MINDFULNESS MEDITATIONS FOR KIDS: An excerpt from Yoga for Children

Mindfulness meditations for children

Mindfulness—the practice of cultivating awareness and acceptance, free of judgment—has always been inherent in the teaching and practice of yoga. In fact, you cannot truly practice yoga without practicing mindfulness. While yoga and meditation practices are usually the first to come to mind when thinking about mindfulness and the idea of being “aware” or “present,” there are, in fact, many ways of cultivating mindfulness. Practicing an instrument, reading a book, painting—these are all activities that promote mindfulness. Being present in the moment is important, but so is how we consider our past experiences and actions. Ultimately, mindfulness allows us to see things as they are, as they are happening, without an emotional response. Cultivating this ability allows us to be the best we can be in any given moment. Being mindful allows us to be more patient and compassionate towards others and releases us from the impulse to “react,” which leads us to better, more rational decisions. In addition, the practice of mindfulness raises our threshold for discomfort and stress, helps us regulate our own moods and makes us more empathetic people overall. Through the practice of yoga, you can develop and enhance these important skills in yourself and your child.

To practice mindfulness, an adult might find a place on his mat, close his eyes, focus on his breath, and bring his awareness to the present moment in a matter of seconds. Not surprisingly, a child can find it quite challenging to bring his mind and body to stillness in this way; in fact, it’s an unrealistic expectation.

The approach to teaching mindfulness to children, therefore, is unique. Activities that focus on using the five senses or movement are more developmentally appropriate ways of teaching children this practice. Moments of silence, structured relaxation times, visualization exercises, and activities that foster intentional movement are relevant and engaging for children. Once children have discovered that place of stillness within themselves and become more connected and present through mindful meditation exercises, they often wish to return to that place again and again. Children really do crave opportunities to be quiet and connect within! Over time and with practice, don’t be surprised to find that your child begins to initiate these activities on his own, without your guidance. And, beyond that, you’ll both be increasing your ability to “see clearly” in every moment, without judgment or the impulse to “react” emotionally. What a gift!

Mindfulness meditation exercises

The following mindfulness exercises are specially designed for children. They focus on the use of the five main senses of vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell as well as on movement (mindful movement meditations) and on reflection. Many examples of the other types of activities previously described are presented throughout this book. These mindful meditation activities serve well as ways to open a yoga session, transition to relaxation, or assist any time your child needs calming, centring, or help in gaining new perspective.

Rest and press exercise - Yoga for Children

TOUCH MEDITATIONS

Rest and press

Benefits

  • Calms and centres
  • Dispels excess energy or negativity

What to do
Do this exercise any time your child’s energy level is high, or is experiencing the grumpies. You might set the stage with soft instrumental music or music with ocean waves in the background. At the base of the spine, just above the sacrum, there’s a place where many nerve endings come together (think of the location of your back belt loop on a low-slung pair of pants). In her yoga program and book focused on yoga for babies and toddlers, Itsy Bitsy Yoga® founder Helen Garabedian suggests tapping on this area to help comfort and calm a colicky baby. She says, “It’s like a burp for the nervous system.” Rest and Press is a variation of this idea, but is designed to benefit children and adults.

With your child in child’s pose, stand or sit behind him and firmly draw your hands down his back from top to bottom. This will stretch his spine a bit, opening up the space between his vertebrae. Come to rest your hands at the base of his back, where his belt loop would be. Your hands should be stacked palm over palm with your fingers facing forward (think CPR). Breathe in with your child. As he exhales, press into the area with your palms using your own weight for added pressure. As you press down, also pull back energetically. His hips should lower slightly. Be sure to ask your child about the pressure. Is it too little, too much? Try visualizing love, peace, and positive energy coming out through your hands as you touch your child. Breathe with him in and out three times or more before gently jiggling your child side to side, dissipating any stagnant energy.

Still your hands and then draw them, one over the other, firmly down your child’s back one last time before gently releasing them from your child’s back.

