Tag Archives: focus

7 Tips for Hot and Cold Mindfulness


April Light by Laura McKelvie

It was a strange winter here in Vermont.

New to the area, I was told to expect many feet of snow on the ground until late April or early May. While gray clouds hinted that an infamous Northeast blizzard was just around the corner, we were never truly inundated. Periodic warm days often melted the snow completely. A bout of blue skies and the intoxicating smell of fresh grass in late March left me confident there would be no more winter. But early April brought enough snow to shovel and I snapped the photo here to commemorate my faulty prediction.

I reflected then about how this on-again off-again winter provided a perfect metaphor for my mindfulness practice. Lately it’s passed through periods of hot and cold, so to speak. Some days my practice has a momentum of its own—I feel settled and concentrated without much effort. But the very next day, contrary to my hope I’ll have another easy session, I struggle with distraction and low motivation; it feels cold, like nothing is happening.

Many of you are familiar with this seesaw in your practice. Often when we struggle during a mindfulness practice, we ask ourselves what we are doing wrong and might even jump to blaming ourselves for…for…something. We must be doing something wrong otherwise we wouldn’t be so distracted. Right?


Of course it’s good to review if we are actually trying to follow through with our technique. But it’s also just as important as it is difficult to remember this: the quality of mindfulness practice ebbs and flows. That’s just the way it goes. The mind wanders naturally and we can’t control that. As long as we set our intention to do a technique, such as focusing on our breath, and honestly try, then we are practicing correctly, even if we get distracted often.

I know this, yet even with years of mindfulness practice under my belt, I still sometimes catch myself slipping into judgments. “Why am I so distracted and tense?! I should be relaxed and focused!”

We are so used to having judgmental thoughts that they can happen automatically. Instead of adding fire with yet more judgmental thoughts, I shift to being kind to myself and try one or a combination of these strategies: 

  1. Take a breath.
  2. Remind yourself that harsh judgments about our experience is not what helps us get into a calm, concentrated state.
  3. Congratulate yourself for noticing the distraction. Realizing we’re distracted and coming back to our technique is what builds concentration. Noticing distraction is the solution to the problem of low concentration.
  4. Open up to the idea that this session might remain challenging and deep concentration might not happen.
  5. Avoid comparing it to other mindfulness sessions that went “better.” Be where you are now.
  6. Zoom out. Try to incorporate the distracted state into your observation. Get a global sense of how it feels on the mental, emotional, and physical spaces to be distracted. Is your mind racing like a river or gently meandering around some curves? How tight or calm is your body? Stay with this global observation for the remainder of the session or gently return to your technique after a few moments.
  7. Gently return to your technique. Use as little mental activity as possible.

Developing concentration by staying on a focus point is very important. But so much tension can build up around this goal that we loose sight of the fact that accepting ourselves when mindfulness practice proves difficult is just as important. Sometimes your practice will be going well and you’ll feel so settled it’s like you’re on fire. Many times it will feel like a cold, slow slog. Accepting this fluctuation builds the oft touted but elusive non-judgmental component of mindfulness that’s key for integrating the mindful skills we learn on the cushion into our daily lives.

Being distracted for most of our mindfulness practice session isn’t what we plan on, especially if things have been going well in previous sessions. But if we work with the distracted mind skillfully, it’s just one more thing to observe and relax around. Next time you have a challenging session, try some of the tips and see what happens.

Back to school, back to heart

Kindergarteners Practice

I first began teaching eight years ago in Nepal. I’d never taught in a classroom before. Two weeks before the school year started, the principal told me I was going to teach science. I was excited, made all kinds of elaborate plans and developed grand visions for what my classroom was going to look like. And then school started, and the next couple of months was a lot of flopping on my face and getting up again. As I look back, I’m impressed with how fearless I was, or naive; maybe a little bit of both.

After about six months, the novelty of a new country and new class started to wear off. I became homesick and felt very lonely, but every morning I showed up and was willing to learn. And then slowly, slowly something started to shift. I stopped showing up for me and started showing up for them. By watching my students closely and learning what interested them, I became more creative, and the lessons started to create themselves. I was inspired to do the best I could because I loved my students.

As teachers, our greatest strength is the love we have for our students. This school year, practice directing that natural care and attention towards yourself.

Teaching is one of hardest jobs in the world. And so often, we make it even more difficult by being hard on ourselves. This is the part we do have power over. You can’t always change what is happening outside your classroom or your mind, but you can change what is happening inside. How?

One practice that helps when I get frustrated, down on myself, or just can’t relax, is to imagine the people I care about being happy. Try this practice.

Close your eyes and bring someone you care about to mind, someone that’s easy to love and say, “May you be happy.” In your mind, watch this person become happy. Notice what it feels like in your body to see this person happy. Repeat the words, “May you be happy.” After a couple of minutes, start to direct that attention to yourself and say, “May I be happy.” Repeat these words, and watch yourself become happy. Notice what it feels like in your body to see yourself happy.

You don’t have to be perfect. Your students, your classroom, your plans don’t have to be perfect. You’ll flop again and again. And that’s okay. This is why we practice. You can practice using the natural compassion you have for your students, friends, family and pets to develop that same care and attitude for yourself. Some days it’s easy and some days it’s hard. Just as we encourage our students: we encourage ourselves, “keep going.” No matter what happens throughout the year, you can always return to this practice.

May you be happy.

How can mindfulness help our classrooms?

Here at Modern Mindfulness we talk a lot about the benefits for children when they practice mindfulness together in the classroom or at home, but there are also benefits for the teachers. Besides having a class of relaxed students who are able to focus their minds on learning, teachers get the added benefit of practicing mindfulness themselves.

In her recent article, “Can Mindfulness Make Us Better Teachers?” Vicki Zakrezewski, Ph.D, Education Director of the Greater Good Science Center, suggests that many of the stressors that teachers are subjected to often lead to burnout. Without a social-emotional coping strategy, accumulated stress over time can lead to a diminished effectiveness as a teacher.

What can teachers do to cope with the high stress demands of their profession while also dealing with the day to day stressors in their classroom? Zakrezewski looks at research conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) for the answer: practice mindfulness!

“A group of the Center’s researchers conducted a small pilot study to test the impact of an eight-week mindfulness course adapted specifically for teachers. The study found that those who completed the training enjoyed a myriad of personal benefits, including elevated levels of self-compassion and a decrease in psychological ills such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. In comparison, a group of teachers placed on a wait list for the course actually increased their stress and burnout levels.

What made this study unique is that it also looked at the participants’ classroom performance, such as their behavior management skills and their emotional and instructional support of students. What it discovered was this: the practice of mindfulness made them more effective teachers, possibly by buffering them from the impact of stressful experiences as they were happening.” 

In a classroom in which both teachers and students practice mindfulness, interpersonal tools are created that help everyone deal with the stressors that pop up throughout the day. When practiced regularly, mindfulness becomes a tool that helps teachers be present in the moment and be more compassionate towards their students and themselves.

“For teachers, this means that in the midst of the craziness that is a classroom, we remain aware of what’s going on inside our minds and bodies, which can help us rein in our knee-jerk angry reactions to a situation and instead choose a kinder and more compassionate response.”

If you’d like to learn more about teaching mindfulness in your classroom using our unique online tool, our next Training Class for Teachers is October 24th here in Burlington, Vermont.

For more info look here.  Oct 2013 training flyer