Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Teaching Being to Beings

I began practising Yoga in the late 1990's, and that gradually developed into trying to live my life within the teachings of primarily Buddhism, with a wee bit of paganism and Hinduism mixed in for good measure. I feel better for it, though it is upsetting to see how Buddhism and Yoga has transformed into a cultural industry, therein losing much of its substance. Still, as all fads tend to perish when the next craze comes along, I do hope that this trend will have introduced many to practise and that they carry on doing the work.

As a special needs teacher at the junior high school level, I find myself gently introducing pieces of my practise into my classroom with amazing results. The reason I teach is to experience those mind melting wow moments when a students experiences success beyond his or her imagination, and also those little moments – very subtle in nature – where I see a spark developing in a student's eyes. I deal daily with children who have horrendous home lives, who live in poverty and who suffer from several cognitive delays and things like foetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, etc. In spite of their challenges, they are amazing kids and I adore them. They are also solid indicators of my belief that education should be a holistic endeavour, addressing each unique individual and their needs.

There are several instances that I have added Yoga and meditation into my teaching. For example, I have a number of ADHD students who, upon our agreed signal, will close their eyes, take three slow, deep breaths and then return to work on task. I recommended to one parent that she and her daughter take a yoga class to do a bit of bonding, de-stressing and work on their focus. I had my Art class colour mandalas, but before beginning, I turned out the lights, all the students sat with their eyes closed and took five slow, deep breaths, before beginning their work under subdued lighting. This normally chatty class worked in absolute silence for 30 minutes ( a miracle in any junior high!).

One of my favourite moments occurred this past Friday. I did what I've called "suicide yoga". Basically it works like this: in Gym class, I spent 30 minutes running the students into the ground. We begin with running 'suicides' (line sprints), followed by a number of other drills including hopping on one leg to the end of the gym and back, running while spinning, army crawling, bear walking, crab walking, ballet leaps, etc. When the running is done, I make the class do several push-ups in unison. At this point, the students are truly gasping, sweating, and can barely stand up (excellent when dealing with large numbers of ADHD special needs students!). Then I have the students roll over on their backs. Immediately, students groan "not sit-ups!". Now here's the Zen bit…

As the students lie on their backs, I tell them to close their eyes and place their hands on their bellies and listen/feel their breath. I then turn out the lights. I then take students into a guided meditation. First, I have them focus on their bodies and how exhausted they are. Next, students are instructed to feel the floor on their back and to be thankful that, as much as they are hurting and tired, to be thankful that they are on top of the ground and alive, rather than below it. I go on about how one day we will be below the earth, but until that time, we must live our lives to their fullest – to challenge and push ourselves – to be thankful that we can run and are feeling the exhaustion of our bodies. I then go on to praise them and compliment them on not giving up – that true character is developed by adversity and that oftentimes our minds trick us into thinking we are not capable of more, but when we really dig down, that we are far more capable than we ever thought. I emphasise how this exercise has made them stronger and that they are amazing people, etc. You could have heard a pin drop during this, and, in the end, there was a profound difference in the way that the students looked in a very positive way.

Our minds and our bodies are amazing thing. To maximise their strength, we need to reflect, but we also need to look at ourselves through different lenses. I am pleased to see how many school boards, including the one that I work for, are beginning to take this as their platform for education. While I feel we are still far from where we need to be in terms of holistic approaches in life in many areas of our society – Education and Health Care in particular – I believe we are slowly making our way in the right direction. This is good, and I hope that I can play an effective role in this evolution.

It all begins and ends with a breath.



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