One of the most interesting reminders of how important it is to care for yourself is on an airplane before takeoff. Within moments of boarding, the safety instructions will review, should cabin pressure change, a mask will drop from above. If you are with a dependent, affix your own mask before assisting them.
As teachers (and as people alive in our world today), we experience constant pressure change. Sometimes the pressure comes from the demands of our studio parents, or from the needs of our students, or the people we love at home, and too often from stressful news in the media.
If we’re not careful we’ll overextend our energy reserves. The truth is, if you take care of yourself first, you’ll be better able to care for others, too. It’s like putting on your own mask first. It is an act of compassion to yourself and those who depend on you — including your students — to take good care of your own wellness: mental, physical and spiritual.
Here are six ideas, some big, some small, for us piano teachers to invest in ourselves. The best gift we can give others is our best selves.
1. Think positive words – Angel stones
A positive word is sometimes all it takes to refocus a day that seems impossible. Yes, we are piano teachers, but like our students, we are whole individuals living real life. Before we start teaching in the middle of a busy day, sometimes all we need is to feel centered, to be still and cling to a positive thought.
Years ago, I a had a friend who had an amazing bowl full of ‘angel stones’ — little rocks with words written on them — words for quiet meditation. Recently I was given a bag of small stones from Italy. They were rounded, smooth and polished, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. I googled positive words, scoured several online lists and websites and compiled my own list.
With a permanent marker I wrote the words on the stones, trying to match the spirit of each word with the size, shape and colour of each stone.
The idea is to choose one word early each day, and for it to become your ‘word of the day.’
It often amazes me when I’ve reached into the bowl and drawn a stone, how it’s the exact word I’ve needed to get through that day. As a piano teacher, I’ve taken a word like ‘humour’ and used it through a day’s worth of lessons to rise to the needs of my students. If something challenging comes up in a lesson, my mind clicks back to the word I’ve chosen, and the word picks me up. When I’m practicing hard for something, I’ve drawn ‘tenacity’ or ‘focus,’ and the word gives me the energy and fortitude I’ve needed to get through the work cheerfully. Or, when I’m finishing a composition project, I’ve picked ‘zone,’ which has allowed me the permission to cut away all other thoughts and go into my creative cave.
These words have the ability to focus you on positive thoughts throughout your day. I believe this kind of mental reframing is healthy.
The bowl itself is calming, with a collection of earth-tone stones. Even when I don’t have (or take) the time to pick a word, just its presence in my kitchen gives me a sense of calm and peace.
I’d like to encourage you to create your own bowl of stones. This summer you might be walking on a beach. At the high tide line there may be a gathering of stones smoothed by years of tumbling in the waves at the shoreline. Gather as many smooth and bright ones as you can and take them home.
My mother used to say that people are like stones. Those who don’t have enough interaction with others are like stones in a field, and remain jagged and sharp around the edges. They can struggle with empathy, with compassion and with collaboration. People who live in constant contact with others, through good times and bad, become like the stones tumbled in a stream or on the shore, smooth and beautiful. These people learn through varied experiences how to rise above difficulties and remain gracious.
Real life full of real people can leave you feeling like a rock tumbled at the shoreline. That isn’t always easy. Sometimes the tumbling process can be very painful. Let your bowl of stones be a reminder of the beauty of all interactions (even the difficult ones), and how they shape you as a person. The purpose of the words on these stones is to help you get through any day by offering a positive thought that just might make things better, that might help you handle any situation with grace. When you feel positive inside, any situation can feel surmountable.
Today’s FREE printable is a list of words to get you started.
This summer I collected stones at Inverness Beach in Cape Breton.
I then finished the warm afternoon at our cottage writing words on the new stones.
Once the new stones were integrated with my original collection, the colour palette of my bowl changed. Blues, greens and reds were added to the original creams, greys and taupes.
Alternative ideas are to write your words on seashells you’ve collected, or on beautiful pieces of paper and put them in a jar. However you do your project, enjoy the process. Take your time.
2. Read – A Book that Takes its Time
Recently my sister said she was reading an amazing book and then gave me a copy of my own. It’s called A Book that Takes its Time, An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness. With chapter titles like ‘Time to Breathe,’ and ‘Time to Reflect,’ and with projects of self-discovery like, ‘The joy of one thing at a time,’ this book is a wonderful reminder that we are all allowed to slow down and dwell in the simplicities of life.
Where does all of our hurrying truly get us? Why not take a few moments to sit still and reflect on what is truly important to you? This book guides you through a journey of your own thoughts, values and treasured experiences.
This falls under two categories of self-care: mental and spiritual wellness. A mindful and spiritually-centred teacher is a better teacher.
This summer I’ve taken time to dive into one of the book’s projects. Like preserving summer berries, it’s a project of preserving the summer’s beautiful moments.
The book comes with pages with perforated cards that can been removed. The idea is to write beautiful moments you want to remember, each on a separate card, and to collect them in a jar. Later in the year, perhaps in the winter, you can pull out a card and read it to remind yourself of the lovely memory. Each member of our family has each contributed several memory cards from our recent vacation.
3. Choose a Rainy Day Piece
Do you still play music for your own enjoyment? I’m convinced that every musician runs better on a well-tuned practice life, even teachers who may have less time to practice than they did in the past.
