Imagine you are a bear hibernating for the winter. When bears hibernate, they take long, slow, deep breaths in and out, through their noses. Take a long breath in through your nose, and let it all the way out. Take another long breath in through your nose. Let it all the way out. Keep breathing like this and feel how relaxed and warm and safe you are in your cozy bear cave. Once more, take a long breath in through your nose, and let it all the way out.
Now imagine this is how teachers lead the first minute of math class for first graders all across the country. The room becomes calm, and the teacher is able to start the lesson on time, with the focused attention of the students. These are bite-sized mindfulness practices, and when they’re done consistently, they can be a powerful tool to help our children live healthier, happier lives. They are simple to execute, they take very little time, and they cost nothing. In a world that’s increasingly fast-paced, where kids are bombarded with media and screens, where they have less and less downtime to just be, these practices can teach kids essential skills. Like- how to calm themselves. How to focus and pay attention. How to manage their behavior and emotions, and how to practice compassion and kindness. They can also help kids cope with and release anxiety and stress.
Anxiety is a serious problem for teachers, parents, and children. When I go into schools to help them bring mindfulness into the school day, I hear over and over from teachers, principals, and school counselors that the teachers and students are stressed out. Even very young children are displaying more anxious behaviors than teachers have ever seen before.
Anxious kids have a hard time in school and in life. Anxiety causes them to have difficulty focusing and paying attention. They can have behavioral and emotional issues. They’re not ready to learn, and even the greatest teacher in the world can’t get a lesson across if students aren’t ready to learn. We have the tools to help them and to help every child who will undoubtedly, at some point, suffer from stress and anxiety.
We don’t have to take mindfulness on faith. 40 studies a month are coming out on the positive effects of mindfulness in the classroom. Science and research demonstrate it’s positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships. An organization called Mindful Schools looked at 400 elementary school students in four areas of classroom behavior: paying attention, participation, self-control, and respect for others. The students did a simple mindfulness program three times a week for five weeks, and they found significant gains in all four of those areas.
Just think about that for a minute. Improvements in self-control and respect for others are a total gift for teachers everywhere but are also critical skills kids need to learn just to get along in life. Paying attention in class and participation directly leads to academic gains. They benefit not only the students in that classroom, and benefit the teacher, but also the school will perform better, the school district will begin to improve, and the positive effects ripple outward into the community.
Now, as a former elementary school teacher, I know that teachers don’t need or want one more thing to teach in the classroom. They already have too many standards to meet, and mindfulness is not on the state tests. My reply to teachers and parents who don’t have time is this: take just one minute for consistent mindfulness practice and you’ll get it back. Your classroom will be calmer. Your students will be better able to pay attention. The lesson will go more smoothly, without interruption, and you will have more teachable minutes. We all know it just takes a few slow deep breaths to help us feel so much calmer because studies show controlled breathing sends the brain a signal that all is well, and the brain begins to calm the nervous system and to slow the body’s stress response.
In order for these practices to work, the kids have to like doing them. So they have to be built around concepts that kids enjoy. They have to be fun. For example, we take a cup of hot chocolate, but it’s much too hot to take a sip right now. So we have to blow on it to cool it off. We take a long breath in and we blow toward the hot chocolate. Repeat that six, seven or eight times. Or we see a big beautiful flower that we’ve never seen before. We’re curious how it smells, so we bring it up close and we take a long sniff and then let our breath all the way out, and we repeat that five, six, seven or eight times.
When I go into schools and I have 20 super wiggly kids sitting in front of me all smashed together on the floor, I lead them in bear breath or flower breath and they become totally engaged and quiet. The teachers are generally pretty surprised, but the kids are not still because I taught them the benefits that deep breathing has on their central nervous system or because they have been reading up on how trendy mindfulness is. They’re quiet and still because it’s a concept that speaks to them and because it feels good and because it works.
Like any other skill, constant practice is the key to its effectiveness. Paying attention is the skill we constantly ask kids to do, but we don’t teach them how and we don’t have them practice it. The act of paying attention over and over to our breath coming in and out of our bodies teaches kids to pay attention to other things. Consistent practice for schools means fitting it into the schedule at a non-negotiable time. The same time every day and everybody knows what to expect.
