A Personal Account of Recovery from Mental Health Struggles

mental healthWith last week being Mental Health Week and World Mental Health day celebrated last weekend it got me reflecting on my own struggles with mental health and wellness and more recently my own healing. By sharing our stories and struggles we acknowledge and connect to our common humanity and perhaps in my sharing, others will find the courage to admit it if they’re not coping.

I have grappled with my mental health since my teenage years. Around age 15 I began to put pressure on myself to achieve and once this began I never lived up to my own standards of perfection – ever. Nothing I did was good enough in my eyes, despite a multitude of evidence to the contrary. Negative self-talk and a highly sensitive nature (that I have only recently learned more about) kept me in cycles of depression and anxiety throughout my twenties.

From the first year of my teaching career I struggled to switch off. I cried most evenings in my first year out of university as I stayed up late preparing lessons only for them to be hijacked by a particular student with ADHD and ODD in a year group that had been separated their entire schooling due to behavioural issues only to be put back together for me – first year out. No one else wanted them. I lasted the year but headed to Nepal and India the year after. I’ve always come back to teaching in between travels because in my gut I know it matters to the world despite it being overwhelming for me for so many years.

After the birth of my baby I expected to finally feel some peace and revel in the joy of maternity leave with my beautiful girl but unaddressed issues resurface – particularly in the face of sleep deprivation. In yoga we call these reoccurring issues “samskaras”, ruts in the road that we fall into time and time again – until we burn through them with consistent yoga practice. I found myself floored – in the deepest “rut in the road” of my life – by horrific post-natal depression and anxiety for which I desperately sought out medication. I had always eschewed drugs in any form despite being prescribed anti-depressants in the past but I knew that I needed them this time as my thought patterns became increasingly disturbing to me and I struggled to get out of bed each day. I remember saying to my mum “I feel like I don’t exist”. I’m not entirely sure what I meant but I was not living in the world that mentally healthy people inhabit. Every daily action was a chore, I wasn’t eating or sleeping and I experienced muscle twitching in my arms and legs when I did lie down in bed.

When I went back to work after 8 months maternity leave it felt good to get my brain moving in a different way again but looking back I was exhausted and depleted on a very deep level. It took 4 years of being back at work, perfectionism reigning supreme, rest-deprived, pushing through the tiredness and stress-addiction before something had to give. And it did. It took another teacher asking me how I was and then probing further for the truth, for me to admit I was not okay. I will be forever grateful to that colleague for his care and intuition that things were not right.

It has been over a year since that unravelling and it has been a daily practice and taken much effort to stay healthy but it has been worth it. I know I will never fall back into those ruts in the road – ever.

These are my top Positive Mental Health practices:

  • Be Honest with yourself: don’t just soldier on. Panic attacks, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, lethargy, nausea or feeling “low” for an extended period are all signs that you are not 100%. Honesty can be difficult but can only lead to positive outcomes.
  • Seek Professional Help: your work place will provide you with access to free counselling sessions or you can see your GP for a referral to a psychologist for 10 sessions a year that you can claim on Medicare (in Australia).
  • Schedule rest periods: don’t “rest when you’re done” because you are never done. If you are feeling particularly depleted take some long service leave or a mental health day and DO NOTHING.
  • Have time to yourself: to do what makes you feel alive, at least a few times a week.
  • Exercise every day: this doesn’t have to be strenuous and in fact if your nervous system is overloaded too much movement will have a negative impact.
  • Cultivate Stillness and Silence: meditation is optimal but can be torture for a frazzled nervous system. Practicing yoga prepares your body for meditation. It took me 12 years of practice to finally find stillness (I had a lot of samskaras to burn off!) See my post on calming your nervous system here.
  • Alleviate the internal (and external) pressure daily: the pressure to do more, be more, accumulate more. Repeat to yourself “I am enough” and “I have enough”.
  • Connect to your breath throughout the day: it’s a good measure of your internal state and anchors you to the present moment. Aim for some long, slow, deep, abdominal breathing each day –you can do this in bed!

Not only do the children in our classes need and deserve the happiest, healthiest teachers for their own wellbeing but you deserve the happiest and healthiest life. Only you can create that.

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Sustainability (for the soul)

reapYour practice and effort determine your reward – you totally reap what you sow!

