Students
taking a mindful pause at home
In education, we place great value on the ability to pay attention, but it is rare that we ever teach how to pay attention. As we can strengthen and build muscle groups to excel in athletic endeavors, we can also train our minds and bodies to excel in any activity that requires focus.
Throughout the years, my students have shared stories of resilience and compassion. It is heart lifting to hear stories of how mindfulness techniques are being incorporated into their daily lives.
“When my brother broke my necklace, I was mad but then I hugged him and breathed.”
“I notice my heart was racing so fast, and I able to use anchor-breathing – focused awareness on one’s core, chest and lungs or nose and mouth – to help me settle my thoughts before presenting my project idea to a panel of professors.”
Recently, more and more research is demonstrating the profound impact that mindfulness can have on children and adolescents. Students who are routinely exposed to awareness building strategies by a trained instructor are better able to attend in class, better able to remember and re-explain information, and participate more fully. The side-effect for both teachers and students is an overall sense of happiness and well-being. Teachers report feeling more connected with their colleagues, and children claim they are happier and that people seem kinder.
Mindfulness Practices to try with Different Ages
Elementary Aged Students
Still Chillin’ is a favorite classroom activity; it’s an adaptation of the Mindful Schools curriculum that I am grateful to have practiced during my year-long training. Here are instructions for trying it out in your classroom:

Gather students in a circle.
Ask them to begin moving randomly (careful of your neighbor) while you sing or play a song.
Then stop the music and say together as a group: “Still…Chillin’!” Everybody FREEZE.
Teacher serves as “judge,” checking out the “still chillers” who remain frozen in whatever position they chose.
Students who move and are not able to maintain their poses are invited to join the teacher on the edges of the circle to become judges, watching for stillness.
Repeat song and “still…chillin’!” until only a few students remain.
Clap and cheer for all participants and high-five the “chillest-stillest.”
Start fresh and play again.

This game is often filled with laughter and is a wonderful way to practice being silly, active, calm and in-control in rapid succession.
Extra: Consider teaching kid-yoga moves (“turtle pose, “ “tree pose,” and “mountain”) and having children freeze in those positions, as they choose.
High School Students
Anchor Breathing is a favorite settling technique I use with teens. Use the following script for a guided visualization practice (feel free to modify it!):
Find a comfortable position with your feet flat on the floor. Gently close your eyes, if that feels comfortable. Otherwise, simply rest your gaze on a spot in front of you.
I’d like you to imagine that you are on the water, on a boat, or some sort of floatation device, and you feel totally safe and comfortable. If you’d rather, you can picture yourself in a meadow, perhaps lying there, safely connected to the earth. Or in a tree, with the sturdy branches and trunk supporting you there. Imagine yourself there in this safe space. Notice the time of day…the time of year… What is the weather like? Imagine that you look up… You may notice clouds or birds…sunlight…or stars…and you think, “Ah, I love it here. I want to stay right here.” Then you look down, perhaps to the water, to the reflection of sunlight or moonlight, perhaps you are aware of fish or plant life beneath you… perhaps you see through the branches to the strong trunk and roots of the tree, or the meadow plant life or animals…insects around you…and again you think, “I love it here. I want to stay right here… So what do you do? You throw your anchor overboard and it keeps you grounded right there. You may float a little bit to the right or left, but basically you are grounded. You reach out and feel the strong support of the tree or of earth beneath you, and allow yourself to be held by the gravity of our planet.
We all have anchor spots on our physical being as well. Here are three anchor spots to practice:
1st: at your belly, your core – placing your hands there, breathing in and allowing your stomach to expand, breathing out and allowing it to contract. Expanding and contracting 3 times. (pause to allow for breathing)
2nd: at your chest and lungs – noticing the rise and fall of your rib cage as you inhale and exhale 3 times. (pause to allow for breathing)
3rd: nose and mouth – cupping your hands together and placing them 2 to 3 inches from your nose and mouth, following the flow of air, temperature change there for 3 breaths. (pause to allow for breathing)
Check in with yourself. Notice how you feel in your thoughts, in your muscles. As you are ready slowly blink open your eyes if they are still closed.
After you finish this practice, allow time for group reflections on how it went.
Mindfulness training offers tools for empowerment, resiliency, and concentration, allowing our students to reach their potentials as academic learners, active listeners, and engaged members of society. While exploring our work with others within our own families, workplaces, or classrooms, I strongly believe in creating a climate of compassion, resiliency and growth. To do this, it is critical to listen deeply to others and reflect on what is being said (both verbal and nonverbally). Valuing the importance of not taking ourselves too seriously, I encourage humor as well. As we prepare all our students to thrive in the future, we’re outfitting the next generation with tools for life by nurturing and challenging their bodies, minds, and spirits.