It takes one minute, but over time it begins to build the muscles for practicing focus, emotion regulation, compassion, and kindness. This isn’t an enrichment program. This is an essential program.
Think of a child who is caught in a cycle of acting out and discipline and punishment. In school, she disrupts the classroom. She is removed from the class. She misses the lessons and gets behind. She gets frustrated. She acts out some more. Her grades slip. She eventually gives up on school altogether. This happens all the time.
Now imagine if that student had a grown-up in her life. A grandparent, a teacher, a school counselor. A parent who consistently taught her simple mindfulness practices tailored right to her age. Over time she learns to calm herself. She also becomes self-aware so she recognizes that she’s about to act out and can stop it in its tracks. She practices showing kindness to other people. She’s able to stay in the classroom, keep up with her studies, graduate, and go out to be a force for good in the world.
This one simple tool can literally change the trajectory of a child’s life. Now think of this effect multiplied by hundreds, by thousands, by millions of kids and you begin to see it’s so simple, but it can be so powerful. Imagine self-regulation being taught alongside academics in all of our schools. Imagine a whole generation of kids who are self-aware.
We’re talking about an approach that can be implemented in every home and every classroom tomorrow morning. We start with baby steps, but they are powerful baby steps. We don’t need to wait for the school system to change. In fact, we can’t wait for the school system to change because kids need to be learning the skills now. Start now with the kids in your life.
Julie has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and is an elementary school teacher for grades K-8 licensed by the Ohio Department of Education. She has been teaching in the area for more than 10 years before she joined Mind Body Align as the Director of Wellness Education. Julie has developed a Social and Emotional Wellness program for local schools to help teachers and students manage and reduce stress. She is also providing professional development workshops for schools to help teachers learn to use these techniques in the classroom.
What do you want to be when you grow up? At age 15, as a messy mix of idealistic earnestness and reckless curiosity, one thing to me was clear — when I grew up, what I wanted to be was wise. I was humble enough to know that I wasn’t there yet but confident that the goal was attainable, and that I’d certainly have everything figured out by the time I was nineteen.
It’s taking longer than I thought… I’m now nearly 50 years into this wisdom journey, and I’m still a work in progress. I have picked up a few bits and pieces along the way though, and I‘ll gladly share what I have. Please note that these ideas are subject to change, based on future experiences. Further bulletins as events warrant.
- Experience. I get a lot from books, mostly knowledge, and community. Both are priceless, but neither one is wisdom. Wisdom, that deep, clear, understanding that is always there, sometimes hidden in plain sight, arises from experience. For me, the best learning experiences often come out of an unintentional process of making mistakes and then watching what happens next. Much like roller skating, I learn about life by falling down a lot.
- Change. Everything changes, Everything. All the time, whether I like it or not. In fact, everything is changing right now. I try to not spend too much time dwelling on this, or I’m apt to find myself drifting into a story, drawn away from the beauty and truth of this moment.
- Truth. For me, a simple idea, but not always a simple practice. Many of my more epic learning experiences have their origins in self-deception; seeing things, people and experiences as I wish to see them or am conditioned to see them, not seeing them as they truly are. Am I seeing you or my thoughts about you? Am I seeing me, or my story about me?
- Surrender. I’m learning to do the best I can with wholeheartedness and clear intent, but to then let go of attachments to the outcome. Crazy talk, right? This is really hard for me, the letting go part. When my efforts in life pay off, I want to savor the sweetness. I want credit. Conversely, when the Universe, in the form of fate or other people, does not play it my way, I want to warm myself by the fires of righteous umbrage. A little savoring is good, a little indignation is ok, but these things unchecked can take on a life of their own; soon my ego is in full bloom and I am cut off from the true source of my original good intentions. Dammit, in the weeds again!
- Meditation. It helps. As I continue to mature, I’m becoming a little more patient and consistent in my practice, not from slowing down but rather because of experience. I’ve seen over and over again how sitting gives my stuff time to settle, clears the channel, lets a little light in, and so improves the quality of my engagement with the world. It’s not in the time spent sitting, or even the quality of that time, but how that time changes me, forms me into someone who is a little easier for the world to put up with.
