Archives for November 2015

Giving Thanks Part II: Mindful Eating

Giving Thanks Part II: Mindful Eating

As many of us know from experience, Thanksgiving is often a time to eat…a lot! Just like in daily life, it’s common to eat and eat without even being aware of what we are actually eating. Have you ever looked down at your plate and been surprised to see that all the food was gone? We can practice Mindful Eating to be in the present moment, fully experiencing our meal as we eat it. This helps us to slow down and take time to appreciate the food in front of us, the people around us, and all of the things to be grateful for in this meal. Mindful Eating gives us an opportunity to experience eating in a new way.

We will begin with the actual practice of Mindful Eating and then take some time to reflect afterward. To practice this activity, you will need something small to eat like a raisin, a piece of chocolate, a cracker or a candy. Your teacher or parent might already have something ready for this exercise. Consider this a practice run for things you eat every day.

To begin, find a comfortable seat. Allow your eyes to gently close as you bring one hand to your belly and another to your chest. Take a few moments to check in with your breath. Begin to make your in-breath longer, filling up the belly. Begin to make your out-breath longer too, pulling the belly back toward your spine. Take five more rounds of breath like this before relaxing your hands onto your knees and coming back into the room.

Teacher’s script:

Pass out the edible item, cueing student to take a piece of food and pass it along. Instruct the students to do the following:

Place the food in the palm of their hand. Next, begin to notice how it feels, if it is heavy or light, smooth or scratchy. Pretend this is an food you have never seen before and you are like a scientist trying to figure out what it is!

Next, begin to move the food around between your fingers. Do you notice anything new? Bring the food up to your ear as you move it around with your fingers. Does it make a noise?

Now bring it back down to your palm. Next, we are going to bring the food up to our mouths, but don’t eat it yet! Did you notice that your hand moved it exactly where you wanted it to go? We usually don’t pay attention to the work our body is doing for us when we eat, like when we pick up a fork or spoon and bring it up to our mouths. Maybe say a little ‘thank you’ to your body for working so well!

Finally, place the food onto your tongue, without chewing it. Begin to move the food around in your mouth, noticing it’s texture now, and how it feels against your teeth and the sides of your mouth. Think about the flavor of the food. Is it what you expected? If you eat this often, does it taste any different than it normally does?

Now you can chew the food. Yay! Count the number of times you chew the food, and see if you can get at least ten chews in before swallowing it! Most of the time when we eat on autopilot, we hardly chew our food. This gives our bellies extra work to digest, and also makes it harder for them to know when they are full. When we chew our food more, we have a better idea of how full we are, and might not eat too much as often (this is good if you get tummy aches from being too full).

Once you swallow the food, see if you can feel how it lands in your belly. Notice how it feels to have something new in your belly to digest. Perhaps take a moment to be thankful for that food and that you have so much wonderful food to appreciate everyday.

See if you can practice this exercise at the thanksgiving table with something that you’d normally eat with your hands (like bread or a cookie). Practice Mindful Eating with that food and notice if it changes how you feel about the food you are eating. Most importantly, take a moment to give thanks for the food you have in front of you, and everything it took for that food to get to you. Give thanks for your family who cooked the food, and for everyone at the table. Also give thanks for yourself, for practicing Mindful Eating, and taking the time to appreciate what is around you. A lot of people don’t do that, and it is special that you just did.

Teacher’s Tip: It doesn’t matter what kind of food item you use, but rather that it is small and can somewhat melt in your mouth. You can also suggest that your students practice Mindful eating on a regular basis with everyday foods.

