Along with the usual school nurse duties (band-aids, eye screenings, maintaining that cot for the sick kids), I also get to teach. Like really teach. The kind that includes many hours a week in a room with multiple 11-14 year olds. Prior to Kinshasa, I always saw myself as strictly a childbirth educator. Certainly never a Middle School classroom teacher. I had one unfortunate college experience with an education course called "Rhythmic Activities" I took in order to get an easy P.E. credit and swore off any sort of teacher-ly activities from there on out.
But now I find myself writing lesson plans, getting all angsty about Bloom's Taxonomy, and preaching the good word of rubric-based assessments. After two years of cold sweats before every lesson, I even kind of like it.
|A scene from my classroom. I swear this kid is doing research. Really!|
In addition to my regular gig in the middle school, I often get to pop into other classrooms for a little health lesson here and there. For example, a couple of weeks ago, the 4th Grade teacher asked me to come do a guest spot on stress. So, naturally, I got all stressed out trying to figure out how to talk about stress to nine and ten year olds. I am at ease with my middle schoolers, but elementary students...they intimidate me.
After much deliberation on what to do, I began the lesson by turning out all the lights, putting on some Sigur Ros, and helping everyone take a 'mental vacation.' While I think they enjoyed the old-school guided imagery, it was really an exercise for me. I needed a moment.
Then we got down to business with a stick figure.
(I am not as talented as my dear spouse, who I frequently bribe to draw for me. Like this rendition of "Carrot Stick Man" I made him sketch for a poster I was modeling for a 'Create Your Own Superhero' project:)
|We did debate the appropriateness of the carrot emblem on the t-shirt. |
He said, "You're the one who made a fake superhero called 'Carrot Stick Man! Who does that?"
We talked about what stress looks like. Students described stress and I drew accordingly. Our poor stick man quickly had sweat dripping from his hands, messed up hair, angry eyebrows, a racing heart, clumsy feet, and a "tickling" stomach. He was a mess. I could relate.
Then, we tried to fix his desperate, stressed-out state. Kids suggested a warm bath for his tight neck muscles, yoga for his pounding heart, a nap for his headache, and - appropriately - a day on the Miami beach for, well, everything.
Soon thereafter, we started alternate nostril breathing.
Backstory: I found a really great instruction sheet on some basic stress relief techniques. (You rock, North Dakota State University.) After reading it over, the kids split up into groups to teach each other the four techniques listed here:
|The rest of this super resource can be found here.|
After learning all of these techniques, we did a survey. Shockingly, the most popular stress reducer demonstrated in class, by show of hands, was alternate nostril breathing. I was sure this exercise would be the hardest sell: ridiculous to look at, confusing to learn, and difficult with the constantly dripping noses elementary students always seem to display. Not only did they like it (with a straight face), many of them already knew all about it.
I asked them - trying not to appear incredulous - who they had seen doing alternate nostril breathing. Apart from one kid who said that he once saw someone shooting snot rockets out of their nose using this technique on the playground, all of the other examples were legit: adults using alternate nostril breathing during times of stress. I was speechless. I mean, I like to think that I'm kind of an expert in breathing techniques after years of working with women in labor. But, never, ever have I tried alternate nostril breathing. It's too weird, too deliberate, too time-consuming, too...something. But these kids have parents who are going around doing this on a regular basis?
|"Breath-control" or Prânayâma.|
One girl raised her hand and said, "I saw my dad doing that last weekend. I asked him why he was doing that and he said that he was stressed because some really bad things had happened at a mall in Kenya. He said he was really sad and breathing like that made him feel better." The other kids nodded solemnly.
Bravo for sharing your feelings and explaining them to your daughter. Bravo for being willing to show her the bizarre - but pretty excellent - ways you deal with stress. Now, she - and an entire class of 4th graders - know what to try when life feels overwhelming. They don't just think deep breathing is some weird public service announcement brought to them by their friendly school nurse, they believe it is a normal thing to do when the going gets tough. Thanks for unknowingly teaching my lesson better than I ever could.
On Monday, Sarah summarized the tangle of thoughts and feelings that emerge in the midst of tragedy. Just like that dad, many have been struggling with the list of horrendous events that seemed to define this week.
Life is shit sometimes. Sometimes the only way to respond is as simply as possible. I often tell people who are very scared, very painful, or very sick that "all you have to do right now is breathe." Reducing everything to a single breath slows the world down enough to be manageable for at least a moment. It's at that moment where we all need a ridiculous, but effective, technique like alternate nostril breathing. Go ahead. Try it.