Inspired Imperfect Action

The Centred Teacher

I was listening to a Yoga Summit the other night and a teacher on there (Laura Cornell) outlined 5 steps to “move in the direction of your desires” and one of these steps has stayed with me – a refrain that I have oft since repeated internally and even out loud in my team meeting this week.

The step was this:

‘Take inspired, imperfect action.’

Our team had decided that a norm for our meeting should be “make decisions efficiently” and I piped up and said “we can take inspired, imperfect action” – they loved it (so did I).

I have written about lifting the shield of perfectionism before as it is something I have struggled with on a massive scale for much of my life until the past couple of years – it is debilitating. And as I said to my year 4 student last year as she rubbed out her artwork for the 10th time “Perfection is the enemy of done” (I didn’t make that up, though I wish I had). We don’t try anything new, we don’t speak up, we hesitate in our decisions and we don’t back ourselves in case what we try, say and decide is not “perfect”. We feel too vulnerable. This step is profoundly applicable to teachers and their students in realising their desires / dreams / learning goals.

You won’t get closer to achieving anything unless you start.

You won’t find out the best pedagogy for your students unless you experiment.

You won’t know if your idea will work unless you test it out.

Give me imperfect action over inaction any day.

We just need to accept imperfection – one inspired action at a time!

Inspired action sounds lofty but as Wayne Dyer always said “in-spired”  means “in spirit” – to live in a way that sees us connected to that deep space where spirit resides. The place that has been obscured by years of stress or disenchantment or sadness or distractions. The place that we have lost touch with in the busy-ness of daily life. In my experience, to live from this place of spirit we must cultivate stillness….and that doesn’t have to be done perfectly either. Stop and do 1 minute of abdominal breathing as you wash up – you don’t need to buy the perfect meditation cushion, incense, crystals or download an app – these are all distractions. Just be silent and still with that monkey mind chattering in the background – no perfection required. So this month make a pact to release the ideal of perfect action or a perfect outcome and create stillness in your life on a daily basis to take inspired imperfect action to achieve what it is you desire in your classroom and in your life.

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Postscript: As I type this my 5 year old daughter is watching a fairy dvd where for 5 minutes they’ve sung a song about “Princess Perfect”….oh the irony. Gee, I wonder why we all feel we have to be perfect?!!!! Time to eject that dvd (or fake a black out)!!

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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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Noticing Beauty Every Day

beautyPart of living a contented (and centred) life and being satisfied with the present moment is taking time to notice the beauty that is around us every day of our lives that we more often than not take for granted and which is free to enjoy.

I have made it a daily practice to notice and soak up beauty – letting it sink in to the deep layers of my body and heart so that it fills me up with nourishing goodness.

Different people find different things beautiful – the beauty I see is often out in nature or in other people’s actions but it can also be in objects. Some beauty I have noticed lately is:

  • My daughter’s face covered in blueberry squishes and the smell of her hair
  • The aroma of wood smoke in the morning (now that the weather has gotten colder)
  • The warming spices in my morning cup of chai
  • Frothy milk ($3 well spent at IKEA – I can’t get enough of this froth!)
  • The sun shining through the back of a wave at sunrise
  • The golden moon appearing from behind clouds in the early evening after parent teacher interviews (a total gift after a long day)
  • The sound of rain on leaves in my garden

These are things that I notice and express gratitude for every day. By aligning with beauty (and the source that created it) our sense of it only expands – as they say “Where attention goes energy flows”. It’s time to start paying attention.

Rick Hanson says:

‘The experience of beauty relieves stress, nourishes hope and reminds us that there’s much more to life than grinding through tasks’.

So much of a teacher’s day can be spent “grinding through tasks” but we do have a choice of whether we intersperse this “grind” with servings of beauty. Some examples for your students might be: a guided meditation; sitting under trees just listening while feeling the breeze on their skin; sharing a poem, a song or a beautiful flower…

It is alarming to think that our schools and therefore the lives of our children and teachers are becoming a grindstone – the purpose of which is to wear things down. I’d rather cultivate the opposite.

I know you can spare a few moments each day to open to beauty. You do have this choice but you have to make that choice. Really look at the things around you – especially the ordinary things we take for granted. Use all your senses to experience beauty in the environment and in other people. You could keep a beauty journal or take a photo when beauty strikes, or simply breathe it in. Deep.

How much beauty are you currently taking note of day to day and moment to moment?

