Back to School: Yippee – Oh No
Simple Ways That Mindfulness Can Help,
by Maura Fox
The air is changing and the days are getting shorter. We all know what that means. It’s time to go back to school. Maybe your child is going to pre-school, kindergarten, college or anywhere in between, and your emotions can shift all over the map. On one hand, you may be excited that you can get back to a routine–the big calendar showing where everyone is to be and when. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming and exhausting. The first few days are often filled with endless forms that need to be completed with the same information from the last 5 years, signing permissions for internet and photo releases and then the endless list of supplies, “No, it has to be a RED NOTEBOOK, the teacher said so.” How about the not so obvious emotions: fear, helplessness, loneliness, worry? We send our children off with the hope that they will be cared for and nurtured throughout their day.
I remember putting my daughter on the bus on the first day of 5th grade, the last year of elementary school. No big deal, I went to work. On the way the song Runaway Train, by Soul Asylum was playing and I started to cry. The only thing I heard was “runaway train never going back…” There she was, my little 5th grader, her last year in elementary school, next year its off to middle school then high school, college, marriage, children. We laugh about it now, but at the time I did not know about mindfulness and living in the present moment non-judgmentally. I had her all grown up and leaving me for good. Notice that– leaving “me.” It was all about me back then, but that’s a story for another time.
Jon-Kabat Zinn, Professor of Medicine and creator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”. Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to let go of worry and release ourselves from judgment. It is an in-the-moment awareness and acceptance of thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness is good for us. It allows us to be present in our parenting, choosing our response instead of having a knee-jerk reaction. We all want the same thing for our children, to be happy, healthy and successful in everything they do. As another school year begins here are some things you can try to create calmness in your life and help you connect to your children.
-Self-Compassion: Identify and acknowledge any feelings/emotions that arise without judgment.
-Recognize that things are temporary.
-Focus on your breath. Stop, take a breath, observe and then proceed. Taking this short pause, even for 10 seconds, is the best tool for calming the body and allowing us space to choose how we respond in any given situation.
-Breathing Buddy: Have your child use their favorite stuffed toy. Have your child lie down on their back and place the breathing buddy on their belly. The breathing buddy will rise and fall with with each breath. You can count to three on the inhale and back down on the exhale to encourage slow breathing.
-Be present. The most important thing our children want from us is our attention. Put down the cell phone, turn off the TV, stop what you are doing, and just be with your child. Listen to what your child has to say with your undivided attention.
Above all, remember that we do the best we can each day with the knowledge that we have. The focus of mindfulness is to bring awareness to aspects of our daily lives so we can make decisions that minimize stress and create greater balance in our lives and the lives of our children. It takes courage, effort and patience but by developing a mindfulness practice we can continue to grow along with our children.
Maura Fox has been in the field of education for over 30 years. She has experience with students on the autism spectrum, emotional/behavioral, ADHD and executive function disorders as well as language/learning/ reading disabilities. As a Certified Mindfulness Educator, she has taught mindfulness to school students K-12, and educators, parents and adults wanting to learn a different way of being. See her November 17th One big roof workshop on our cAlendar.
Developing & Practicing Resilience by Pierre Zimmerman, MS
Resilience is the ability to face life’s challenges, small or seemingly overwhelming, surprising or habitual. With it we can experience what we might label victories, an
d when we lack resilience, we might end up having meltdowns or setbacks. Some people recover quickly from adversity; others become crippled by it, and some spiral into deep depression. As we approach the end of another year, it is the perfect time to reflect on this subject.
The capacities to bounce back, resurface, and integrate our experiences and then move on are innate and possible, yet difficult. To be resilient requires of us several qualities such as awareness, pausing to reflect, flexibility, stability, and adaptability. We can use the five elements that are part of our bodies and the larger universe to illustrate these important themes:
The earth element of stability and firmness,
The water element of fluidity,
The fire element of adjustable temperatures,
The air element of mobility, and
The space element of boundlessness.
Impermanence is real and not just a thought, everything is changing in our internal and external life constantly. Once we come to terms with it, our responses to change give us numerous probabilities of what can occur and unlimited opportunities to respond to them. We have neuroplasticity in the brain, which has the capacity to rewire itself and grow numerous connections, new pathways and circuits. Activating resilience means choosing experiences that will cause neurons to fire and wire together, creating new patterns in the brain and new attitudes in our mental and emotional world.
We need to face whatever creates suffering and discomfort; it is necessary and it’s called coping. Thoughts and feelings cannot destroy us; they may weaken our outlook slightly, and that is, only if we let them. We need to pause and stay calm, letting what needs to emerge surface, which in turn will bring clarity as to the beneficial choices we can make.
This doesn’t indicate that we are unfeeling or emotionally walled off, but neither are we getting drawn into an abyss. Mindfulness of the breath and cognitive reappraising of any distressing event helps us to reframe adversity in such a way that it is not perceived as extreme. Rather than viewing an event as a mistake, experiencing shame, guilt, or inadequacy, we can look at it as an anomaly that could happen to anyone and thereby challenging the accuracy of our thoughts. The most important thing to realize is that a thought, feeling or sensation is not the totality of who we are in any given moment.
