Class Relax

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Class Relax for De-stressing

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Pre-amble

There is a tense situation in the country. Innocents are on the receiving end of attacks out of the blue: knife attacks, hit and run drivers, suicide bombers.

Revenge takes place – further attacks.

The news media criticizes every action on the part of Israel and somehow neglects to look for the instigating attack on the part of the Palestinians. Our PR people are not doing a reasonable job. Cause and effect is a very simple path to trace these days.

Yes, Israelis are living in the West Bank. Yes, we should get out. Yes, Palestinians need and should get a homeland. Yes!

But why must knives and bombs and death pave the road to something that is inherently good?

Class Relax offers a tool for self-discovery, in the knowledge that in an atmosphere of tension, taking a moment to de-stress, to disconnect from phones, headlines and news is the best way to think more clearly. Clear-thinking is what’s needed, now and always.

I cannot directly reach parents and brothers and sisters but I can reach students in my school. I can offer them a few minutes to concentrate on their own present moment, to feel the sensations in their bodies, to allow themselves to attend to their patterns of breathing. Better still, the support of the whole class along with their teacher, all engaging in the same thing at the same moment elevates this practice to a higher status, even ceremonial.

Students merely need to put away their phones, their music, their distractions in order to address themselves, dedicating a few precious moments to themselves. They need only take a moment to sense their feet on the floor. To check for any tension in their bodies. To feel a fleeting emotion. To notice their thoughts as they come and go. Doing so, they will feel a calm engulfing their bodies and soothing their minds.A moment of noticing is a moment of disengaging from the power of those stories that grab our inner attention.  These thoughts are merely thoughts. They are not ‘me’.  This, then is a classic de-stress technique. Making the separation between thoughts and me. 

And so we de-stress and come to a more clear state of being.

This is what we did in the Grade 9 class. This is what can be done in any class at any time. The 3-minute breathing exercise.

Safat haKeshev – Language of Attentiveness Session

This week Class Relax had an obstacle. There had been a sudden claim on our Relaxation Room, and no one could promise for certain that we’d have a suitable space to hold our session. While looking for a solution, I went to to meet my pupils to inform them of our plight. There I found the group, waiting quietly along with a new pupil, just back from Thailand. He knew about meditation and was glad to join our group.

Finally we got clearance! A therapist had not shown up and so, we were directed to a second space used for counselling. This room is smaller, without windows, and usually ripe with the smell of mildew. Not ideal, but there we were. I suggested that on the way, we take the opportunity to notice our feet touching the ground and to walk in silence.

Walking mindfully

Walking mindfully

This very practical directive is something I practice to add mindfulness to the daily back-and-forths within a very large school campus.

We arrived at the room and discovered that prior to our arrival, mice had been running around. Along with stale mildew smell, we had some mouse aroma.

House mouse

The kids seemed relatively unperturbed. One girl chose to sit on a regular chair rather than on the pouf. And we began.

We started with a few minutes of noticing our breathing (strangely enough, once we’d acknowledged the mouse stink, it ceased to hold us captive).

Then we played a game: “How do I do everyday things?”

How do I put on my shoe? I asked them to think of the steps they take. All the steps. When they had, I asked them to guide someone else to perform the action. That person would have to do follow the instructions precisely, without improvisation or guesswork.

J went first. He guided N to pick up the shoe and slip it on his foot. N decided to ask what kind of shoe and therefore realized that two steps were enough.

I reminded them of the rules of the game.  No questions, no improvisations. One person had to direct the other in exactly what had to be done. R took his turn. He guided M and was a little more thorough and M seemed to get the gist.

Next task: How to make a capital A.

N decided to guide J. N always brings his own flavour to the tasks. He directed J to make a triangle on the page. Then he directed him to extend the lines down. J didn’t get it. N told him to make a triangle with his arms and think of lines coming down from his elbows. J didn’t get it.

Meanwhile, R got it. M got it. Only J decided to forego the instructions and simply re-do the A in a way that pleased him.

Interesting!

What did you notice, I asked J.

J shrugged. “I didn’t know what he was asking me to do.”

“What about you two?” I asked M and R.

M said that she finally understood what N was getting at. R agreed.

N was speaking from one point of view and J from another.

“Perhaps”, I suggested, “we find it hard to listen to someone when we have our own ideas. Is that possible?”

“It depends when,” said N. Then he brought up a problem he had in class. A certain teacher never listened to him. She never showed him respect. Even when he was right! He gave an example of a fact that she had mentioned in class and how he had knowledge of something else. The teacher had decided that he was a troublemaker and had shut him down.

N was angry.

We spoke of anger. We spoke of different perspectives. We spoke of not exactly knowing what the other person was going through. Maybe they’d had a rough day. Maybe we misinterpreted. Look at the exercise with the letter A. Not everyone understands things the same way.

This was too abstract. Clearly N was still very annoyed. “That teacher just hates me”, he said.

“Have you ever met that teacher when she acted a different way with you?” I asked.

“Yes”, said N. “I met her at the supermarket. But I was with my mother, and suddenly the teacher was so nice!”

“Could it be that in different surroundings, the teacher feels differently? Could it be that out of school, out of a place where there’s tension, she feels more relaxed?”

“Has anyone here had any experience of making someone feel less angry?”

“Yes”, said R.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing. I just did nothing. And they got less angry!”

“That’s good!” I said. “Sometimes, nothing is exactly the thing to do!”

” And how can we do nothing?”

We spoke of using the breath to disconnect from the situation. How practicing noticing our breathing can give us a few seconds to ourselves.

And with that, we transitioned to doing our body scan meditation.

The instructions were to get comfortable on their backs. The boys were fine with reclining on the poufs. M, the girl, remained seated in her chair. To get a faint glint of light in the room, I turned off the overhead lights and opened the door to the corridor ever so slightly, just enough to allow me to see where to walk without tripping on a child.

I guided them to notice their bodies from the soles of their feet up to their heads. We took a leisurely pace, about 15 minutes, and then slowly transitioned onto our sides and then back to sitting, fully present to our bodies and surroundings. All of us made the transition except for N. He was heavily into relaxation, coma style.

The rest of us moved to taking a seat at the table. I brought out beautiful coloured markers and gave them a choice of two mandalas – one curvy and one more geometric. They chose and began. The directive was to let themselves go, be free with their colouring and to refrain from speaking.

Mandala for mindful colouring

Mandala for mindful colouring

After 5 minutes, N awoke with a start. “Where’s Judih?” he asked. He was surprised that he’d fallen asleep but gathered himself up to come to the table. He chose his mandala and joined in colouring.

After 10 minutes of silent colouring, I broke the silence and asked them to consider what they had learned that day, N said that he had learned that he could fall asleep just like that!

I gave them homework: to take the time everyday to be aware of 5 breaths. I recommended they do it in the morning, first thing, but also any other time they think of it.

This was something that could be done invisibly. No one else would have to know!

And that was that.

Next session: Mandala colouring to be continued.

Further exercises to get to know ourselves and offer ourselves compassion

 Please, feel free to comment, ask questions. Class Relax is a process in continual discovery!

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