A great way for families to manage stress.
The rural Kindergarten classroom was noisier than usual. The Early Learning Team decided it was time to ‘take a minute’. They offered familiar instructions: sit comfortably, hands to yourself, close your eyes…and breathe. The four-year olds were meditating.
The West is catching on to something Eastern philosophers have known for centuries: meditation is good for you. Research continues to demonstrate the myriad ways our minds and bodies function as one. Healthy breakfasts, outdoor breaks and quiet time are integrated to school schedules because they support student learning. We recognize the impact rest, exercise and good nutrition have on our child’s ability to concentrate.
When it comes to meditation, however, we imagine it is a difficult or even mysterious process done by an old sage sitting alone on a mountain top. We don’t necessarily think of it as a worthwhile endeavor for children. Yet it’s possible the benefits – enhanced immune function, soothed nervous system, etc., – far outweigh the challenges.
Why do it?
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in life’s drama: the power goes out just before you finish a project, or a family member gets very ill, and suddenly you feel helpless. Children, particularly those that learn differently, often have similar feelings – which typically turn into anxiety – about their academic success. Meanwhile, our modern lives are increasingly action-packed, creating even more stress. So why add something like meditation to an already overcrowded schedule?
Stress, anxiety, and even depression arise not from external situations but from our response to them. The practice of meditation is an extremely effective tool to help create a kind of mental resilience in the face of life’s challenges. It benefits the physical self – slowing respiration, reducing high blood pressure, increasing defense against infectious disease, and more. Plus, it calms the area of the brain that triggers fear and anger.
In other words, regular meditation makes us healthier and calmer.
Meditation is not designed to get rid of all our thoughts. Instead, we are training ourselves to become more aware of our thoughts and how we relate to them by practicing being detached and observant. As a beginner, imagine your mind is like an unruly puppy – it takes practice to become house-trained. Encourage yourself/your child to approach the process with gentleness and patience. Reduce expectations to zero; turn up the determination dial to full. There are many ways to meditate. Try this until you and your family find what suits each individual’s preferences:
Pick a time. Children may prefer bedtime to help them calm before sleep.
Pick a place. Each person needs space to practice undisturbed, together or alone.
Pick a position. Sitting is common; try walking, standing or lying.
Consider props. A candle flame, flower, etc. as a focal point. Try chanting a sound, such as ‘Om’. Choose a firm cushion or chair to sit on.
Start slowly. Try three minutes; work up to 20 or more.
Breathe. Breath is the central feature of any meditative practice. Focus on your breath. You may even choose to count them at first. (See box below.)
At the very least, meditating regularly will help the whole family manage stress, which in turn enhances overall physical, emotional and mental health. As the school year gets into gear, consider making this ancient practice a new part of your family’s daily routine.
Peaceful Piggy Meditation, by Kerry Lee Maclean
Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee Maclean
Starbright -Meditatons for Children, by Maureen Garth
Plantings Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children, by Thich Nhat Hanh