What is Mindfulness, really?
With so much being written about the benefits of Mindfulness, sometimes I get asked what that really looks like in kids. Mindfulness, by definition, is a noun that means a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Doesn't that sound nice? In today's notes, I am going to share with you what I have shared with kids that I have worked with on the benefits and the easy ways you can practice and achieve this state of being without necessarily being a yogi, guru, hippie or anything but yourself! Oh, and it's amazing as a family practice.
What's all the hype about the need for silence and presence?
Ten years ago, I decided that since I was working with kids so much on managing stress through their breath, I thought I should receive some formal training. So, I invested time in a kid's yoga teacher training program. I learned many things through this program, namely how to use your breath to not only create calmness within the body but also the mind of yourself and others around you. The universal affect of a calm mind is what strikes me as so necessary today in our frantic, fast paced world.
One of the first families I tried out some of my new training techniques on were the last people you might imagine doing yoga postures, meditating and sitting quietly together in a circle on the floor of my office! But, they were a high stress, busy family with a good deal of chaos and they were willing to give just about anything a try. If they can do it, you can do it too!
We started with breathing, I had "breathing buddies" which are bean filled small stuffed animals that everyone put on their bellies. Everyone laid down on yoga mats, closed eyes and I showed them the three areas in our bodies that they can consciously move their breath into. The chest, under the ribs and then the lower belly. I had them move air around and when you start to practice this and actually get it it's pretty amazing! In order to do this you need to have great levels of concentration, focus and patience. When the family got in sync, by supporting one another and doing it together the energy started to change in their family.
I had them bring this practice home, along with a deck of cards that helped guide them with family yoga postures, different breaths, games and visualizations. After doing this consistently for about three months the family and I were able to identify the following positive outcomes of their mindfulness investment:
- Quieting of the mind - the two kids (ages 9 and 13) and both parents were able to identify that often when they were arguing they had other things on their mind. The complaint that the kids didn't transition well came to be understood- they hadn't yet dealt with the stress of activity 1 and then were told to switch to 2 before they were ready. The same applied for the parents transitioning form work mode to kids, carpools, dinner, homework etc...they weren't mindful of how much was going on in their heads and how poorly they were handling the lack of conscious transition.
- Management of energy and stress - energy comes in and out of us. Some days we are tired (energy leaks) and some days we are wound up. Once the family realized that they had some control over the two through their diet, exercise and consciousness they were better to not only manage it for themselves better but also for one another. Instead of saying, "calm down" they might have said, "I see you have a lot of energy, why don't you go take the dog on a run..." Much more productive and loving and much less stressful.
- Decrease in depression and anxiety - in this family the mom was struggling a bit with anxiety and the son with anxiety. they both reported a significant improvement in their mood, worries, energy and social life. This is a well documented outcome of mindfulness training and mental health.
- Improved academic success - prior to starting homework, an identified high chaos time in the family, the whole family did two minutes of stillness and quiet. They said that sometimes they sat down on the ground but sometimes they just stopped what they were doing and did it in the moment. Mom said she might be at the kitchen counter, the dad might have been on the couch, the kids at the kitchen table and then all sat in silence at the same time to mark the beginning of a transition. This resulted in less arguments, better focus and improved grades! (I was pretty psyched about this outcome for the kids!)
- Improved sleep - in 2015 a Harvard study reported that mindfulness meditation for about 20 minutes a day / during the day turns on the relaxation response at night when you need it for sleep. Everyone in their family slept better, longer and easier. And when someone stayed up later for work or on weekends they noticed the difference in their mood, they were much more irritable.
- Increased empathy and compassion - while I was hopeful that this new practice and routine in the family would bring forth greater patience, compassion and empathy for one another I wasn't sure if I was being too optimistic. But to my great delight, it did. The siblings were fighting less, talking more, even aligning together. The parents were slower in their reaction to yell, judge or get angry. And overall, everyone seemed to consciously practice putting someone else's needs above their own at certain key times. And the best is that when they did veer off into old patterns. they recognized it and were much quicker to apologize or simply stop what they were doing.
This is not an exception of a story, this really can and does happen in many families. The key is repetition, commitment to the practice and consistency. If you want to, you can do it too!