Busy? Or Productive and Full?

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There’s a lot of talk these days about being busy.  There has been for months, so the fact that we are still talking about it means, we haven’t harnessed the beast called Busy.  I’ve come to dislike the term, this so-called  badge of honor.  But why be proud about scrambling around?

Confession:

I used to brag about being busy.  It felt like my obligation to be busy. It was a sign of accomplishment, pride, power over my crazy life. And there are certainly still times that my planner and calendar are filled, and many more times my mind and body are filled.

 

Then I read this from Alina Dizik in BBC.com

“We burn valuable time doing things that aren’t necessary or important because this busyness makes us feel productive,”

Yup, feeling productive feels good. Until I realize I am not doing much that is important or necessary. Ouch.

But there’s really no power in being busy. For me, there was also not a heck of a lot of joy, because the business of being busy wasn’t my choice.  But often, I look good being busy.

Why is it that  we in this country, especially women, feel the need to be busy?  Many women certainly have multiple layers of obligations (as do men).  We’re employees, friends, parents, humans. The juggle is not easy and it’s often not about balancing like the classic image of Lady Justice keeping things even. More often, it’s like keeping those (very full) plates teetering on top of those poles.

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For the past several weeks, I’ve had an unofficial experiment where I have decided NOT to use the word busy (unless it’s in reference to a phone call that doesn’t ring through).  While I have absolutely no data, I have noticed that if I don’t say “busy” I hear it less often from others.  This includes busy’s kissing cousins named “crazy,” “insane,” and “hectic,” as well as the second cousin recognized as the eye roll and palms raised.  Don’t’ put it out there and see what happens.

For the most part, our schedules are full. But when you put out there that you are “busy,” you’re likely to get that right back. Busy brings the connotation of full, but not to my liking – or full and I don’t want to be doing these things.  

I could easily describe myself as “busy,” too.  But I’m making a concerted effort to have a full calendar and full planner by making conscious choices about what I want and need to be doing.  I’m also not letting those endless little fires build momentum.

So I’ve changed my dialogue – when asked “how are you?”  Often, I simply say “well” and smile and ask, “how are things with you?” In return, I’ve heard lovely stories of kids and work and personal accomplishments from folks I chat with. I’ve also heard details of challenges in work or family life – but these anecdotes generally don’t include the word “busy.”

Oh, and that feels good. Like breathing space to listen to each other.

I can’t do this alone. I’m just not that smart, clever, nor disciplined.   I have tools.  More next time on those tools.

Until then, try not to be so busy.  Breathe, listen, enjoy.

 

Take care,

lisa

 

 

 

LWells

 

 

 

New Offering for August: Girls’ Empowerment Camp

In high school, my  list of activities included the gymnastics team, yearbook,  running the charity dance marathon, playing the flute in a swing band and various menial jobs.  At the time, I was keeping busy and even way back then, heeding advice to collect sought-after resume-builders for college applications.  My memory tells me it was fun to juggle, but I am certain my parents would describe me as a whirling dervish.

My penchant for juggling and keeping occupied continued for decades, until I hit my mid-forties and decided there was a better way than constant mayhem. Or at least it would be better to slow down periodically.  Often in our lives, we pursue seemingly disconnected activities that tap into our various interests.   I love having various interests, which now include cooking, yoga, paddle boarding, writing, knitting, walking, training teachers, learning, reading.  It still does make me feel like a whirling dervish at times, but I love all the things I do.  I’ve learned it (“busy-ness” and “have-tos”)   can create stress. Unhealthy stress.

I am  deeply intrigued by how our kids grow up and am committed to better understanding their journey, busy or not.  It’s become a desire of mine to learn ways to support them and celebrate with them, so they learn to manage the stress in healthy ways.   You or I will never know their true experience –  what it feels like physically, mentally, emotionally. We know far more now about the toll stress takes on them than we did in the ’70s and ’80s.  Unless you’ve been under a rock for years, you are well aware that the stress our kids face and how they manage it is not our kind of teen stress.  We know more about how their brain works (the folks over at Grown and Flown wrote about this, highlighting Dr. Jenson’s book,  The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults ) and we need to help them learn to make good choices, explore what they love, manage stress,  and enjoy this period of life.

When my various interests overlap like a Venn Diagram, I tend to geek out and get wildly tickled.  It’s thrilling and exciting and makes me work harder to understand how all the pieces fit together.  And that’s where I am now with my various pieces.