I have sustainability on my mind at the moment having received a grant for $1000 to bring my vegie garden / sustainability project dreams out of my head and into reality. Having never grown a vegetable in my life (surely eating loads of them counts?!) I am truly spending this year stepping out of my comfort zone. So it got me thinking about that word….SUSTAINABLE…and what practices might be high on the list for ensuring teachers have longevity (and joy) in their careers, rather than just applied as an environmental buzz word.

Here are my current personal sustainability practices:

  • Rest when tired – I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it, don’t push through. I need constant reminders of this but it is so important and always works.
  • Work on something that lights a fire in your belly (like a pot belly stove sustaining you through a chilly winter) – no more “grinding” through tasks. In Nischala Joy Devi’s translation of the Yoga Sutras she interprets Patanjali in Sutra I.39 as saying:

“Dedicate yourself to anything that elevates and embraces your heart”.

It can be hard to find time in our profession to dedicate to projects we are passionate about (whether for school or personally) but anything that elevates your heart will lift your energy too, supporting you on a daily basis.

  • Food that sustains – when I think of sustenance food immediately comes to mind. Eat well. You know how. Just pick a meal or snack to focus on making really healthy for a week or two before moving onto another. Natural = life giving.
  • Let something go – we cannot get everything done that we would like to. Let’s just accept it. Pick something that you feel is not at the top of the “must do” list and accept that it won’t happen (and that’s fine).
  • Prioritise tasks on a weekly (or daily) basis – that way you won’t get side-tracked by every little thing that pops up. You don’t have to reply to every email immediately.
  • Accept the present moment – where you are, where your kids are and where your colleagues are. We are all on our own learning journey. Decide what you have the ability to change and get to it (let the rest fly). Remember making a change takes more energy than continuing on as you have been but it will be worth it.
  • Get Strong – muscles sustain you. Strong body = strong mind. Exercise needs to be prioritised (especially in winter to combat lethargy).

I hope you will consider adopting your own sustainability practices to carry you on the journey and ensure your career is maintainable in the long run.

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5 Ways to Calm Your Nervous System

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I recently read (in the book The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope):

“The shape, look and feel of this world is actually a function of our own nervous system”.

This encapsulates my own experience so vividly. My nervous system was headed for a breakdown and the look and feel of my world at that point matched this malfunction. At the lowest points in my struggles I was barely sleeping each night and experiencing strong muscle twitching and jerking in my limbs – surely a sign of my sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” part) being in overdrive. In Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga) such symptoms would constitute a “Vata Derangement” – in other words a whacked out nervous system!

Here are my tips for soothing your brain, spine and of course, in turn, your nerves – the central components of your nervous system. All of these things have worked wonders for me and I feel it when I don’t adhere to these guidelines.

1) Do abdominal breathing / relaxation / meditation. Some people find it hard to sit in meditation. It took me 15 years of yoga postures before I finally sat for more than 10 minutes, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t sit! An alternative is laying on your back with your hands on your belly, breathing deeply and raising the belly with each breath. Don’t let your chest rise – it’s harder than it sounds. Abdominal breathing activates the soothing and calming parasympathetic wing of the nervous system. Making your exhale long and slow increases the benefits.

2) Eat “grounding” foods. The following foods are recommended for those with a “Vata Defect”!

Protein and omega 3 oils such as fish oil (or if you are vegetarian like me you can use a combination of flax oil and DHA from algae).

Avoid refined sugar and flour

Dairy, eggs, nut and seed butters

Sesame oil and ghee added to cooked foods

Cooked vegetables (salads are to be avoided as they are too light but if you can’t resist use an oily dressing)

3) Do yoga poses that increase blood flow to the brain or involve a “chin lock”. These activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the brain. Poses in which you bend forward, invert or lay back over bolsters are beauties.

4) Cut stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Alcohol deprives the brain of oxygen – the buzz is the feeling of neurons drowning.

5) Get regular exercise and more sleep. If you’re ill, stressed or working hard you need more sleep! (Hint: report writing begins soon – rest up).

As Dr Robert Svoboda, a renowned Ayurvedic doctor says:

It is easiest to harmonise the body-mind-spirit complex by starting with the body….balance of the mind and spirit…comes more easily once the body has been made firm and healthy.”

A healthy nervous system = a healthy and happy you and a different world to enjoy!

