May 21: May workshop Meeting 2
Theme: Self-check & tuning in to others
How to separate school regular ‘stuff’ from a small slice of time devoted to ‘doing nothing’ except monitoring breath, pulse, body sensations and maybe thought? How to create a switch to turn off ‘automatic’ me and turn on a more mindful me?
We are working on that. We use Safat haKeshev (The Language of Attentiveness) and it’s my privilege to conduct small sessions with 12 students in the 8th grade in my school, Nofei Habsor in the Western Negev.
This past Thursday, at one p.m., we began in a circle, sitting on comfortable puffy cushions. This week we looked at our immediate mood as we began the session, linking it via a thin blue ribbon which outlined our circle of kids. I took the ribbon, said I felt tense and passed it to Y, who felt good, repeated that I’d felt tense and passed the ribbon to M. M felt okay and she repeated Y’s ‘good’ and my ‘tense’, and on we proceeded to B who felt bored but didn’t know what anyone else had said. We repeated what we’d said, and he still didn’t get it. A third time – and he got it all very quickly. (Interesting how attention gets turned on) and round we went.
I asked if there’d been one feeling, an average feeling. The kids noticed that there hadn’t been. Lots of individual feelings. We placed our bit of the ribbon on the floor, touched it with our hands and then sat back to look. That was the thread that joined us in the room.
Then we thought about our physical bodies. How about our pulses? How many did we think we had per minute? We counted out 20 seconds. How many had we counted? Pupils tossed out their numbers and again we noticed that we all had a different count.
We headed for mats, stretched out on our backs and scanned our bodies. Enjoying just lying down. We checked our bodies. Did we feel the mat supporting us? Was it comfortable? Our heels, our calves, our backs, our heads. We noticed the parts that touched the mat. We stretched out and then relaxed.
Breathing through our bellies, we lay hands on our bellies, trying to see if our breath could move our hands. Then we rubbed hands and placed them on our hearts. Could out breath move our hands now? Back to our bellies and up and down, then arms at our sides. Delicious rest. No need to do anything.
We shifted to sitting attention and stretched out – from side to side, to the ceiling, to the walls, to the floor. And we did deep breathing through the candle breath technique – in through the nose circling arms up to meet over our heads, and out through our mouth, folded hands lowering until opposite our bellies. And again. I circled to watch them.
How was our pulse? We checked again. We went round the circle. Again, everyone had a different count from before and no one in the circle matched numbers.
We stood (slowly along with 4 claps)
Pushing aside the mats, we stood firmly on the floor, feet shoulder width apart and we again did the T’ai Chi warm-up gently rotating our joints and practicing balance.
We began to learn the 8 Pieces of Brocade – a wonderful Chi Cong cutta. This particular set of movements is a marvelous brain and body balancer – using the body and breath to work the yin and yang of movement. I told them that these movements act as an energy generator – to fill up their batteries.
We began by breathing, and doing the Chi Cong postures starting at ‘neutral’ and extending the arms, one up slightly bent, one down slightly bent and coming back to neutral. We repeated 3 or 4 times and then went on to a few other postures.
Note: This work is invaluable and interests the kids. I believe that I will slow down the process. We need to do less but with more attention. It isn’t easy to grasp a new movement when we transition quickly from pose to pose.
I’ve also observed how students of various learning styles grasp various forms of meditation. The study is fascinating. Could work in this field remediate those with learning disabilities? I’m sure that it can.
We shook out our bodies. and as we ended the session in a seated position, we spoke about what we had learned that day. Some commented that I was relaxed! (That was unexpected, so I asked again what they had learned about themselves). Most commented on their pulses, their breathing.
I invited them to share observations with me during the week, in person or privately on What’s App.
And we silently left the room.
Class Relax brings “The Language of Attentiveness” to Nofei Habsor High School.
10 eighth grade students opened the door to the ‘Relaxation Room’ in the Grade 8 Building, took off their shoes and found a spot in our gathering circle.
I welcomed them along with music (the favourite Chinese Bamboo flute). I invite you to listen to it as you read this blog entry.
It is most important that the first impression of our workshop shows that the coming space and time will be separate from their usual school experience. I outlined our basic guidelines: that there would be no signs of violence (verbal or physical), that each one would maintain respect for themselves and others with no intrusion of limbs, opinions, or stares.
They each drew an outline of their hand and offered one word about what they expected to get from our sessions. In our circle I asked them what they thought we’d learn in the “Language of Attentiveness”. Their responses included focus, concentration, being more calm.
Then one boy said: “Let’s do it!” and we got into things. We took mats, arranged them in a circle and s0 we began.
The session consisted of a few activities, from lying down and noticing our bodies on the mat, to noticing our breath in the rising and falling of our bellies.
We counted breaths using the five fingers of each hand to aid our focus.
We stretched our bodies, made our bodies small – we explored our boundaries on the mat.
Then we transitioned to a sitting position – dividing our movements with the help of five sounds of the tibetan singing bowl.
I asked for comments and received: “That felt good!”
Again we did some stretches and practiced listening to surrounding sounds. (We rubbed our hands, covered our eyes, looked into the darkness and paid attention to the sounds in the room, outside of the room and then to the sounds of our own bodies)
Standing up, noticing how we go from sitting to standing, to the rhythm of a hand claps, we then explored balance – sideways, or front to back. Once steady, we began a warm-up, rotating each of our joints. We practiced balancing our weight (t’ai chi warm-ups are the best – thank you, Doron Lavie for years of doing this fine warm-up).
We cooled down and transitioned once more to sitting and noticing our breathing. Was it different now after exercise?
We returned to lying down on the mat – in whichever position was most comfortable. Everyone chose to lie down on their stomachs. How they loved it!
I invited them to notice if their bodies felt different: their backs perhaps (warmer or cooler – heavier or lighter), their arms, their hands. Was there a change in their legs or their entire bodies, perhaps?
Responses: I feel lighter. I feel comfortable.
I then led them through a short guided imagery. I invited them to remember coming to school that morning. They came through the gate. Who was the first person they saw. Were they happy to see them or not so happy? What did they say? What did someone say to them.
Did they remember they’d forgotten something. Did they forget that they remembered?
And in this room, had they done something they liked? Or something they never wanted to do again? Was there something they’d like to do more? Had they noticed anything new about their bodies?
And then at rest, simply listening to the music, I told them that soon, I’d be going around the room, gently touching each one on the back and that was their sign to get up slowly. If they chose, they could add a few words to our Hand collage. They were to put on their shoes, in silence, and one by one leave the room
And they did. One girl wrote that the session was ‘Amazing’. And another girl helped me gather up the mats and put them away.
Reflection: As the music kept playing, I gathered the materials and considered my lesson plan compared to my actual lesson. It was quite accurate, really. I’d overplanned. 45 minutes is not very long when each sentence is new and each student must be examined as carefully as possible. Who were these students? Had they felt noticed, cared for? Had they received something from the session?
I liked the use of humour. I liked the kids’ participation and acceptance of what we were doing.
I’m interested to see how they explore themselves next week as we look at our relationship with others. What happens when personal space meets the space of another.
A name filled with humour and smiles.