mind minefields and mantras

At a class I attended this month, the yoga instructor compared self-talk to shopping for clothes. We take a bunch of clothes into the fitting room, and the ones that fit us and serve us and make us feel good go home with us. The ones that don’t stay behind, crumpled on the floor for the unlucky and underpaid attendant to clean and restock. She asked:

Why don’t we do that with our self-talk?

We take all kinds of self-talk with us into the dressing room of our minds, and we try it on, the good and the bad, and we leave with it all, each and every time, the good and the bad.

At least I do. Especially as of late, when my mind has been demonized by negative self-talk:

I’m fat.

I’m lazy.

I’m undisciplined.

I’m overwhelmed.

I’m failing.

I can’t do this.

These thoughts do not serve me. Negative self-talk never serves us. These thoughts do not motivate me. Negative self-talk never motivates us. These thoughts do not drive me to change. Negative self-talk never results in positive change.

Instead, we become what we chant over and over and over in our minds.

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Clearly, God meant for me to not miss this message. At a different yoga class on the other side of Denver, another yoga teacher brought up the power of water to shape features such as the Grand Canyon, simply by following the path of least resistance. She compared this to the negative self-talk that runs rampant in our minds, etching and carving a path for negative energy to follow and build and become. And to combat this she directed us to create a mantra–a mind tool, a desire stated as truth, in the present tense. Here are the two resonating with me lately:

I am light.

I am disciplined.

I have meditated with my mantra both on and off my mat. And it allows me to try on the negative self- talk, but then leave it behind in the dressing room, creating in my thinking a vortex of affirmation instead of deprecation. It allows my brain’s streams and canyons to shift direction, away from criticism, towards love.

I am light.

I am disciplined.

mantras for students

I get a lot of questions in my classroom.

Miss, is this right?

Miss, what page?

Miss, can you check this?

Miss, what do you think?

But the question in my class that has brought me the most refreshment as of late is…

Miss, can we meditate?

Several weeks ago, I faced the big, bad giant Senioritis as he trolled through my student population. Since then, I have been setting space aside on a weekly basis in my class–if not daily–to lead my students in meditation. Sometimes I guide them. Sometimes I use an app. But either way, it is a few minutes that consist of no instruction but great inspiration. I’m okay sacrificing the academic time for the social-emotional support. After all, there is no learning where there is no security, and as my seniors prepare to make the biggest transitions of their lives, anything I can do to foster security will reap benefits tenfold.

Just recently during one of these meditation sessions, I guided my students through setting mantras. These are “I am” statements that embody all they wish to be in their lives: I am light. I am successful. I am strong. I am able. I am loyal. I am a leader. I am happy. I am beautiful. I am love. Positive thoughts popcorned in my class, making it feel more like a Friday night carnival than a Senioritis-stricken classroom. Though I know this is nothing that will be tested on the AP Lit exam, I am confident and intentional that these positive centering thoughts can help them with all the other non-academic tests life throws their way. All their lives, they have been fed the message that they are not good enough: They are poor. They are minorities. They are undocumented. They are from the hood. They are insignificant. They are underestimated. They are unsatisfactory. They are violent.

But I believe, through this mantra activity, that I can give them a glimpse into the power of language. That the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we believe, are the stories that will come true. And so by stepping on the meditative dance floor with their breath, with their heartbeat, with their affirming mantras, they are creating a future that is full of self-confidence, positive energy, courage, and hope. They are rewriting their stories.

After they left class, I slowly strung and untangled and tangled and knotted their mantras into a prayer flag that now hangs along our windows. As the sun catches them in the morning, I feel honored to be a part of this new story they are writing.

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