J. Robin Albertson-Wren teaches at St. Anne’s-Belfield School and at the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia. She received her mindfulness instructor certification through Mindful Schools. Her passion is teaching stress-reduction, self-compassion and resiliency techniques to professionals, including educators, attorneys and physicians, as well as parents, college students, adolescents, and children. Robin has lead workshops, spoken at conferences, consulted on panels and presented a variety of mindfulness sessions to many local, statewide and national audiences. Her book, Mindfulness for Kids will be released in late November by Callisto Press. Visit her website MindAwake for more information on her work with individuals, families and children.
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Four Principles for Mindful Communication with Kids

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This is the second post in a series on mindful communication we’re doing this fall with Oren Jay Sofer, our Senior Program Developer who teaches our Mindful Communication course. Oren is author of a new book, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication.

In the first part of this series, we explored how mindful presence lays the groundwork for teaching by developing our relationships with students. Today, let’s explore four key principles of communication with kids. These principles build that primary relationship, strengthen healthy classroom culture, and support learning-readiness.
1. Identify what matters, which helps kids feel seen and creates relevance for your lessons and requests.
Whether we’re listening to students, teaching a lesson, or managing behavior, learning to identify our students’ deeper needs in a situation is transformative. Instead of focusing solely on what is happening—our lesson, a student’s words or behavior—try shifting your attention to why—what’s important to our student right now?
There is a difference between our strategies and our deeper objectives. We might want a student to be quiet and cooperate; they want to goof around. Our attempts to get them quiet is a strategy for our needs, and those of other students. We want everyone to be able to learn. But they may be longing to be noticed, or to have their classmates talk to them.
When we’re able to identify and understand the needs behind someone’s choices, strategies or words, something transformative happens. When they feel understood for what’s important to them (and trust that we care about that), we are no longer locked in conflict. We can learn to make these inquiries, and listen, in the midst of our lesson without losing the rest of the group. Here’s how:
Let’s say you have a student who’s talking during your instructions and into the time you’ve set for writing. You’ve tried making your usual brief request, “Quiet, please, so everyone can hear the instructions.” Next, you might connect further with the student by guessing what’s going on for them, then share your own needs and propose some ways of working together.
“I notice you’re talking during this assignment. Are you bored? Do you want to be a little more engaged? Or just want to have some fun?”
[Student responds]
“I’d like to find a way for you to have that, and I want everyone else in the class to be able to focus on getting their work done too.”
Depending on the student’s age, you might offer one or two suggestions, or invite them to share their ideas.
When we teach a lesson or make a request, if we share the “why”—our needs, values, or objectives—we honor our students autonomy and intelligence, and help create a sense of relevance and meaning.
2. Make space for emotions, which can build trust, de-escalate tension, and bring healing.
Growing up, did your teachers mirror and validate emotions?
So many of our kids today are struggling with confusing and painful feelings. If there’s emotion, something matters. Emotions are evolutionary signals that point to our needs being met or not. Unacknowledged emotions can build up inside, interfere with learning, and cloud decision making. Making space for them can help us understand what’s going on for a student, which lets them know we care about them and that they’re safe with us.
If a student is visibly upset, acting out, or seems to be in a terrible mood, find the time and space to empathize with their feelings. Be patient. “I hear how angry you are but …” will likely register as dismissive. Genuinely reflecting what you hear and see is more likely to help:
“I hear how angry you are. This must be very important to you.”
Similarly, when you’re feeling upset (as we all do at times), use it as an opportunity to model your healthy relationship with your own emotions. Instead of trying to stuff it, pretend you’re okay, or express things reactively, how would it be to share what’s happening in an open and transparent way? Not only are we taking responsibility for our emotions and modeling how to do that for our students, but when we do this, we’ll feel more internal balance.
3. Learn to see “resistance” as information, which supports better outcomes.
When students behave in a way that’s at odds with our goals, we might label it as “resistance.” This judgment blinds us to the real emotions and yearnings driving our students’ behavior. A mindful teacher terms resistance as a student communicating their inner experience or exercising autonomy. This is especially true with teens, who need to be seen as an individual with a clear identity.
As educators committed to teaching mindfully, when students make choices different from our wishes, we need to choose: can we connect and build the relationship right now? Find ways to balance respecting the individual, the needs of the classroom, and our own wisdom. Engage with care as we inquire about the student’s feelings or needs. Invite collaboration to work towards a shared goal.
4. Share power and discuss limits, which models respect and teaches collaboration.
Many schools function in a power-over, hierarchical system as a strategy to create safety, order, and support learning. If we’re not conscious of how we use the structural power we have with kids, we may unintentionally reinforce cultural messages that disempower our children and stunt creativity. This dynamic is amplified if we are part of the dominant culture. (As a white, male teacher, for example, am I conscious of the inherent power dynamic with female students or students of color?) When we acknowledge the power we hold and engage our students in collaborative decision making we model democratic values and send an important message about their self-worth, intelligence, and capacity.
If you need to set limits or use your power to resolve a situation, share your reasons calmly and clearly. Acknowledge any limitations of time, resources, or energy that prevent you from working more collaboratively, and affirm the student’s autonomy by restating their choices that are viable for you.
Each of these principles points to the underlying ethos of a range of more specific, concrete communication tools. To learn more about the mechanics, join me for a free workshop with Susan Kaiser-Greenland, or check out the resources below.

