Being on your Own Side

own friend

As Rick Hanson PHD says

‘To take any steps toward your own wellbeing you have got to be on your own side. Not against others, but for yourself’.

In my observation and in my personal experience this is really hard for many of us. As teachers we are bombarded by information, at times overcome by expectations and periodically defeated by critical remarks in the media and even from those in our circle. We tend to just sigh and grumble to each other “Unless you are a teacher you don’t know what it’s like” (and in my view therefore cannot comment with any authority). But in general we tend to cop it on the chin. Many of us are raised to put others first (which is totally lovely) but without balance it comes at the expense of our physical and mental health and wellbeing and thus the energy we bring to the classroom.

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson asks us to think about what it’s like to be a good friend to someone and then ask: “Am I that kind of friend to myself?” Many teachers I know are incredibly hard on themselves and fairly dismissive of what they actually get done each day. We focus on what we didn’t get done and because there’s so much to do it can feel like what we do is never enough. But it is enough. You are enough. We are all enough.

You can’t serve others and be the positive influence you want to be if you don’t look after yourself and your own needs and be your own advocate. In my experience it is unsustainable and leaves you depleted and even resentful.

In what ways could you be a better friend to yourself each day? How could you cut yourself some slack and silence that inner critic? Could you celebrate small achievements more by holding onto that positive feeling they create? Truly experience the positive vibes rather than overlooking them? Could you say “no” more? Start being your own friend today.

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Check out: (www.rickhanson.net)

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Inner Listening – Connect back to your Body

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I have found that cultivating positive energy in our life is about respecting our body’s signals. But as teachers, working in an intelligence profession we are so used to residing in our head that we can easily lose touch with those signals as we are exposed to high levels of stimulation, information overload and requisite mental activity – minute to minute. This can easily result in a feeling of detachment from our bodies as we are stuck amidst the fluctuations of our mind – which generally reside somewhere in the past or the future, rarely the present.

The first step towards residing in the present and to be present for our students is to truly exist in our bodies and get out of our heads – at least for a little while. Breathing meditation is a fabulous practice that connects us back to our breath (and so too our body) instantly and leads to a feeling of “grounded-ness”. But for those of us with boisterous cerebral action it can be disturbingly hard to do.

Below is a guide to beginning the practice of breathing meditation and a grounding visualisation. Start with a few minutes and increase this gradually – don’t put pressure on yourself to do 20 minutes because it won’t happen. Even a few minutes a day can have an impact – try it for a few minutes at recess and /or lunch in the corner of your classroom. I’ve even gone out to my car to do it for a longer period so as not to be disturbed.

Find a quiet place with no interruptions. Shut the door and turn off all devices. Sit in a relaxed position with your eyes closed and tune into your breath – become conscious of breathing in and breathing out. You may like to place your hands on your belly and feel it rise and fall with the breath or focus your attention at the base of the nostrils and feel the breath going in and out. Initially deepen your breath and slow it down.

You will have thoughts come into your mind (most likely a ridiculous amount) so each time you catch your attention wandering continue to bring the mind back to focus on the in and out of your breath. Continue this for as many minutes as you can. Count your breaths if this helps you to focus.

 Grounding

With each breath begin to focus your awareness downward, right into the ground. Picture roots growing from the soles of your feet as well as from your spine / tail bone and planting themselves down into the soil. Visualise them growing deeper and deeper as they flow through soil and strata, down to bedrock. Watch as these roots wrap around rock and anchor themselves (and you) to the earth. Breathe here. With each in breath it can be really energising to visualise nutrients and energy from the earth flowing upwards. I picture this as a white light moving up the roots and into my body. Continue as this energy flows up with every in breath. Up through your feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, abdomen, waist, chest and upper back and shoulders. Go slowly. Then down each section of your arm slowly and into your fingers. It flows up through your neck, face and out through the top of your head. Continue to sit and breathe here feeling the energy in every part of your body. Connecting back to each part in turn.

Stay as long as you can.

