Some of the thoughts that go through our minds are brutal. If we start to self-identify with every thought that crosses our mind, life can get pretty depressing. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists believe that we think and give weight to determines how we feel and act in life. To help you challenge the "scaries" aka unhelpful thoughts ask yourself some of the below questions
1. What does the evidence point to?
2. Is this thought helpful?
3. What Are some alternative perspectives?
4. Does this thought fall into one of the below red flag categories?
By becoming aware of our thought we start to create some space to get curious and investigate. Do we want to follow a certain thought down the rabbit hole? We can't stop the thoughts, but we can learn to relate to them in a different way. We can start to look at them without investing mindlessly in them.
1. The real mindfulness practice is how you live your life. Are you showing up in the present moment? Do you have kind attention? Are you being curious and open?
2. Life includes both joy and pain, happiness and sadness. We have a tendency to want to move towards the pleasure and away from the pain. Practice acceptance of all things the way they are by seeing them with open curiosity instead of pushing them away.
3. This is a simple but not easy practice. It's going to challenge you and require a lot of practice.....a lot of practice!
4. Remember you are not your thoughts, emotions, opinions. Try to not self-identify with these things or it will cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.
5. By integrating both formal and informal practices into your daily routine you start to develop the habit. Try to join a meditation group to keep you accountable.
6. Once you develop the habit, start to explore other types of mindfulness meditations such as visualizations, breathing techniques, and even yoga.
7. As always make the practice work for you. Let go of how you think meditation should look. The important things is that you consistently show up.
Many people think that without that self criticizing-voice in their minds that they will turn into a blob on their couch with a tub of ice cream in one hand and the remote in the other never to be seen at work again. But the truth is that we are far more motivated by compassion than criticism.
As teachers, we know that when our students are distracted we have to respectfully and kindly redirect them. We can't criticize them harshly or put them down. Let's imagine a specific scenario:
You are logged into Google Meet for class and notice that one of your students is still on the first screen of the virtual program you are using 20 minutes into the class. Calling out this student and reprimanding them for not doing their work will not likely have the effect you want.
Instead, you decide to state what you observe and redirect them to what you want them to be doing. For example, I can see that you are only on screen one. I want to make sure everything is OK. Is there something I can do to help you with?
We can’t just yell at our students when we are frustrated with them, call them names, or tell them that there's something wrong with them because they are never on task. So why do we give ourselves permission to talk to ourselves this way?
Compassion is the act of being caring and understanding with ourselves instead of overly harsh and judgemental. When we bring compassion to our mindfulness practice we start to create some space between what our mind thinks and what we believe about ourselves and others. It allows us to really examine the narrative we tell ourselves repeatedly throughout the day and get curious about if it is in alignment with the way we want to feel.
I challenge you to bring more compassion to your practice. Be gentle with yourself. And most importantly, if you wouldn’t say something to your students, don’t say it to yourself!
Charles Durhigg discusses in his book, The Power of Habit, a 3 step protocol for creating habit loops in your daily life.
Creating a habit of integrating mindfulness meditation into your lives will be more successful if you are able to implement this three step protocol to your practice. My habit loop looks like this:
What cues, routines, and rewards can you set up around your mindfulness practice to build the habit?
1. What should I wear?
Anything that feels comfortable is perfect. Sometimes I am in my PJs and other times I am still in my work clothes when I meditate.
2. Should I be breathing a certain way?
Nope. You want to breath normally without controlling your breath in any way.
3. Do I have to sit on the floor with my legs crossed like a pretzel when I meditate?
No! In fact, I encourage you to do what feel most comfortable for you. You could sit in a comfy chair or on the couch. You can even lie down. The idea is to be comfortable and not in pain during your practice.
4. When should I meditate?
Finding a time that works for you is the most important thing. If you are not a morning person, meditating in the morning probably won't work for you. The key is finding a chunk of time in your routine that you can dedicate to the practice so that the habit forms.
5. Where should I meditate?
Finding a place that is quiet with minimal distractions will be helpful.
6. What's the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
Meditation is practiced formally sitting down at a specific time and place. It cannot be practiced anywhere and anytime. For example, you would not meditate while driving a car.
Mindfulness on the other hand, can be practiced informally (any time/place) as well as formally (specific time/place). For example, you could practice mindfulness while riding your bike through the park or while eating dinner with your family. You could also do a formal mindfulness practice by sitting for a set amount of time and focusing on the present moment with kind attention.
7. Should I practice with my eyes open or closed?
It would be best to close your eyes for meditation and formal mindfulness practices in order to cut down on visual distractions.
Informal mindfulness practices can be practiced with your eyes open or closed. For example, you may mindfully look at a painting or mindfully eat a raspberry with your eyes closed.
1. You need to quiet your mind...
Trying to quiet your mind is like herding cats. When you tell someone not to think of a pink elephant, the first thing they do is think of a pink elephant. The whole idea of mindfulness is to become aware of your thoughts, not try to stop them. When we notice our thoughts, we are able to gentle redirect our attention back to the breath.
2. Mindfulness meditation is a spiritual or religious practice
Mindfulness meditation is a secular and scientific process. that increases one's ability to pay attention to the present moment with kind regard. We are essentially training our mind to focus more efficiently.
3. Mindfulness Meditation is Always Relaxing...
Mindfulness meditation can be relaxing but it can also not be relaxing. It's important to remember that every day and each moment is unique. Everytime we show up to our practice our minds, energy levels, and attitudes are different. Try to let go of your expectations and what you think mindfulness meditation should look like.
4. You need to meditate first thing in the morning, sitting on the floor with you legs crossed like a pretzel and a straight back
I like to encourage my students to not be so rigid when approaching mindfulness meditation. It's all about finding what works best for you. I personally meditate lying down in my cozy bed at. After a long day of teaching high school virtually at my desk, lying down feels more like self care to me and I actually look forward to this part of my day. Some people would find that they would fall asleep practicing the way that I do and would rather practice earlier in the day. We are all unique. The main thing is to find a comfortable pain-free position. This could look like lying on the couch with a pillow under your knees to support your lower back, swinging in a hammock outside, or sitting on a park bench.
5. You need to practice meditation for years before you see results
Researchers have found that the brain changes in as little as eight weeks of mindfulness meditation. They found that the grey matter in the brain, responsible for emotional regulation and problem solving increased in density. They also found that the part of the brain responsible for the stress response, the amygdala, decreased in size.
The key is consistency. Frequency of practice is more important that duration. For example, doing a 20 minute mindfulness practice daily will be more beneficial than doing a 45 minute practice twice a week.
Alyssa Mancini is a certified secondary biology and chemistry teacher. She started teaching high school biology and chemistry in 2007 and spent the first 12 years of her career teaching in NYC public schools. She is a registered yoga instructor, mindfulness facilitator, and herbalist. Her mission is to inspire and support teachers interested in learning about mindfulness and self-care practices.