Caring for the Body: a Healthy Habit for the New School Year

This update is the first of a series of blogs from the Office Team.

My name is Yvonne and I am currently co-coordinator of Wake Up Schools with Earleen.  I just completed a sabbatical year during which I was fortunate enough to spend many months helping out in the Wake Up Schools Office at Plum Village.  This fall and winter I will work for WkUpS long-distance and occasionally travel back to PV when possible. This week I return to the classroom, teaching art history to high school and university students in Italy.

As I write new syllabi and prepare my first lessons, I ask myself how I can preserve the freshness and peace that I’ve cultivated this past year. Since I love teaching, the school year often begins on a joyful note. Yet something starts to change by mid-fall and school starts draining me. What is it that chips away at my energy while teaching?

Numerous factors. Students give and take. Colleagues do too. Administration is dense. Aware that this is normal, my time with the Plum Village community has taught me concrete ways of tending to the ‘wear and tear’ my body accumulates. If I recognize accumulated tension, I can see its effect on me and transform it.

So as I prepare classroom content, I am also making a deliberate effort to come back to my body. This includes a walk with my daughter each evening, deep relaxation a few times a week and some exercise. I’ve decided to continue two kinds of exercise we do at Plum Village: Mindful Movements and Qi-Gong.

Mind-body work is nothing new or revolutionary.  Physiologically, it is clear that exercise can balance the body and help balance the mind.  Some traditions believe that exercise and meditation are most beneficial between 4 am and 7 am.  We’ve all heard about the benefits of morning exercises.  The real novelty for me comes in thinking about how to motivate myself to actually do the exercises three to four times a week.

That is why I turn to you, my beloved community.  It’s so common to return home after a retreat with noble aspirations and slowly watch old habits take hold.  Please join me in cultivating healthy exercise habits at home.

Check out these two videos. The first is a classic: Thay leading the ten mindful movements. When I need something more invigorating, I prefer Qi-Gong. We casually filmed this session at the Deep Ecology retreat (June 2015) just after morning sitting meditation.  The Plum Village monastics, interns and many “happy famers” joined this session led by Brother Thay Phap Dung with warm up exercises and four sets of four qigong exercises.   This routine lasts 36 minutes but you can personalize it by combining the warm up session with one or more of the four qigong sets.  Breathe, follow your movements, and enjoy!