Teaching is a wonderful, busy, frightening, exhilarating, exhausting and amazing profession. It isn’t just a job; it is a vocation and because of this, it can feel like life is hurtling 100mph down a road that is relentlessly twisting and turning; a constant conveyor belt of marking, meetings and mayhem; a never-ending to-do list that can easily swallow up every spare moment that you have. This kind of workload can be overwhelming and it can be easy to think that you can’t stop, pause for a moment and take a breath, but actually it is important, in fact essential, that you do!
What is Mindfulness?
Many might consider mindfulness to be a fad, that suddenly this seemingly innocuous activity, something that is quite ‘fluffy’ and without substance, is being touted as the new all-healing therapy as if it can solve all of your problems simply by sitting with your legs crossed, closing your eyes and listening to some vaguely New Age music with wave sounds in the background. In fact, mindfulness is so much more.
Mindfulness is the action of focusing awareness completely on the present moment. It is about observing and acknowledging current feelings, thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in a calm and almost detached way that in fact allows you to be much more aware and connected to yourself. Consider how often you give yourself the time and space to just stop and think, to be aware of that exact moment of the here and now, of the sensation of how you breathe or the sounds you can hear. Becoming more aware of your present moments can ground you and calm you, allowing you to experience simple things that you may have begun to take for granted or stopped noticing, something that is so easy to do when you are caught up in the whirlwind of teaching!
Some people find mindfulness challenging because their mind is constantly crowded in with questions, thoughts and plans. Especially for a role such as teaching, where your days are so busy and bustling, being able to switch off for just a few minutes can seem impossible, but the benefits really are worth it. Not only does it help you to enjoy part of life that you may have been missing while on ‘autopilot’, it also allows you to become aware of your thoughts and emotions, to experience the present moment and to take a break. Here’s some tips for mindfulness that you can try today:
- The Here and Now
How often on your lunch break have you taken just five minutes to shut your classroom door and sit in the ‘silence’? Of course, it isn’t really silent and if you listen, you might begin to pick out the tick of the clock, the rustle of pages from a book as the breeze wafts from an open window, the hum of the computer or the distant muffled sound of another teacher talking somewhere in another classroom. As we dash from one task to another, through one lesson activity to the next and through each item on our to-do list, we miss the things that are happening every minute of every day. Stopping to become aware of these things engages you in the here and now and gives you some breathing space from thoughts and scheduling.
- Make Time and Keep Time
Planning a mindful moment into your day is as important as planning in time for lunch or a toilet break. Although it might feel like you can’t spare that time because of all of the different things you have to do, in fact this time can calm and settle you in an otherwise frantic day, making you more effective and refreshed to pick your schedule back up afterwards. Perhaps the journey to or from school might give you an opportunity to do this or five minutes after the school bell at the end of the day before meetings and planning or even five minutes as you lay in bed at night time before you go to sleep. Whenever works for you is fine, but do make sure you make the time.
- Full Body Scan
A really effective way to practise mindfulness is to do a ‘full body scan’. This is where you start at the top of your head and work down your body, focusing on the feelings and sensations as you move through each part. Actively work through each body part in turn from closing your eyes, relaxing your jaw, feeling the sensation of deep breaths expanding your stomach as you breath in, becoming aware of the tingle and throb of your fingers as blood circulates through your body right down to the toes cushioned in your shoes. This awareness and observation of your body will calm and ground you, giving you the chance to be aware and conscious of yourself.
- Thought trains
Many people can find thoughts, worries and ideas swarming in their minds, preventing their concentration and focus on mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t about dismissing these thoughts, but observing them before letting them go. A good way to think of this is imagining thoughts coming into your mind like a train that pulls into a station, pausing then departing again. During mindfulness, thoughts will come into your mind, but you don’t have to indulge in the thoughts, you can let the train depart without getting on board.
- Taking Time for You
Some people practise yoga or go walking as a form of relaxation and a time to focus on some things other than work; others find a bubble bath and a glass of wine at the end of a long day gives them time to switch off. Finding something that works for you is important and making time to listen to your body and take a moment to pause in the busy life of a teacher is essential to make sure your body and mind have the time to rest and rejuvenate.
Remember that mindfulness is about taking a moment to be aware and engaged with your body and mind. As teachers, we so often find ourselves doing so much for others, whether that be our students, colleagues or leadership team. Don’t forget to do something for yourself in the busy cycle of being innovative, inspiring and influential: be mindful.
By Amanda Varley.