High-school science teacher and yoga instructor, Alex Hofeldt is a high-energy individual. Open and honest, Alex shares the story of his own tribulations through school before becoming a teacher himself, what drives him to continue learning and teaching science, and how mindfulness practices can be worked into the classroom.
About Alex Hofeldt:
Alex is a high school science teacher, certified yoga instructor, and a coach.
Eric met Alex during an ADHD presentation Eric gave at Alex’s school.
This past summer, Alex was diagnosed with ADHD – a revelation that didn’t seem to surprise his co-workers when they heard the news.
Considering himself a very high-energy person, Alex mentions how he has trouble sitting still, both literally and figuratively. With CrossFit, within a year he became a coach. With yoga, he also became an instructor and continues to maintain a drive for more knowledge.
Forgetfulness and Spinach:
While teaching about photosynthesis, Alex was given the responsibility of managing the spinach to use in his lab lesson.
The morning of the lesson, Alex had the thought of placing the spinach in his car right away in order to reduce the chances of forgetting it. Instead, he decided to place it right in front of his front door and continued on with his morning routine.
Leaving to go to work, Alex trips over the spinach, thinking to himself “man, that’s dangerous,” before continuing on and forgetting to bring the spinach with him.
Alex told this story to emphasize how he had to deal with situations like it for his whole life.
Alex: People will become mad at you for being forgetful. You will be mad at yourself for being forgetful. “They give you these, I guess, strategies that work for people that aren’t forgetful.”
“You don’t forget it over and over – it’s just gone. It’s just not there.”
Acceptance and Imagination:
It can be challenging to understand other peoples’ challenges if they’re not happening to you or you’ve never encountered a person with a particular disorder before.
Alex himself remembers being somewhat skeptical of depression, but after living with college roommates who struggled with it, he changed his perspective.
People need to accept that if they cannot experience a disorder personally, that it still exists in other people, which is a challenge for some.
“You can’t always bang a square peg into a round hole every single day, so I’m just trying to show the people that there are various shapes of holes.”
The social part of our brain develops ideas regarding the potential thoughts and feelings others have – that’s called “the theory of mind.”
Using his color blindness as another example, Alex recalls how others seem very fascinated by it, but ultimately have a hard time understanding what exactly he is seeing and how it differs from them.
Normalcy and Openness:
Alex notes how different he feels when on medication.
Relative to not taking the medication, Alex feels abnormal after he takes it. On the other hand, he wonders whether how he feels while on medication is the way most other people feel and, thus, “normal.”
Norms are created through perception of what people should do or how people should behave.
After he was diagnosed with ADHD, Alex posted about it on Facebook, much to his parents’ concern.
Being more open with others and willing to ask questions, especially in group settings, could help a lot of people resolve their concerns, Alex thinks.
Schooling and Testing:
In fourth grade, Alex remembers taking some form of placement test, thinking little of it at the time, and ending up in an especially easy math class. He remembers being excited at how well he was doing and telling his parents about it, only to find out later that he had been placed in a remedial class.
His parents had him moved back to an advanced class as quickly as they could, but Alex never fully recovered in terms of curriculum and keeping up with classes. Even into college, he was forced to take placement math tests, spending tens of thousands of dollars.
Eric reminisces about his struggles in high school math and chemistry classes. One time, he remembers drawing out a pattern using the bubbles on a multiple-choice test.
Alex isn’t a big fan of finals – very few children’s grades improve after taking their finals and many seem to be padding their grades throughout the semester in anticipation for the hit they may take after the finals.
Science, usually the hardest part of the ACT exams, is at the end of a four-hour test.
Filling out the answer keys to electronic tests is one area where Alex struggles – it’s challenging for him to maintain attention and making mistakes means he’ll have to hand-grade all the tests afterward.
Eric points out how the cognitive process of copying information from one source to another involves a bunch of quick, attention-shifting working-memory tasks. Each instance is a challenge for someone with ADHD.
Alex and Eric both remember how learning the applications of many of the topics they were taught in school is what motivated them the most in those subjects.
Statistic were particularly rough for Eric, but he loved studying research methods, which was essentially applying statistics to research results. Alex thinks similarly of biology; many people dislike biology because of the memorization, but Alex became interested in it initially after learning its application in his own body and environment as a child.
Eric wonders about allowing more children to re-take exams until they learn the subject, as opposed to failing them. Alex says that while they do permit re-takes, many times students will perform the same or worse on them – rarely will they study more for the re-take.
