Five yoga therapy tools educators can use to combat burnout and improve well-being
By Kimberly A. Searl
Yoga therapy tools that facilitate mindfulness, grounding, compassion, and stress regulation can give teachers and students the gift of full presence in the classroom. As teachers build resources to manage the demands of their profession, yoga therapy tools can improve self-regulation and help reduce burnout.
Teachers may face occupational stress through high workloads and the pressures of standardized testing, not to mention the additional challenges of a global pandemic. This stress, in turn, can adversely affect health and well-being, as well as the classroom environment. In one study, researchers found that occupational stress was linked to students’ physiological stress: Higher levels of teacher burnout predicted higher morning cortisol in elementary school students. Furthermore, contemplative interventions like mindfulness training can increase self-compassion and reduce teacher burnout.
Experts don’t share a single definition for burnout, but its qualities can include exhaustion, listlessness, and general inability to cope with the demands of daily life and work. Research shows that some causes of teacher burnout include personal factors like perceived self-efficacy and work related attitudes—as well as situational factors like number of students in the classroom and general working environment.
Calm mind and body to feel better
Your brain and body work better together when you’re calm and relaxed than when you are stressed and worried. Here are five yoga therapy tools to combat burnout and improve well-being:
1. Reciting mantras can help us stay in the present moment. A major obstacle in being present is the attachment to thoughts, which often project us into the future or past. A mantra is a statement or slogan repeated frequently; it can help us detach from our thoughts, decreasing tension by continually returning to the present moment. Perhaps start with these: I am right here, right now. I can handle hard things.
2. Mindful breathing helps you turn your awareness inward without judgment. Observing the natural breath facilitates a shift from reactivity to receptivity. Place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly for 10–30 seconds. Check in with your natural breath, allowing it to anchor you in awareness. Notice: How do you feel?
3. Grounding through the breath can elevate mood and reduce emotional stress. Take 60 seconds to trace a butterfly on your chest: Place your hand on your breastbone, noticing how it rises and falls with your breath. Then trace a line to your right shoulder, right hip, and belly button. Then trace your left hip, left shoulder, and return to the sternum. Breathe into the space you just traced on your body.
4. Compassionate communication improves relationships in daily life. Intentional speech rejects mindless chatter, gossip, slander, assumptions, and lies. It requires you to be honest with yourself. Speech is persuasive—what you say impacts the environment in which you work. To develop more compassionate communication, try making an observation rather than a judgment, name your feelings before creating an opinion, express your needs, and make requests rather than demands.
5. Self-study involves learning from yourself and can be cultivated through adopting personal mindfulness and yoga practices. These practices can support you in developing self-awareness in all activities and efforts—even welcoming and accepting your limitations. Self-study teaches you to be centered, to be responsive rather than reactive, and to notice and reduce unwanted or self-destructive tendencies.
These yoga therapy tools can support educators in reducing stress and improving overall well-being for themselves and their students. Here are three perspectives (shared with permission) from the dedicated public school teachers and administrators I work with every month:
“Learning about compassionate communication, empathy, and looking at a variety of perspectives has been invaluable in my work with students, parents, and staff. I feel more in control of handling stressful situations, can ‘let go’ of negativity and not hold onto it for multiple days.” —Jenny Francisco, restorative practices coordinator
“I have found that incorporating the techniques of deep breathing, grounding, and awareness has made it easier for me to handle those chaotic moments in the classroom.” —Kara Clark, eighth grade Language Arts teacher
“I have implemented mindfulness breathing exercises with my students before tests as well as during other stressful situations. The students have gotten used to this and request it on test days now.” —Jenna Andrews, fifth grade math teacher
Kimberly Searl, MS, C-IAYT, works with clients on the autism spectrum as well as those with chronic pain and trauma. She also offers school-based mindfulness training. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, and the TEDx stage.