I teach yoga and meditation to students in schools and am a part of a non-profit that is making yoga and meditation more accessible to students, especially those in underserved schools. Through this experience, I began to recognize the need for yoga and meditation not just for students, but for their staff and teachers as well. No one would argue that educators have it easy. They are placed under extreme pressures and high standards, are under-supported, and are poorly compensated in return. Yet, the health and well-being of teachers are rarely attended to. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and global spiritual leader, recognized this matter and thus has made it one of his missions to support educators in their work. Wake Up Schools (WUS) is an initiative started by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2008 to support educators by sharing mindfulness practices. WUS trains teachers to practice and embody mindfulness and offers resources to help teachers establish their own mindfulness practice and find ways to share their practice within their school communities.
I decided to attend a teachers’ retreat hosted by Wake Up Schools in the spring of 2017 to reinvigorate my own practice and to learn how to share this practice with other teachers. My experience during this week was invaluable, and what I observed further strengthened my belief in the importance of mindfulness for educators.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
As an educator, having a mindfulness practice allows one the ability to self-care. The teachers I met who had a regular practice didn’t deny the difficulty or frustrations of their work, but were not beaten down by it. Mindfulness was one of the many tools they had for self-care. Taking time to nurture one’s soul and well-being has the added benefit of fortifying the resolve that’s needed if this kind of hard work is to be sustained. It’s not unnatural to expect educators to become cynical about the education system, but cynicism leads us dangerously close to apathy. While the teachers I met were determined to fix the problems they recognized in their schools and were realistic about the challenges they faced in attempting to do so, they were anything but cynical. Perhaps there was a healthy dose of skepticism, but it was the love and optimism they nurtured through their practice that continued to push them forward.
I came into the experience expecting to fill my notebook with practical lessons and tips on how to share this practice with fellow teachers, but I left with my notebook empty, minus a few scribbled references. My notebook remained virtually empty because I was quickly reminded that the only way to share mindfulness is to practice mindfulness. The most important step is to start. If you’re an educator, I hope that you’ll start your own practice so that you can continue to inspire your students. If you’re not an educator, I still hope that you’ll still take that first step to start.
Some tips for starting your practice:
- Set an intention, or sankalpa, for how long and how often you will practice
- Starting small, with just 5-10 minutes a day means no excuses
- Write it explicitly into your schedule
- Schedule it at the same time so it becomes habitual
- If possible, also practice in the same place every time so you begin to associate that space with your practice, which will help you get into the right mindset each time
The problems embedded in our current education system—the structures that often leave both students and teachers neglected—are complicated issues that cannot be solved in a day. So as educators, we must establish the strength that is required such a battle and nurture the love that shields us from becoming embittered by the setbacks or slow progress. And we must practice so that we can guide our students on their own journey.