exercise science lesson plan

 

 

The Kinesiology class is also known as Grade 12 Exercise Science and my visit there was in the midst of their unit on the impact of stress and anxiety on athletic performance.

I began by dividing the students into two groups. Each group elected one member to participate in a small performance task on behalf of the group.

The task was to race against the other team’s elected student to the other end of the gym, step over a bench, grab a ball, step back over the bench and race back to the starting line. It was a simple task.

The students were ramped up by the ease of the task and ready to ace the race when I interrupted their early celebration with an additional last-minute requirement.

Each team was given five pieces of paper each having a “thought” written on it that might come into any mind in preparation for any performance. Before the race was allowed to begin, a team member had to read out each thought and the whole team had to determine whether or not it was a heavy thought or a light thought.

If the thought was heavy, their racer had to carry or put on a piece of equipment to represent the weight of the thought. The equipment included goalie pads, a medicine ball, glasses that obscured vision and a chest pad that restricted movement.

 

The heavy thoughts were:

Absolutely everything is on the line here!

 Messing up right now, especially in front of all these people, will be the worst thing
  that will ever happen to me!

I won’t be the least bit surprised if I fail at this. Things like this always happen to me!

I just need to be so much better than anyone else here or I will look like a total loser!

Nothing ever changes. I always mess up eventually!

 

One team intentionally got all the heavy thoughts and the other, the light.  This meant that one racer was eventually decked out in all the weighty equipment while the other had encouraging notes randomly taped to his body. It was clear by the facial reactions to the notes being read out that these were all-too recognizable thought patterns in this age group.

 

The light thoughts were:

What a great chance to play and participate! How cool is it that I can grow my skill set      and also learn from failure?

 How can I mess up too badly if the result I want is to make a real difference in the world by participating whole-heartedly in whatever I do?

 I’m incredibly grateful for some of the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Comparing myself to others is a losing proposition. As soon as I compare myself to someone else, I eliminate the joy of whatever I’m doing.

When I take the idea of “messing up” out of the equation, the only way to fail is to continue to choose to focus on how others see me instead of being true to myself.
Oddly, there was less recognition and even some eye-rolling when the light notes were read out.  Patterns run deep.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how this experiment turned out. The racer who was weighted down and had movements restricted struggled to perform even a simple task while the racer easily completed the task with his notes blowing lightly in the breeze he created as he ran.

 

The demonstration led into a discussion about how our thoughts impact our ability to perform even if that performance is not an athletic task.

It came down to:

1. Your body does not know that your mind is having distorted thoughts.
2. So your body assumes your mind is right on the mark and reacts with anxiety.
3. Distorted thoughts need to be noticed then addressed.
4. This is a skill.
5. A skill that needs to be developed with practice.

 

Athletes practice for performances all the time. They have body conditioning programs, run drills and work hard to develop important key skills related to their sport through repeated repetition.

But are the physical practices enough because when we are made up of more than just the physical? What about mind training? What about developing that mastery over thoughts that wreak havoc on self-confidence and undermine the developed physical skills during performance. Mind training is crucial for challenging distorted thinking patterns and can be helpful for any type of performance.

I then instructed the students to remove their shoes and socks and led them through a walking meditation in the gym. To introduce the idea of practicing meditation to notice their mind’s compulsion to run off on some distorted tangent was the goal of the exercise.  And even if this was only a seed planted for most of the students, it was an incredible thing to see a whole class of senior students walking silently, paying attention to their feet touching the ground and beginning the process of recognizing distorted thoughts, one step at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

prepared for what?

 

In my role as a guide for students to help them navigate their academic, social and post-secondary potentialities, I am deeply saddened by the news of yet another first-year university student who sought a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

The brief version of this recent news story reported that the deceased young man’s father believed his son to be fully equipped and prepared for the rigors of university.  As parents and educators, that is our fiercest hope for all our children who pack up their books, bags and emotional baggage for the sake of life experience and a higher education.