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Soul Medicine: Connecting with Nature

forest bathingDuring these holidays I have had the good fortune of spending some quality time in nature: in the ocean (lots); under a waterfall; in the forest and climbing a (small) mountain. I’m sure you would agree that being in nature has a positive effect on our wellbeing – we feel ourselves slow down, we seem to breathe easier and begin to feel more expansive as the buildings recede. But as our lives get busier perhaps these sojourns into the wild are relegated to our holiday period when really we would benefit most from these jaunts during the stress of term time (particularly if we live in a busy urban environment).

Science backs our intuition that being in nature is beneficial, with various studies revealing the restorative and regenerative effects of time spent in nature. Japan has been leading the way in the development of research involving nature and forest medicine and its effects on stress, depression, tension, anxiety and other negative moods. In Japan they call this Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing” – I love this sensory term. Go to infom.org for detailed research findings and www.shinrin-yoku.org for resources on this healing natural therapy.

WAYS TO GAIN MORE GREEN!

Perhaps this coming term you could commit to spending more time in nature in some very simple ways.

Here’s my top 10 ways to get green (some without even leaving your house!):

  • Surfing: it doesn’t matter whether you can do it well or not. Grab a surfboard, paddle board, body board or simply go body surfing. Let the waves blast the stress from your cells. If you are not a competent surfer make sure you take a buddy and look out for each other.
  • A coastal / mountain / forest / park walk: aim for something slow and leisurely rather than a power walk or jog. Your goal is to be present and soak up the healing energy of the natural environment rather than sprint through it. Feel the air on your skin, notice the changing light and breathe in the earthy scents.
  • Do some yoga out on your lawn, in your garden under the trees or in a local park if you don’t have your own green space.
  • Swim in the ocean, in a river or better still a waterfall – INVIGORATING!
  • Sit on the beach and sink your toes into the sand. Breathe in the salty air which is charged with negative ions that accelerate our ability to absorb oxygen. Negative ions also balance serotonin levels which affect our mood and stress levels. Let the sound of the waves calm you into a deeply relaxed state.
  • Lay in some early morning or late afternoon sunlight – the heat of the sun reportedly affects the secretion of endorphins which make us feel relaxed and less stressed.
  • Float in water – it pumps blood towards your abdominal region rather than your limbs. Fresh blood being pumped around the body brings more oxygen to your brain which makes you feel more alert and active.
  • Do a short walking meditation in bare feet on the grass (after school in the playground?!). Keep your eyes softly focussed on the ground about 1m in front of you. Walk slowly feeling every part of your foot as it touches the ground. You may like to repeat a mantra as you breathe slowly in and out.
  • Sit by a fountain or water feature (or listen to recorded nature sounds)– just the noises of nature have been found to have a positive impact.
  • Recreate the scents of nature at home using essential oils such as those from cedar, pine or fir trees to counteract stress and enhance wellbeing. Perhaps use an oil burner while you do some meditation.

I encourage you to find even the smallest ways to bring the natural world into your daily life – I definitely plan to incorporate even more of nature’s goodness into my routines this coming term!

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Listening to your Body

feetI have spent almost 15 years practising yoga asana (postures) and over that time have felt the benefits immensely in terms of strength, flexibility and a feeling of spaciousness in the body and mind. But perhaps the most distinctive gain felt has been the deep connection that has developed with every part of my body – a sense of being in my body rather than in my head (which is my natural tendency). Obviously the amount of time I dedicate to practice affects the overall advantages received week to week – that is why it is called “practice”, it’s a daily routine.

I have spent much of the last week living in my head – not in my body. Not grounded. Generally off centre. My practice not taking place as much as it should.

Donna Farhi says:

‘When we are not in our bodies, we are dissociated from our instincts, intuitions, feelings and insights.’

I have definitely found this to be true. Our profession demands many hours of thinking and reflecting each day and with ‘To Do’ lists that tend to get bigger rather than smaller we try to push through – spending too long on the computer (a major energy sapper), not making time every day for exercise, eating on the run and ignoring tiredness.

After a week of ignoring it, I finally decided to listen to my body which was giving me a warning in the form of some fairly intense back pain. As a result (I see now) I could not connect to my intuition nor have insight into the nature of my reactions to certain situations and people – something I had become particularly adept at. I was getting in a flap about ridiculous things. I needed a reminder of how deeply connected our body, mind and spirit are. We can’t ignore one without experiencing repercussions in the other two.