Did you find this article helpful? Check out our upcoming Mindful Communication online course and learn more about Oren’s new book, “Say What you Mean.”
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How Teachers Can Use Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Practices to Support their Students

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The school year is under way and as educators, students, and families fall into a new, yet familiar rhythm, the business of learning begins. Despite many teachers’ best planned lessons, best decorated boards, and most innovative stations, they may be dismayed to find that some of their students are simply not learning, are having trouble paying attention, or are even too emotionally dysregulated to engage in the basics of math, writing, and reading. There are a lot of good reasons this could be going on, and we often jump to ADHD, ODD, laziness, or any number of common “culprits” behind such behaviors. While we’re quick to label, we often forget to investigate why those behaviors might be showing up in the first place, and frequently overlook the impact of toxic stress and trauma on our students.
How Stress and Trauma Affect the Brain
When we think about our students’ learning brains, we might imagine an upstairs and a downstairs. The upstairs brain, namely the prefrontal cortex (PFC), is our academic brain, and helps us with executive functioning skills like planning, organizing, regulating, and inhibiting impulses. The downstairs brain consists of our limbic system (including the amygdala), which is responsible for our fight/flight/freeze response and bypasses the PFC so our bodies can respond quickly to threats of danger (perceived or real). What does this look like?

Cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones, flood the brain
The muscles contract and eyes dilate
Palms may get sweaty
Heart rate increases

The body is ready to fight, run away, or freeze to survive. The most critical thing to remember is that our brains and bodies are wired for survival. Even though we’re not all necessarily facing predatory animals in the wild, our brains respond the same way to other events in our lives. When the brain is under stress and feels like it needs to be in fight/flight/freeze mode, the upstairs brain turns off, and the body relies on the downstairs brain. That means those higher-order, executive functioning skills are inaccessible. Usually, a stressful event results in a brief elevation of cortisol, and this can help us perform better (think: “getting in the zone” for a sports game, performance, or test). While good in small doses, large amounts of stress can be toxic for our brains and bodies. When we’re faced with trauma, our brains are constantly in this state of toxic stress.
Trauma can include one of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) identified by researchers in a CDC-Kaiser Permanente Study. These are:

Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
Neglect
A parent who is incarcerated, gets a divorce, has a mental illness, has experienced domestic violence, or abuses alcohol or drugs

Trauma can also include witnessing community or neighborhood violence, bullying, immigration/migration/refugee status, and institutional trauma (from the foster care system or juvenile detention), among other toxic stressors.
In the chronically stressed brain, the cortisol tap is always on, flooding the system, and acts like poison to the brain of a developing child. When cortisol is present, energy and resources that should be used to make new connections for learning are instead rerouted to the parts of the brain dedicated to survival. Meanwhile, the amygdala becomes even more sensitive once it is activated, meaning a traumatized child may have hair-trigger responses to unprocessed emotional memories related to their trauma or stressors.
How Students Respond to Trauma
Imagine you have experienced a major trauma without a safe adult to help you process your feelings and experiences. Now, imagine that you are in a classroom with a new teacher, 25-30 new peers, and a lot of expectations to behave in a certain way. How would you respond?
Unfortunately, many of our students deal with this exact situation every day. An estimated 45% of children have one or more ACEs; approximately 10% have three or more. Yet, only about 20% of children with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders actually receive care from a specialized mental health care provider, like a psychiatrist or psychologist. In the absence of support, children develop survival mechanisms that help them control their environments and feel safe. All individuals have very different methods of coping with difficult situations.
A good number of us are “internalizers,” meaning we prefer to keep to ourselves. We might hide our feelings from others, or push them down and away. Others are “externalizers,” meaning we seek to express our emotion outside of ourselves, perhaps through our behaviors, actions, and interactions with others. In either case, pure, unprocessed emotion or traumatic experiences can cause damage. Keeping things bottled up can lead to depression or anxiety. Spewing feelings out can lead to aggressive encounters and words or actions that feel out of control.
8 Practices Teachers Can Use to Support Students
Luckily, as Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with Poverty in Mind, stated, “the brain that is susceptible to adverse environmental effects is equally susceptible to positive, enriching effects.” This means, you, as a teacher can help the student. While you may not be a therapist or cannot change the history of your students, you can help them to feel safe, valued, calm, and hopeful in your classroom. That’s pretty powerful. Here are a few ideas to create that in your classroom using a mindful approach.

