The creative process is a funny thing; I’ve always been fascinated with how and when inspiration strikes. Some songs that I wrote for Breathe In took so much time, so much writing and rewriting. And yet other ones hit me immediately, and it seemed like I finished them in just ten minutes.
“I Am,” which is my favorite song on the album, was one of those songs that just hit me. I wrote it on a weeknight, in my pajamas, after eating dinner. My fiancé went for a run, and I figured I could use the alone-time to write some songs. I picked up my guitar, and within ten minutes, I had a structure and some chords. Before he came back, I had written all of the words. I was surprised - and a little confused - by quickly I wrote the song!
Although I had the music and words right away, I felt like something was missing – like it needed an actual connection to nature. I knew that I wanted to help children see their connection to the larger world, and to show them that if they treated nature with respect and thoughtfulness, the world would be a better place to live in. I wanted to incorporate nature sounds in the background but wasn’t sure what – or how – to do so. I let the idea rest for a while, and went about my daily life.
A couple months later, I was on a hike in the Catskill Mountains. I stopped in a beautiful open grassy field that was sprinkled with flowers, mosquitoes, bees and crickets. The sound of nature was so loud that it was almost jarring – and yet it was still musical and serene. I closed my eyes, and felt connected to all of the life inside the field. After taking a few deep breaths, I opened my eyes and recorded the crickets. I knew that this was the recording that I would use in the song. You can hear the crickets at a low volume throughout the whole track. Every time I listen to this song, I think of standing in that gorgeous field and feeling so connected the sounds around me.
When I recall writing the song, I realize that in a way it was always inside of me; it just needed a way to express itself. I never would have guessed that inspiration would strike on an ordinary Wednesday night when I was already in my PJ’s after a long and tiring day of work!
As teachers, we have to give our students a chance to access and express the unknown creativity and wonder inside of them. We have to give them the time to connect with the world around them and empower them to realize that they are important, they can make a difference, and that they have the power to create. It’s also important to be conscious of this as a teacher; you might want to ask yourself, “What potential is inside of me that I’m not giving myself a chance to express?”
Before I play the song, I like to model the accessing of my inner creative voice by telling my students the story of how I wrote it. I usually say something like,“I know that this song was always inside of me, waiting to come out! It was like a little voice inside my head that I couldn’t really hear until I paid close attention. Close your eyes and listen to what’s inside of your own mind and body. Listen carefully, and use your body to feel what wants to come out right now.”
This song can be used during savasana, or it can be incorporated into a class activity. You can have your children lie down on a big piece of paper. Trace the outlines of their bodies with a marker. Ask them, “What do you enjoy in nature? Animals? Plants? Beaches? Rainbows? Can you draw some of these things inside of your body?” This will help create a visual understanding of their connectedness to their surroundings.
Progressive muscle relaxations are some of our favorite practices to teach students and teachers, teaching you how to relax your muscles through a two step process. First, you systematically tense particular muscle groups in your body, such as your neck and shoulders. Next, you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. This exercise will help you to lower your overall tension and stress levels, and can help you relax when you are feeling anxious, strained or restless.
People are often so tense throughout the day that they don’t even recognize what being relaxed feels like. The tension becomes the normal default state. Through practice, you can learn to distinguish between the feelings of a tensed muscle and a completely relaxed muscle. By tensing and releasing, you learn not only what relaxation feels like, but also to recognize when you are starting to get tense during the day.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, then close your eyes and let your body go loose. You can lie down, but this will increase your chances of falling asleep. Although relaxing before bed can improve your sleep, the goal of this exercise is to learn to relax while awake. Take about five slow, deep breaths before you begin.
Step 1: Tension
The first step is to tense a specific part of the body. Take a slow, deep breath and squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about 5 seconds. It is important to really feel the tension in the muscles, which may even cause a bit of discomfort or shaking. It is easy to accidentally tense other surrounding muscles (for example, the shoulder or arm while tensing the hands), so try to only tense the muscles you are targeting.
Step 2: Relaxing the Tense Muscles
Quickly relax the tensed muscles. After about 5 seconds, let all the tightness flow out of the tensed muscles. Exhale as you do this step. Feel the muscles become loose and limp, as the tension flows out. Notice the difference between the tension and relaxation.
Remain in this relaxed state for about 15 seconds, and then move on to the next muscle group. Repeat the tension- relaxation steps. After completing all of the muscle groups, take some time to enjoy the deep state of relaxation
• Feet - Point toes and curl them under
• Lower legs and feet - tighten your calf muscles by pulling toes toward you
• Entire Leg- squeeze tight muscles, calf muscles and feet.
• Buttocks - tense in towards each other
• Stomach: suck stomach in
• Chest: Take a deep breath in and hold it for a few seconds
• Neck and shoulders- squeeze shoulder up to ears and then release down the back
• Upper arms - Bend arms at elbows and flex biceps
• Forearms and hands - Extend arm, elbows locked, and flex hands back at the wrists
• Hands - Clench fists
• Jaw - open mouth wide and stick out tongue
• Mouth - press lips tightly together
• Eyes - close eyes tightly, hold and release
• Forehead - wrinkle forehead into frown, tense, release, rest, and/or raise eyebrows
Short on time? You can practice this very short abbreviated practice which will take only a few minutes by tensing larger groups of muscles together.
Quick Tense & Relax
• Lower Limbs (feet and legs)
• Stomach and Chest
• Arms, shoulders and neck
• Were you able to notice the difference between a tense muscle and a relaxed muscle?
• How did your body feel at the end of the relaxation?
• Did you experience any particular emotions during the exercise?
Join the practice using the video below:
Mayuri Gonzalez is a nationally recognized presenter, trainer and instructor in mindfulness and children’s yoga, leading teacher trainings and continuing education seminars at renowned retreat centers such as The Omega Institute and IONS Earthrise Center. She has more than 25 years of experience practicing yoga and mindfulness, and provides therapeutic yoga classes to children and families as well as teaching yoga and mindfulness classes in schools and community centers. In her role as director of the School Yoga Project, (a Little Flower Yoga program that brings yoga and mindfulness classes to over 2000 children a week in New York City schools), Mayuri trains and mentors teachers, counselors and school support staff. She is a contributing author to Transforming Education: Best Practices for Yoga in Schools, a white book to be published by the Yoga Service Council in Fall of 2015, as well as author of the upcoming book Little Flower Chair Yoga: A Sustainable Approach (2016). As an active member of the Yoga Service Council and the International Association for Yoga Therapists, Mayuri maintains a strong community of support and a commitment to continuous learning.