Forethought is also often hard to express to children; some will struggle with the idea that their actions now will permeate into results that will determine what they will end up doing the following year.
Mindfulness, Meditation, and Motivation:
Having witnessed a trend toward mindfulness across the media landscape, Alex looked into it further and began to bring some basic exercises into the classroom.
A basic “box breathing” exercise involves sitting up straight, breathing in for a count of five seconds, holding the breath for a count of five seconds, breathing out for a count of five seconds, holding for five sections, then repeating that sequence for three to five cycles.
Maintaining a consistent mindful breathing or meditation practice can be challenging for one with ADHD. Eric points out it’s sometimes easier to reset and start at the most basic three-minute exercise; Alex says to initially not bother timing oneself – start breathing and you’ll gradually be acquainted with it.
Alex distinguishes between mindfulness and meditation, with mindfulness being thinking about your thoughts and true meditation having the goal of thinking about nothing at all, the latter of which he finds very difficult.
Tara Brach calls mindfulness “our relationship with reality.”
Alex mentions using the mobile application Headspace and its founder Andy Puddicombe as being helpful for maintaining meditation practice. Eric recommends Andy’s book Get Some Headspace, about mindfulness techniques.
Each time Eric falls out of pace with his exercise regimen, he thinks of re-reading the book Spark by John Ratey, which has always motivated him.
Thinking to his yoga classes and sometimes his meditation, Alex points out how a change in perspective can help people see a greater and more motivating picture of their situation.
Alex will sometimes focus on the amount of time he has left in a yoga class and fixate on rushing to the end of that class, when he could instead be reminding himself “I’ve laid out this hour and fifteen minutes. Why not enjoy [it]?” Mindfulness can be thought of in the same way: instead of focusing on finishing a ten-minute mindfulness practice, think of the fact that you have these ten minutes set aside and how powerful and beneficial that can be.
In Alex’s experience, there’s never been a time where the students misbehaved or fooled around substantially during his mindful practices.
A larger-scale structured study found that within an eight-week period, participants in mindful meditation practices saw changes in the structure of their brains.
One of Alex’s life dreams up to this point was to be a guest on a podcast. He also now has plans to start a podcast of his own.
In his podcast, Alex wants to take the information and enthusiasm he has during those times in his classes where he meanders off topic, where he expresses how the deeper he journeys into science the more excited he becomes for life in general, and release that to others.
Drawing from his knowledge of health, wellness, fitness, teaching, and more, Alex seeks to motivate his audience to be enthusiastic about their lives.
In his course on astronomy, Alex pulls quotes and perspective from the likes of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response when asked the question “What is the most astounding fact?”
When asked that question by Eric, Alex responds, “It’s all connected. [During a college class] something clicked and something was said to me and just like a wave I was just slapped in the face. Everything that I’ve learned in school – all of it – is connected. Top to bottom, side to side, biology, physics, and chemistry come together for this.”
With a podcast, Alex can reach a wide and diverse audience, become a part of the conversation on the topics he discusses, and hopefully connect the content with those looking to learn more.
As a science teacher, Alex wonders, now that we have access to more information than at any prior time in history, how does one make sure that others can parse through it to find reliable, factual information.
Just asking search engines questions could result in finding wrong answers by anyone with an opinion.
“I’m just a walking, talking Wikipedia. Anything that comes out of my face could be looked up on Wikipedia. All of it.” How to utilize that and creating a drive for wonder and asking questions is what’s important.
Try to participate in mindfulness practices, try Headspace if you want. There’s no need to fear it – one can always walk through a guided meditation or mindfulness practice if they need help. You will improve in time. Set an achievable goal and build from there, which can be five deep breaths per day.
Products, Services, and Other Links:
The Northern Illinois chapter of CHADD, which Eric supervises
Tara Brach‘s website
Headspace, a mindfulness and meditation program and application
Andy Puddicombe on Twitter: @andypuddicombe
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan
“Disproportional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amydgala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults” by Adrienne A. Taren, J. David Creswell, Peter J. Gianaros
Find and Contact Alex Hofeldt:
If you are interested in reserving a spot in the next ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability Group group, visit coachingrewired.com.
Visit erictivers.com/audible for Carolyn D’Argenio’s list of her top Audible.com audio-book picks, complete with preview links.
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