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Mindful : June 2015
Tyson Nichols is a 37-year-old teacher who uses meditation to help students conquer the stresses of their high-tech, high-pressure environment. His secret? He’s struggled through some of the same challenges they face. He credits meditation with helping him conquer his demons, calm his mind—and become the teacher he is today. How has meditation changed the way you teach? Tyson Nichols: Students come to the classroom with an insane amount of chaotic energy. Meditating together for a few minutes defuses that chaos and focuses the energy. It makes a 51-minute class, with about 30 distracted teenag- ers, much more productive. I don’t have to redirect the students often, and when I do, it’s as simple as ringing my chime. What do you have the students do? I start by having them close their eyes, sit up straight, and notice their posture. I tell them to relax their face, neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, and so on. I ask them to just take note of an image, feeling, or thought and let everything else fall into the background. We spend a minute or two doing this quick, guided meditation and then class begins. Did the students push back? Actually, I was surprised they took to it so quickly, and even use it outside of class, in their homes or their athletic lives. I think what really helped was that they sensed how much I was into it. To introduce meditation into the classroom, it helps if you’ve seen the benefits in your own life. When did you first start meditating? I’m probably the last person you’d think would lea rn to pay attention to the moment—when I was a teenager I was diag nosed with ADD. I had trouble focusing. I was the kid who got out of my seat a lot. My mind constantly wandered and I daydreamed. And then I started self-medicating with alcohol. Basically I spent my twenties struggling with alco- hol abuse. I was a slave to my impulses and feel lucky to even be alive today. What caused the turnaround? AlotofitwaswhenImetthewoman who’s now my wife, Alyssa, and started to get more direction. But for several years I kept drinking, and then a f riend who was a lso struggling with alcohol told me he was meditating a nd suggested I read Dharma Punx, a book by Noah Levine about his journey growing up doing drugs before he hit bottom and found his way out through mindfulness. I started to meditate then and it helped. But I still had trouble being honest with myself. I was still drinking, so I wasn’t allowing myself enough space to really let the benefits of meditation happen. I even tried a couple of all-day retreats but my pain was so deep I’d start crying uncontrollably and just have to leave. Did you feel like something important was happening? Yes, but it wasn’t until 2009 when I reached an all-time low that things really started to change for me. What does bottom look like? I’d ended up in the hospital. I knew I needed help and finally entered a recov- ery program. I quit drinking. I started attending a regular meditation meeting and went on my first 10-day retreat—both gave me the discipline to transform my life. Then my daughter, Agnes, was born and during the first few months of her life, the duration of my daily meditation increased. I was getting up early so I could meditate in my classroom. This only lasted during that short newborn period, but to this day, I still get up early every morning to sit. Did meditation help you become a better teacher? Absolutely. During my ea rly years of teaching, I didn’t have a maturity level much higher than my students. I had a short fuse and didn’t understand how to be lovingly firm. And I was very reactive. I couldn’t defuse confrontations and would get super angry and swept up in the emotions of the moment. Because, let’s face it, teaching is a very stressful occupation. I’m sure no teacher would disagree. True, but meditation does allow me to check in every hour a nd see where I am. During that guided relaxation I can rela x too, and prepare myself for the next group of students. That two to three minutes at the beginning of class helps me to state my intention for the day, and not get as distracted. I’m able to connect emotionally with students a nd I’m a bet- ter listener. So when students come to me with a n academic or personal issue, I can really be of service to them. ● “That two to three minutes at the beginning of class helps me to state my intention and not get as distracted.” Teachable Moments By Teo Furtado Photograph by Joshua Simpson 28 mindful June 2015 meet the meditator