Saturday, December 29, 2018

Mindfulness for Kids

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." Aristotle
What is mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it best. "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation."

As parents, it is difficult to bring this type of awareness into the lives of our children if we do not have a firm grasp on what mindfulness means in our own lives. In my experience of becoming a parent and being with my children, it is they who have taught me about mindfulness. Simply stated, mindfulness is moment to moment awareness, staying present, being here now. Kids have an innate ability to be mindful, they also know how to move and breathe with their whole bodies. As adults and parents, we have a lot of 'undoing' to relearn this wise art.

Thank goodness the beautiful process of growing and learning never ends. I love finding new ways of handling stress and life difficulties with resources, coping tools and mindfulness techniques. I can't regret not having them as a child myself, but remain grateful I have them today. Emotional survival skills to self soothe can decrease tension, anger and frustration, and help to open up to experiences of peace, kindness, compassion and resilience.


Here are some ways we bring movement, breathing and meditation into our home.

Moving

Moving is natural and free, it feels good to move. I leave a yoga mat rolled out at home for stretching, and when I get on the mat, my children follow. They love assisting in yoga poses by gently pressing hips down in child pose, finding their balance in tree pose, timing their holding strength in plank pose and partnering up in double down dog for a fun connection. Head below the heart poses or hanging upside down can help calm our nervous system. Moving our bodies in a way that is needed to find release, relaxation and rest is important to the continued functioning of our bodies.

"Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement, what the world needs is more conscious movement, more action." B.K.S. Iyengar

Many friends and parents have asked me what kind of yoga I recommend for kids. The internet and social media are full of interesting options. I encourage real life experiences for the social interaction, attention, listening and observations qualities that bring about inquiry. Kids yoga classes create mindful participation unlike anything that can be shown on a screen. Purposeful movement, focused breathing and mindfulness meditation for kids is becoming increasingly popular in our school curriculums, before or after school programs and in many yoga spaces, gyms and fitness centers.

My kids started weekly yoga classes at ages 5 and 6, and we had wonderful resources (see list at bottom of post) to continue the learning at home. If the concepts of movement, breathing and meitation appeal to you, it is important to practice at home. Kids can have outside experiences of these topics, but if they also practice in their home with family and friends it intensifies the outcome and it becomes a healthy resource of self care.

Here are some programs my kids have been involved in:

GoNoodle is a fun movement and mindfulness program that incorporates moving, dancing, and rhythm with amusing songs. www.gonoodle.com

BOKS is a free Boston based movement program that empowers school communities to strengthen minds and bodies through movement. www.bokskids.org

I have a friend who brought the BOKS (Build Our Kids Success) program to her children's school last year. She registered for the training with her husband, and they both run the program before they go to work. The structure of the program allows for playing, socializing, running, focusing, and cooldown activities. This simple act of dedicating time for their kids, and the kids in their community to move and breathe brought them closer together as a couple and strengthened their marriage.

The 100 mile club is a national organization that encourages a healthy lifestyle with families and kids through physical activity. My kids have this program at their school. We are grateful for the time our teachers and parents volunteer, supporting the students to move and breathe. www.100mileclub.com
Any activity that increases strength and confidence, driven by an intrinsic desire to accomplish a personal goal is an amazing source of building resilience. It provides opportunity to believe in yourself, and when you believe in yourself, you can do anything in life.

Colorful yoga books or cards that show yoga poses and activities are great as kids are reading and embodying the movement. In the end, whatever keeps kids curious, imaginative, creative, moving, breathing and meditating benefits the mind and body while providing a feeling of wholeness and connectedness.

Moving in Nature

As a child I was lucky to have a large backyard connected to woods for extended exploration. I have vivid memories running over green grass in the light of the setting sun we called the 'blue hour', which held those last few moments of day. I remember running fast and jumping high over rocks and fallen tree limbs as if I could fly.

Getting out into nature connects and expands our awareness towards the environment we live in. Kids need to run, jump, spin, sway, climb, hang and be wild. Fill up their senses with the nature of being alive. As a family, we hike throughout the year. We enjoy the changing seasons here in New England. Making connections through seasonal transitions help us to remember that nothing stays the same. Change is a constant in life. Finding the constancies throughout the day is a wonderful start to setting a peaceful pace to the busiest of schedules. Taking time to stay present with each transition of the day allows for increased time and space to notice what is happening inside and outside our minds and bodies. Expanding that awareness to a more universal quality, we find comfort when the sun rises and the sun sets. We keep a close watch on the planets and constellations that are visible in the night sky, and the changing phases of the moon. We discuss the shapes that wax toward a full moon or wane toward a new moon, and how the Earth rotates on its axis, constantly moving and spinning.


"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness." John Muir

Breathing

Breathing happens consciously and unconsciously. We breathe all day while we go about our daily activities, and we breathe at night while we are asleep. Conscious breathing is a wonderful way to connect to the here and now. During busy mornings, we pause before we head out the door for 3 deep breathes. Breathing in and breathing out completely, emphasizing whole body engagement, closeness and a purposeful start to our day.

Deep breathing is a great neutralizer, it's a referee in a heated battle. Conflict happens in our home happen more often than I would like. Holding onto hate or anger turns into negative energy that seeps into our cells causing sickness and dis-ease. Minor squabbles need not be intervened upon, but the larger situations that involve physical harm and hurting with words need intervention. Insert 'The Three-Breath Hug' by Shonda Moralis. In her beautiful book, 'Breathe Mama Breathe: 5-minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms', she offers many simple ways to find moments of mindfulness and meaningful family connection throughout your day.