- Love. When in doubt, choose to love. Love others. Love being alive. Go outside and love the world. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it feels ridiculous. Love anyway. It’s worth it.
Thank you for sharing your time with me. Bear in mind that nothing I have said here is the truth; it’s only my own best current understanding. Now go, live your life, check it all out for yourself. Enjoy!
Ginger Long, a Mansfield native, teaches at Madison Middle School. She is also a yoga teacher registered through Yoga Alliance and happily holds weekly yoga classes at the Butterfly House in Mansfield, Ohio. Additionally, she is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist (OCVN) and a crunchy-granola tree hugging Earth lover. Her two grown children continually impress her with their good-heartedness, common sense and deep wisdom. Not to brag, but she also has amazing friends. You know who you are.
When I was a child, I had two sanctuaries. One was under a huge tree in the woods visible from my house. The leaves of this tree were thick and the ground beneath was soft with leaves and moss. The branches hung low to the ground so that I felt invisible to the world outside (although my house was safely close by and could be seen and heard). My second sanctuary was my bedroom. I had a room at the front of the house with two windows overlooking the yard, neighborhood, and the woods beyond. I pushed my bed under those two windows and sat there reading for hours, immersed in the authors’ story while watching the world outside my windows.
As I look back in time and remember these spaces, I recall the sense of safety and contentment I felt. I’m also noticing the elements that characterize these spaces. What can I learn about creating my modern sanctuary from these childhood spaces?
How comfortable are you being alone with yourself?
My safe space has an element of alone, invisibility, quiet, and yet it must have eyes on the world. For me, watching the movement of the world allows my brain to soften and my mind to wander. I work while watching cars going by from the windows of The Butterfly House. My meditations are eyes open, where I can calm mind and body by regulating my rhythm with the chorus of the world around me.
What arrangements and elements create, for you, a sense of safety?
I prefer to sit with my back against a wall. As a child, I would tuck my body into the corner of my bedroom. When I was under the tree, my back was resting against the security of the trunk. And I realize I need something on which to place my feet. I either place a footstool or a table directly in front of my meditation chair. If I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor, I often place another cushion in front of me. Sometimes I place the cushion or a blanket on my lap. Notice how your body feels when you arrange your space. If you close your eyes and listen to your body in harmony with the space around you, what do you notice?
What colors and textures bring softness to your body and mind?
You might start by asking yourself, What vistas allow your mind to relax and wander? Do you love to overlook fields and valleys, rivers and trees, sparkling lights of office towers, or the ebb and flow of ocean waves? Consider these things when selecting colors and textures. If your favorite place is a beach on the Caribbean, then choose colors that remind you of sand, sun, and Caribbean waters. You may put a hammock or a hanging chair in your sanctuary along with a happy light or a full spectrum light box. If you like rivers and trees, you might collect river stones and place them in a bowl and burn candles to represent bonfires. Your colors may be shades of brown and green with touches of grey.
What words and phrases encourage you to explore your beliefs and values?
Surround yourself with words that open your mind to new ideas and possibilities. If you love to read, place books in your sanctuary that encourage thoughtfulness. I am surrounded by books that I can read a paragraph or chapter that will set my mind down new roads of thought. Poets such as Rumi and Mary Oliver. Authors such as Tara Brach, Roland Merullo, and Robert Wright. Be intentional about the words and thoughts that may penetrate or influence your thinking and allow the wisdom of others to invite you to explore new ways of being.
What sounds resonate with you and make your body hum?
I love to meditate with the free app called Insight Timer. This app has a feature making it possible to choose a chime and set it to repeat at designated intervals. I can create a 20-minute meditation with three repeating chimes, each chime, for me, a reminder that I’m meditating. If my mind has been captured by a story, the chime encourages me to return to my breath, and if I’m deeply in the meditation, the chime invites me to sink deeper. Wind chimes have the same effect (if they are the correct tone). When the wind kicks up and activates the gong in the trees at The Butterfly House, I immediately sense my body moving toward the sound. It’s an immediate call to quiet; my body softens and my mind calms. For you, it may be the sounds of the waves and the seagulls or the wind in the trees and bird song. My suggestion is that you choose sounds, or choose music that doesn’t have words or lyrics, and notice how your body and mind responds. Continue to move toward sounds and music that connect you to the energy of the world around you.
