This past Fall, Susan Cunningham and I began offering Urban Zen Integrative Therapy™ (UZIT) one day a week to the teachers, staff and administrators at Wickliffe Progressive Elementary School in Central Ohio. The commitment in this school to progressive education and caring for the whole child is taking root in a new way. The administration’s support of UZIT says loud and clear to all of the staff of the school—you can’t take care of the children you serve unless you also take the time to care for yourself.
Through a generous grant from local donors, and as a community, we are setting down new self-care patterns at work. We are creating a place, within the workplace, for teachers and staff to pause and take 10-20 minutes out of their task-filled days of service to children to tend to their own well-being, which has shown remarkable results.
This week as I walked down the hall with one staff member to our small room next to the often-lively library, she reflected; "I associate work with stress and anxiety, and it is wonderful to have a place at work to come to that is relaxing and neither stressful or anxiety producing. Thank you for being here, it’s making a huge difference.” This client noted pre-session stress and anxiety levels of 7 on a scale of 10, and left after our 15-minute session with self-assessment numbers of 2 and 3. Changes like this in our nervous systems are central to the possibility of changing our work environments, transforming this critical workplace, which serves our children, to one that cares about all people involved, as well as the purpose of their work.
It takes time to undo our cultural training to overextend ourselves in our work and home life. It’s a challenge because our North American culture tends to value being busy all the time and carries busy-ness like a badge of honor. Therefore, we need to make it a conscious part of our daily life to pause, set down the to-do list and the phone, breathe, listen and be quiet.
The messages in our heads are often very loud, “I need to be in crisis to ask for help,” “I have to work harder in order to be valued or worthwhile,” or, as one teacher mentioned before our session, “Well, I guess I’m really doing OK, maybe I don’t need to take the time….” It’s radical to make self-care the norm so that we know when we are out of balance in the moment.
How would it be to have 28 pairs of children’s eyes staring at you and know that you have tools and the space to breathe. That you can come back to the moment, notice your breath and your body, and share your gifts with our youth from a place of wholeness. It only takes a few minutes to shift from overwhelmed and anxious to ready and able to meet the rest of your day.
Life doesn’t wait for us to be ready, it’s happening each and every moment. Building skills of self-care and self-awareness is how we re-tool ourselves to be the best we can be in our lives. As a friend recently told me, “Fold up your super-hero cape neatly in the bottom drawer of your dresser – it’s not needed anymore”.
Janine Harris Degitz lives in Clintonville with her family. For the past 25 years she has deepened her passion for living in harmony with the earth and community through supporting local farmers, fermenting food, teaching and sharing natural and sustainable beekeeping, Urban Zen Integrative Therapy and compassionate communication. All things that bring her back into connection with her own being, the earth, the food that nurtures us and the love, compassion and interconnectedness of life itself.
Janine became a certified Urban Zen Integrative Therapists in April, 2014 and became a staff mentor/ teacher for the Yoga on High Urban Zen training classes beginning in 2015. Urban Zen Integrative Therapy (UZIT) uses multiple modalities to address the symptoms and stress of everyday life. The modalities include gentle movements, restorative yoga positions, body awareness meditation, breath awareness practices, aromatherapy and Reiki.