What to say
Come into child’s pose. Is it OK if I press a bit on your back? Good. I’ll give you a turn and then maybe you can give me one. Go ahead and take a nice deep breath as I rub your back. Just breathe in and out, in and out. (Continue on with instructions, checking in with your child along the way.) All done now. Let’s take a nice deep breath in and out together. Very, very slowly come to sit up. How do you feel?

SIGHT MEDITATIONS

Candle gazing

Benefits

  • Calms and centres
  • Focuses attention

What to do
Light a candle and place it between you and your child. Use your best judgment as to whether your child should be around a real flame or not. Certainly, if your child is younger than seven years old, use a flameless tea light candle. In fact, a colour-changing LED tea light or pillar candle is especially engaging for all ages. Challenge your child to hold his gaze for longer periods of time with each session. You might begin with 20 seconds and work up to 2 minutes or more over the course of your sessions together.

What to say
Find a comfortable position such as easy pose, hero pose, or lying on your belly in sphinx pose. Focus your eyes on the candle flame as you practice your balloon breathing. Breathe in…breathe out…good. Keep your body still as I time you. I will tell you when the time is up. You did it! I wonder if we can do candle gazing even longer next time. What do you think?

SMELL MEDITATION

Stop and smell the flowers

Benefits

  • Calms
  • Expands the lungs
  • Cleanses

What to do
Try using real or artificial flowers sprayed with Magic Mist with your youngest child for this exercise. Encourage your child to practice smelling the flowers slowly, taking his time to really fill up his lungs. Then be sure your child audibly exhales so that you can ensure he is exhaling completely.

What to say
Imagine you are in a garden or field full of your favourite flowers. Stop and smell the flowers! Close your eyes and picture your favourite flower in your mind, its colour, its shape, and its smell. Breathe in very slowly and deeply to smell the beautiful fragrance of your favourite flower. How does it smell? Say, “Ahhhhh!” as you exhale very slowly. (Repeat “Smell the flowers” breath three to six times, focusing on the slow pace of the breath.)

TASTE MEDITATION

Tasty focus

Benefits

  • Focuses attention
  • Promotes mindful awareness
  • Encourages mindful eating

What to do
This exercise introduces your child to mindful eating. Mindful eating is practiced in a relaxed, seated position such as in a chair, or in easy pose or hero pose. For this exercise, you’ll need a small food item such as a blueberry, an M&M, a raisin, or a goldfish cracker. Don’t let your child know what you’re giving him. If your child is a “peeker,” use a blindfold. Have your younger child answer your questions out loud as you ask them. Encourage your older child to answer the questions silently to himself, waiting until the end of the exercise to share his experience. Once you’ve practiced this exercise with your child a few times using familiar foods, move on to foods that may be less familiar.

What to say
Sit and close your eyes and hold out your palm. I’m going to put a small object in your hand. Go ahead and touch it gently and carefully using your fingers. Is it smooth, rough? What is the shape? Can you guess what it is without peeking? Now bring the item up to your nose. Does it have a smell? What kind? Now, bring it up to your mouth. Place it on your tongue and gently close your mouth. Do not chew yet! Think of words to describe the flavour of the object. What about its texture? Now, begin to slowly, mindfully chew the object. What is the taste like? Sweet, salty? Go ahead and swallow now. Have you guessed what it is? What did you notice about it now that you have eaten it so mindfully?

SOUND MEDITATIONS

Outside in

Benefits

  • Builds listening skills, focus
  • Promotes mindful awareness

What to do
This activity can be practiced anywhere, from your child’s bedroom to the car, or even as a break from a busy family function as a way to encourage your child’s awareness to come inside. Your child can sit in easy pose or hero pose, lie down or sit in a chair. Start by practicing some calming breaths together and encourage your child to close his eyes. When practicing this activity with your younger child, keep it simple by having him focus only on sounds around him (including those outside) and those within him.

