One day, Jill Guerra’s husband noticed, “You are a completely different person since you’ve been doing this.”
Jill is a mindful teacher and author. She works with students at the Community United Elementary School, an urban, low-income, bilingual school in Oakland.
We spoke to Jill to discuss her path in becoming a mindful teacher – how she learned to trust herself and how she experiences “aha” moments with her students everyday.
Name: Jill Guerra
Cohort: Mindful Teacher Class of 2016
City: Oakland, CA
My work with kids: Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher
Connect with me: Facebook, Twitter @luvcurriculum
Who was the first person who believed in you?
My biggest supporter is my husband, Chris. He supports anything I want to do to grow and develop my skills and knowledge.
There was a time when I would say negative things about myself and one day he said to me, “When you say ______, it’s like you are being abusive to yourself. Don’t do that.” That really shocked me – I hadn’t seen it that way, but it was true. The negative self-talk was affecting my self-concept. Other than that comment, Chris has never tried to convince me of what to do or say or think. He gives me space without judgment or impatience, he just supports me in being me.
When I first took the Mindfulness Fundamentals class with Mindful Schools, I started practicing mindfulness twenty-minutes a day. Chris said, “You are a completely different person since you’ve been doing this.” And at some point, I realized it was true.
Where did you grow up?
I feel very lucky to have grown up in the Bay Area of California. My immigrant parents from Guatemala and Mexico raised their two U.S. born kids (my brother and me) in Diamond Heights, San Francisco.
Growing up, the families on our block were Thai, Jewish, African American, Puerto Rican, mixed race, Nation of Islam, and Filipino. I went to a public school where we had posters of Angela Davis and Cecil Williams on the wall and we learned songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “This Land Is My Land.”
This all shaped who I am today – to the point that if I am not in a diverse group, it doesn’t feel right to me. I feel really grateful that I was taught acceptance, social justice, and to accept the beauty of diversity and different cultures from an early age.
Can you share an amazing classroom moment?
I have some very challenging classes where the kids bicker with each other constantly. Many have a very hard time controlling their bodies.
We start the class on mats with Mindful Movement – slow arm movements coordinated with the breath. Many of the kids resist. They will literally be flipping over, rolling around, talking, and whining on their mats. We keep going.
Eventually the strugglers flow into the movement or join in the breathing. At the first sign of this, I give them a subtle nod or smile. I don’t want to call too much attention to them for fear they’ll stop. But pretty soon we’re doing yoga and so are they.
At the end of 20-30 minutes of focused movement, when each student is laying down in relaxation and I guide them through mindful breathing, those kids often fall asleep. Snoring. These babies are exhausted from being elevated all the time. They are constantly in a state of responding to their dysregulated nervous systems. This shows me that this work is important.
I have to keep bringing this practice to our kids because they need it.
How do you define a successful day?
I feel I’m successful when I connect with individual kids. When there is an “aha” moment (in mindfulness they aren’t loud aha’s, but gentle and insightful), kids realize something about themselves as learners, or students, or humans.
If I can get a kindergartener who was, just five-minutes ago, flipping out in her classroom – kicking and screaming and having a complete meltdown – to take some breaths, to name three things she is grateful for, and to notice the sun shining on her face or to feel a breeze, that is a success for me.
What’s been your greatest challenge on your path?
The biggest challenge on this path has been getting out of my own way. I used to let fear and anxiety take over. Now those feelings don’t take over anymore – now I can sense the feeling of going backwards.
Before mindfulness, I wouldn’t even be aware that it was happening. But now, I notice early on and I just sit with it. I breathe and I let the feelings come and they mostly just run their short course. Inevitably, I feel deep gratitude for trusting myself, being okay with having those feelings, with the practice, and for this life.
What’s been your greatest reward in the choices you’ve made to be a mindful teacher?
The greatest rewards on this path – to be present for my own life and to trust.
From this practice, I am continuously growing and learning – this is what life is about. Knowing that this is what life is about has been a revelation and a release. Knowing that wherever it is that I am right now, is what it is supposed to be has given me such a huge sense of freedom.
It isn’t that I just lay back and watch what happens, but I know that whatever does happen, it is part of my path. I feel grateful everyday and have been able to find meaning and compassion and release in challenging moments. I have become less reactive and judgmental and there are so many moments of joy and deep connection in my day.
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
I’m a little bit of both. I just can’t do them both on in the same 24 hours. Hehe. I need at least seven hours of solid sleep.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
I give thanks first thing, then I sit for as long as possible, sometimes that is only 5-15 minutes on a weekday, weekends 30 minutes. I try to do some movement and stretching then get ready for the day. I make my tea to take to school (alternative milk with honey, turmeric, and cinnamon). And on the way to school I listen to one of four songs at least once, if not on repeat. Want to know which ones? “Harvest for the World” by Isley Brothers, “You and I” by Rick James, “Esta Liquidado” by El Gran Combo, or “Hooked on You” by Sweet Sensation. And I sing loud and dance in the car. On weekends, I try to take it slow.
How about a pre-bed ritual?
Most nights, I get ready for bed and then I put an essential oil blend (sandalwood, patchouli, lavender, ylang ylang, fco), on the bottom of my feet and then my socks. I sit for as long as I can 5-20 minutes and then lay down. If I still feel awake enough, I’ll read a few pages of a book I’m working on, but often I get sleepy fast.
Thank you Jill for sharing your story!
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