We can use the following three-part contemplation to resource ourselves and retrain the wiring of our brain. (From Rick Hanson, PhD)
1 ) I am safe
2 ) I am well resourced, I have what I need or I can ask for what I need
3 ) I am connected, I am not alone
This three-part exercise helps us become more resilient. By repeating this contemplation a few times each day, it enhances our capabilities to retrain our nervous system and go back to a homeostatic and more balanced baseline. Cultivating empathy for oneself and others is a great antidote for recovery from distress or emotional dis-regulation. These new choices will bring us healthier connections and new resourcefulness which will support us in feeling more competent and give us renewed courage to face what is, rather than avoid it.
NOTE: This article was recently published by jessie riley in the January 2015 issue of Clifton Park Living Magazine, pg. 11, please View the attached
Stress: Friend or Foe? By Pierre Zimmerman, Co-facilitator, Saratoga Stress Reduction Program
We live in times of continuous stress in our personal and professional lives — time conflicts, imbalance between “doing and being,” exposed to too much information, multitasking and less connected to others than ever. Why are some people more resistant to stress than others? How can we become more resilient?
The answer has to do with our attitude and perceptions as to whether we accept stress or suppress it, see it as a challenge or a threat. Some amount of stress helps body and mind. Blood vessels dilate and remain more relaxed, the heart pumps more blood, which releases more oxygen to the brain for clarity and processing thoughts, emotions and feelings. Our cells stay active and young and the adrenals and cortisol levels go back to a normal baseline. However, prolonged stress is dangerous for health and homeostasis. The metaphor of a hunter’s bow can be helpful. If we pull the bow taut and overstrain it, resilience is lost and the bow breaks. So do our bodies and minds when they are under stress, eventually leading to “dis-eases” or illness.
Minimal or occasional stressors motivate us, stimulate growth and help us develop balance. Our attitude is what determines our ability to integrate them. Circumstances are always neutral. Most stress is created by our mind, which monitors and regulates the flow of energy and information we create or are exposed to. What is needed for us to respond in a healthy way? Relaxation exercises, meditation, embodied awareness movement and yoga, beneficial communication skills, cultivating loving kindness and compassion for oneself and others are essential for us to flourish. Exercising the muscles of the mind and heart of compassion are necessary, because the body and the mind are one.
Musings on Mindfulness By Dr. Selma Nemer
The word mindfulness is being bandied about, but what does it mean, and what is the big deal? The extraordinary research that is being done all over the world on mindfulness versus mindlessness, the robotic state of stress, is showing actual differences in the brain, called neuroplasticity. In the eight-week course on learning mindfulness meditation, it is shown that what we attend to, or give our attention and awareness, in fact imprints our neural pathways.
What this means is that if we focus all day long on what we don’t want, we are attending to sabotaging patterns. Mindfulness makes us aware of our own internal stuck programs and gives us the tools to shift back into the present moment.
Being in the present moment detoxes us by resourcing. It’s like going to the beach and watching the tide. The waves roll in, roll out. Rhythmic, lulling, majestic. You feel it after chilling. Your heart slows. The breathing deepens. You feel part of the present. This is mindfulness. Coming home to inside.
We can’t always go to the beach, but we can train our minds to come back again and again to the breath. To this moment.
The Blog I Didn’t Write By Mary Kathryn Jablonski
Like so many in our beautiful small town, I knew Mana Behan for over 20 years. She made me feel special. She made me feel chosen, and at the same time empowered. But this is not my story; this is the story of hundreds who knew her. This was her gift to all who knew her. These were the words that echoed across Saratoga: compassionate, maternal, authentic, and real. After Mana died, the Universe began testing me, and I found myself asking, What would Mana do? over and over. What I wanted to say after Mana Behan died, I held in, which she would never have done. So here I am rewriting the blog about Mana’s passing on her Birthday.
I met Mana at the Wellness Alliance in the Arcade Building on Broadway and followed her from yoga studio to yoga studio for her Yoga of the Aware Heart. She focused, through yoga, on opening the heart. No small task. Recently, here in the office at One Roof where I work, she’d greet me with a loving touch. She would give me torn scraps of papers that she’d probably used as bookmarks, with quotes on them, some Buddhist, some not. She gave me tea. She gave me suggestions, always in the form of questions: What would it look like if…
The last time I saw her here in our offices, I was struggling with our website. A glitch would not allow me to upload a new practitioner’s photo. On my third try, refreshing the page, I was becoming more than frustrated. In came elfin Mana. She said, “Maybe this means you should step away from it for awhile,” in language not unlike Yodda’s.
“No!” I fumed, “I’ve got to figure this out!” I shot lasers of hate at the computer screen in hopes of completing the upload. Of course this did not help, and Mana floated out of the room, as I picked up the phone to call our web hosting company.
Fifteen minutes later Mana stood across from me at my desk, bent over deeply, and pounded her palm against the wood like a judge with a gavel. She shouted, “Look at me!” I jumped, and looked up to find myself nose to nose with her, staring at her blue eyes, which suddenly softened into a gentle smile. “Kiss me!” she demanded, and before I knew it she planted one on me and disappeared. I was weak with love. That was the last time I saw her.