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Tips for Surviving Report Writing

cupIt’s that time of year again – thought it might be good to re-post this one! Here are some things you might like to try as you write your reports this term so that you do not need the first week of 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 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. 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.

Happy writing!

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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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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/

Trust Yourself to Achieve Unexpected Outcomes

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‘…choose to see the outward forms as poor substitutions for your true nature and you’ll begin to live without attachment to those forms.’

Trust first and foremost in yourself.

Wayne Dyer

I’ve spent a long time feeling that being a teacher was not enough. It didn’t hold enough status, I didn’t earn enough money, I wasn’t outwardly successful enough in terms of possessions or salary. I was somehow not as worthy as a doctor or lawyer. No one ever said this to me directly but of course we all feel the judgements of others fairly regularly in term of comments on the hours we work, how many holidays we have and the old crack about “those who can’t do, teach”.

I was so attached to the idea that I was not living up to anybody’s expectations that it became difficult to take responsibility for anything. But I’ve come to realise what an illusion these ideas are.

Ours is a profession of honour.

Of meaning and magic.

Of heart and heroism.

A sacred vocation in which we have the power to make positive change.

We measure our worth as a teacher by how well our students are performing, how much we achieved in a lesson, by the outcomes we set out to reach. Could we shift the measure of our success to the joy and peace we (and our students) experience daily? How well we model for our students a healthy and balanced mental and psychological state? How easily we give love to our students and to ourselves? How we interact and respond to their needs and accept them as they are – without wanting to change them too much?

With so many pressures and so much accountability I think some of us have stopped trusting ourselves. We are finding it hard to hear our own inner voice.

Anything you aspire to or covet in the material world of “outward forms” will never compare to the grandeur that you’ll find inside – and this is true for our students also. Trust that you know what your students need from the wisdom of your true nature. Watch your own thoughts that might be judging or attached to certain outcomes (Why didn’t I get that finished today?……She shouldn’t be behaving that way…).

Listen to your heart.

If you can set aside some time each day to go inward you will reap the benefits and the wisdom in your heart will be easier to hear. In the world that we currently inhabit this is not an easy task. We are made to feel that what we are or do is never enough, that we are falling short in some way. But the truth is we don’t need anything else to make us whole or better. We have everything we need inside – we just have to access it by peeling back the years of conditioning that have us believe otherwise. Wouldn’t it be great to save our students from years of shedding – that they could just know this from NOW and have a sense of self that could withstand any outward forms that they encounter.

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Living and Teaching from your Values

stock-photo-30618598-empty-tableWhen you sense that you are living “off centre” there could be any number of reasons for feeling the way you do. In my experience a great place to start is to look at whether you are living in alignment with your authentic values. I’m not talking about the values that are forced on us all by society at large or even an education system that prioritises certain outcomes. I’m more concerned with the values that you hold dear that may have been buried by the expectations and beliefs of those around you.

I read this recently:
‘To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.’(Sorry I’m not sure who said this…must keep track of who is writing these amazing things!)

This is not to say you need to become blatantly oppositional, it just means to be true to yourself and not be swayed by dominant thinking within society, within your friendship circles but also within the education system if it does not align with the values you treasure. Once you are clear about what it is that you value you can stand strong in support of these.

One of the first steps in living a centred life is to identify your core values so that you can start living in reference to them. Some examples of mine are:
I value physical health and vitality; mental health; spiritual practices, learning, my family; my friends; eating healthy food; meaningful work; being in nature…. You could devise a list that rings true for you. In the busy-ness of our day we can be living very much on auto-pilot without ever stopping to ask ‘Is this how I want to be spending my time?’ ‘Does this feel aligned with what I value and what I want to be bringing to this world?’ When we pause to reflect we can move from ‘auto’ into ‘manual’ mode – much more in control and living intentionally. When we bring what we value into the light of awareness and consciously set about connecting with these in our daily life we can feel a sense of alignment return. If you are feeling stuck, restless, dictated to or feel a lack of control, this small practice might be just the thing to get you feeling more centred and ahold of the reins.

You might like to journal about what it is you truly value, reflect on how much time you are giving in your day / week to those things…..it will soon become clear as to whether or not you are spending your time on things that inspire you and create joy in your life and where you can make more time for these things! Through awareness we become clear with what is lifting us up or dragging us down. With clarity comes action and so too change.

This week: spend some time alone determining what you truly value so that you can begin to take small steps to centre your life around these. Once these become the focus for living they will inform your teaching – that world-changing work that takes up much of your day!

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