Take a deep breath, and shift your frame of reference for students. Rather than asking “What is wrong with this child?,” ask, “What has happened to this child?” You may not get straight answers about this, but trauma-informed teachers don’t need to know what the trauma is to know how to understand, support, and encourage a child.
Create awareness by understanding the trauma response. Hyper-vigilance, fear, shame, and guilt are typical reactions to trauma. Corresponding behavior is usually not purposefully manipulative, defiant, or avoidant. Rather, it is adaptive and functional for the child for him/her to get what they need. Understanding behavior this way can help you think through other ways for your students to get their needs met.
Practice self-awareness by knowing your own triggers and know how to regulate yourself. You can help a child regulate their bodies when you regulate yours. It’s a bit like a superpower, and it has a fancy name: interpersonal neurobiology, but the concept is quite simple. When an adult is calm, regulated, and using their prefrontal cortex, students can co-regulate with the adult, helping to calm their own limbic structures and engage their prefrontal cortex. In other words, by being in the presence of a calm and regulated adult, children can become calmer and their brains and bodies can learn from the adult’s regulation.
Build relationships with students not based on academics. Find out what they like to do, who their favorite pop or rap star is, and what movie they want to watch. You’ll find that once your students know you care about them as people, they’ll care about what you say and teach them.
Teach your students about their brains, their stress response system, and basic coping skills they can access in your classroom, like soothing themselves, breathing mindfully, and asking for help.
Create a space for calming down. A calm corner is a place in your classroom where students can go to de-stress or help regulate themselves after experiencing a big emotion. Calm corners should never be used as punishment, but only as a tool to help students. You can include stress balls, paper to tear up, sand timers, Hoberman spheres, mirrors to identify emotions, and other mindful tools.
Provide students with choices. This can be as simple as asking, “Do you want to use a pen or pencil?” or “Would you like to sit over here by me, or by the bookshelf where it’s less distracting?” Most children, especially those who have experienced trauma, have had very few opportunities to make their own choices. By ensuring their voices are heard and giving them options, students can feel a greater sense of power and agency, thus calming their limbic systems down.
Be aware of potential triggers when practicing mindfulness with your students. For instance, give them the option to look down at their hands or the floor rather than closing their eyes, as keeping their eyes closed may be a trigger. Additionally, ensure that all mindfulness practices are an invitation and a choice. If a student is not able or willing to participate in a breathing exercise or mindfulness activity, do not force them to or threaten disciplinary action. Rather, take a moment to get below their eye level, let them know you are there for them, and give them a suitable alternative choice.

Above all, know that you cannot control the experiences, fears, and traumas with which your students enter your classroom. You can, however, influence how safe you help them feel with you and in your room.
For more ideas, check out some of these great resources on trauma-informed teaching and trauma-informed classrooms.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators
Books by Dr. Dan Siegel
Wisconsin Department of Public Education Resource List on Trauma-Informed Education

Dr. Poonam Desai is a Certified Instructor of Mindfulness, with more than 300 hours of training completed. She has maintained a practice of Vipassana Meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, for over ten years and has completed six 10-day meditation retreats in addition to several other shorter retreats. Dr. Desai is a licensed psychologist and a licensed specialist in school psychology in the state of Texas. She has worked in the fields of education and mental health for over ten years and was a mental health trainer and psychologist at Momentous Institute. She believes mindfulness and compassion are the two things that will change the world, but also that the first revolution is always internal.
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Somatic Activities for Kids: Using Performing Arts to Explore Emotions in the Body