Student’s Tip: Mindful Eating is something you can practice every single day! There are opportunities to practice every time we eat. Try practicing Mindful Eating with something you eat every day and see if you notice anything different about the experience. This is also a great practice to try during other holidays you might celebrate. You can even teach it to your family members.3354087435_404e805d35_o-1

Adapted from Jon Kabat Zinn’s Raisin Exercise


Giving Thanks Part I: Cultivating an Attitude for Gratitude

Giving Thanks Part I: Cultivating an Attitude for Gratitude

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, you might be thinking of what your family will be making for dinner, which relative’s house you’ll be at this year, or maybe if you can out-eat everyone at the table. While all of those are great things to have on your mind, we’re going to suggest taking a moment to Cultivate an Attitude for Gratitude. When you Cultivate something, you are helping to grow something that was planted long ago. All of us have an Attitude for Gratitude inside of us, but not everyone can tune in to it so easily!

This Attitude for Gratitude practice is a way to bring all of that to the surface so that you can learn to pick out things that you feel Grateful for in your life. Feeling Gratitude allows us to appreciate things and people in the present moment. Sometimes a Gratitude practice can be the perfect solution for a time that you are feeling down or lonely. It can also be a great practice for times you are feeling so happy you can hardly sit still!

Where to begin:

Start a gratitude journal

  • You can start practicing your Attitude of Gratitude by making a Gratitude journal.
    • A gratitude journal includes a daily reflection of something we are grateful for
      • This can be something as small as being warm and cozy in your bed at night to being able to spend time with your family or friends. Those are just a few examples, but the sky is the limit (you can even be grateful for the rain clouds in the sky)!
    • What goes in this journal?
      • Our suggestions:
        • Try sitting for a few moments, noticing your breath, body and thoughts. Once you become settled, allow your mind to focus on things that you are grateful for. Notice what pops up, allowing all answers to be okay, but choosing your favorite one or two for that day.
      • After noticing what you are grateful for, we suggest trying out one or all of the following each day for your entry:
        • A drawing
        • A picture or magazine picture
        • A poem you write about your feelings, or a poem you think talks about feelings you are having
        • A few words or sentences about what you are grateful for and why

Try journaling every day for a week, and notice how you feel! You might even want to tell some people you feel grateful for just how much they mean to you!

hands-63743_640Teacher’s tip: This is a great practice for the week of Thanksgiving, or any holidays where families gather and people come together to celebrate. Cue more concrete methods of journaling for younger children, and more abstract ones (like finding a poem) for older students. Tailor to their developmental levels as you see fit!

Student’s tip: If you like this practice, you can do it everyday for as long as you’d like. There is never too much Gratitude!

Mindful Teachers: Three Key Tips

Mindful Teachers: Three Key Tips

While this blog is meant to be very readable and developmentally tailored, there are some things that just can’t be directly taught through words. The following post is an experiential guide for Three Key Tips intended to facilitate your teaching skills, and hopefully increase their impact on your students.

  1. Practice
  2. Hold compassion
  3. Speak authentically

Practice: The hardest part of being a teacher of mindfulness can be making time to practice it your self! Have you ever noticed yourself giving advice to a friend and then realized that you don’t even follow your own advice? If not, then you are well on your way to the Mindful path (hold tight till the next paragraph). If so, you’re not alone. It is easy to see from the outside just how good certain practices can be, but to lotus-215460_640really know them, we must actually practice them! Practice, practice, practice is NUMBER ONE of the Three Key Tips. After developing a consistent practice, you might find that the other tips flow naturally from this one. If you are, or plan to be, teaching your kids or students these practices, make sure to practice them first. This will give you a deeper understanding of what you are asking them to do, and will allow you to better understand how the practices make them feel in their own bodies and minds.

Hold Compassion: Compassion for oneself and one’s students is a necessary element of the teaching and practice of mindfulness. As a teacher, it is important to hold space for every student, regardless of where they are at that day, and to hold compassion for yourself as you teach them. Teaching these practices is not about perfection, or attainment of a specific outcome, but rather how you are able to make space for, and honor, whatever is present in the moment. Neither you, nor your students need to be able to sit perfectly or concentrate without falter every single day. The fact that you are practicing, or trying to practice, is all that matters. Focus will come in time.