"When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or husband, or your friend, if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness will be multiplied at least tenfold." Thich Nhat Hanh

Meditating

"If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation." Dalai Lama

Guided meditations and audible yoga nidra sessions bring deep relaxation into the mind and body. Yoga nidra navigates our brain waves from the more active beta and alpha waves down to the slower, more restful theta waves. I'm a big fan of Jennifer Reis and her Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra practices. I have attended many workshops with her over the years. I truly enjoy the sound of her voice and the content of her guided meditations. Her Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra for children is a true gem, soothing for bedtime with beautiful background music and nature sounds. www.jenniferreisyoga.com

Recently, I was able to record a guided yoga nidra practice I wrote called, 'Space Meditation'.  It is appropriate for all ages, but geared toward young people as a way of connecting to ourselves, to each other and to the larger expanding Universe. www.insighttimer.com Click on meditations, then click on teachers, then type in my name. Writing and recording a meditation was exciting, balancing vocal tracks and music levels will come. It's all a learning process.

When we have time to sit, breathe and be together, I teach my kids ways to meditate. 

Using our thumb and the four fingers on our hand, we work our way through the practice with presence, (Sa) knowledge, (Ta) patience, (Na) strength, and (Ma) communication. The 'Sa Ta Na Ma' meditation is a symbol of the potential that exists within is. It is a moment to moment awareness of what is happening to us and in us with every breath, every sensation, and emotion, accepting it for what it is.

The thumb represents the practice of presence. We start with "thumbs up for showing up", and breathe together. We can practice sitting, lying down or just upon waking while still warm and cozy in bed.

The index finger is for 'Sa' knowledge. Jyana mudra is the wisdom gesture, and it is the most well known mudra to practice during seated meditation. Touch the thumb to the index finger, the other three fingers gently press together extending outward and down. This begins to connect mind to body, tapping into our inner knowing and instinctual ability to know or feel right from wrong. Trusting our inner knowing, insight or wisdom is empowering, it defines our individuality and uniqueness.

Press the thumb to the second finger. 'Ta' is for patience. Cultivating patience offers an opportunity to endure and persevere in times of challenge, strain or hardship. Recognizing the difference between minor irritations, annoyances or frustrations and larger ones can help us respond appropriately. We use the breath to anchor our feelings or sensations that rise, breathing and breathing out helps to redirect to the here and now.

Press the thumb to the fourth finger. 'Na' is for strength. Strength is more than just physical power, it is persistence, surendering, letting go without giving up. It's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get back up. Strength is resilience.

Press the thumb to the fifth finger. 'Ma' is for communication. We breathe in and out to find peace in our minds and peace in our hearts. Many of us find that our anger, frustration, and irritations in life come from miscommunications. Name calling, negative words and harsh tones to what we say to ourselves, and each other can produce feelings of conflict and injustice. Taking a deep breath in and out before we respond with words, can help give us space before reacting in a way we could regret. Breathing deeply supports our ability to find a calm space in our minds before we speak.

This meditation is a wonderful way to bring focus, concentration and connection into your life. Connecting with your kids in a way that helps you as well as them is a true gift. The 'Sa Ta Na Ma' meditation can be serious, but remember to keep the fun in the practice, that's what calls them back for more. Laughter is contagious and it releases wonderful endorphins throughout your body that heal.

Each hand opens one finger at a time, and we breathe one breath at a time. At the end of the meditation, we have engaged 5 deep whole body breaths and paused on a one word mantra to enhance the experience. If we have more time, we chat about how we feel and what we experienced in our meditation. For example, if we practice this meditation as a way to ground us upon returning home from work or school, we linger to talk about any situations that have challenged our ability to show up with presence, knowledge, patience, strength, or clear communication. Talking about experiences, good or bad helps to bring balance into our life, creating a sense of belonging and whole being awareness.

"From the act of observation in which attention is awakened, arises the art of teaching." Vanda Scaravelli

As a mother and a yoga teacher, it is important to me to offer what I can to those who are interested. I recognize that everyone is on a different path or journey of becoming. My goal is to provide movement, mindfulness and meditation to those who seek it with authenticity, affordability, and accessibility. If we show up for ourselves, we teach an important act of self care. Self care is a necessary human regulatory function of individual choice and care for body, mind and spirit.

Books and Resources

Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Mindful Child and Mindful Games Activity Cards by Susan Kaiser Greenland

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Shefali Tsabary

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn

The ABC's of Yoga for Kids: A Book for Coloring by Teresa Anne Power and Kathleen Rietz

Yoga for Kids by Susannah Hoffman

I am Peace by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems by Kate Coombs & Anna Emilia Laitinen

Yoga Pretzels: 50 Fun Yoga Activities for Kids & Grownups by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish

Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More by Mallika Chopra

Breathe by Ines Castel-Branco

Joy Yoga: A Yoga Studio for Kids and their Grown-ups www.joyhealthylife.com

Sharon Marrama: Here Comes the Sun Yoga for Kids www.herecomesthesunyoga.com

Kundalini Yoga for Families www.luminainfinite.com

1 comment:

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