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On my first day of preschool I was apparently not having it. My mother had to drag me to our station wagon as I stubbornly asserted that I was not going to school! My beleaguered mom did the best she knew how, convincing me that I was going to have a good time and telling me to be a big boy. As my tears dried, she eventually coaxed me to get in the car and go to Calvary Nursery School.
These days, as a Mindfulness Instructor, I am using different techniques than my mom did. Whether we notice it or not, our emotions cause sensations in our bodies. Difficult emotions can make us feel uncomfortable: our bellies tighten, our heart races, we might feel hot. The body dislikes discomfort, sees it as a threat, and wants to expel or run from it. When we have a cold, we sneeze or our nose runs. When we have a tickle in our throat, we cough. When we are full or nauseous, we remove it in some manner. The body engages with emotions in much the same way. When we are nervous, we might shake or laugh. When we are angry we might punch, yell, or run to release the discomfort it creates. When we are sad, we expel tears and sounds.
One definition of somatics is “the body as perceived from within.” Looking inward allows us to start noticing and labeling our internal experience. Then we can realize that we have been hooked by, and identified by, both our internal and external experiences. We actually become anger or sadness and are at the mercy of that emotion. A kind of desperation takes over. Our minds think of ways to shake off the difficult emotion from our bodies. In these moments if we can name how we are feeling and notice the corresponding sensations in our bodies, then we can tame and have some distance from it. As a result, we can think more responsively, rather than reactively. Then, we can decide what to do next in a more measured way.
First, we must start by going inward ourselves
Before responding to a child’s needs we must first put our own oxygen mask on. Take a deep breath, wiggle your toes, and check-in with your body, heart, and mind to proceed skillfully.
When working with kids, well-meaning adults often try to get right to the “story.” “What happened?” The child usually responds, “That kid took my toy/ made fun of me/ or called me a name.” In that moment the child makes themself the hero and the other the villain. This further attaches them to the story rather than more deeply understanding the emotions that got them to this moment in the first place. While getting to the bottom of the story might be important, I assert that in order to get to the bottom of what’s going on, they first have to go inward.
As adults, we should be careful not to minimize a child’s experience or get rid of the emotion, but instead come to them with a sense of curiosity and care. Rather than saying, “it’s not that big a deal that the other child is bothering you, just ignore them,” be in the moment with them and gently invite the student to explore their internal experience.
Then, guide students inward
When working with a child who is having big emotions, I first try to get curious about what they are experiencing. I might say something like, “looks like you’re feeling really frustrated.” Or I might invite them to tell me what they are feeling. “Do you feel that emotion in your face? Or hands? Or in your belly?” “Do you feel warm or cold?” “You want to try to take a few deep breaths with me?” “Nicely done!” I always praise them for this awareness of their internal landscape.
This technique has a somewhat remarkable effect of validating what the child is experiencing without trying to get rid of it so that they feel seen, heard, and safe enough to calm themselves down. Yes, the child’s mood often dissipates, but that is not the goal. The goal is to be with what they are experiencing in the present moment. It usually creates the outcome of them being able to make more skillful choices on their own as to what they want to do next. In these moments, I try to remember that every emotion is ok, every action is not. We can be as angry or as sad as we want, but it is not in our best interest to act out violently in most instances.
The challenge for the Mindfulness Instructor and the student is to learn this new habit of becoming curious about the body’s discomfort – not wishing to get rid of it, but naming it and dropping into the physical sensations of what arises in the body. This has the natural effect of taming and easing the discomfort. The next time you, or one of your students, are experiencing a big emotion, try leaning into it. Difficult emotions are challenging, and becoming adept at working with them is transformational. Realizing that ALL emotions are just as transitory, beautiful, and valuable as dark clouds moving through a bright blue sky is a valuable life-skill that has the potential to transform lives.
It would have also helped my mom get her kid into a station wagon.
Two activities to try in your classroom
Here are a few fun activities to help you and your students become familiar with the sensations that come with emotional states.
Name that Feeling
A game about naming what we are feeling and where we feel it in our bodies.
Before class, (or with your class) write down as many emotions as you (or they) can think of on separate slips of paper. Put each strip of paper in a bag or a bowl. Here are some examples of feeling words that you can use.
Explain to your students that our emotions are like storms that pass through our bodies and if we can notice these storms brewing in our bodies, we can tame the storm, so it can pass through us more gently and quickly if we choose.
Start by demonstrating how to play the game:

Pick a piece of paper with an emotion on it. Make sure the audience cannot see through the paper (perhaps covering it with your hand).
Strike a pose or do a movement that shows how that emotion makes your body, face, and heart change. Ex: Anger might make your shoulders high, fists clenched, face tight and pinched.
See if they can guess what emotion you are trying to convey, saying things like “warmer” or “colder”. If it is an unusual word, give them the first letter, etc.
Describe where you feel this emotion right now: I feel this emotion in my face, belly, legs, etc.

