Tag Archives: meditation

Get Teens Talking About Mindfulness

September 25, 2014


Teens hear their peers’ voices and words in very different ways than they hear their parents and teachers. This is why getting teens to talk about their mindfulness experiences is a pivotal component of effective teen yoga classes.

I encourage teen yoga teachers to “get good” at facilitating potent group discussions. The benefits of the practices are enriched when teens dialogue about their challenges, goals, and achievements. Teens learn from each other’s shared experiences and get new ideas on how mindfulness can impact their lives.

Here are a few pointers to keep the discussion on track and democratic:

Write main topics and inquiries on the board or chart paper for everyone’s reference.

Set a time limit knowing you can always cut it short or extend, if needed.

Pose a specific set of inquiries such as, “What if your partner is having a tough time balancing in a pose that is easy for you? What is more important: to support your partner or practice harder poses?” Then ask for volunteers to answer. Give a few moments for students to raise hands or signify their desire to respond.

Resist the impulse to always call upon the first student who raises their hand, especially if it’s always the same student and his/her hand shoots up with an eager “oooooh, I know, I know.” For certain, eventually call upon that student, perhaps second or third. However, there is no surer way to a dead end discussion than to allow one voice to consistently set the tone or dominate the conversation. The eager student will learn by listening first to others ideas and letting those ideas integrate with their own. And, students who are more reticent to respond will be encouraged to do so if they feel they can enter in a more humble way.

Keep on eye out for meek students who really do have something to share, but don’t raise their hand or signify their desire to participate. Pose the question, “does anyone who has not responded yet want to share an idea?” Make eye contact with students who have not yet shared. Give them the opening without necessarily calling out their names. Be sure to let students know that while you would love to hear from everyone, it is perfectly fine to participate as an observer and listener. Let them know that holding space for others is just as vital to community as sharing explicitly. This will help to both alleviate any pressure to respond that quieter students may feel and send a powerful message to students who always share, but have a difficult time listening.

Limit your own commentary between students voices. In other words, you do not need to comment after every student shares! If a student shares an idea you find questionable or curious, try posing the question to the group for further discussion. For example, a student says, “I think if my partner isn’t as good at a pose as I am, I will tell them I am going to ask the teacher to be reassigned to a new partner because I really feel like practicing hard poses today.” I might respond, “Okay. Does anyone have a different idea on how to deal with that situation? How do you think your partner might feel if you said that to them?” Let the group respond. Teens hear feedback so much differently from peers than from teachers. As much as possible, guide teens to do the teaching themselves. You can guide a group of teens to water and let them show each other how to drink.

Wrap up the discussion with your commentary including a brief review of main ideas shared, your own wisdom to fill in any open questions you feel compelled to expand on and an outlook for how this discussion bolsters their practice. “Okay, time to move on to our physical practice. This was a powerful discussion on how to support each other, when to ask for help and how to help your partner find their center. I’d like to add that I trust you all to be compassionate and empathetic in your responses to each other. You all know how good it feels when another person really listens to your needs. You get to be that kind of listener for your partner today. Listening is absolutely critical to a safe partner yoga practice.”

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.


Filed under Creativity, Gratitude, Human Interest

The Mindful Educator’s Bookshelf: The Mindful Brain by Daniel J. Siegel

November 21th, 2013


Sharing resources I’ve collected and created over my teaching and learning career is one of my passions. This blog series offers insights into books covering a broad range of topics contributing to mindful education, including yoga, meditation, democratic education, pedagogy, diversity, culture and more.

Choosing the first book of this series was both difficult and a “no-brainer.” There are so many stellar publications I gain inspiration from. I wanted to offer something a little off the beaten path and at the same time highlight a strong resource to get this series flowing. When I flipped though The Mindful Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel, I was reminded of the impact this book has had on my work. It’s not that the book professes some altogether new information, but it validates, with hard science, what I have always found to be true and effective in my teaching practice.

I recall reading this book on an airplane ride to teach a school yoga training in Tokyo. The book was part of my research for my master’s thesis. I wondered if my fellow passengers were aware of my constant nodding. In fact, the book has more lines highlighted, pages post-it tagged and paragraphs notated than not!

Here I will share a few key passages and commentary to help you determine if this book contains knowledge you want.

“A mindful approach to therapy and to education involves a shift in our attitude toward the individuals with whom we work. The active involvement of the student in the learning process enables the teacher to join as a collaborative explorer in the journey of discovery that teaching can be: We can embrace both knowledge and uncertainty with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and kind regard. The teacher does not have to be a source of the illusion of absolute knowledge. Together, educator and student can face the exciting challenge of developing a scaffold of knowledge that embraces the nature of knowing and its inherent context dependence and subtle sources of novelty and distinction” (Siegel).

This concept of teacher as participant rather than leader of the learning experience is one I believe can have a critical impact on teacher-student relationship in the realms of mindfulness and yoga. Abuse of power and egocentricity continue to grow in the modern iterations of these ancient practices. I believe the evolution of these disciplines will involve a new paradigm of teacher-student power dynamic. The teacher of yoga no longer spends decades in practice and study beofre taking on a few students. Most modern yoga teachers are beginners ourselves. There is no need or efficacy in pretending to have some absolute knowledge. When we enter the learning process with curiosity and wonder ourselves, we mirror those same qualities in our students.

“Reflection on the nature of one’s own mental processes is a form of “metacognition,” thinking about thinking in the broadest sense; when we have meta-awareness this indicates awareness of awareness. Whether we are engaging in yoga or centering prayer, sitting and sensing our breathing in the morning, or doing tai chi at night, each MAP [mindful awareness practice] develops this capacity to be aware of awareness…mindful awareness involves reflection on the inner nature of life, on the events of the mind that are emerging, moment by moment” (Siegel).

This “awareness of awareness” concept that Dan continues to develop throughout the book is the predecessor to self-regulation. Have you seen the movie Bully? Remember the scene where the mother of the boy being physically attacked on the bus asks him about his day. The boy is silent. He has no skills for expressing his experience. News has recently emerged about Adam Lanza, the Newtown school shooter, reporting that his mother inquired about his school life with no response from the boy. When kids and teens learn how to become aware of their awareness, they gain access to a host of skills that are paramount to mental health, including the ability to notice and express emotions. Otherwise, feelings and thoughts, especially painful ones, go unseen and end up pooling in a dark place that eventually finds expression. Unfortunately, that expression is all to often from an unconscious need for resolve, rather than a state of awareness.

“Each of us has a mind with great potential. We have the possibility of creating a world of compassion and well-being and we have the capacity for mindless violence and destruction. [A new powerful lesson] has been in the profound plasticity of the human brain. We can actually focus our minds in a way that changes the structure and function of the brain throughout our lives. As a mindset, being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgments offers a powerful path toward both compassion and inner well-being. This is what science verifies and what has been taught over thousands of years of practice” (Siegel).

What great news! We can change, or evolve, our brains from the fear-based circuitry that upholds violence to a more compassionate state that supports well-being. As Dan illustrates in detail with this book, “being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgments” creates a gap between our entrenched beliefs based on past experiences and the possibility of experiencing our lives fresh and new, with courage.

Thank you, Dan Siegel, for the critical work you do in supporting mindfulness in education. To learn more about Dan and his work, visit his website.


Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.


Filed under Education, Gratitude, Human Interest