Building Teachers’ Resilience through Yoga

by Guest Blogger on May 27, 2015

350_alicia_ (1)Alicia M. Moretti is a lecturer in the College of Liberal Arts and a Yoga Siromani in the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta tradition. These yogic breathing exercises were presented as part of a session on resilience at the 2015 CSU Symposium on University Teaching.

How are you sitting right now?

How are you breathing?

Attention to the body and breath can still your mind and improve your mood, health, focus, and career longevity. Even a small, regular practice of yoga will bring great benefit, and you can start right where you are.

Straighten your spine and relax your shoulders. Rest your hands in your lap, palms up, and place the soles of your feet flat on the ground. Breathe. For a moment, close your eyes. (Seriously. Just close your eyes and breathe.)

Try breathing in a ratio of 4:8. Inhale to the count of 1–2–3–4. Briefly retain the breath. Now exhale: 1–2–3–4–5–6–7–8.

Controlling your breathing will slow your heartbeat, which will slow your mind’s thought waves. “Yogas chitta-vrtti nirodhah,” wrote the ancient sage Patanjali: “Yoga is restraining the activities of the mind” (Vishnudevananda 1978). As teachers, we should be sages; to engage our students’ minds, we should still our own. Yogic breathing is an easy, convenient, and effective way to do that.

Return your attention to your posture: straight spine, relaxed shoulders, soles on the ground. Breathe deeply and slowly. Inhale to the count of four, feeling your diaphragm descend and your abdomen protrude. As the lungs fill, the chest expands, and the clavicle bones rise. Now exhale as slowly as you can, feeling the clavicle bones and chest fall and the abdomen retreat. Repeat the cycle: inhale to four; pause to retain; exhale to eight. Return your awareness to the straightness of your spine, to the balance of effort and relaxation in your physical steadiness. Close your eyes and breathe.

The twin yogic practices of pranayama (breath control) and asana (steady pose) improve the circulation of prana (vital energy) in the body and the feeling of tranquility in the mind. A steady routine of these and the other limbs of raja (royal) or ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga will enhance your mindfulness, which has been shown to improve teaching–specifically pedagogy, relationships, classroom management, decision making, and career contentment. Mindfulness will even change the gray matter in your brain.

 Nostril2Keep your attention on your breath, now specifically to your nostrils. Does one nostril breathe more freely than the other? Nostrils take turns throughout the day, with one always partially blocked. Practicing alternate nostril breathing purifies the nadis (the main energy circuits in the body), equilibrates the body’s metabolic processes, harmonizes the nervous system, and balances the brain’s hemispheres. Just a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing will leave you relaxed and rejuvenated. A regular practice of five to ten minutes per day for eight weeks will give you a significant boost to your health and mood. (There are several breathing exercises that build from basic yogic breathing up to a full practice including retention.) Instructions for nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing without retention) are given below.

Close off your right nostril with your right thumb just below the bone in the bridge of the nose. (Very little pressure is required.) Exhale through the left nostril. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale on the left to a count of four. Using the pinkie and ring fingers, close off the left nostril. Release the right nostril and exhale to a count of eight. With the right nostril still open, inhale on that side to a four count. Close both nostrils. Open the left and slowly exhale to a count of eight. Repeat the cycle for a total of twelve rounds, keeping the spine straight, the neck and shoulders relaxed, and the eyes closed.

Proper breathing is just one of eight branches of Raja (Ashtanga) yoga:

yama (abstention), e.g., ahimsa (non-injury in thought, word, deed)
niyama (observance), e.g., saucha (cleanliness)
asana (steady pose)
pranayama (breath control of vital energy)
pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
dharana (concentration)
dhyana (meditation)
samadhi (super-consciousness)
 ~

…and Raja yoga is just one of four paths:

Jñāna: intellectual approach Karma: approach of selfless service
Bhakti: devotion; sublimation of emotions Raja (Ashtanga): scientific approach

 

As you prepare for summer, think about how you can implement an eight-week mindfulness practice, no matter how small. Start with basic yogic breathing and the calming, balancing practices of alternate nostril breathing. Leave a comment below to share your experience or ideas about using yoga to build resilience.


Comments:

This is such a wonderful and timely post. It’s content, of course, helped me to relax, but the form of the post got me revved up again because of the way it weaves information with experience: performative textuality and audience intervention at work. Thank you, Alicia!

~ Amy Wiley


Thank you, Alicia. I loved your post! I had never tried the individual nostril breathing and it worked wonders for my lethargy today as a result of an early morning swim coaxing me to desire a nap right now in the office, ha. We all need to find better ways to relax and practice mindfulness – especially at the work place. I believe it’s essential to our well being overall and worth the time to make us more effective instructors.

~ Luanne Fose


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