After one or two times of you leading, have one of the students who quietly raised their hand to guess your emotion come up and act out another emotion. Once they’ve assumed the position, you can ask the “actor” where he/she feels this emotion in their body. Then ask the audience what emotion they think is being shown. Bring up the guesser, or a person who has not yet gone. Most students will want to be the “actor” but don’t force anyone. Discuss as a class as desired.
Emotional Musical Chairs
In this video, I demonstrate another fun game of emotional musical chairs that uses singing and drama to explore emotions.

For more resources like short videos, mindful activities, and Mindful Arts Breathing Cards go to Mindful Arts SF.

Andrew Jordan Nance is the author of Puppy Mind and Mindful Arts in the Classroom. He is the founder of Mindful Arts San Francisco, whose mission is to provide volunteer mindfulness educators to teach at San Francisco public schools through the San Francisco Education Fund. Since 1984 he has taught performing arts to students from diverse backgrounds, and for eighteen years he was the Conservatory Director at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center. His mindfulness training comes from Mindful Schools, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Spirit Rock Retreat Center, 1440 Multiversity, The Omega Institute, and Esalen. He is on the board of directors of several educational nonprofit organizations including Mindful Life Project,New Conservatory Theater Center; and Arts Ed Matters.
The post Somatic Activities for Kids: Using Performing Arts to Explore Emotions in the Body appeared first on Mindful Schools.

How Mindfulness Changed My Life: Both Inside and Outside of the Classroom

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My Mornings Before Mindfulness
Wake up, slam the alarm and roll out of bed. Scream out to my children to wake up, begin my bathroom routine. I’m feeling grumpy, but I’m not sure why. Start coffee, but I realize I am out of to-go cups. Mumble a few bad words. Realize I need to run to Starbucks on my way to school, so begin to more emphatically direct my kids to get up and get going! As I am ready to go out the door I am in full panic mode – heart racing, disheveled, and overwhelmed. I am now late with no time to get coffee, had to throw lunches together, and already argued with and felt annoyed at my children.
When I get to school, I rush to let my students in the door. I say hello to those who address me, but I am way too focused on getting to my computer to notice anyone else. Although totally unaware of this, students sense this anxiety and seem to be accustomed to tiptoeing around teachers in bad moods. They sit down and stay out of my way. The bell rings.
In the days before mindfulness I was a puppet of my emotions. I truly had no idea why some days some things bothered me more than they did on others. I did not understand that I had a choice in how I respond. I lived in a highly reactive world. Sometimes it worked for me because as teachers we need to think quickly and constantly manage a million things simultaneously, and sometimes it created days that felt like I was on a hamster wheel.
Just writing this now, I can feel that my chest is heavy, as the stress of that time is far too familiar. I lived so much of my life feeling like I was on a rollercoaster. I longed for a future that was easier. I constantly focused on things I could not change and had no idea how to deal with all of life’s challenges with so much going on at the same time. Then I found mindfulness, and slowly things started to change. I found a tool for my brain that would change my life personally and professionally forever.
Discovering Mindfulness
It was my 20th year of teaching middle school social studies in the Palos Verdes Unified School District when I first heard about mindfulness. I was talking to my friend from college who was now a teacher in Palo Alto about what their district was doing in response to the horrifying fact that Palo Alto now had a teen suicide rate four to five times higher than the national average. She told me that the Palo Alto district was training teachers in mindfulness. I had no idea what this entailed but was instantly interested in a tool for teachers to better support the emotional aspects of being an adolescent in a high stakes district.

