It is no coincidence that mindfulness practices came into my life right around the time I became an educator. After earning my Bachelor’s Degree I moved to New York City, to teach elementary special education as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member in the poorest congressional district in the United States where stress was a part of everyday life.
My determined, capable and diverse special education students seemed to be constantly disrupted by all kinds of stress and self-regulation problems. Behavior outbursts, attention problems, and just plain fatigue often derailed my lessons and their learning. And they weren’t the only ones being affected by stress.
The long days, pressure to be the best teacher to my students, the noise and intensity of the city — it was a lot for me to contain, too. Nature had been my go-to place of solace, but I had a hard time finding such a place in NYC. Luckily for me, my apartment was across the street from a yoga studio, and I had a TFA colleague and now lifelong friend who introduced me to self-regulation and mindfulness practices. As I started to practice yoga and meditation the knot of stress seems to soften.
I began to wonder if mindfulness techniques could help me, why they couldn’t help my students, too. Gradually I started to infuse some mindfulness and self-regulation tools into my instruction and found that my students quickly benefited and began using them independently. I decided I needed to learn much more about the power of mindfulness.
After three years of teaching, I took my savings and plunged headlong into a global and cross-cultural study of mindfulness, traveling for 18 months to 9 countries. In northern Italy, I worked and lived at a retreat center. In India, I participated in a month-long yoga teacher-training course. I attended meditation retreats in India and Thailand. I spent 10 days at a silent meditation retreat. This was terrifying at first, but over those days I learned how to observe my thoughts instead of reacting to them, giving me greater compassion and self-awareness. Waking before dawn to join people from all over the world in yoga exercises I realized that, while we come from very different traditions, we have a common need for a tranquil state of mind. After months of study and practice, I by no means mastered all the techniques. It was just the beginning. But I did begin to build the space and structure in my own life for a stronger and more gentle practice.
Returning to the states after my travels, I wanted to share these tools with others. Naturally, I started with my family and friends. Later, I joined the organization Yoga for the People and began teaching yoga classes to Head Start children and their teachers and parents. These were popular classes, and many of my students– young and old — reported positive effects as they incorporated these practices into their lives.
I am thrilled to be a part of Lexercise, an organization that understands the power of mindfulness practices. Lexercise teletherapy is designed to strengthen reading and writing skills, but when stress, anxiety, and reactivity threaten to undermine progress, we have some effective and powerful tools in mind.
REFERENCES (an incomplete list)
In 2004, Jennifer joined Teach for America as a special educator where she taught kindergarten through fifth grade. Her passion for reading instruction led her to be trained in a program based on the Orton-Gillingham method. After achieving significant results with her students, she began conducting trainings to help strengthen other teachers’ reading instruction. “My motivation as a teacher is to share my love of learning, and my gift has been working with struggling readers. There is no better feeling than to help someone become a strong reader and independent learner.” Jennifer earned a B.A. in Global studies University of California Santa Barbara and M.S. in Special Education from Lehman College.