What smells bring you comfort and joy?
This can be a tricky one. Do you know that fragrances, all fragrances, including pure essential oils, are hormone disruptors? 70% of synthetic fragrances contain a chemical called phthalates which disrupt the body’s normal hormone function and have been linked to things like birth defects, breast cancer, and obesity. Any label that says “fragrance” is likely to contain phthalates. If you’re reading this and think, “hogwash,” consider this. Most people will agree that lavender helps you relax. Why do you think lavender has that effect on the body? My research indicates that lavender interacts with the neurotransmitter in our brain called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which regulates anxiety. It has also been proven to be an endocrine disruptor having a mild effect on the body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone. My advice to you is to choose wisely, do your homework, avoid scented candles, and less is more. Be intentional about the fragrances with which you surround yourself.
There is no “one size fits all” when creating your sanctuary. Consider gently activating all your senses, stimulating your thoughts, and nourishing healthy emotions. So, Let’s recap:
- Know yourself. Create your space in a location where you will use it (a corner of your family room, an empty bedroom away from the rest of the world, or a treehouse in the backyard).
- What elements help you feel safe (a locked door, your back against the wall, a weighted blanket)?
- What colors and textures calm your body and mind?
- What words and phrases motivate you to grow and evolve?
- What sounds activate your parasympathetic nervous system (binaural beats, Marconi Union, Enya)?
- What smells calm you and bring you joy?
If you’re interested in creating your sacred space and would like additional guidance and coaching, we are offering, in our sacred space (The Butterfly House), the workshop, “Creating Your Sacred Space” on March 18th. Click here for more information.
Sending you love and a deep breath!!!
Annamarie Fernyak, A certified Life & Mindfulness Coach and founder of Mind Body Align; a place which nourishes well-being, growth, and belonging through education, collaboration, and environment.
My first thought when approached with the subject of Creating Your Sanctuary was “easy peasy, I’m a designer at McCready Interiors, I do that for clients and customers every day”. I ask many questions to find what they want their environment to reflect, then select styles and fabrics or leathers that will be successful in creating that feeling.
A sanctuary is a place of refuge, a place of safety, a place to retreat, it should reflect whatever brings you a sense of peace and tranquility.
In reflecting and researching for my blog, I considered that my personal sanctuary actually changes quite often. My home is obviously a sanctuary where I retreat at the end of the day, but I soon realized I have many opportunities for a sanctuary; a walk in the woods, my gardens, a yoga class, even a visit to the home of my best friend since high school to enjoy the hot tub and catch up.
Your sanctuary may be the beach, an exercise class, a girls night out, or a space in your home you can make your own. It could be those moments when you have the opportunity for “no boys (or kids) allowed”, a big comfy reading chair or a place you can have quiet time to reflect, meditate, or just slow down to recharge.
As women, many of our lives are centered around taking care of others; we are nurturers, caregivers, helpmates. We tend to do for others before taking care of ourselves. When we give our all to everyone else, there is little left for ourselves. The importance of self-care is critical to our well-being. We must take the time to regard ourselves highly enough to carve out time and space to enjoy a sanctuary of our own.
Creating your sanctuary is simply making a space that gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with an area to take a breath and unwind.
If you are able to start with a blank slate space, select a wall color that reflects calm to you. Select pieces that avoid clutter and chaos, keep the space simple. This is an area you want to be able to completely relax in.
Carefully edit what you place in your sacred space, less is usually more when you are looking for a place for quiet or meditation. If nature brings you calm and joy, place greenery or nature-inspired artwork there. Position your comfy reading chair facing a window so you can enjoy the view. If the beach is your sanctum, use colors that reflect the sand, sea, and sky. Surround yourself with beauty and an atmosphere of calm. Turn off the TV and turn on your favorite music if you don’t want silence. I have many Pandora stations I can select from to enhance whatever mood or feeling I want to focus on. I choose Motown if I want to escape and maybe dance a little (when no one is watching), Glenn Miller if I’m feeling nostalgic, Eric Clapton or the Beatles for a variety of reasons, and slow smooth jazz or classical choices to for a quieter environment.
