Written by Diane Sweeney and Michelle LeFevre
The levels of stress that educators and their students are under is unprecedented. In a recent Twitter poll, over 48% of respondents listed ‘Concern for students’ as their biggest frustration or challenge. Concern for others implies a lack of control, and a lack of control leads to stress. The good news is we can manage this stress by practicing simple breathwork and grounding exercises. We can also provide opportunities for our students to engage in these practices within the context of online learning.
I’ve learned a lot about breathwork and grounding exercises over the past year. It would be fair to say that this learning came out of necessity as I worked to manage my energy and stress levels. You see, I have a tendency to run myself into the ground, get sick, and then do it all over again. Taking this path isn’t sustainable when we must be focusing on maintaining our health and the health of our loved ones.
I reached out to my own personal coach for guidance as we move through these times. Michelle LeFevre is a Personal and Professional Development Coach based in Boulder, CO. Over the years, she has taught me how to work with my breath and ground my energy so that I can take better care of myself. These are important lessons I’ve been revisiting in the past few weeks. Michelle’s expertise isn’t limited to personal growth and conscious leadership, it also bridges into spiritual development, a space that many of us are newly visiting during this existential crisis. Here Michelle describes two simple techniques for working with the breath and grounding our energy in the interest of taking care of ourselves and our students during these difficult times. To learn more about Michelle’s work, visit her LinkedIn profile here or on Instagram @expandyouredge.
What is grounding?
Grounding is the ability to use our breath to direct the energy of our body into the earth. Much like electricity needs a ground to be directed, our energy needs to be grounded for us to recharge, be mindful, and stay connected. We can better navigate these challenging times by learning how to ground.
As educators, we are no strangers to stress. It is a part of our profession and our life. But these times are uniquely contributing to increased mental and emotional exhaustion which can lead to burnout if we are not mindful. When we experience stress, we may overthink things or become overwhelmed. This creates discomfort in our body and can affect our ability to take care of ourselves and others. The truth is, when we are stressed, we are not grounded. When we are not grounded, we are not present. And when we are not present, we are not be able to see things as they are.
One of the ways we can lose our ground is when our attention is pulled outside of our body. We may notice this when we direct our attention to our concern for students. We are sending our energy to them rather than learning how to be there for them without depleting our own energy in the process. It is no surprise that this is the highest challenge or frustration for today’s educators, as there is nothing more important than the wellbeing of their students. However, our concern does not serve us in the long run if we are not restoring and recharging our energy as we go. The best way we can be there for our students is to be grounded and teach them to do the same.
Two Simple Ways to Reduce Stress and Ground
Here are two powerful mindfulness exercises that calm you and your students, reduce stress, and focus your mind. These can be done separately but are more powerful when done in sequence. The total time for both exercises combined is approximately 3-4 minutes.
Balancing the Breath
One of the fastest ways to calm our central nervous system when we are stressed is to use the breath through alternate nostril breathing. It connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain optimizing our minds for learning. Here is a four-minute video demonstrating how to balance the breath by Emily Fletcher, a meditation teacher and founder of Ziva Meditation.
Intentional Grounding in a Seated Position
This is a modified grounding exercise that can be done in a seated position. For this reason, it may be a fun one to try with your students as they come together for a virtual learning session.
- Sit in a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in a relaxed position on your thighs.
- On the exhale, imagine sending the energy of your breath down your spine, into your legs, and out your feet directly into the ground.
- Feel your feet on the floor and gently push your feet into the ground. Remain mindful of your breathing. Do not hold your breath.
- Notice when you start to feel your legs getting charged. It will feel as if the energy is filling them up. Keep sending your energy down your body with your awareness on your exhale. Imagine you are breathing down through your spine, through your legs, into your feet, and into the ground.
- Once you feel the charge in your legs, slowly release your legs by no longer pushing your feet into the ground. Take a few more breaths in and out slowly.
- Relax your muscles. This brings your awareness into your body, back into the present.
These exercises can collectively or individually connect you to the present where you can operate out of your strengths and not your stress. The same is true for our students. No matter what is going on in our world, we can find a place where our inner state feels relaxed, grounded, and focused on what matters most. This will help you not only feel better but teach better as well. In the words of Deepak Chopra, “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”
I would like to thank Michelle for sharing these practices with us. Her wisdom will no doubt support us through these difficult times.
© Diane Sweeney Consulting