Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ohmmm... Mindfulness and Meditation

It's fairly well-known that meditation is associated with increased focus, mindfulness, appreciation and in turn less stress. It has never been something I have been particularly drawn to, but for the sake of my Genius hour I thought why not give it a go?


Meditation is definitely something that will take me time to master... a week has not nearly been enough. For some people I'm sure it's easy to catch on, but I certainly have a wandering mind. When I first began to look into meditation I found an article by Leo Babauta: Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Understanding the Mind. This article was extremely helpful in starting my journey towards being more mindful. As the article suggested, I began to take just two minutes to meditate every morning - hoping that this would help me ground myself for the remainder of the day. However, many things Babauta suggests not to do I was doing... and I felt like it was beyond my control. I was getting caught up in how to meditate rather than doing the meditation, I was constantly worried if I was doing it correctly and experienced a great deal of frustration with my wandering mind. Though the article suggested to meditate first thing in the morning, this is usually when I compose my "to-do" list for the day; so I found myself focusing on what I wanted to get done after these two minutes of meditation were over rather than the meditation itself. This completely defeated the purpose of taking these two minutes to be mindful. 

Nevertheless, one thing I enjoyed about meditation that I also enjoyed as a part of yoga was focusing on breathing. It can be relaxing to just take the time to focus on your breathing in our busy and chaotic lives. One thing I found to help with this was This is an app that prompts your breathing and helped me to avoid my wandering mind (at least some of the time). I've heard from a few friends that this is a great app for those with social anxiety - you can put it on your smartphone and if you find yourself getting anxious in public places simply turn it on to and focus on your breathing. With the apps visual cues, you don't even need the sound so nobody has to even know what you're up to. 

I'm sure you can tell based on my other posts, I'm generally a pretty high-energy person. What I really haven't enjoyed about meditation so far is that I don't feel as if I'm accomplishing anything. I'm sure this feeling would improve as I improved on the act of meditating... however, currently I'm feeling as if it's a waste of two minutes of my day. As I'm having trouble mastering the idea of meditation it really just becomes a few minutes of frustration. 

In my research I stumbled across the article 76 Benefits of Meditation. This article is the motivating factor behind me not giving up on the practice quite yet. I think it will take some time to master, and I'm really hoping that by devoting some time to doing so I will get to reap some of these benefits. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Drop and Give Me 20!

Though I do enjoy yoga, and have continued to add short segments into my fitness practice, this past week I have taken the time to focus on more rigorous cardio and muscle building exercises. To be completely honest, this has probably been my favourite stress relief strategy thus far.

I grew up as a competitive dancer and have always enjoyed being physically active. It is also an area I am passionate about in the classroom. I believe that promoting your students to be physically active inside and outside of the school is crucial for both their physical and mental well-being. However, I began to slack on my workout routine as the stresses of school took over this year. My Genius Hour research was a great way to get me back into working out regularly. Below I have listed five reasons why working out is my personal favourite way to reduce stress (so far).

1. It's good for you!
It's a well-known fact that being physically active is good for you. It keeps you in good shape, reduces risks of many diseases and illnesses and also can maintain mental fitness as well. Because it is so good for you and recommended by physicians that you are physically active everyday, it's easy to rationalize fitting it into your schedule.

2. Focus on the body rather than the mind 
I really enjoy exercising because though it is proven to be good for the mind, I focus more on what my body is doing than what my mind is thinking when I do a really good workout. I find that if I push myself hard enough I'm focusing on the pain in my muscles or the motivation to push myself further rather than the stressors of the world around me. Even at the end of a workout in the stretching or meditation portion, I find myself less distracted by external thoughts and more focused on how proud of myself I am for taking the time to workout to the best of my ability.

3. Feeling of productivity 
I love the feeling of being productive - in fact, this is what often deters me from taking time to myself - if I take a half hour to watch my favourite TV show or even to colour, I don't really feel productive afterwards. Participating in intensive exercises creates a sense of productivity because I feel as if I am improving my body. These feelings of productivity are then enhanced when I see physical progress in my own body. This is probably one of the biggest influences when I decide to take time for myself to workout.