Listening to our bodies is a way of tapping into our inherent wisdom. The wisdom that tells us what we should do when we are confused. The wisdom that helps us make the right choice. The wisdom that assures us that everything is going to be okay. I know from experience that when my body is strong my mind and spirit are strong and nothing much can knock me off centre. When I neglect to prioritise my physical fitness everything else is weakened.

The more my meditation practice has deepened over the past 9 months I have prioritised this – getting up at 5:30am to meditate then doing my yoga practice before my daughter rises. As body, mind and spirit are connected the practices that strengthen and support each aspect of our being must be balanced in order that we don’t de-centre another part of our self. I’d forgotten that of late.

If we are detached from our feelings we cannot have clarity around issues – positive or negative – that are cropping up in our life and causing an emotional response. We will live in a way that finds us at the mercy of our environment rather than strong and centred in the inner stillness of our body and heart. Being at the mercy of a class full of students can be soul destroying, hence our greater need to stay connected to our body.

Donna explains further:

‘The insidious ways in which we become numb to our bodily experience and the feelings and perceptions that arise from them leave us powerless to know who we are, what we believe in and what kind of world we wish to create.’

When we look at our connection to our bodies as being so significant as to affect the kind of world we live in – prioritising exercise / movement that relieves the numbness and awakens our body is a matter of global urgency not just of personal health. Body awareness helps us to connect with who we are and what truly matters – inside and outside the classroom. When we reunite with our body we let it guide us in the only direction it knows – towards the truth.

Ways to reconnect to our body to let it guide us (a reminder for us all):

  • Move your body everyday (first thing in the morning before excuses creep in).
  • Sit in stillness every day to let your body speak.
  • Connect to the Earth every day – which is where your body came from. This might be as simple as walking in bare feet on the grass, sinking your feet into the sand, sitting under a tree or taking a dip in the ocean.
  • Nominate some device free days / nights and stick to them.
  • Breathe deeply and consciously.
  • Practice yoga postures and meditate (see my post on Inner Listening for a guided breathing meditation that will leave you grounded).
  • Eat mostly food that comes from nature.
  • Make small changes to your routine to prioritise any of the above.

It is through small changes such as these that gradually profound changes eventuate. Have you been listening to your body this term?

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Related post: Inner Listening – Connect Back to Your Body Oct 23 2014

https://centredteacher.com/2014/10/23/inner-listening-connect-back-to-your-body/

Valuing Ourselves

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Soar above the opinions of others…

I hit a bit of a rough patch this week. I felt rushed and a bit anxious. I could feel my blood pressure rise when I had numerous interruptions to my mathematics lesson and then my interactive whiteboard stopped working. I heard myself say “I shouldn’t have even got out of bed this morning”. On the same day a good friend posted on The Centred Teacher Facebook page about the struggles she was facing, juggling the demands of the classroom (and the 25 or so souls she is nurturing there) with her own family and health needs.

We have both been teachers for 13 years. We are both compassionate and dedicated. We both put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We are both deserving of and in fact NEED to have downtime, time with our own children, time to do what makes our heart sing – to recalibrate so that we can keep on giving.

But this week (and possibly the weeks prior) we weren’t giving that to ourselves. We are the only ones who can change that.

What finally lifted me out of this 24 hour state of “blahness” was the following:

  • A new perspective: at the time, the whiteboard pen not working was a major catastrophe but in the scheme of things going on in the world it was insignificant. My lesson changed but the kids still learnt what they needed to (or maybe didn’t). Try and see the challenges of your day within a bigger picture and maybe even with some humour.
  • Gratitude: I went home and wrote down 5 things I was grateful for. If we focus on the negative we start to only see negativity as it keeps showing up in our life. By focusing on the beauty of my life that I sometimes take for granted I tend to see more beauty.
  • Making chicken noises with my class: this was done to imitate a character in a book we were reading – it made us all laugh and we ALL loved it.
  • Meditation – silence and breathing calm the nervous system and bring us back to a state of centredness where we can connect with what we know to be true.
  • This insight from Dr Wayne Dyer:

 ‘It’s crucial to remain independent of both the positive and negative opinions of others. Regardless of whether they love us or despise us, if we make their assessments more important than our own we will be greatly afflicted.’

We worry what people will think if we leave at 3:30pm some days to go for a surf or swim. We worry that others will consider us slacking off if we voice our concerns about how much is being asked of us. We are boosted and love it when a parent or another teacher praise or affirm what we are doing. But how often do we praise and affirm ourselves?