What to say
Find a comfortable position. Close your eyes and open your listening ears. Let’s practice balloon breath together…in and out…continue to breathe and bring your awareness to the outside of this room. Note to yourself any sounds that you hear. If you hear a car, say “Car,” to yourself. Then move on to listen for and note other sounds. (After a minute:) Bring your awareness into this room. Notice what sounds you hear around and within this space and note them to yourself. (After a minute:) Now, bring your awareness into the space near you. (After a minute:) Now listen for sounds and notice sensations within your own body. Again, note them to yourself. (After a minute:) How do you feel? Where is your awareness now? Tell me about what you noticed and heard as you brought your attention from the outside to the inside.

MOVEMENT MEDITATIONS

Metamorphosis

Benefits

  • Encourages mindful movement and grace
  • Calms
  • Enhances focus and concentration

What to do
Though the following describes the metamorphosis of an acorn growing into a tree, this exercise can be adapted for anything that changes or grows from one thing into another such as a caterpillar to a butterfly, a bird hatching from an egg and learning to fly, or a deflating balloon or melting ice cream cone. Set the tone and pace by playing very soft, slow music.

Encourage your child to move slowly and mindfully. Ask “How slow can you go?” in a soft tone and relaxed pace as you guide her. Remind her to breathe as she goes through her metamorphosis. When she has morphed into a tree, have her practice her balance by holding tree pose while you pretend to be a big gust of wind to “blow her leaves” to and fro. To keep the mindful moment going or to transition to relaxation, your child can “fall” softly like leaves blowing in the wind before coming to settle on the mat or blanket.

What to say
Come into child’s pose to make your body teensy tiny. Imagine you’re a tiny acorn tucked snugly down into the earth where it’s warm and cozy. If you’re very still, you might feel some rain fall on your back (patter your fingers lightly on your child’s back). When you feel the rain, inhale and start to slowly, slowly begin to grow up and out of your seed. Trees grow very slowly. How slow can you go? First, put up one shoot…then another…and slowly start to stand up. Keep breathing…now come onto one foot to grow your trunk strong and tall. Start to grow your branches and leaves up to the sky. Now, sprout some new baby acorns by spreading your fingers out wide, “Pop, pop, pop.” You did it!

REFLECTION MEDITATIONS

Silent seconds

Benefits

  • Enhances focus and attention
  • Quiets the mind
  • Calms and centres

What to do
Silent seconds gives your child a chance to bring her attention to the present moment through the practice of focusing on her breath. Use Silent seconds with children four and older who are familiar with using the breath upon which she will focus, typically balloon breath or ocean breath. Time your child as she practices focusing on her breath, starting with 15 seconds and working up to two minutes or more over the course of your sessions together. The older your child, the longer you can expect her to be successful practicing silent seconds. If your child has a tough time keeping her eyes closed, have her watch the second hand on the clock or give her another small visual upon which she can focus her eyes, such as in candle gazing (see sight meditations).

What to say
Sit in easy pose or hero pose, whichever is more comfortable for you. Press your hands together in front of your heart or rest your hands on your thighs or belly. Begin to practice balloon breathing, breathing in to fill up your lungs and belly, then breathing out slowly to release all the stale air. Continue to breathe while your body remains silent and still…when you feel your mind begin to wander, you can say to yourself, “Oh, my mind is wandering. Where is my breath?” and then bring your mind back to your breathing again. Notice how the air feels going in and out of your nose. Can you focus on the feeling of your belly rising and falling with your breath? In…out…good. I’m going to time you as you focus on your breath in silent seconds. I will tell you when . . .

Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RCYT is the founder and director of ChildLight Yoga® and Yoga 4 Classrooms®, organizations providing evidence-based yoga education to children in schools and communities and to professionals whose work supports the well-being of children.Excerpted from Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children written by Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RCYT, Copyright © 2013 by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of F+W Media, Inc. All rights reserved. If you liked this excerpt, buy the book!

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Posted by× May 1, 2013 at 3:08 PM

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