Speak Authentically: Leading practices with an authentic voice will affect the way that both you and your students feel in the process. Allowing your own voice and personality to shine through gives you a means to connect with your students in a way that no robotic tone can. Have you ever been to a yoga class or listened to a guided meditation that you weren’t really “feeling,” or that may have seemed a little fake? When we try to be someone that we’re not, whether it is an idol or a robot, others pick up on it. Moral of the story here: don’t be afraid to be yourself. Quirks, jokes and mistakes make the process so much more relatable!

Wishing you the best of luck on your Mindful Journey!

-The ELSPAP team

Mindful Suns: Brighten your Day

Mindful Suns: Brighten your Day

One way to brighten your day is to pump up your energy levels with some Mindful Suns. Mindful Suns builds off of our Mindful Mornings lesson of Moving with the Breath. If you haven’t practiced that activity yet, it can be helpful to feel comfortable moving with the breath before jumping right in to your Mindful Suns!955698710_48bb837761_b

If you practiced Moving with the Breath, but feel like you might need a little refresher, don’t worry! We will be practicing Moving with the Breath to warm up for our Mindful Suns. You might notice the ways that they are connected when we practice.

To begin, find a space as long as your body and wide as your arms to practice in. You don’t need a mat, but it can be nice to have if you plan on doing lots of Mindful Suns. We will begin by finding our Mountain Pose. You might remember that Mountain Pose can be the starting point for many kinds of Mindful Movement, including Mindful Suns!

Begin with your feet as wide as your hips, arms along your side, facing forward. Get really tall in your spine by reaching up through the tippy top of your head and down from the soles of your feet. Breathe in to grow up through your crown, breathe out to ground down into the feet. In order to grow, we must also have roots. This is true for a lot of other parts of our practices of Mindful Living.

From Mountain Pose, breathe in to lift the arms slowly up overhead. Breathe out to bend the knees a little and fold forward. Breathe in, hands to the shins and look forward. Breathe out to fold forward and step your right foot back, then left foot back to Plank! Take three full, Mindful Breaths here. Notice when you breathe in, and notice when you breathe out.

At the end of your third out-breath, lift your hips up and back to Down Dog! When you get here, check in to see that your hands are as wide as your shoulders, with your fingers spreading really wide. Check that your feet are as wide as your hips with your toes pointing straight ahead too. Take three breaths in and out here too. Notice your in-breath and notice your out-breath.

Press into your pointer finger and thumb to ground your hands down and breathe in to lift your right leg up. Breathe out to step your right foot forward and then your left foot forward to a fold. Breathe in to look forward, hands to shins. Breathe out to fold over the legs again. Root into your feet to rise all the way up with a long flat back, arms reaching over your head, as you breathe in. Breathe out, return to Mountain Pose and catch your breath. Everyone take a big breath in through the nose and sighhhhh it out of the mouth.

Now for round two! We will move in the same Mindful way, but starting with the left side leg this time. Breath in, arms up high overhead. Breathe out, bend the knees a little to fold with a long, flat back. Breathe in, hands to shins, look ahead. Breathe out, left foot back, then right foot back to Plank! Three Mindful Breaths here.

Now hips back and up to Down Dog, and hang out here for three more Mindful Breaths. Your head can relax, and you can close your eyes if this feels nice.

After your third out-breath, use your next in-breath to lift your left leg up and back. Breathe out to bring the left foot between your hands, and then your right foot. Breathe in to lift up half way. Breathe out to fold back down. Breathe in to root and rise all the way up, arms over your head. Breathe out to let the arms rest at your sides, back in Mountain Pose where we began.

Student Tip: Stay tuned for Plank to Down Dog Tips and Mindful Breath to learn even more about making your Mindful Suns as Mindful as possible! You can practice Mindful Suns a few times in a row if you’re really feeling like moving some energy.

Teacher’s Tip: If anyone’s wrists hurt in Down Dog or Plank, let them know that they can bring their knees down for support.