My passion for teaching, children and emerging adults, yoga, mindfulness, and health in general, are coming together in a new way.  As school ends for the year, hopefully, that brings down time for all. But then August will roll around and for many tween/teen girls, that transition will resurrect old stress.  Stress doesn’t have to consume us, especially our young girls.   It can be managed with things like exercise, yoga, good eating, trusted friends,  honest conversation and a whole host of skills I will be exploring and sharing with local middle school and high school girls in Girls Rock! Mind Body Empowerment Camp.

If your girl is in the Annapolis, Maryland area in August, why not sign her up to come work with our group?  This course will be offered over five afternoons and includes exercise, mindfulness, lively and honest conversation, skills practice and of course, some healthy eats.  Have questions? Want to bring it to your site? Shoot me an email and we’ll make it happen.

Take care,

lisa

 

 

 

LWells

9 Reasons Yoga is For Kids

photo courtesy of St. Anne's School of Annapolis
photo courtesy of St. Anne’s School of Annapolis
This week students from preschool through eighth grade at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis are celebrating “Mind Body Spirit Week” with five days of events and learning about the essential connections between what we do with our bodies, how we interact with ourselves and the world and how we take care of ourselves and others.  I was lucky enough to be asked back to teach a few yoga classes with some of their young friends and then later for teachers.
Like classroom teaching, practicing yoga with children is a curious mix of joy, laughter and the unexpected.  It always makes me a better person and teacher. I  came armed with some lessons plans, but those were promptly pushed aside as we just responded to the energy and interests that arrived.  We explored of our physical bodies on the mat  and some frank discussion on mind-wandering and what it feels like to have all those big and little thoughts in our head. Oh, yes…and they eagerly shared the  things that make them feel stressed (you’d be surprised!).  Our brief chats concluded with some breath awareness and the immediate feedback that breathing deeply is, in their words:
  • calming
  • peaceful
  • feels like you’re floating
  • make me more me
From teetering tree pose to fierce planks, their asanas revealed determination, a true sense of play, friendship, and a willingness to take risks. I’m quite certain these traits carry over into other aspects of their lives. After spending several hours with these little yogis, here are 9 reasons yoga is for kids, too.
1. Yoga is for everybody because everybody has a body and everybody can breathe.
2. Yoga is about self-care.  It’s incredibly useful to learn how to care for yourself. Knowing your body and what you can do with it, along with when  you can challenge yourself, is a life lesson.
3. Yoga helps you recharge and become clear-minded.  Kids, like adults, report they feel better after doing yoga and that they are then,“very calm.” The experience of relaxation that comes with a good physical yoga practice can be very profound.
4. Yoga helps you cope with things like anxiety, depression, ADHD, anger, jealousy.  I always feel grateful after I practice yoga. It’s also the perfect time to smile and have fun!
5. Yoga is a workout, too!  It really is.  It helps regulate metabolism and increase self-awareness.  You’re also likely to feel better about yourself. 
6.  You can get better at the poses just like you can get better at a sport, As long as you are operating from a place of knowledge and respect for how your body works, expect improvement for yourself as you get stronger, your coordination improves, and your muscles lengthen.
7. You’re so lucky to be doing yoga now.  So many people say they wish they had known about yoga earlier in life.  It’s really a gift to have the time and place to practice yoga.  It’s a sacred time to acknowledge the blessings of our life, including our body and breath.
8. The point of yoga is to remain curious about what you can do.  Yoga helps you improve your mental outlook so if you’re feeling jealous, self-defeated, or envious, yoga gives you the chance to forget those methods of thinking and instead to observe and engage in your own experience.
9. Seek things to do that will empower your strength of mind, body and character like yoga and not things that will disempower you (unkind friends, things that might harm you).
Take care,
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Lisa Dewey Wells

The Secret, Part 2 – Permission for an Inner Life

Last week I let you in on The Secret.  The thing is, the real secret is much bigger than downtime.  The real secret lies in cultivating our inner world when we are “on” so much of the time with our outer world.  I am convinced that we need to share with children the importance of mindfulness, meditation or other contemplative practices.  It’s not that we need to add another class to our kids’ schedules, but rather we need to give them the permission, tools, and time to pause once in a while so that they can remember how to just be instead of always doing.