But how are we preparing them?  With a strong academic education in high school?  For what are we preparing them?  To keep deadlines, write essays all while trying to get enough sleep?  And how are the post-secondary institutions looking out for these students who are entering the ‘real world’ even younger than ever before?

In my experience, the level of the mighty progressive push to move quickly ahead to the next step of life is on a steady increase and, along with it, the increase of debilitating anxiety among high-achieving students or the perfectly-acceptable-average-achieving students with high-achieving parents.  But no matter where the push comes from, the instinctive spirit of the student always pushes back.

Students may self-medicate with distraction or hyper-over-achievement, put themselves to sleep to their feelings of overwhelm with addictive behaviours, self-sabotage to prove their perceived unworthiness or lack of preparedness  or they may simply choose to shut down.

A key condition for being “ready” to take any step forward is our capacity to be present in this moment.  Grounded in our breathing.  Noticing and accepting the way things are.

 
sadness

We can never be fully prepared

and equipped for every contingency.

But, if we can give our children any gifts

to support their natural evolution without

strangling their spirits, it could be the clear

and consistent modelling of the following:

 

Self-Awareness       Know who you are.  Seek clarity.

Self-Acceptance      Love who you are.  Show compassion.

Self-Advocacy         Ask for what you need.  Say “please help”.

 

Live these out and experience them as gifts to yourself, for your spirit.  Then as gifts to your children.  And ultimately, as gifts to the world.

 

3 steps to pacify the panic

As a young student, I quite enjoyed going to school. Despite my social awkwardness (and maybe because of it), I was able to achieve relative academic success especially in tasks that allowed me to work alone. I had never considered myself slow to process information but I do recall that the subject where my comprehension was the lowest and slowest was the one that coincidentally caused the most personal panic. Math! Ugh!

Math seemed much more like a foreign language to me than French ever did and, for some reason, Math had the added element of time pressure.

 

Pen en papier / Pen and paper

I can still recall sitting round-shouldered over my math facts sheet and gripping my pencil too firmly with sweaty fingers while a humourless teacher/ drill sargeant strutted through the room with stopwatch and counting down the time remaining. I’d quite literally freeze. Letting my head fall on my desk, I’d be numb, barely breathing until the litany of stories about why I was stuck began. “I’m stupid”. “I can’t learn Math”. “He is a terrible teacher.” And the downward cycle of fear and failure was in full gear leading nowhere fast.

This past week, I wasn’t working on math but in the process of breaking old patterns, learning new skills and some self-imposed due dates and deadlines, I was suddenly back in 7th grade at my desk writing a Math test. I did not enjoy being thirteen years old the first time so was not about to re-live that age of adolescent angst as a, for the most part, high-functioning adult. But ever-so-subtly, the disquieting panic began building until it developed into the full-fledged discomfort of a houseguest that would not leave!

After a few days in a deep-freeze of panic, I decided to warm my icy nerves with three steps to begin the thawing process and move me from overwhelmed to okay. Perhaps these steps will help others who are prone to panic when their time seems to be running out.

1. Observe Your Body

Observing takes a commitment to being still. Even with deadlines looming and the expectations of others in the balance, noticing where the panic is settling in your body will not be clear in the midst of fussing and fidgeting. While indulging in activities intended to numb or distract, your awareness to your body’s sensations is in slumber-mode. Sit comfortably and do a slow, simple body-scan. Begin at the top of your head and move downwards. Where are you tight? Where is there discomfort? For me it’s a deep buzzing sensation in my solar plexus. It’s a constant heavy hum that makes taking a deep calming breath challenging.

2. Breathe To Your Capacity

This breathing exercise works best when you are lying on your back stretched out. If you feel that you don’t have time for this exercise, check to see how much time has become unproductive or lost to the frozen-feet syndrome. Once on your back, you may feel a temporary increase in heart rate or a feeling of being exposed. This is common. Breathe as naturally as possible to give your body, mind and breath a chance to settle.

