Deep Breathing, Mindfulness, Positive Self Talk & Gratitude Journaling

I’m Somebody & So Are You!

The ‘Human Connection’ in Education:
Teaching Tools for Character & Academic I.Q. Growth:
I. Deep Breathing, Mindfulness, Positive Self Talk & Gratitude Journaling

By Vera Ripp Hirschhorn, M.S.

Contact for professional development & teacher training workshops

“The bell of mindfulness tolls in each moment, inviting us to come to our senses, reminding us that we can wake up to our lives, now, while we have them to live….Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” Henry David Thoreau ( Walden)

As a woman who has juggled the roles of daughter, spouse, parent and educator, the practice of deep breathing, mindfulness, positive self talk, gratitude and stream of consciousness journaling has kept me grounded and pleasantly balanced. These tools have also helped my colleagues, students, politicians like Congressman Tim Ryan and employees at some of the top workplaces such as Google and Apple. They have reduced stress, increased calmness, resiliency, creativity, productivity and improved decision making while preventing burnout.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, has demonstrated the transformative effects of mindfulness on our mental, emotional and physical health. He has also shown its usefulness for anxiety, depression and pain as well as improvements in memory and attention. He is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Congressman Tim Ryan who was immersed in one of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness retreats has been so excited of his calming, productive experiences in his everyday life that he has written a book about it. He has even obtained a million dollars of federal funds to teach it to school children in his Ohio district because he has “seen it transform classrooms…and …what it does to individuals who have really high chronic levels of stress and how it has helped their body heal itself.”

On October 24, 2015, The New York Times printed an article entitled, “City Classrooms Give Pupils a Moment to Turn Inward.” It reported on how delighted the Chancellor, Carmen Farina of New York City schools, was at seeing a ‘hushed room full of fourth-grade children sitting cross-legged on the floor as they were guided by one of their peers;’ The fourth grade guide asked students to “please let your eyes close and take three mindful breaths” while he gently struck a shallow bronze bowl and produced a ‘gong’ sound.

David Lynch created the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace in 2005 to teach students how to meditate.
Lynch, himself, meditates twice a day for 15 minutes.

One student in a Los Angeles classroom said that meditation “makes me want to come to school.” Another student said that “it makes me more happy within myself and I guess, more patient with others.”
A third student confessed that, “when I’m in a better mood, my family’s in a better mood “ and “I don’t argue as much with my sister…nothing bugs me.”

According to their principal, Jennifer Garcia, “their school,” like 43 others who have adopted the program, “has changed for the better.”
“Kids are calm and they’re not taking stuff out on each other.” Garcia
added, “they’re really engaged in wanting to be helpful with each other.”

On December 2, 2015, the Sun Sentinel reported on the “Geekiwood 2015 conference for middle and high school girls that included meditation at Florida International University in Miami. As a result, Michelle Goebel, ’a technology whiz’ from Boca Raton, Florida, encouraged over 200 girls to succeed in STEM programs through the practice of meditation.
Goebel credits meditation for saving her life after surviving a terrible car accident and for helping her graduate from Florida Atlantic University with honors as well as finding success in the tech fields.

“As a woman who was in technology, it was important to remain focused, confident, efficient and be an excellent problem solver with sharp business intuition,” Goebel stated. ‘Meditation helped Goebel do all of that in a male- dominated industry.’
Goebel has quit the tech field to become a full-time meditation instructor for corporations.

Breathing exercises such as alternate nostril breathing have been shown to help control blood pressure, improve heart rate, make arteries more flexible and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which calms down the body’s fight or flight adrenal response to stress. Dr.Luciano Bernardi, an internal medicine professor of the University of Pavia, Italy did research which shows the benefits of slow breathing exercises; he found that they improve exercise capacity in patients with chronic heart failure. Also, “slow breathing activates areas in the brain connected with anti-depressive activities.”

Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona added, “I think breath is the only function through which you can influence the involuntary nervous system.”

Dr. John Denniger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts indicated that meditation can help one
lose weight, lower blood pressure, help with irritable bowel syndrome, sleep better, and quit smoking.
According to Dr. Denniger, meditation, in some studies, has demonstrated an impact at the cellular level, slowing down the effects of aging and increasing neuroplasticity which is the ability of the brain to grow new brain cells and develop new connections.” Dr. Denniger began meditation in 1973 twice a day.

Thanks to the work of Dr. Albert Ellis on ‘Rational Emotional Behavior Techniques’ and his REBT Self Help Form, students have learned the transformative power of positive-self talk from victim-type feelings of suffering and helplessness to a victor-type feeling of hope.

Below is a brief outline of the process:
A. For Awareness:
One can acknowledge, “I am aware of the problem” (internal, external, real or imagined; past, present or future)

B. For Identification of one’s Negative Beliefs, one might look at signs such as:
1. Self made demands on oneself and others (I/he must or should)
2. Awfulizing (It’s awful, horrible, terrible)
3. Judgments of self or others (I/he/she is bad, worthless)
4. Low Frustration Tolerance (I can’t stand it)

C. For choosing to transform negative beliefs into positive beliefs
1. Examples of daily positive self-talk include:

  • I prefer, I wish, I desire rather than I demand
  • I realize that the situation is unfortunate and bad
  • I realize that I don’t like it but I can stand it and handle it

Benefits of Dr. Ellis’ work in cognitive behavioral techniques include the replacement of destructive, unhealthy negative emotions such as rage, anxiety, shame, hurt, jealousy, guilt, embarrassment and depression with new healthy negative emotions and expressions such as

  • Disappointment (I am disappointed)
  • Concern (I am concerned)
  • Annoyance (I am annoyed)
  • Sadness (I am sad)
  • Regret (I regret)
  • Frustration (I am frustrated)

“In life there are storms.
We must remember to play after every storm;
And celebrate the gift of life as we have it, or else Life becomes a task, rather than a gift.
We must always listen to the songs in our heart, And share that song with others.”

(From Heart song by Mattie Stepanek, died at age 13 on June 22, 2004 from muscular dystrophy)

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