• Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports A Healthy Sense of Self

    One of the things mindfulness helps us do is connect with ourselves and our lives with kindness and curiosity.


    We can develop the ability to bring loving awareness to the inner resources we all have: the body, breath, and mind. And when we develop the habit of frequently bringing care and attention to our body, our breath, and our mind, we support our well-being. 


    We can connect to our body by noticing our feet or hands, or through a body scan, which yields lots of information about how our body is feeling and which parts can use our care and attention. When we bring mindful awareness to our breath, we can notice how each moment is impacting how we feel. For example, if we’re breathing in a quick and choppy manner, it might mean we’re getting a good workout or that we’re anxious. If we’re breathing in a smooth and rhythmic manner, it might mean we’re at ease or relaxed. When we know how our mind and body communicate with us through our breath, we can have greater insight into what helps us feel at ease and what stresses us. 

     

    When we connect to our mind and the thoughts we’re having, we can see that our “thoughts are not facts” and that they are very much impacted by the circumstance and feelings we’re having at any given time. This awareness doesn’t invalidate our thoughts, but it does place them in perspective. When we bring awareness to where our thoughts lead us or what triggers them, we can also begin to understand how our mental activity impacts us. We can see how focusing on certain thoughts can add to our stress levels or inspire and motivate us. More important, however, we can be more skillful with the choices we make when we have a greater understanding of our thoughts, because we won’t be carried away by our thoughts.  

     

    Social Emotional Intelligence

    By connecting to all these parts of ourselves we also get greater insight into our emotions and how they impact and are impacted by the sensations in our body, the way we breathe, and the kinds of thoughts we’re having. Having a greater understanding of our emotions can help us understand them and navigate them skillfully. In part, this is why at Little Flower Yoga we spend a lot of time supporting social-emotional intelligence and learning. Psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman, in his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, explains why having emotional intelligence is important in schools and for our professional and personal lives. He identifies the four domains of social-emotional intelligence as self-awareness (connection to our body, breath, and mind), self-management, empathy, and relationships. See this video for a brief explanation of his theories. 

     

    The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has developed a social and emotional learning (SEL) approach to education that builds on the work of Daniel Goleman. The SEL wheel of competencies illustrates that self-awareness and self-management skills need to be emphasized and developed in order to support social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Little Flower Yoga’s approach to mindfulness makes sure to emphasize self-awareness and offers strategies to support self-regulation and management. This approach serves as a reminder that if we don’t know what’s happening inside of us, we can’t self-regulate. This is why mindfulness practices are critical to social-emotional learning.


    If teachers and students don’t know what’s happening in their internal landscape, they won’t be able to regulate or engage in relationships in a supportive or healthy manner.


    This Greater Good Magazine article cites a study that supports developing self-awareness and explains that “mindful people might be happier because they have a better idea of who they are.” The study explains that there is a link between the clarity with which the self is known and psychological well-being, and that finding clarity of self-concept is associated with more positive relationships, greater purpose in life, increased autonomy, and greater self-esteem. In other words, the greater clarity we have of ourselves, the more likely we are to have more positive relationships and a greater sense of self-worth.

     

    Self-Compassion Supports Well-being and a Healthy Connection to Self

    It’s also important to note, however, that when we bring mindful awareness to ourselves, we should do so with equanimity and compassion. The Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education explains that “compassion unfolds in response to suffering, beginning with our recognition of it, then conjuring change to elicit empathy and concern. This, in turn, motivates us to take action, and help relieve that suffering.” A healthy connection and awareness of self must include self-compassion. 

     

    Due to negativity bias and that our “body generally reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to equally strong positive ones,” we might find ourselves being overly critical or focusing on what we perceive as flaws—for example, in our body’s appearance—rather than focusing on all the small and big things our body is capable of doing. Or we might find ourselves thinking that the way we think or feel is not good enough or in need of major self-improvement. This is not to say that we should ignore aspects of ourselves that need support or changing, but first we must clearly see all parts of ourselves with kindness and curiosity (even those parts that are in need of support or development) before we can engage in personal change. This is especially true for our students and teens.  

     

    Jessica Morey, executive director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme), a nonprofit that offers mindfulness retreats for teens and young adults, explains, “self-criticism, loneliness, and uncertainty about the future are some of the biggest challenges for adolescents. This study [of 132 teens on an iBme retreat] suggests that responding to personal failures and shortcomings with kindness, rather than criticism or rumination, is especially critical for adolescents’ emotional well-being.” If we want to support our students, we must support them by helping them develop a kind and curious attitude toward themselves.

     

    It’s also critical for educators and other professionals working with children to support themselves with self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, an expert on self-compassion, explains, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings—after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?

     

    Working with children is very challenging and demanding work, and it can be easy to have a deficit perspective of ourselves (and of our students). From this viewpoint, we only notice the things that are not completed, that go wrong, or that fall short—and ignore all the things we and our students might doing be right. Reminding ourselves that we are perfectly imperfect can grant us the space to support ourselves and our students, give us a greater appreciation for all that we do, and allow us the ability to support our personal development. Practicing self-compassion is key when connecting to ourselves and to support our well-being. For more information and practices for self-compassion, visit Dr. Kristin Neff’s website.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com.Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  • Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports Healthy Relationships and Communication

    Being in relationships is one of the most fundamental and important things we do as a species. We organize ourselves and often define ourselves by close-knit groups, such as the families we’re born into and the friends and partners we choose. We also enjoy and celebrate being part of civic or political groups, become devoted sports fans, or find other ways to connect to larger communities and cultural groups. This makes it possible for societies and cultures to survive, grow, and flourish, because the bonds we build can help us all feel interconnected and a part of something larger than ourselves.