Rainy Day Pieces are the perfect diversion for the summer. When it’s raining and you can’t get out into your garden, why not have a piece open on your piano, inviting you to sit and play? Everyone needs a little rain to fill the well. Every musician needs a little music to recharge their batteries.
Green Shade is an expressive piece perfect for a summer’s day or as a reminder of summer for the rest of the year. It is in the Royal Conservatory syllabus as a Level 6 List C selection. For the blog post “4 Tips for expressive piano playing using ‘Green Shade'” click here, and to see the published piano collection in which it is printed, The Color Collection, click here.
Even if you teach through the summer, keep your Rainy Day Piece open on your piano. Let your students see that you have a playing project on the go. It will help them see that music can be a lifelong pursuit (and I mean playing). Someday when the moment is right, this piece may shine a little ray of sunshine into your world. Make it part of your self-care strategy to play a little for your own wellness.
4. Sleep better – have a calming hot drink before bed
Making sure you get enough sleep is an act of self-care. As someone who has struggled with sleep over the years, I’ve tried many strategies to get better sleep at night. One of my favourite evening rituals now is to drink a hot cup of Calm (ionic magnesium citrate powder) stirred into hot water or tea. It is available in your grocery store’s health food section, in several tasty flavours.
Magnesium is a mineral that is vital to cell and organ function. It prepares the body for sleep by helping to calm the nervous system and brain, and helps regulate the hormone melatonin, which governs the body’s sleep-wake cycle. (*Disclaimer: If you have health problems or are on medications for organ function, please seek the advice of your health care professional prior to consuming Calm.)
Drinking Calm is one step I’ve taken to reclaim my sleep. When I’m well rested I feel better all day and I’m a better teacher. If you experience problems sleeping, give it a try!
5. Choose the colour of your teaching space
Most of the suggestions in this post are relatively inexpensive. Rocks are free, markers cheap. Calm is affordable if you value better sleep and a book doesn’t cost a lot. Your Rainy Day Piece may even be in a piano book you already own. But by suggesting that you consider changing the colour of your studio, I’m taking it to another level of financial commitment.
Why would you want to spend money on a new colour? Here’s why: No one spends more time in your studio than you do. Your students come and go, but you are there for hours at a time. Perhaps you spend more extended periods of time in your studio than you do in any other single room.
The colour you choose for your teaching space can have a dramatic affect on your mood, which can have an impact on your mental and even physical wellness.
The most calming colour is green, as it is rejuvenating and restful on the eye. Green has been promoted as an excellent colour to use in learning spaces because it combines two colours, yellow that excites creativity and blue that encourages concentration.
If your studio is on the south-facing side of your house and receives a lot of direct and natural sunlight, consider warm hues of blue like periwinkle or turquoise. Lavender can be a very restful yet inspirational colour, as well. Soft yellow (the tint of butter) is inspiring and sunny, especially in a north-facing room that gets little direct sunlight.
There are some colours to avoid. Red walls can be invigorating but can also cause anger and raise blood pressure, and speed respiration and heart rate. Crimson is sophisticated but can incite rage. Yellow can be uplifting but mustard yellow causes frustration and marks an increased tendency for people to lose their temper. Blue can be calming, but depending on the hue, can be chilling or downright depressing.
If you take time off through the summer, it may be the perfect time for you to give your studio a refreshing new coat of paint. The bonus is that when income tax time rolls around, you’ll be able to claim the cost of redecorating. Save all of your receipts.
If you feel it is too bold a move to paint your walls, add a pop of accent colour to chairs or tables, or a picture on the wall.
How you decorate your teaching room is an extension of your artistic self and contributes directly to your personal wellness. To be at the top of your teaching game day in and day out, consider the colour of your room. I’d like to encourage you to create a teaching environment that sets you up to be your best. You are worth it.
6. Get active – ride a bicycle
Canadian singer Coco Love Alcorn sang about riding her bicycle, “I’m like Supergirl, I never touch the ground…” Biking is truly a fantastic experience. I’ve tried walking, I’ve tried intervallic running (running and walking at measured intervals), and I’ve tried swimming. Nothing beats cycling.
Biking is very easy on the body. It is low-impact. When I’m on my bike, I glide through time and space and it feels like I’m flying. I get to experience the world within a 20 kilometre radius of where I live at just the right speed. Driving in a car, things slip by too quickly. Walking is too slow. On my bike, I get to enjoy the surrounding landscape at the perfect tempo, allegretto. I enjoy it so much, I feel it rejuvenates my spirit as much as it gives me physical exercise.
Several summers ago, I developed the motto, “Because I can.” At a certain point in life you look ahead to the not-so-distant future when physical activity may become limited. With the saying because I can in my head, I started doing activities I’d normally shy away from because I reasoned, someday this may no longer be an option. Swim in a cold ocean? Yes. Because I still can.
Don’t wait for a better time. Borrow or buy a bike or pull your old one out of storage and get out there! Feel the breeze on your face and the sun on your back. If cycling is out of the question for you, find an activity you enjoy and do it as often as possible. Do it because you can. Do it for your overall wellbeing.
Remember, the most generous gift you can give everyone you know is your best self, and this comes from caring for your own needs first.
The FREE printable for this post is a page of words to get you started with making your own bowl of angel stones. Make your bowl natural, peaceful and beautiful. To go to printables, click here.
Can you think of any words I’ve missed? I love new words! Please leave a comment. And stay well!
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