4. It can be social 
Working out is a great way to be social with friends, family, significant others or even total strangers. I always enjoy having a friend to workout with, but have also talked to some great people over the years when taking some local classes at the gym. Whether your fancy be going to the gym, going for a run, a workout video at home or a circuit you've designed yourself, it's always great to have some company. For myself, the presence of a workout partner makes the time pass a lot more quickly and pushes me to work harder. It's a great way to see your friends too, especially if you often have to sacrifice your Friday nights or weekends to do homework.

5. There are TONS of free resources 
Working out doesn't require you to buy a gym membership, fancy equipment or even dumbbells, there are hundreds of free resources online right at your finger tips. I've come across many videos as well as written workouts that are really easy to do at home and come in a variety of lengths. I've found a number of resources over the years, often on pinterest or using a simple Google search. Here are a few of my favourites:

Fitness Blender provides free full length workouts with tools to track your progress as well.

Greatist composed a list of the best free workout videos on YouTube (the Jillian Michaels Workout is my personal favourite)

Popsugar has tons of free workout printables like this one: No Equipment Necessary: Full-Body Circuit Workout (I find great Popsugar printables all of the time on Pinterest!)

Two really cool apps I also enjoy are Nike Running Club and 10K for Pink. Nike Running Club is a free app with a variety of different workouts. It's great because you can plug in your headphones and it will guide and time you through every movement.

10K for Pink is an app for beginner runners looking to improve endurance and stamina. You can play it alongside the music on your smart phone and it times you for walking and running and gradually increases the ratio of running to walking as you progress and eventually can run up to 10K!

Are there any websites or apps that you like to include as a part of your workout routine? I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Yay or nay to Namaste?

So as promised, I have made some time for myself this past week to investigate a different stress reduction technique (though I have not abandoned my adult colouring book). This week I decided to focus my attention on yoga - one of the first practices that comes to my mind when talking about stress relief.

I've tried yoga in past years and to be honest, have never really been a fan. I'm not incredibly flexible or spiritual and so I think in my past yoga experiences I have approached the practice with a closed mind... and that was my first mistake.

I've heard so many people rave about the benefits of yoga and how great it makes others feel and so I attempted to open my mind and give it another try. I wasn't entirely sure where to start as I wasn't looking to spend any money. There are some gyms and yoga studios with free trial classes, but what if I ended up really liking it? With graduation around the corner I'm looking to save the little money I have rather than spending it on yoga classes. In addition, I've committed to this project for not only my own stress relief, but to share these strategies with other students, so I'm trying to keep everything I post about realistic and affordable. Rather than to scrap the idea, I decided I would give yoga a try at home. I was going to invest in a DVD when I decided to go to youtube instead... and I'm so thankful I did!

I found a youtube channel that I absolutely fell in love with, it's called Yoga with Adriene. Adriene offers free yoga videos from beginner level to advanced, for different moods, different locations, targeting different body parts and more - it's definitely a channel worth checking out. For me personally, I found these videos to be perfect for a few reasons. Firstly, Adriene is really down to earth. As I mentioned, I'm not the most spiritual person, and though she doesn't disregard the spiritual aspects of yoga, she cracks a joke every now and again, talks about her own experiences learning the practice and is really able to make you laugh and feel good about yourself. I also love her videos because you can pick a certain amount of time you want to commit to yoga (she has her videos organized on her channel by time). I have started with her 30 day yoga challenge, I'm only about 5 days in as I haven't done it everyday, but so far the videos vary in length and I know that if I set aside a half hour a day I'll be able to complete to video. Below is the day one video if you want to get started.

Though I have been in and out of the practice of yoga for just over a week, going into it with an open mind has definitely been a positive experience for myself. I find it most effective in the morning. If I get up, do a half hour of yoga and take a few minutes to sit, have a coffee and eat breakfast, it sets the tone for a less stressful and more productive day. 

Like colouring, yoga requires you to take some time away from your everyday stressors and focus on yourself. However, unlike colouring, yoga facilitates a strong connection between the mind and the body. Like I wrote about in my previous post, colouring is a great way to focus on your creativity and forget the world around you. Yoga is different in the sense that it doesn't necessarily cancel out your thoughts but gets you to become at ease with them. It allows you to focus on your mind, your breathing and leaves your body feeling stretched and refreshed throughout the day. 