     

    Being part of a group helps us feel safe and secure. In fact, it’s one of the things we are preoccupied with as babies—we quickly attune to who we can depend on for care, and our well-being as children depends on those secure relationships. In addition, attachment theory explains “that the quality of our early attachments profoundly influences how we behave as adults…. By the end of our first year, we have stamped on our baby brains a pretty indelible template of how we think relationships work, based on how our parents or other primary caregivers treat us.”

     

    Children who grow up with insecure attachments can struggle interacting with others and in their ability to handle stress and challenges. Fortunately, children who grow up with insecure attachments can later in life feel more secure in close and nurturing relationships. One way to ensure our ability to seek out and maintain secure and healthy relationships is to bring kind awareness to the quality of our relationships.   

     

    In addition, in Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel speaks about mirror neurons. He explains that “mirror neurons map out intentional states in others and they also prepare us to imitate intentional acts. These neurons also have been found to enable us to simulate the internal states of others.” In other words, our brains are built to assess how those around us are acting and feeling in order to attune and help us feel safe. It also means we are influenced by others’ behaviors and actions. 


    Bringing mindful awareness to where our own and others’ feelings start and end can help us navigate our relationships more skillfully, especially when conflict arises.


    Conflicts are a natural part of any relationship and can occur between family members, friends, coworkers, partners, or even fellow commuters. Part of being in healthy relationships is learning to manage the conflicts that arise in skillful ways. The way we manage those challenges often dictates the kinds of relationships we have and can support or hurt whether we feel secure in any given group of people. 

     

    Mindful Communication

    Furthermore, Dr. Siegel explains, “a healthy relationship…involves the honoring of difference between people and cultivation of their linkage through compassionate, respectful communication.” He adds that a healthy relationship is “characterized by integrative communication in which each person’s inner world…is honored for its unique features and is interconnected in caring communication” [italics in the original]. Mindful speaking and listening can support this kind of caring communication. 


    Bringing curious attention to the ways we communicate will help us hear and be heard by others.


    Mindful awareness of how we communicate also helps with the challenges of being in relationships. A lot of the conflicts we find ourselves in arise because of miscommunications. If we can remind ourselves to be present to our conversations instead of multitasking, have the intention of wanting greater understanding, and offer kindness and curiosity instead of judgment, we can have more-compassionate and -caring communication and healthier relationships. 

    Mindful communication can also help us understand the ways we give and receive when we’re interacting with others. Bringing mindful attention to the ways we listen and speak can give us insight into the ways we engage in our relationships. 

     

    There are many ways to give and receive in relationships and during a discussion. Sometimes a peer or partner only needs someone to listen or a shoulder to lean on. In those moments, our presence becomes our greatest gift. Sometimes, it’s more appropriate to offer advice or maybe make specific demands so that everyone’s needs can be met. The way we give or receive in a discussion (and in our relationships) can dictate if we can be in harmony or conflict. 

    Often, if we pause and bring awareness to the situation, to ourselves, and the person we’re interacting with, the right action will become evident—or at the very least we can make a more-informed choice. We have all been in awkward conversations as well as in fluid discussions during which lots of ideas and insight were shared. Often it depends on how present everybody is in the moment and the intention behind the way we’re all communicating. For more on how to communicate more mindfully and the impact it can have on our relationships, check out this Mindful Communication course from our friends at Mindful Schools.


    Being clear about what each moment is asking from us can help us respond more skillfully in our conversations and in our relationships with others. 


    It’s also important to take note of all the ways we contribute and are supported in our relationships and in our conversations, because this awareness can fill us with gratitude for ourselves and those around us. In addition, as we turn more to our practice, the act of giving begins to feel more like receiving; we can feel satisfaction and fulfillment, earn the trust of loved ones, and develop compassion. The act of receiving also becomes an opportunity to give others the same satisfaction in knowing they can support someone they care for. In any relationship, it is important that we feel like we are getting and giving support—otherwise a relationship can become too one-sided, unsustainable, and perhaps even hurtful.   

     

    Last, it’s important mentioning that having compassion supports connection and healthy relationships with others. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley explains that “compassion literally means ‘to suffer together.’ Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” If we can relate to one another, even strangers with a compassionate and loving heart, we can support a more loving world.

    Christopher Germer and Thorsten Barnhofer explain in a chapter they co-wrote in Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications that “it appears that mindfulness and compassion are multidimensional states of mind that significantly overlap but also have unique characteristics…but it appears that both are essential for practice. For example, we cannot be compassionate if we don’t know what we are feeling and we cannot be mindful without a friendly attitude toward our experience, especially when we suffer.” In other words, mindfulness without compassion is incomplete, and if we can bring both loving awareness and curious attention to our relationships whenever we communicate or interact with others, we will have more fulfilling relationships.  


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

    Read More


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