In my classroom and many others, teachers have a” meditation station” or “peace corner“ like this one from a second grade classroom at the Harley School.     We know from both practical experience and neuropsychology that when a brain becomes overly stimulated or anxious, the ability of the “upstairs  brain” to function is limited.  Finding ways to calm down, like a few minute in the peace corner, allows a child to develop the self-control to resume learning. Other teachers simply pause during teaching and practice deep breathing, careful listening, or a few minutes of silence. These carefully crafted “mindful interruptions” allow children to stop briefly during work periods and begin to use these strategies when they sense they need a break or a way to re-focus. More later in this post.

 

We need to begin this process of teaching children self-control and compassion with a focus on the adults who care for, teach, and serve as role models for our children.  Whether this starts as a formal program like the Inner-Resilience Program developed by Linda Lantieri and used by many schools across the country, or a more grass-roots approach that includes moments of silence or meditation in schools, teachers and adults who work with children need to take the bold step to advocate for their own-well being and to be given the resources and permission to do so.  Such mindfulness practices such as these give adults the permission and resources to take care of their inner world, so that they can give of themselves to others.  It’s hard to convince teachers that they deserve balance in their lives. As Linda Lantieri says,

“…That’s the part that I forget and many others forget, that we need to spend time nurturing our inner lives if we’re going to feel good about the job we do in the outer world.” – See more at the Tides Blog.

Our teachers need permission, resources and encouragement to take care of themselves in whatever ways are meaningful to them.  So do our kids. Giving ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.

As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tell his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action.  Regular contemplative practice can build the brain circuitry that allows the downstairs brain, or reptilian brain, to stop high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event. Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman  in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

 

Here’s to finding a few quiet moments in your day,

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Lisa Dewey Wells

The Secret? (We Need Downtime)

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It’s been gloomy and soggy in our neck of the woods. Six inches of rain in three days – more rain than we’ve had in two months.  Perfect weather to put the brakes on things. Perfect weekend to pause, putter, do nothing, and relax.  I spent some time this weekend digging into Dan Goleman’s new book, Focus.  His video, The Importance of Downtime, struck me hard enough to toss my to-do list most of the weekend.

This came on the heels of parent conferences in which families shared how their children have adjusted to school and middle school homework. It was enlightening to hear it from another perspective, which confirmed my suspicion that my kids were feeling a bit stressed.  A couple of weeks back, I noticed my students and others, sort of hitting the wall. We were into the steady pace of school, layered upon the weekly routines of music, homework, sports, dance, carpool et cetera. The novelty wore off and reality set in.

Quietly, I had students tell me they got home too late to do homework. Or that they fell asleep before doing it. Or the occasional fib about it being at home (when it was left undone for a range of reasons).  My own high schoolers were crawling into bed remarkably early or if they weren’t, their behavior made me think they needed to hit the hay early.  In a heart-to-heart with a diligent worker-bee fifth grader, I let her in on a Secret.  I told her I trusted her to use it when she needed it.  Later, I decided I need to share it with the whole class and with parents.

The Secret? To stop the mayhem once in a while. To pause. To have a night that you skip practice, table homework and chores and just be for a bit. You know what I mean – one of those jammies at 5:30 p.m. and breakfast dinner nights, followed by reading, snuggling under blankets, board games, talking or a movie with the family.

It’s no secret.  It’s just that many of us (young and old) need permission to pause.  Especially our students who are working so hard to learn new routines and new material, to be compassionate friends and responsible workers, athletes, artists, musicians and, oh yes, children.  They need time to play, time to lounge, time to disconnect, be with the families they love and to be alone with their own imagination.

I notice often in families, my own included, that it’s easy to get caught up in the routine of “gotta-bes” and “need-to-bes” – places to get to, teams to be on,  boxes to check. While that sort of planning and accomplishment can be immensely motivating and rewarding, it can also be draining. So it’s okay to pull the plug once in a while. It’s often necessary.   Adults know they need to disconnect from work and  re-connect with ourselves, but we need to also give our kids permission and the model to do the same. The constant go-go-go of school and activities, punctuated by the pings of technology and fractured attention needs to be broken – or at least balanced – by quieter moments.  Even extroverts who love to be busy, can benefit from slowing down.

Giving our kids and ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.  As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tells his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind in very helpful ways.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action and learning.  Regular mindfulness practice can rewire the brain circuitry that – it times of stress – interrupt the downstairs brain from high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event.

Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman again in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

I hope that this week, you find a few moments of quiet and that you can help your students or children find some quiet. Real quiet. No technology, no distractions.  And if you’re up for it, let us know how you find time to pause.

Next time, I’ll share some reasons I’m passionate about showing our kids to slow down and why it’s essential in education.

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Lisa Dewey Wells