By Marina Whitchurch, Public Speaking Instructor
It is often said, “I’d rather do ANYTHING else than do public speaking!” I’ve been teaching speech and communication classes for more than 15 years and I can safely say that this sentiment is shared by over half of all students that have ever entered my classroom. In an effort to control my own anxieties, I began to bring my meditation practice into my classrooms and, as I began to see the results, the students began to feel the results!
Articles from The American Institute of Stress, National Institute of Mental Health, and Yale University all report an overwhelming number of college students experience depression and stress during their college career. For students who experience such mental and physical health issues, meditation can be a way of calming one’s self through simple breathing and visualization techniques.
The benefits are almost immediate: lowered stress, improved focus, reduced brain chatter as well as improved connections and relationships and insight to understanding chronic pain. However, they don’t call it a practice for nothing! So let’s take a moment, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, and learn how we can bring the meditation practice into our own classrooms.
So, how do I bring the practice into class? First, we talk about breathing. Your breath is the focus in all meditations, learning how to inhale and exhale in a consistent, slow, almost rhythmic way and bringing that breath deep down into your diaphragm. Where is that? Your diaphragm, according to healthline.com, “is a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale. When you exhale [it] relaxes and the air is pushed out of the lungs.”
How is this different or better than just taking a deep breath in your lungs? There are several ways. First, the diaphragm can increase abdominal pressure to help the rid waste. Second, the phrenic nerve, which runs from your neck to your diaphragm, helps to control the contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm. Third, there are three large openings in the diaphragm: the esophageal, the aortic and caval (the inferior vena cava) openings. So this little pocket of muscle and nerves is quite important to our bodies and our breath.
Once we begin to understand the anatomy of breathing, then we can focus on the praxis. First, find a comfortable place to sit. I let the students sit on the floor if they want, even taking shivasana (or “corpse pose”) position — laying on flat on your back, arms at your side, knees bent comfortably or legs flat on the floor. If sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor, hands resting gently in your lap. Take a moment and check in with your body? Am I relaxed, but not slouched (if sitting)? Scan your body with your mind’s eye and make sure you’re ready to begin.
Now, you’ll also need a method to time your meditation. There are many free apps and podcasts available to help you with guided meditation, but a timer will work just fine. To begin, set your timer for 5 minutes. As you feel more comfortable with the process, you can start increasing the time in 2-3 minute increments. (At the height of my own practice, I got up to an hour!) But for class, we’ll start with 5 minutes and keep it there so as not to cut too much into our class time.
The guided part of this meditation is important, talking them through the 5 minutes in a calm, soft voice. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath with the count of 5 and exhale with a count of 6, depleting your breath supply before taking another one in. Continue this count of inhales and exhales.
Now — this next part is important — and arguably the most difficult: how to deal with all the chatter in your mind? Or as I like to call it, “the monkey in the cage” mind. My former yogi in California, Gaya Sharvati liked to use the analogy, “Your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, passing by, changing shape, yet we are unable to reach out and grasp them for they will simply sift through our fingers. So let them pass. Do not try to hold on to them.”
And that’s it. Like I said, it’s a practice. And it takes practice for it to get easier, for us to settle into the meditation easier and sooner each time we sit or lay down to do it. If you would like more information on anything mentioned in this blog, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.