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Staying Present and Healthy with Mindfulness Meditation

November 16, 2017
Teachers in classroom

My first two years of teaching as a corps member were riddled with long nights, strong emotions, and an overwhelming amount of stress. I knew from the beginning most teachers spend plenty of time working during their “time off.” However, I did not fully understand the true dedication and commitment it takes to be a successful teacher. My students and their families were always my number-one priority during that first year in the classroom. I was at work by 5:30 a.m. and did not leave until 8 p.m. I spent my days striving to do whatever was best for my students, whether that meant tutoring before and after school, coaching sports, or joining family dinners—there was always something that I could be doing to help.

During my second year in the classroom, my health started suffering. As my stress increased, my energy and patience in the classroom decreased. My stress levels were through the roof, and it was taking its toll. I realized I needed to figure out a way to continue doing the work I loved while also taking care of myself. 

What I found was mindfulness meditation, and it has been key to reducing my stress, helping me process my emotions, increasing my patience, and ultimately improving my overall health. It has helped me to be fully present in the moment, freeing myself from the anxiety and pressures associated with state testing, evaluations, lesson planning, and the temptation to dwell on the endless tasks ahead.

A college friend introduced me to mindfulness meditation, but I did not think I could make the time commitment to practice it given all my teaching demands. Then I had the opportunity to focus on my skills and practice alongside other educators every morning this past summer. Regularly, emotions would arise and I would find myself needing to recognize those emotions and stressors without judging myself for the feelings I had. As time went on, I grew more and more accepting of my emotions and was able to process the stress, while allowing myself to be present and remove my mind from those stressors.

My colleagues and I found ourselves settling on the same conclusion: This practice was going to transform the ways in which we showed up as leaders.

It turns out that mindfulness meditation does not require a big time commitment at all. It can be helpful whether you practice for a few minutes or for an hour. When I feel very stressed, I meditate twice a day. Some sessions last two minutes and some last an hour; it just depends on the day. A short meditation session every day, sometimes in my bedroom or even in my classroom, has helped decrease my stress and increase my productivity—meaning I don’t have time not to practice every day.

I have noticed a vast difference in myself since I started practicing mindfulness meditation. I am calmer, less stressed, happier, more rested, and ultimately a better teacher. Mindfulness meditation has transformed my life, my health, and my classroom. For me it is clear: When we take care of ourselves we are healthier and happier—and we are better teachers.

Give it a try by starting with an app or a video, and know that there is no right or wrong way to meditate; you do not have to have your eyes closed and be sitting cross-legged to practice. Find what works for you and make time to take care of yourself. The health benefits are immeasurable.

Need help getting started? Email alumniteaching@teachforamerica.org to receive a no-cost annual subscription to the Headspace app and try these simple everyday ways you can practice 30 days of mindfulness.