I’m in the middle of teaching an intimate mindfulness class to several girls all between the ages of seven and nine. So far, it has been nothing less than magnificent, and that is always, always the case whether I’m teaching to a small group or a larger classroom.
Why, you ask? Because mindfulness is powerfulness.
(First, quick definition: mindfulness is the practice of learning to pay attention and is steeped in brain science and neurology. It helps children increase their attention span, connection to others, empathy, academic and athletic performance, to name just a few.)
1. With mindfulness exercises, all kids triumph and their abilities only improve with practice. There is no right or wrong (what a concept!). Everything is about observation and feeling. What you see/how you see it is personal, unique, creative and always interesting (for the student and the teacher).
2. Mindfulness isn’t about grades or being perfect. Everyone’s answer has equal merit and differences are cherished. Do you see the freedom there? This allows for expanded thought and exploration. In a typical school setting, in many subjects, there is only one way. Via mindfulness, there are millions, trillions of ways. AND, your answer this week can be totally different the next week. Therefore, it creates an environment that is never dull or boring; it allows for constant evolution and growth.
3. Mindfulness offers something for everyone –-mindful seeing, walking, breathing, hearing, eating, writing, studying, etc. You might have one kid who eloquently describes a feeling and then in the next exercise you see that soft-spoken child performing mindful breathing like nobody’s business. It also works with all learning styles (visual, auditory, kinetic) and with all learning “disabilities” and challenges. And, get this, kids can and will expand this awareness into everything they do including sports (football, softball, gymnastics, swimming), the arts (piano, drawing, acting) and into their social world (friendships, social events).
4. Youngsters and teenagers brilliantly find comfort and connection in being quiet and listening inwardly. My adult students struggle while my younger participants more naturally get the mindful process. Surprised? And, that’s the reason — IT IS natural.
And, consider this, in Western society we are taught to deal with anxiety and stress by being strong, suppressing our emotions or masking our feelings. Mindfulness teaches us a dramatic new scenario –- to open to who we are and what’s going on inside in a clear, healthy way. Learning this as a young person creates an adulthood
of stability and peace — a peace that many of us can’t even imagine. It’s beautiful to contemplate!
Ok, so try this at home. Here are two mindfulness exercises that you and your kids can do together.
1. At bedtime teach your child about their breath. As they are stretched out in their bed, place your hand gently on their stomach and ask them to make it rise and fall. Explain to them that this process supplies their heart, mind and body with oxygen which is vital for their health and nourishment. Breathing also helps get rid of waste and toxins. Talk about what their body feels like when they breathe. Also, ask them to hold their breath and then discuss. What this does: This exercise connects your child to the power and significance of the breath. Most of the time we don’t think about, consider, look at or are aware of this necessary event which happens 15-20 times every, single minute. Learning to work with the breath is also key in managing stress. You are giving them, as well as yourself, body awareness.
2. Before your child’s next sporting event or music lesson, ask them to notice three-five new things. Afterwards, discuss. These items can expand into any area: body awareness (noticing fingers on guitar strings), thoughts (noticing how heavy they breathe when running), other teammates (being aware of feelings of sadness when someone got hurt), coaches/instructors (noticing the color are their eyes/hair). What this does: We mindlessly do activities. And, even if we love something we can get into a “zone.” What is it like when we pay acute attention? We discover that so much more exists. Really listen to what your child tells you, as some of the things they pick up can be quiet amazing. Then, as you listen, be mindful of how well you are tuning into them instead of hearing your own thoughts.