I took the Mindfulness Fundamentals class with Mindful Schools. For the first time in my life I began to understand why I was the way I was. Why my moods fluctuate. Why my thoughts were so strongly attached to my reactions. I was blown away by the simplicity of mindfulness as a tool for my brain. I began to feel a connection to all of humanity, notice my thoughts, and discover how critical and belittling they were. The voice inside my head was a horrible, relentless critic. I began to ever so slowly notice my emotional and physical response to those thoughts and to things that happened around me. I found out there was a choice in how I responded, yet I still didn’t know how to stop reacting in the middle of one of my triggers.
I learned to breathe, sit in stillness, and notice the thoughts as if they were guests but for the first time realizing they all did not have to move in. It was an eye opening, radical shift in the way I saw myself, my world, and of course my classroom. It was my first step in a journey, an adventure that would change my life forever. I signed up to learn mindfulness as a tool for my students, but I learned early on that teaching mindfulness starts first with being a more mindful human. It is literally the cliché that you need to practice what you preach! I began to learn and explore mindfulness as both a practice for myself and a tool that benefitted my students.
Bringing Mindfulness to My Classroom
I started teaching mindfulness on Wednesdays. I used the amazing curriculum provided in the Mindfulness Educator Essentials class, and I found that the students were just as excited and eager to learn about their brains as I was. Students began pleading with me to teach more mindfulness lessons.
We took mindful breaths as a class before tests and suddenly parent and student feedback showed that, not only were students participating in mindful sits and utilizing mindful tools in the classroom, they were actually bringing their new knowledge home.
The vibrant energy and joy that mindfulness brought to my teaching and to my life was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was my 20th year of teaching, and I felt wide-eyed and bushy tailed in my attitude towards the students. I noticed a huge change in the way I approached and supported students. I began to see how my moods affected their nervous systems.
Becoming Attuned to Students
I have always loved teaching and considered myself to be student-centered. Yet, in reflection, it was easy to connect with students who sought my validation and attention. But it was the other students, the introverts, the ones who didn’t reach out, who still evaded me.
Then one day something happened at home that changed my perspective. My daughter Hallie was in 7th grade. She was thrilled to be doing the poster assignment for her class. She spent hours on the poster, filling in every bit of white space with pictures, quotes, maps, and effort. She even modge-podged it for a finalized presentation. None of the extras were required, but Hallie put her heart into the project and was very proud and eager to show her teacher. She said repeatedly, “Mrs. So and so, will be so proud of me, she’s going to love this!”
The next day, she brought it proudly to school. Later that day as we rode home from school I asked her about the poster and how it had been received my her teacher.
Hallie: (shrugging her shoulders) “I got an A.”
Me: “And… Did she love it?”
Hallie: (blandly) “I don’t know, she didn’t say anything.”
When we got home Hallie tossed the poster in the trash can. Then it hit me. How many posters had I missed? How many times had a student stayed up all night going way above the expectations, and I didn’t even notice? How many times was I not attuned to my students needs? How many times was I too busy with the next task or thought to be present to notice a child’s individual efforts for connections?
My heart sank. Not just for Hallie, but for all the students that I had missed attuning to. My intentions changed. I wanted to see my students. We all want to be seen. We all became teachers to connect with students. These connections are only possible when we are present. Mindfulness taught me that attunement and connections are fundamental to running a classroom.
I slowly started to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I practiced sitting with those big emotions, and this is something I will surely be working on until I retire. I am noticing my thoughts, I am noticing my body, I am noticing my students and their individual needs.
Infusing Mindfulness into Everything

This year everything I had been learning about mindfulness came together in one invigorating and profound shift. After completing the Mindful Teacher Certification Program, I realized that every day is a lesson in mindfulness (not just Wednesdays).
I am encouraging students to shift, pause, and notice their thoughts and emotional responses. I invite students to think about possibilities and encourage them to take risks in thinking metaphorically or analytically. I remind them of the fears we have when we take risks, and I am helping students notice their emotional responses to learning. May it be a map or a section of reading, I encourage students to not only notice their resistance or excitement but ask them to speculate what people of the past may have thought about or felt in these situations or locations.
Speaking and listening have always been vital tools in any classroom. Teaching mindful, intentional speaking and listening has transformed how I teach and how students utilize these skills. We talk about listening through nonverbal, supportive cues. Listening to support vs. listening to give feedback. We talk about being naturally more introverted and the need to focus on speaking out. We discuss the need for extroverts to focus on listening. We have conversations in class about how collaborative and discussion skills are not just for the classroom but for life. We talk about the feelings we notice when we feel truly heard and the importance of making other people feel heard in important conversations.
Many teachers set up classroom agreements to build community. Mindfulness reminds us of the importance of this. In my class this year we set up agreements with a big emphasis on what the students felt we needed to feel safe emotionally and intellectually. Each class chose their own agreements, and this year I wrote them on individual white boards so we can revisit them and edit as needed. To me the difference this year is my own intention of revisiting our class agreements at least a few times a month. Normally, I would do something like this and just move on through the year. The agreements must be something that is honored by all. Creating this climate will take work and will show students that these agreements really do matter.
My classroom management has changed from teacher dictator to coach facilitator. My own mood about student behavior gets lighter and lighter through the years. I no longer take everything a child does personally. When I notice myself going back to those ways, I stop pause, reflect and re-route.
How My Mornings Are Today
Now, a few years later, my morning routine is still hurried but much more joyful. I make an intention to look for joy in the morning. I don’t get caught up in the should, and I am much more positive as I leave for work. There are days that I am still anxious, but these days are far and few in between. By the time I get to work and start my day, I have stopped to sit mindfully and worked on letting it go before it creeps into my entire day. My own practice is just that – a practice. I intend to sit 20 minutes a day. But on some days I sit 5 minutes and that’s ok too.
I get curious about areas where I am still triggered. Currently, I am struggling with my daughter’s persistence in taking over my music with her playlists the second she jumps in the car. I notice my body clench up and contract. I notice my mind racing with thoughts of control. I notice my need to tell her how much I do for her. I am working towards letting this go because when I ask myself the question, “Is this important?” The answer is always, absolutely not.
I notice that on the days I sit mindfully, I am better able to follow through my intentions to find radical joy in all I am doing. I arrive at school looking for joy. On the days I walk mindfully through the halls, I notice I am happier by time I arrive at the office to check my inbox. I make eye contact with my students and always greet them with a good morning. I invite them to sit mindfully before class on as many days as we can fit it in. I notice the need for connections in teachers, in parents, and more importantly in my students.
Mindfulness is about being present, mindfulness is about noticing where I am getting triggered and doing the work to loosen that up in my life. Mindfulness is, as always, a practice.

