I’ve instituted a new one-minute check-in practice in my courses this semester, following reflection on recent changes and the classroom experience. It starts by everyone taking a few deep breaths—something we late moderns have heard too many times. Breathing now provokes both over-the-top marketing and snide spoofs. How can I possibly feel this is of value to them?
The answer, to me, lies in our near-ubiquitous condition of anxiety. We worry, generally without even consciously realizing it, about basically everything these days. Here is where blame is usually placed on the condition of the world—think Trump’s tweets, North Korean missiles, the flu season this year. But I’m nowhere near as gloomy as my students: this world has always been one of profound beauty and awfulness, never one without the other. Yes, we probably hear too much bad news these days given social media, which may lead us to try and tune it out—but that would be deeply misguided.
Anxiety is indeed one understandable reaction to the condition of our times, a condition Zymunt Bauman aptly described as liquid modernity given its lack of certainty. But liquid modernity is full of possibility (at least for people such as my liberal arts students). Why, then, such chronic anxiety? Some of them do indeed live with memories of childhood trauma, another chronic condition of our times as recounted on NPR this morning. But many of them, like me, simply struggle with too many choices. What a gift!
So, when students show up to my classes, I can imagine that there is lots on their minds—they are people like me, after all. So we start by breathing, then noticing what’s around us, then forming some sort of goal, question, or intent for the class. That’s all. And so far they have willingly obliged (thank you, students!)
PS: Here is one resource I’ve only recently learned about in spite of years of breathing practice: it’s called box breathing, and if you are looking for guidance on breathing it’s a nice clear technique. Just do four counts as you breathe in (good proper abdominal breathing of course), hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, then hold again for four counts and repeat. Now, I suspect you don’t need a digital reminder—but if you do, yep, there’s a (moneymaking) app for that.