“In difficult conversations when you’re trying to understand the other person’s perspective, and you’re considering what to say next, pause to notice what sensations you feel in your body, what emotions are present. That information will give you insight into your values, what you cherish, and what you hold to be true.”
Dr. Eve Ekman is a contemplative social scientist and teacher in the field of emotional awareness and burnout prevention. She defines emotion as “a process that is triggered in 1/25 of a second, lasts only about 30 – 90 seconds, and helps us respond to important challenges.” Emotions get our attention and remind us of our values. Being mindful of our emotions allows us to acknowledge them without judgment and make wise choices about our next thought, word, and action.
Classrooms are filled with people, and as such are filled with emotions, as well as lots of triggers! This is just as true for digital learning spaces as it is for in-person classes. Whether you’re a student, a teacher, or both, spending hours each day in active learning spaces creates an opportunity for emotional exhaustion. Research shows that practicing mindful awareness can help decrease burnout and increase an overall sense of well-being.
One of the hallmarks of mindful awareness is non-reactivity. Being able to notice and observe your own emotions allows for a space between your trigger and your next move. This allows you to respond skillfully rather than react thoughtlessly. Practicing being aware of your own emotional process gives you insight into the experience of others and increases the likelihood that you can, and will, envision yourself in someone else’s situation. These are the seeds of empathy.
Empathy leads to another key aspect of mindful awareness, the flip-side of non-judgement: compassion. And what’s great is that compassion is for everyone, including yourself, and it can really help guide challenging conversations. Compassion allows you to see the student melting down in front of you as another human being in need of support. Self-compassion allows you to see yourself as deserving of gentleness, acceptance, and encouragement.
When you walk into a room practicing compassion, or you walk into a room as compassion, then you’ve got enough to go around – you can be compassionate toward yourself, as well as toward extremely challenging students, teammates, colleagues, and co-workers. In difficult conversations when you’re trying to understand the other person’s perspective, and you’re considering what to say next, pause to notice what sensations you feel in your body, what emotions are present. That information will give you insight into your values, what you cherish, and what you hold to be true. From there you can consider how to move forward with kindness. Ask yourself, “How can I be kind to them and to myself? Am I seeking to create more division or more connection?”
We experience emotions on a broad spectrum. There’s a wide range of ways we can know anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment. And knowing that the initial emotional reaction only lasts 30 -90 seconds, it benefits us to wait it out, seeing if it subsides or changes before we say that thing we might really want to say. The key here is patience.
I like to practice something I call SPACE. It’s a way of being present in my body that allows me both to notice and observe my emotions, as well as wait for them to change or subside.
- S – settle
- P – pause
- A – abide
- C – center
- E – expand
Basically, SPACE creates space. And space allows for compassion. First, I settle into my body by feeling my feet and noticing gravity. I pause and breathe. I abide in the present moment. I find my center, and then I expand from there – breathing in and expanding my ribcage in all directions. By expanding, I’m creating physical space inside my body, bringing about sensations associated with happiness, freedom, and joy. I’m also creating intangible space between what is said and what is understood. No one knows I’m doing all of this. I can settle, pause, abide, center, and expand, all while I am listening to the other person speak. This embodied work allows me to feel grounded and gives me the space to choose what I will say, as well as what I won’t say.
Keep practicing mindfulness. Keep non-reactively observing. Keep making space. If nothing else, the next time you notice a strong emotional reaction, press and settle into your feet and expand from your center. The breath will happen. You will pause and abide, and you’ll find yourself and your students surrounded by the spaciousness of compassion. And who doesn’t want some of that?
Short Breathing Activity:
- Settle into your body by feeling your feet and noticing gravity
- Pause and breathe
- Abide in the present moment
- Find your center
*You can learn more from Amy at her Trauma-Sensitive Mindful Education for Teachers workshop. Click here to see upcoming dates!
Amy Secrist, Mindfulness and Yoga Educator (E-RYT 300+), brings 20 years of personal yoga practice and over 16 years of yoga teaching experience to Mind Body Align. She is a trained instructor of trauma-based mindful education. In addition to teaching the MBAwareness Program, she is co-creator of social emotional learning curriculum content. Amy earned her BA in English and Writing from The Ohio State University and her MA in English and Writing from The Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College, Vermont. Amy is married to Jeremy and has four school-aged children.