Candles whether real or the real-looking battery powered styles can set the mood with soft lighting. Many of us have essential oils and diffusers to provide soothing scents to help create the perfect environment.
When we make time to devote to ourselves and nurture ourselves, we become our better selves. A sacred space is a perfect place to let our best selves shine through. Creating a sanctuary isn’t difficult. Just remember to keep it reflective of who you are and what kind of energy you want it to invoke.
Laurie Beech has been a designer at McCready Interiors for nearly 18 years. She and her husband Tom have been married for 31 years and have no children. They purchased her grandparents home when they got married and she is 4th generation in that home. She has seven nieces and nephews and six great nieces and nephews that she loves spending time with.
Laurie is treasurer of the Ashland Chautauqua Planning Committee, a past vice president and current board member with the Mansfield Referral Association and volunteers with Young Eagles, an organization that gives children 8-17 free airplane rides.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who thought only the best things about herself. She embraced who she was, valued herself, and knew that she could accomplish anything she set her mind to.
Here’s where you might think to yourself: Okay! Okay! Cut the crap… this is CLEARLY a fairy tale.
I mean, who really thinks the best of themselves? Especially when you are behind closed doors and the makeup is off, you didn’t finish a project on time, you burnt your dinner and forgot to buy milk again.
It’s true: you are your own worst critic
Maybe you’re like me, who, upon hearing “you are more amazing than you think”, instead hears that little voice inside your head that scoffs and whispers “No I’m not!”
We argue with our best friends when they doubt themselves…“Yes, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL”, and “you ARE SMART, don’t say that about yourself!” But, do we give ourselves the same chance?
Too often, when someone compliments us we blush and deny it, thinking they’re “just saying that to be nice”, or maybe we don’t speak up for fear that someone else will think what we have to say is silly.
On many days I catch myself playing the comparison game. I compare myself against the accomplishments of others. “That fit mom with the stock-photo-posed children on Instagram surely has her life together! And, “wow that person over there is so successful and talented, I could never compare to that.”
We make running lists in our head of our shortcomings, and things we aren’t, without acknowledging the good in ourselves and what we do!
Own Your Successes
I’m not saying we should become super prideful and arrogant but we should own our successes, no matter how small. We should own our flaws and our attributes. I may not be the concert pianist I decided I would be when I was nine years old (long story!), and I know I certainly am not the tidiest or most orderly person in the world (condolences to my very organized husband…). I may feel silly for my lack of knowledge in conversation about politics, law or history, and God forbid you ask me to do a math problem on the spot. But I know I am strong. I endured a painful pregnancy and gave birth to a beautiful daughter. I’ve moved across the country twice. I earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors. Oh, and I can bake a terrific loaf of bread. Now please understand that I am not trying to brag. In fact, it really makes me squirm to type all that.
Which makes me ask, why is that? I think it’s because I forget these things, or I choose to dismiss them to look the other direction. I look at myself and see someone who I wish wasn’t as messy, was more educated, would procrastinate less, looked better (whatever that even means!) and was bits and pieces of other people more successful than myself. But I am ME. Not someone else. And I want to be more than okay with that.
You are amazing
Your value isn’t assigned by the approval of others, but it also isn’t determined by your own negative self-judgment. We are lying to ourselves! You are amazing, no matter what that little negative voice – or anyone else – says. Today as you stand in front of your reflection, or pause for a moment of introspection, I encourage you to think of your accomplishments, skills, and strengths. Then look inward and say, “you are amazing”. It might be difficult, but my hope for each and every one of you is that you’ll believe those words. You are more amazing than you could possibly know.