When you are ready to return to your duties slowly bring some movement into your hands and feet, stretch a little and open your eyes. Try and take this centred feeling back into your day.

Give it a try – the roots part might sound a little odd if you’ve never done anything like this but it is really effective. By tuning into our breath and bodies like this a few times a day we can begin to hear the messages and feelings that we have been too busy to hear.

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Breaking Through the Blocks

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Photo by Aftab Uzzaman

Hopefully my post on bringing your values to life in terms of creating goals, actions and tasks inspired some of you to identify your values and decide on a focus for change in your life to bring you back to centre (or to stay centred for the future). With any goals we set we can start with the best intentions but soon after hit a block that knocks us off course. It’s at this point that we can chuck it all in and go back to the way we were (stressed or unhappy) or pick ourselves up and get back on course. My advice is to aim for gradual change over a longer period rather than pressuring yourself to change overnight e.g: I will walk for 15 minutes 2 days a week (and when this is a habit expand it). Every choice you make that positively affects your health is a step in the right direction.

In my experience the blocks that I came up against were all self-generated. They either resulted from excuses I came up with like “I’m too tired”, “I’m too busy”, “I don’t have time”; from not planning in advance (e.g. organising my running gear the night before and putting it at the end of my bed or packing my food, clothes and surfing gear in the car the night before so I could get up and go for an early surf before work) or from emotional attachments I had (e.g. to sugary “treats”). I had to take an honest look at why I was making choices that weren’t supporting my mental or physical health.

I soon realised that if I was the one creating these blocks I was certainly the only one who could remove them – if I truly wanted to change. I was at such a low point that change was the only option and so I had to commit to them. I became aware of my limiting belief “I’m too busy” and turned this into a positive message that would support me to make the changes I needed: “I need a calm, quiet mind and a strong energised body to sustain my work and it is my responsibility to prioritise this”. It really helped me to take responsibility for all my actions – the ones that were supporting as well as undermining my health and wellbeing.

It’s time to be courageously honest and ask yourself some questions: What blocks to change do I self generate? What excuses do I come up with to justify my current unhealthy habits? How can I change these negative excuses from “I can’t…I don’t…” to “I can….” and “I will…”?

You will make mistakes that’s just par for the course – accept and acknowledge this and get back on track.

“If we wait to make changes to our personal routine until life makes it easier for us, then it’s never going to happen.” Heidi Hannah

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Let’s Talk about Rest

View from my hammock
View from my hammock

Early on in my journey back to health a book called Stressaholic: 5 steps to Transform Your Relationship With Stress by Heidi Hannah came across my path and I read it in a few days front to back. Now when I say “came across my path” it wasn’t that whimsically synchronistic it was more like I manically searched the whole online catalogue of Richmond Tweed Regional Library until I found a book that I could use to fix myself because I didn’t want to “waste” my time off work (!!). But I do feel I was meant to read this book – I knew immediately that I was in fact a Stressaholic. I was living in survival mode and probably had been since the birth of my daughter 4 years earlier.

Heidi explains that ‘Stress is neither good nor bad – it just is. A life without stress would be stressful…’ because without stress we do not receive the stimulation that helps us to grow. This totally rang true as I recalled a time in my mid-twenties living in a surf camp in the idyll of Samoa, surfing pristine waves, giving massages to brawny surfers and teaching them daily yoga……I managed to make this into a stressful situation after a time but for someone with a brain that rarely stops it was stressful – I needed more stimulation. This book immediately made sense to me.

Reading these 2 sentences totally changed the way I had previously viewed stress – it was my current response to the stress in my life that was robbing me of my mental health. When I stopped seeing stress as “bad” and needing total elimination from my life but rather chose to see it as a necessary part of a productive and progressive life I could then work on the ways suggested in the book to balance my reactions to and recovery from stress.

