February 8, 2023
Are you an educator who’s starting to feel burned out? Research shows that teachers and school staff can benefit from practicing yoga and meditation– even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes a day! For thousands of years, ancient yogis and sages in India knew that yoga and meditation can help activate your ventral vagal parasympathetic nervous system so you can better rest, digest and restore.
Many years ago, I attended a school based Pro-Day workshop about self-care for teachers. I was really looking forward to learning about resources and tools I could use to feel less stressed during my work day. To my disappointment and frustration, the speaker shared her personal story of burnout, and then suggested that we seriously consider going down to part time to have a more manageable work load. As a single mom, needing full time work to pay my bills, I sure didn’t find this advice helpful… and have been ruminating on it ever since.
This has been my motivation to try to find other solutions to this wicked question: How can educators improve their wellbeing while continuing to work?
It’s likely that you entered into teaching and supporting schools because you love working with students and helping them achieve their full potential. However, you probably quickly realized that you face many challenges in your daily grind at school that your university education programs didn’t prepare you for.
The British Columbia Teacher Federation’s The Well Teacher Program states:
“Burnout is a process where a person’s natural resources (ie. coping, stress response, resilience) are being used in excess. Symptoms may be similar to depression and fatigue”.
If you’re curious, you can download the HumanWorks FREE Burnout Questionnaire HERE.
“S. Johnson et al. (2005) compared occupational well-being across 11,000 people and 26 occupations. Teachers ranked second worst in psychological well-being, behind only ambulance drivers, and worse than police officers, social service providers, nurses, prison officers, and firefighters” (The BCTF Well Teacher Program).
And this research was done BEFORE we became frontline workers in the pandemic and required to update our curriculum and assessment practices! I know these pressures well, and was interviewed by CBC several times about teaching during the pandemic.
Note: The purpose of this blog post is NOT to encourage teachers and school staff to ‘chill out’ and accept unfair/ unsustainable working conditions. Rather, you can advocate more effectively for yourself, your students and your colleagues if your own energy stores aren’t absolutely depleted. The goal is for you to be more calm, joyful and present at school– you will feel better, and your students will thank you for it!
It’s common knowledge that classes are the most diverse they have ever been– a big win for inclusion. The downside of this, however, is that many teachers are overwhelmed about class sizes and compositions. A common sentiment is there are not enough adults in the room to support the diverse needs of all students.
If you struggle with your ability to teach fairly, you may be vulnerable to Moral Injury. There never seems to be enough time in the day for all the planning, meetings, marking, emails and phone calls!
Re-write that math test for the department? Sure. Volunteer for the after school event? Of course. Open the classroom every lunch for tutorials? Why not? Being actively involved in the school community can be fun and strengthen relationships, but many teachers often struggle with saying “No”, even when they feel they should. Even though you already know this, it’s helpful to remind yourself that saying NO to something is saying YES to something else, and vice versa.
“Teachers as a group tend to put their work and the needs of others ahead of their own– often at the expense of their own well-being”- Wade Repta, The Well Teacher
Of course, it’s a good thing to share our successes with co-workers, and admire what they are doing with their classes. However, it can weigh on your shoulders when Susie down the hall brags about being finished report cards 2 weeks early and you haven’t started yours, or when Tom shares about his weekend Pro-D in the staff room when you just need to stay in your pajamas. Many teachers are naturally competitive and feel like no matter how hard they work, there’s always someone else who’s doing it much better.
When something tough happens in a class, there’s little time for you to pause, debrief or reach out to colleagues for immediate support. More often than not, teachers deal with the situation the best they can, then puts on a brave face for the class to continue. Phone calls home, or debriefing usually have to wait a few hours — at lunch or after school. By that time, the incident has often been mentally swept under the rug by the teacher or a colleague has a ‘bigger’ story to share. Experiencing this type of delayed debrief, support and follow up can create stress. Many teachers share the feeling that they have to ‘be ON all the time, no matter what’.
“Here’s what I know to be true: If the big people aren’t OK, the little people don’t stand a chance”- Dr. Jody Carrington
Even though it would be great to have an hour to practice yoga every day, it’s probably not a realistic goal. Thankfully, it can take a few minutes (or less) to:
At the risk of sounding new age or woo-woo, your energy is shared with your students and co-workers in every interaction. Without failure, some of your students probably pick up on when you’re feeling tired or crappy and proceed to act out. Your co-workers can quickly read the room as well. For the sake of ourselves, our students, and our colleagues– let’s do all that we can to look after our minds and bodies. Yoga and meditation practices can help us shield and protect what energy we give out and allow in.
“Teachers have the opportunity to do their part by showing up regulated, creating safe environments, and offering predictable routines” (Yoga Outreach).
Your nervous system serves an important purpose and has literally kept us alive since the dawn of time. Even now, the Sympathetic Nervous System’s reactions of Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn often serve their purpose when you are facing real danger. As many of us know, chronic stress and anxiety cause your brains and bodies to think they’re facing danger, even when things are safe. Practices like yoga and meditation can help to activate your ventral vagal parasympathetic nervous system to help you better Rest, Digest and Restore.
“Well regulated adults teach children how to work with their nervous system so they can learn to self-regulate”- Natalie Rousseau
Many stressed out people can’t feel sensations in their bodies. When your sympathetic nervous system is overactive, you can experience the world as a ‘floating head’. Your body can be in pain or muscles tense, but you are numb to feeling and acknowledging the sensation. Ancient yogic knowledge and modern trauma-informed science agree that we cannot calm our minds if you do not first feel what’s going on in our bodies, without judgment. This process is called ‘Noticing and Naming’ or Interoception.
“Relaxation give you time to regroup, centre yourself, and lower your anxiety” (Wade Repta, The Well Teacher).
Yoga and meditation practices can help you shield and protect what energy you give out, and also what energy you allow in. The BCTF Well Teacher Program recommends yoga and meditation to benefit teacher wellness and prevent burnout. Change doesn’t need to be grand; you are encouraged to find opportunities to make micro-changes over the long term. These add up and can make a tremendous difference to help you feel better at home and at school.
I hope you’ve found some of these resources and tools helpful. Of course, there’s no shame in reducing work load if you need or want to– but my hope is that these practices can help you rediscover the joy of working in this challenging and rewarding profession of teacher and/or school staff.
“Yoga, mindfulness and meditation can be manageable and bring you joy and positive energy”- Wade Repta, The Well Teacher
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“Through these practices, a person is able to focus their minds, unblock energy centers known as chakras, experience a deeper awareness of the Universe beyond their everyday thoughts and sensations, and ultimately come to know themselves as Divine”- Anuttara Ashram, of the Shivoham Lineage
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These seven yoga and meditation classes in this bundle are yours to keep and return to as many times as you’d like.
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