      • Place your hands on your lower abdomen with middle fingers on either side of your navel. Breathing slowly and evenly through your nose, fill your belly with air, allowing your lower abdomen to rise and separate your middle fingers from each other. Exhale slowly and evenly through your nose, allowing your belly to collapse and your middle fingers to come back closer together. Do this for three full breaths. Return to natural breathing.

 

      • Next, place your hands at the base of your rib cage with the webbing between your thumb and first finger on your side body. Thumbs will point toward your back and fingers will be on the front of your abdomen. Using the same method of nose breathing, inhale slowly and evenly until your ribs expand sideways allowing your side body to rise into the webbing between your thumbs and first fingers. Do this three times deeply then return to natural breathing.

 

      • Third, place pads of your fingers directly below your collarbone and find the tender spots between your collarbone and uppermost part of your rib cage. Using the same method of breathing, inhale slowly and evenly to fill your abdomen all the way up to your finger tips. Work to see if you can cause your fingertips to rise slightly with your breath. Repeat three times deeply then return to a regular breathing pattern.

 

If you feel comfortable with this process, the next step would be to do draw the breath to all three places in one breath starting with the lower abdomen, to the side body, then to the upper chest. But even simply doing the first step of three deep breaths in each area brings me immediately to a state of calm. And being calm is necessary for the next step to pacifying the panic.

3.  Prove-Proof Your Space

I once read a book by Anne Lamott who was giving advice to writers whose tendency to self-edit resulted in low productivity. She suggested putting the “voices” that make up your inner critic in a mason jar and screwing the lid on tightly until the task at hand is completed. Choose any voice that is asking you to prove your worth to them. These voices may be clearly attached to a person, past or present, or may be a collective voice of all those who caused you to question your value. If it helps, keep an actual jar in front of you as a token of your determination to quiet the panic that comes from constantly trying to prove yourself.

This week, after I noticed the jackhammer hum in my solar plexus, the telltale sign for me that panic wants to keep me stuck, I did the three-part breathing exercise then I jarred the voice of my inner critic. Since then, the fuzzy-headed feeling has dissipated, the spiral of negative thinking has ceased and the frozen feet have thawed.  And for the moment, I am unstuck.

Meditation

This has become my standard practice and you may find that one or more of the steps works for you. Or maybe you have your own methods. Do tell!

How do you pacify your panic?

 

overwhelmed to okay

Danette cries easily even when making minor errors like reversing her ‘b’s and ‘p’s while Printing.”

In my defense, I was only 5 years old when this was written.  And Kindergarten was hard!   Even having a magically-kind teacher, who was as close to being Glinda the Good Witch as any human being could get, couldn’t keep the too-muchness of my new learning and social schedule at bay.  Glinda was spot on.  Danette was definitely overwhelmed.

Kindergarten class 1957

I somehow managed to conquer the internal chaos long enough to successfully read and comprehend Fun With Dick & Jane, spelling basic words, counting to 100, master Finger-painting 101 as well as completing several more decades of formal education.

But not all of it was a smooth ride and, in fact, several ages and stages of my life required a treacherously steep climb to maintain any sense of balance and harmony.  Often the overwhelm won over and being out of control, feeling trapped and stuck were the results.

In my first year as a High School Guidance Counsellor, I attended a Professional Development Day where the Head of the Counselling Centre at a local world-class university gave the audience of educators alarming statistics on the increasing numbers of university students with debilitating anxiety.  This trend has consistently been confirmed in my decade of work with my adolescent students.

Now, midway through the lifespan of an average female earth walker, I’ve spent most of my waking hours exploring methods to cope with overwhelm. Some strategies have miraculously turned out to be quite skillful and useful while many have been filed under the heading “Are You Kidding?”

In this blog, I’ll share stories, observations and beneficial strategies for all those who need it occasionally and especially for those, like me, who are prone to being easily overcome by overwhelm on a regular basis.

You shall find serenity

Traveling from the land of Overcome to the plains of Okay is a journey that is entirely possible and extremely liberating.  I do it all the time.  Journey along with me and see what is waiting around the bend.