The first strategy Heidi suggests is REST. This might seem ridiculously simple to some people but it was like I had instantly been given permission to switch off and let some things go because if I didn’t, the consequences were scary. I didn’t need to chuck in my career I just needed to rest when I was tired. Mind blowing. Although very hard to do –  a little like telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking. I was so used to pushing through my tiredness because “I have to get this done….” and I know many teachers who are familiar with that way of being (and our “to do” list is NEVER DONE).

Rest is imperative (watching TV doesn’t count) because as teachers we use up a massive amount of mental and emotional energy every day at work. Most days we are on playground duty during breaks from class or catching up on work in the classroom. We might end up with 15 minutes if we’re lucky to scoff down some food (without even tasting it) and head back to the fray. We MUST schedule in times for rest to recharge our energy throughout the day and as Heidi makes clear ‘When things become more intense and therefore require enhanced energy and resilience it is even more important to create opportunities to take care of ourselves’.

So I ask you: Are you listening to your body’s signals that are telling you it’s time to turn off the computer or finish marking or are you constantly pushing beyond? Start to listen to your body and create a list of ways you can rest when you need to – at school , straight after school for 10 minutes, at home or in nature. Rest needn’t mean sleep – laying in my hammock has become a favourite pass time, a time to tune into me and my surroundings. How will you create regular rest periods in your schedule in order to recharge the mental, emotional and physical energy you expend daily?

* If you have your own children this is harder to do but even MORE important.signature star

Bringing your Values to Life

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Who you are in the classroom is a reflection of what’s going on in the rest of your life (and most of us have A LOT going on). Identifying what I truly valued was the first step for me in becoming more centred.

Living “off centre” might feel like overwhelming stress, low energy, anxiety, teariness, a sense of daily panic, depression – it was all these things for me – to the point where working at Woolworths was alarmingly appealing (and this is not intended to offend anyone who works at Woolworths. As a teenager I worked for 1 day at a supermarket, my till didn’t add up correctly at the end and they asked me not to come back – it was highly traumatic so I hope you can understand my aforementioned alarm).

This year I was lucky enough to be given the time to refocus and it truly saved my teaching career. I have at various times got to the point where I’ve prayed “You need to send something…. or I’m out.” This was one of those points but this time it would have been for good. I was given a true gift of time off work to recalibrate – my prayer was answered.

When I had decided that physical and mental health, my family, friends, a spiritual practice and my job were all the things I valued I set some goals around these in terms of what I wanted to see happen – so that who I was in the classroom was reflecting someone vibrantly alive and present. I will share a few examples here of how I brought my values into daily living in a very specific way.

Some of my Goals were:

I am living more fully in the present.

I have a strong body particularly my legs and core (I will write about the significance of this for me at a later date).

I pay attention to my body’s signals and honour what they tell me.

I have quality time with my daughter and husband.

I am calm, happy and energised at work.

Once I had decided on my goals I broke these down further into “Actions” and “Tasks”.

……………………………………………………………………………………..

Goal: I am living more fully in the present.

Actions: Meditation. Conscious breathing.

Tasks: Meditate as soon as I wake and before bed at night. Check in with my breath at designated points throughout the day (e.g. in the car, on the toilet, at the whiteboard).

………………………………………………………………………………………

Goal: I have a strong body.

Actions: Cardio exercise in nature every day. Yoga.

Tasks: Daily yoga whenever I can fit it in + 3 longer sessions a week.

Schedule daily fitness around my husband’s work.

Plan my week on a Sunday.

……………………………………………………………………………………..

These are just 2 examples of how I turned my values and goals into actions – in an achievable way for me. I looked at my “Tasks” and committed to these to bring about the changes that I needed, to truly live out what I valued. If you end up with what looks like too many “Tasks”, commit to 3 things and once you’ve nailed these and they become part of your routine move onto the next.

I truly hope these ideas set you on a path back to your centre and a vibrant, value-centred life. Please comment here or on my facebook page to connect and share your story.

Next post I will look at the blocks that come up when trying to put these “Actions” into practice.

PS: WordPress just suggested I tag this post #woolworths – what a classic.

(sorry Woolies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

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