We want to be seen to be doing our best and giving 100% to the students in our care but giving 100% leaves nothing left for ourselves. Maybe this week we can give 10% to ourselves – it’s not selfish. We are just as deserving as all the beautiful children in our lives of receiving our care.

It’s time to start making your own opinions of yourself more important than anyone else’s. Boost yourself with positive feedback. Tell yourself you are worthy of that nap or walk along the beach without feeling guilty. That does not mean you won’t listen to the opinions and feedback of others, it just means that no matter what they say you will stay true to your own inner voice knowing that you are doing a brilliant job.

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NB: When all else fails… chicken noises ALWAYS help.

Sanctuary for the Soul

soul sanctuary

As we become more mindful we are more aware of all experiences in general – the pleasurable and the challenging. Our present moment may be filled with negative emotions, aggression or terrible sadness. As we become more “tuned in” our negative experiences don’t necessarily become less but there are techniques we can use to minimise the impact of these, get back on track quicker and not be at the mercy of our thought patterns and emotions from moment to moment.

One such technique is that described by Rick Hanson as “Refuge” or as I have termed it:

Soul Sanctuary

I have always needed time alone and this is definitely where I find sanctuary, recalibrate and fill the tank back up but the concept of Soul Sanctuary is much broader and does not necessitate a change in location or companionship or a large amount of time as we can find it inside… immediately. It is beneficial to centre in your sanctuary as a daily practice.

Soul Sanctuary helps us to stay present with whatever comes our way be it positive or negative and as our profession is largely made up of interacting with others moment to moment lots of things “come up”. This technique keeps us grounded and centred in order to respond calmly and authentically.

A good place to start might be to make a list of people (groups or individuals), places, activities, practices or routines, experiences, memories or ideas that support you, inspire you or which you feel protected by. As Nischala Joy Devi says:

‘A positive image can elevate us and support us to heal…it is in your power to formulate pleasant and unpleasant experiences’ and it is in this practice that this plays out – as it can be done through visualisation without having to go anywhere.

It is then really as simple as taking a moment each day to consciously find sanctuary in those things by doing the following (as described by Rick Hanson PhD):

  • Saying the words “I take sanctuary in….”
  • Going to your sanctuary  (literally or in your mind) e.g. the beach, a forest, a hammock, for a run
  • Coming from your sanctuary – i.e. using it as a baseline from which to enter your day. So for me this would be rising early to meditate, pray, do some yoga or breath awareness practices. This fills me with a sense of calm protection from which I enter my day centred. This concept is illustrated in a prayer I use most days:

 When I step out, the world assembles itself around me

Like my awareness of being who I am,

Like my belief in the Divine.                                    (Modern Prayer from Stockholm Sweden)

When we come from a place of sanctuary the world might just ‘assemble itself’ more gently around us.

or finally…

  • Abiding as your sanctuary – this is really where you sense a refuge at work in your life and you live from that. So for me this would be abiding as self-compassion, love, peace, connected to spirit.

These practices are particularly beneficial when I am starting to feel anxious, over-tired or worried about something. You might start with the first two methods as they are perhaps more tangible and as these become comfortable, look towards ‘coming from’ and ‘abiding as’ refuge each day – they bring you to a place where you are living from this sense of comfort. Choose whatever practice resonates with you and which you feel you can actually do.

It’s important as you feel what it’s like to be in this space of safety and serenity that you let those positive feelings sink in because what your brain focuses on changes its makeup.

Who / What / Where are your Soul Sanctuaries?

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The R Word.

 

typeIt’s that time of year for all Australian teachers where the temperature is rising (so too the blood pressure!), assessments are being marked, the children are tiring by the minute and I really need to make a start on my….(gasp) REPORTS! Here are some things you might like to try as you write your reports this year so that you do not need the first 2 weeks of Christmas holidays to recover:

1) Create (and stick to) a simple timetable for completion so that the workload is spread out over a few weeks and you are not leaving them ALL until the last minute and have to pull an all-nighter (not mentioning any names here but you know who you are). I write mine down to the wire in terms of when they are due but I never pull all-nighters – I’d never recover. I spread them out.

2) Try to work in 50 minute blocks of time with a 10 minute break in between each block where you leave the computer, rather than working for hours at a time. The break will refresh your brain and you will return clearer and re-energised and will actually achieve more in your time frame.

