Whether students or teachers, we all have those days. The days where the morning just didn't go as planned we rushed to get ready, or to school on time, or ran around stressed out when we were at school to prep for a class, or for students to finish a project or study for a test. Those days when we can feel the tension creeping into our stomach, our neck, our shoulders, and even our attitude.
This is a normal part of being human, and there is a scientific explanation for it, our nervous system! What follows is a brief explanation of the two parts of our nervous system, and how to control it when it gets out of control. For a more in depth look, please click here.
Many years ago, when we first evolved to be human, our nervous system developed two main parts, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The two systems act like a teeter totter, when one is in use, the other is not. The sympathetic nervous system is the 'fight or flight' system and is responsible for keeping us safe in times of danger. When this system is activated our heart rate increases, our muscles contract, our pupils dilate and non-vital systems in our body shut down allowing us to react quickly. The sympathetic nervous system is VITAL for keeping us safe, and perfect for needing to escape a tiger or a similar threat. The problem is that our nervous systems have not learned to recognize the difference between the threat of a tiger stalking you in the jungle, vs the threat of being late to school or work because you are stuck behind a bus. The sympathetic nervous system activates in both instances if we don't know how to control it; and with our fast paced lifestyle of always leaping from one project to the next (I myself am guilty of this) we often keep our sympathetic nervous systems in activation for much longer then necessary. This can lead to inflammation based health problems including, migraines, fatigue, muscle tension, weight gain, and many more. To read more about teacher burn out, please click here.
'On the opposite end of the teeter totter is the parasympathetic nervous system (if you speak Spanish I try to remember that 'para' means stop and think of this as the stop system). The parasympathetic nervous system is intended to restore our body to balance after activation of the sympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic system is activated our breathing slows down, our muscles relax, all systems come back online and balance is restored to our bodies. This is the system we should be spending the majority of our time in, but with the speed of today's world this system is often neglected.
Luckily we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system with something as simple as deep breathing. One of my favorite quick ways to do this is the following:
1) Breathe in through the nose for the count of 4 (yes through the nose is important)
2) Hold your breath for the count of 6.
3) Breathe out through the mouth for the count of 8. (through the mouth here is also important).
Next time you are feeling stressed out try cycling through this breathing activity a few times and notice how you feel before and after! This one is so quick I can even do it between classes, before talking to a student that has my sympathetic nervous system firing, or even in the car at a stop light when my own children are being loud in the back seat!
Although I have done yoga in Spanish with my students, I had never thought of doing deep breathing or guided meditation in the TL (target language) until a recent blog post by Justin Slocum Bailey (read it here). Justin's post inspired me and I made my first (very short) video below. This video starts with an explanation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in English (a little too high for my students to understand in the TL), followed by the above breathing exercise in Spanish. I have been doing this with my students at the end of each class (or wherever they need it) the last few weeks and it has been wonderful! I hope it helps you too. I plan to make longer videos eventually....but that is a project for another day! Until then, I hope you spend many happy hours engaging your parasympathetic nervous system.
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.