Nicole Kraake has been a teacher for 23 years and bringing mindfulness to her students on a weekly basis has transformed her classroom. She lives in Palos Verdes Estates, CA. In addition to being a teacher, she is a mom to 4 kids and loves all thing mindfulness, the beach, and hiking. Nicole recently completed the Mindful Schools Mindful Teacher Certification Program, Class of 2018 and she writes about mindfulness in education at Mindfully Connect.
The post How Mindfulness Changed My Life: Both Inside and Outside of the Classroom appeared first on Mindful Schools.

Creating a Safe Container for Students with Community Agreements

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We all want to create the best learning environments we can for students. We often do this by spending lots of time preparing classrooms, getting curriculum ready, and meeting with colleagues to make sure everything is just right. Creating safer learning environments, however, can only truly happen when our students fully arrive and we develop caring relationships with them.
Sustaining these kinds of relationships takes commitment and some planning. We must show students we care by establishing a classroom environment that values and empowers them, even when they exhibit challenging behavior. In other words, we must help establish a classroom container for students.
Creating and Sustaining a Safe Container
Creating a container means creating the kind of classroom environment that values and supports all of its members. This can mean a number of things, from simply thinking about the way we arrange the physical space in a room to facilitating discussion, to more complex acts like being an embodied teacher and creating community agreements.
Here are tips to create and sustain a class container that supports you and your students:
1. Make an Intention for Connection: While it might come easy to care and want to help students, it isn’t always reflected in the way we teach or relate to them. Make an intention to connect with your students (particularly at the beginning of the school year but also) throughout the year. Take time, even if only for a minute or two, everyday to get to know your students a little bit better.

What are they excited and concerned about?
What are their likes and dislike?
What makes them uniquely them?

Connection also means sharing about your own experience and being vulnerable with your students when appropriate.
2. Mindful and Compassionate Teaching: Commit to being a mindful teacher. This means sustaining your mindfulness practice. It also means that before starting (and during a lesson) you settle yourself by taking a couple of breaths or feeling your feet on the ground. If your nervous system is regulated, then your students will anchor their attention to your presence. If you’re not settled, then students won’t be able to feel safe in class. You are always modeling behavior for your students.
Also imagine yourself in your students’ shoes. If you were a student, how would you behave in your class? How would you feel if you had your students’ schedule, felt their pressure, or struggled in school? How would you want your teacher to treat you?
3. Create Community Agreements: Creating community agreements sustains a container by allowing everyone a chance to share what they need to feel safe in class. Community agreements are different than rules because students participate in creating them and are affirmative rather than telling students what not to do. This supports buy-in, lets students know what each of them can do to support the class, and helps students feel seen and heard.
There are a number of prompts you can ask to help students develop agreements.

Ask students to describe a learning experience where they felt comfortable, felt like a valued member, felt they were respected, and felt safe in.
Debrief student responses and together create a set of agreements to support that same kind of learning experience in your class.

Below are some classroom agreements that my high school students came up with together.

We’ll speak one at a time so we can hear each other.
We’ll ask and offer help when needed.
We’ll be kind to ourselves and each other.

Community agreements can also address what to do when someone doesn’t behave accordingly. The response should be restorative and not punitive in nature. When your class has created the agreements, write them up and display them for all to see. Lastly, remember that community agreements are fluid and can be added to if there is a need.
Support your students by helping them create a container that values who they are and provides them with the opportunity to be themselves. Helping to create a classroom container that consistently returns to your community agreements will support learning and healthy relationships that foster respectful and caring connections.
Share with your community!

Try setting the container by creating community agreements with your students. What did your students need to feel safe in their class? Share with fellow teachers in your school or on social media with #mindfulschools.
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