3) Fuel your brain with protein, good fats and loads of veggies. If you normally have a bowl of lollies and chocolates on hand to “fuel” you, try nuts, water or a healthy (green) smoothie to keep the fire burning longer. Sugar will keep you in a cycle of extreme highs and lows – we want stability and balance at this stressful time.

3) Get 8 hours sleep EVERY night (I am writing in capitals to myself here!)

4) Try and move your body every day, even when you are tired (especially when you are tired). It will relieve your tiredness and clear your head. Just aim for 15 minutes which is just over 1% of your day – totally doable. Yoga is great for bringing you back into your body after the mental activity required to write reports.

5) Keep your water intake up – this is my Achilles heel and people who know me are often surprised to learn I don’t drink enough water. I think it’s because I don’t want to wet my pants in the classroom ( I’m a long way from the toilet). But I know when I’m feeling foggy it’s because I’m dehydrated. My goal is 1.5 litres a day and herbal teas are great for upping the beneficial liquid (avoid juices and soft drinks – sugar laden!)

6) Maybe you could try writing your reports in a location you have never written in before e.g. at a cafe; down at the beach; in a park by the river – just tote your laptop. Sunlight causes the brain to produce endorphins which will lift your mood. Of course this may be a ridiculous notion if you are someone who needs paperwork or samples close by to refer to as you write but it’s just a thought – I know I could write my report comments in such a setting.

7) To bring your inner wisdom and true presence to the fore as you write, try a little meditation before each report writing session. This is as simple as 5 minutes of breath awareness with your hands on your heart and diaphragm.

Do you have any tips that you could share with us that might alleviate the stresses of report writing mayhem? We’d love to hear your ideas. Share here or on Facebook – oh I’m now also on Instagram @centred_teacher! Happy writing!

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Self-Nourishing Acts

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I hope that many of you have spent a week being on your own side – this can simply be internally in terms of your self-talk and how long you stay with positive emotions and experiences but it might also be an external practice where you physically and spiritually nourish yourself.

I’m urging you to try the practice of scheduling in Self-Nourishing Acts throughout your week (or even every day!) that nurture your physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. I first heard of this term many years ago in the book Positive Energy by Judith Orloff MD however it is only this year that I have written a list of my own Self-Nourishing Acts and begun to schedule these into my week.

Self-Nourishing Acts (SNAs) are activities that help you to recalibrate, relax and renew your energy and purely experience pleasure in your life. Because of the pleasure derived from SNAs they calm the nervous system and quieten stress response hormones. They can lift your mood and give you a more positive outlook – particularly if you are stuck in the daily grind of: travel to work; work all day; travel home from work; make dinner for the family; put kids to bed and sit in front of the TV (or stay up doing school work). Then repeat.

It’s important that when you participate in a SNA that you savour the pleasure of it – with all of your senses. This will truly keep you in the present moment experience of it. Don’t rush through it, worrying about what you need to get done – let it sink in.

My own list of Self-Nourishing Acts is as follows:

  • Reading in the hammock ( or just laying)
  • Meditating
  • A long yoga session at home or on the beach
  • Yoga Nidra
  • A hot bath with a face mask
  • Massage (even self-massage can be nourishing – though I prefer someone else to do it!)
  • A cup of chai on my back deck with some dark choccy macadamias (and my dogs)
  • Time with a friend without our kids
  • Surfing before work
  • Paddle-boarding or bushwalking
  • Going to Kiva Spa / Sauna at Mullumbimby

Some of these are rare treats but others I schedule in regularly and they cost nothing and as you can see involve time alone (particularly important if you spend all day with a class of children and go home to your own children). They are things I love to do and know that I feel good after. I truly value them and they make me feel more alive – bringing me back to my centre and re-energising me.

Your list of SNAs may look very different as different things nourish different people. We are not energised by the same things but I would recommend some time in nature as part of your list. Once you devise your list and begin to schedule them in, really take note of how your body, energy and spirit respond. Maybe something that starts off on your list (something that you think you love to do) might need removing after you notice your reaction to it – maybe it actually drains you.

I encourage you to start your list of SNAs this week (there is a template to print off in the ‘Resources’ section of my webpage that you can use). Stick it on the fridge and tick next to each one when you participate in it to keep track of how often you are nourishing yourself with things you love to do. I would love people to share some of their Self-Nourishing Acts here or on The Centred Teacher facebook page: www.facebook.com/centredteacher. I’d love to hear what nourishes your body, mind and spirit.

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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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