Many people ask me how I get through my very busy school year. It’s a legit question: between teaching fifth-grade full time, taking doctoral classes, blogging and coaching, not to mention being a mom and wife, I feel overwhelmed just thinking about more than one day at a time.
When people ask, I honestly say that I usually try not to think beyond the day ahead of me. But after studying mindfulness over the past few years with the Teacher Solutions Team and with Dr. Dennis Shirley at the annual Teacher Leadership Institute, I wanted to try adding an element of mindfulness to my life. I added one more thing to my already full plate – yoga.
It began with a challenge last summer. I’m always doing summer challenges: a book a day challenge, a gratitude challenge, a cleaning challenge. This summer was a squat challenge – ouch! Last summer, I challenged myself to do yoga each day for 30 days.
Yoga practice fits an overall trend in my classroom goals for the year. One goal or “New Year’s Resolution” was to be more present in the classroom, to really listen to my students and live in the now with them. To borrow a phrase I’m still working on mastering, I wanted to, “Talk less, smile more.”
Implementing a daily yoga practice impacted my daily classroom life. This quiet time each morning allowed me to make a commitment every day to my philosophy. As my body worked and my mind relaxed, I reminded myself of my purpose and my goals for the day. As I held poses, I reflected on my mistakes from yesterday, determined how I could do better today, and let go. Actively practicing letting go of my mistakes was powerful for my mental well-being.
I learned to slow my breath in the classroom, especially when I was feeling overwhelmed or annoyed by classroom incidents or behavior. Learning how to quiet my overactive mind allowed me to better listen to the needs of the little people around me. Yoga reminded me to sink into the moment and remember to look at my practice through the eyes of my students. Being more in the moment added a gentleness and patience to my interactions with my students.
There were challenges to a commitment to a daily yoga practice – when I had the flu or when our family visits Disneyland (we open and close the park to justify the cost of the tickets) and I was utterly exhausted. But overcoming challenges just makes the one year anniversary of a daily yoga practice all the sweeter. How did a 30-day challenge turn into a year? I found the practice so relaxing, I kept it up all summer. When summer ended and school began, I thought I might regret setting my alarm 20 minutes earlier than my previous school year wake up time to allow time for my daily practice. This was not the case, however. I would even set my alarm earlier some days when I knew I had a heated IEP meeting or late musical rehearsal to set myself up for a successful day by doing a longer, more intense morning practice.
My daily yoga practice carried over to my classroom in more ways than my mental clarity. I introduced my students to some basic poses and breathing techniques I thought they would find helpful and that we’d be capable of executing with 30+ bodies in a small, portable classroom. We enjoyed Mindful Monday all year long. We set intentions for the week and practiced breathing techniques and/or yoga poses. They loved the release of lion’s breath and finding balance in tree pose. I witnessed serious intensity in their warrior 2 poses. I noticed a reduction in anxiety after Mindful Monday time and enjoyed how it set the mood for calm reflection and focus.
Daily yoga is one way I manage stress and promote mindfulness in my practice. Showing up on my mat and living in the moment helps me to improve my physical health and mental well-being, as well as improve my teaching skills. How do you find balance in your life?