Guest Blog by Susan Bauer
Susan is a dance / somatics educator, the founder of Embodiment in Education, and an advisor and consultant to Millennium School. More information about her work can be found at www.susanbauer.com.
At Millennium, we’ve integrated several 15-minute breaks throughout the day that I call “energy breaks.” I use this term to help re-frame what it means to take a break. As you may notice in your own busy life, often in moments of down time we think, “what can I do?” rather than “what do I need?” During energy breaks, students take this unstructured time to pay attention to what they may need to feel energized and refreshed for the rest of the day. Developing the ability to perceive what we need at any given time in order to feel rejuvenated is an essential skill to develop in middle school, when self-care habits are formed that stay with us into adulthood.
What does it mean to rejuvenate…?
Sometimes it means having a snack if we are hungry, or getting exercise and fresh air if we’ve been sitting indoors. Sometimes it means being alone--to read, rest or meditate--such as if we feel over-stimulated from being really active and social. Sometimes we may need to do some writing or drawing to express something that is on our minds or hearts. Or on the other hand, if we have been working alone, we may want some time to just hang out and chat with friends.
Learning to notice our present state, and choose an activity that will be recuperative helps us to stay uplifted and vibrantly engaged in life. To do this, we need practice with unstructured time to learn to listen within. This also further develops the necessary skill of self-adaptation, as we are more adaptable when grounded in a strong sense of well-being.
Yet we are not necessarily accustomed to paying attention in this inner-directed way, as I saw recently when teaching at a local university. As the class lasted 2 1/2 hours, we often took a break mid-way through the session. During these times, I noticed that nearly all of the students were on their cell phones for much of the 20 minutes. I also noticed that they became increasingly tired and ‘spaced out’ during the second half of the class, regardless of the activities we engaged in.
One day at the break, I reminded them to consider how they were using their break time, related to the topic of balancing the nervous system that we were exploring that week. “Don’t check your cell phone, check yourself!” I advised. This must have hit home, as they burst into laughter at this thought…yet as the course progressed I saw that they began to use that time differently, and we all soon noticed that the quality of our time together in the second part of our class also markedly improved. As we learned, increased individual self-awareness contributes to the whole as well—as balanced, energized individuals lead to a more creative and productive learning environment for all.