One of the things mindfulness helps us do is connect with ourselves and our lives with kindness and curiosity.
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.
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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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