One of my earliest teaching positions was at a Public School in New York City. I taught over three hundred and fifty students a week, with 32-35 students assigned to a class. I was the head of the Theater Department and the only Drama teacher on staff. After the first couple of weeks, I realized that memorizing hundreds of names and faces would be just one of the many challenges I’d face every day.
My classes were held in an auditorium, which housed the main stage. I referred to it as the sacred space, which prompted all who entered to lower their voices. Attendance was well received, because I sang my students names out loud (which in turn embedded them into my long term memory). For example, one of my student’s names was Roland. I would sing “Roland, Roland, Roland by the River!” Surprisingly, the kids laughed every time I attached music to their name.
Yet, the most magical part of my teaching experience was the warm up. I began every class with shavasana (“corpse pose”). The students quietly arranged themselves in a circle on the stage with just enough space to stretch out, palms open. After the giggles and anxious chatter subsided, I would guide them through a visualization and breath work. Then, we would all sit in some variation of lotus pose and collectively meditate. It really didn’t matter if the student was in 6th grade, 8th grade or a second semester senior. They wanted to be there. They looked forward to being still. One 6th grade boy, who was sent daily to the office for acting out in his other classes, sent me a letter. He wrote: “Dear Jackie, Thank you for letting me quiet the dragon inside of me long enough to see the peaceful me resting there all along.”
I have incorporated meditation, breath-work and mindfulness techniques into my work for many years. I have observed my students and clients connect with a part of themselves that is already healed, strong and aware. When our minds are at peace, our work and our intentions are genuine. As we become internally quieter, our capacity for self-observation deepens. We then have the capacity to tap into our own reset button.
We live in a world that wrestles with time and the pressures of being productive and successful, and we forget that through our breath and awareness, anxiety loses its weight. We can choose to simply surrender, to practice and to gracefully change.
So much is possible when we are able to be still, quiet our minds and communicate from the center of our existence. May we all open our minds before opening our mouths.