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7 Tips for Hot and Cold Mindfulness

photo

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?

Nope.

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.

Second Grade Teacher Talks about Modern Mindfulness

Patty Kissel, a 2nd grade teacher at CP Smith Elementary School in Burlington, VT, talks about her initial doubts of using Modern Mindfulness in the classroom. After using the program for only a couple of weeks Patty learned that the “kids not only needed mindfulness, but that they wanted it.” Patty was so inspired by what she saw happen in the classroom that she went on to take the Level 2 Integration Training and the Mindful Teaching graduate course we offered at Burlington College this summer.

Hear what Patty has to say:

Creating Mindful Moments in the Classroom

A day in your average classroom can be hectic and tightly scheduled. How do we keep our students relaxed and attentive and ready for learning? The Modern Mindfulness program was designed to start the day off with 5 minutes of mindfulness in the morning. Students breath deeply and take a moment to center themselves. How can they practice mindfulness throughout the day?

Mindful Moments happen all the time. We can point these moments out to our students, building on the skills they are already practicing. When a student is concentrating on reading while having a good time, it shows they are practicing the skills of focus and relaxation. A child may notice that the raindrops outside look bigger than usual. Thats a great moment to point out that they are practicing their focus skill.

We can also create Mindful Moments throughout the day, here are 3 great examples:

3waysMindful

These Mindful Moments help our students build focus and relaxation skills, and they help our students learn how to apply these skills when needed throughout the day. Want more mindful tips? Our program comes with a teacher’s manual that is a great companion to the Modern Mindfulness software. Give it a try today!

Teacher Training

Last night we had a great teacher training. It was well attended by a very diverse crowd of parents, teachers, and school counselors all interested in learning how they could bring mindfulness to their kids. Many of us had just finished work, and it was nice to settle in to the warm meeting room in a classic group circle. Lindsay Foreman, Program Director and founding member of the Center for Mindful Learning, led us right into a mindfulness exercise. It was very relaxing and, just like like the Modern Mindfulness program, got us ready for learning. She asked the teachers what they hoped to bring to their students with the program. They responded:

“I hope they learn to stay centered.”

“I want them to have a sense of agency over their own brains.”

“The confidence of dealing with the challenges of living life.”

“I have students with a lot of trauma in their lives, and I’m hoping mindfulness can be a
tool in their toolbox that I could teach them to use.”

All of which are skills that really help kids face challenges in their lives and reasons the Center for

Lindsay describing the benefits of the program

Lindsay Foreman describing the benefits of the program

Mindful Learning created this program. We dove into the training and used the program just as it would be used in the classroom. Because teachers’ schedules in the classroom are already maxed out, Modern Mindfulness is designed for a simple 5 minute practice. It lets teachers learn how to guide the 5 minutes as they move through the chapters, so it’s training, curriculum and practice rolled into one.

If you didn’t make it to this teacher training, don’t worry, we have ongoing opportunities to learn about the program. Our next group teacher training is January 16th from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., or you can contact us for an in-service session at your school at info@modmind.org.