Kara Mumea was born and raised in Mansfield and has always had an attachment to the downtown community. Having earned a Bachelors of Arts from Ashland University in Music Performance and Philosophy, Kara went on to pursue work in non-profit development and marketing as she furthered her love for her community and being a part of the revitalization process. She became a member of Mind Body Align last year, and in February joined the team as Marketing and Sales Director. She’s thrilled to be a part of this inspiring company and looks forward to continuing her involvement in the vibrant and growing community in Mansfield.
Many people see me as lively, animated, and energetic so writing on the topic of vibrant living seems a natural fit. Those adjectives are synonyms for vibrant, sure, and yet, I think sometimes the most accurate description of me is a Type A person who needs to learn how to relax! I think living vibrantly may be viewed differently by different people but to me, it is a practice in mindfulness; noticing what gives us joy, purpose and embracing those things with enthusiasm. Taking the time to truly feel what life gives us in the moment is key. And, for someone like me, a bit of forcing myself to slow down from time to time to smell the roses and see the joy in the slower pace.
I’ve always felt that life is too short to fit in all of the things I’d like to try, taste, and see; places to visit, people to meet, experiences to savor. I long ago realized the only possible way to approach my life would be to pay close attention to each opportunity that comes along and take full advantage. It’s a necessity for me. A few ideas to help with that:
- Eat right and exercise. Vibrant Living isn’t possible if we’re overloaded with sugar and alcohol, sitting on a couch in front of the TV. Mindful eating and moving make it possible to better enjoy life’s opportunities. And yes, sometimes that enjoyment means a great dessert, an awesome cocktail, and a Netflix binge!
- Stay positive. When we focus on what bugs us, especially if we give it voice, it becomes who we are. If you’re annoyed about the snow, you’re not noticing the opportunity to learn to ski.
- Keep tabs on your spending. If a big house gives you joy, by all means, buy the biggest house you can afford. But if what you want is travel, you might rethink how you divide your disposable income. I don’t have the biggest house or best car by any stretch, but I have awesome photographs from my travels and interesting stories to tell about being in plays in New York or raising my children in France. It’s all about making the spending choices that are right for you.
- Appreciate what you have. If you don’t count your blessings, you’ll be unhappy with your lot in life. It’s impossible to live a vibrant, meaningful life when focused on what you don’t have.
- Keep a record of your experiences. Something as simple as taking a minute each evening to think back on your day; acknowledging what you enjoyed and, this is very important, what you did well can make a huge difference in your attitude toward life.
Recently, Yale University began offering a class on happiness called “Psychology and the Good Life”, a course teaching how to be happier; how to live a better life. Enrollment exploded with 1200 students signing up. They didn’t have a classroom large enough so the course was simulcast around campus. Their tips include spending less time on social media and more time on real experiences, expressing gratitude, performing random acts of kindness, etc. It sounds obvious yet it’s not how many of us live. While I’m not sure that happiness necessarily equates to vibrant living, the similarities outweigh the differences and we benefit.
Learning to retrain where I focus my energies is one of my more recent life lessons. I’m not from Richland County and my main focus upon moving here was my kids. The people I met were largely other parents. It was a lot of fun working with these parents on school-related projects; organizing a school party, sewing costumes for drama club and chaperoning kids on marching band trips. However, our interactions stopped there and I never gave it much thought. Now my kids are grown and I see I’ve neglected to form my own personal relationships over the years. Shifting my prior focus toward my own needs by better-recognizing opportunities to make friends through shared experiences and connecting in meaningful ways is helping me live my new, best, most vibrant life.
Jennifer Enskat is an Actor, Producer, Director and Award-Winning Filmmaker and Editor. Beginning her acting career at the ripe age of four, Jen worked for decades in film, TV, theatre, radio and television commercials everywhere from Los Angeles to New York, from the Pacific Northwest to the Navajo Nation, from Jamaica to Miami to France. Turning to the production side in 2012, Jen added the roles of director, producer and editor, working in short film, documentaries, commercials and web series, winning Best Editor at Long Island International Film Expo, Best Web Series at Austin Revolution Film Festival plus a nomination for Best Director at Austin. She is currently in pre-production on “The Bride Price”, a documentary about forced marriage in Malawi, Africa and as Executive Producer of TEDxMansfield, putting together Mansfield’s first ever TED Event, coming this November.