That's the one benefit I have really enjoyed about yoga so far - not only my mind feels good, but also my body. In this next week I'm going to focus on more rigorous cardio and muscle toning exercises and see how those affect my stress levels in comparison to the peaceful practice of yoga. Be sure to look for my post later int the week. 

Until then I'll leave you with a good read by a fellow teacher candidate. Though yoga may or may not be a good stress reliever for you as a post-secondary student, it can be a great practice to use in the classroom. Check out the various benefits of implementing a yoga program in a primary classroom. 

YOGAtta try this in your class!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Using Our Differences to Enhance Student Learning

After taking a look at many of the articles posted on The Best of Ontario-Educators Daily, there was one article that really resonated with me. I find that when learning about special education we often learn to accommodate and modify our instruction and assessment for specific children with specific exceptionalities... but what if we take these valuable differences each and every one of our students possess and use them to enhance the learning for everyone?

In an article by Shai Williamson, Sanela Ljumanovic is a teacher who agreed to teach Zejd, a young boy who had come from Bosnia and was deaf. She realized she along with Zejd's classmates were unable to communicate with him and that he did not know sign language himself. Rather than work specifically with Zejd, Ljumanovic used this experience as a valuable teachable moment. The whole class learned sign language together so that all students in the classroom could communicate with one and other. 

Collaboration is an essential skill for the 21st century classroom, so though it is important to accommodate and modify for individual students, sometimes the changes we may make to our instruction or assessment may benefit the entire class, rather than the individual student.
Sign language is something I have always wanted to learn. The students in Ljumanovic's class have now gained a valuable skill they can take with them beyond the classroom for the rest of their lives.

Give the article a read: 
Entire class learns sign language to communicate with deaf classmate

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Keep Calm and Colour On

If you've been to your local book or craft store, you may have noticed the shelves filling up with colouring books - specifically colouring books designed for adults. This new phenomenon is becoming increasingly popular as a way for adults to relieve stress.

From personal album
When I initially heard about the idea, I honestly thought it would stress me out. My mom had asked if I was interested in getting one for Christmas. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I have trouble making time for myself and so I replied to her by saying "no thanks, I don't have the time to colour". I thought that if I were to start colouring a picture, all the other things that I thought should take priority, like school work and chores, would be running through my mind creating more stress rather than relieving it. As I thought more and more about the idea of colouring, I began to ask questions: what book would I choose? What if I didn't like my colour choices? What if I started colouring a picture and couldn't find the time to finish it? All of these questions began to deter me even further away from the idea of engaging in this global phenomenon.

However, as a point of research for my genius hour, I decided to take some time for myself and experiment with colouring and I was pleasantly surprised by my findings. Now if you haven't been able to tell I'm a pretty  fretful person. My mind is constantly racing about the things I need to be doing and things that I have already done, but I can genuinely say colouring was able to shut these thoughts down. The things I thought that would stress me out, like the choice of colour I was going to use or the drawing I was going to colour, actually acted as a way of blocking out stressors in my life, like school and work. While I colour I am just focusing on my creativity rather than the external stressors of everyday life. Taking just a half hour a day to do focus on colouring has actually really helped me in reducing my stress...and I'm not just saying that to jump on the bandwagon!

Check out what Johanna Basford, a colouring book artist, has to say about this phenomenon. Though I do think technology can be a powerful tool in many aspects of our practice and our lives, putting it away for a bit can be a great stress reliever.

I think colouring is a great stress reliever for other students like myself not only for being able to "turn off your brain" temporarily, but it's also pressure free. There's no set time to start or stop, you can do it at your own leisure. You may choose to set aside just five minutes in your day, maybe you'll do 30 like myself, or you can even set aside a page, or section to colour on a given day. It's so flexible which makes it a fantastic outlet for students. It's also a relatively cheap form of stress relief as well. For many students money can play a big factor in the activities we choose to do in our spare time. School is expensive, along with car payments, rent, groceries and other life expenses that add up. 

When you colour you can choose to purchase yourself an expensive book and professional pencil crayons, or you may choose to pick up an inexpensive pack of pencil crayons at Wal-Mart and find some free online colouring pages. Try Zen and Anti-Stress colouring pages for adults or Easy Peasy and Fun's adult colouring pages - these sites have a number of choices ranging from simple designs to more complex. 

Even if you're apprehensive about it, give colouring a try to reduce your stress. You might just be surprised with the results... I know I was!