Teaching Breathing

 

I know of two great ways to teach meditative breathing techniques to young children.  In the first method, you have the child lay down and breathe in and out deeply.  Once they are comfotable, you begin to discuss how the belly raised on inhale and sinks on exhale.  Then, place a beanie baby (or other small stuffed animal) on the child’s belly.  Have them concentrate on making the animal rise and fall repeatedly with each breath.  Breathe slowly, notice your body relax and try not to let the animal fall off.  Great fun!

Another technique uses a flower and candle as symbols to help the child focus on breathing.  The author of this activity, Jennifer Jazwierska , suggests that the child visualize the  imagery.  I could also see using the actual flower and unlit candle with very small children.  Here are the teaching steps she lists on her fantastic site, kidsrelaxation.com.   

1. Hold the left hand in a fist. Ask the child to imagine that it is a flower.

2. Hold the right hand in a fist. Ask the child to imagine that it is a candle.

3. Breathe in and pretend to sniff the flower in the left hand.

 4. Breathe out and blow out the candle. Encourage the child to breathe deeply, to really smell the flower. Then tell them to make sure they really really blow the candle out.

Discussion – What does your flower look like? Could you imagine smelling it? When might you use this tool?

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Object Awareness

During meditation, some people focus on a flame or statue.  This form of meditation, object awareness, helps to focus the attention.  A fun way to introduce object awareness to kids is through art.  Here is a lesson adapted from Teaching Meditation to Children, by Fontana and Slack. 

Have the child draw an object near them.  This could be a toy, their shoe, some food, anything really.  Tell them this is just a game and that you aren’t interested in how well they draw, just to do their best for about a minute. Then, have the child stop drawing and ask them to really look at the object again, this time paying attention to the small details.  Have them draw a new picture of the object and compare it with the original picture. 

In most cases, the second object will be more true-to-life.   The exercise draws the child’s attention to his or her surroundings and demonstrates in a concrete way the need for mindfulness by showing the child what they are and are not aware of.

Here is Andrew drawing his tractor toy in full Optimus Prime (Transformers) garb:

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You will find the first picture he drew below on the left.  On the right, is the one he drew after paying attention to the details of the tractor.  I was particularly impressed with the tread on the tires in the second picture.  So proud!  (Uh oh.  Is that my ego again?)

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Self Awareness

How many times have you walked in to a room and forgotten what you came there for?  We tend to walk around on auto-pilot for a large part of the day.  Bringing our awareness to the immediate environment is challenging but can be cultivated with practice. 

How do we make kids aware of the attention they are paying or not paying to both the environment and their actions?  In their article, Teaching Mindfulness to Children, Hooker and Fodor suggest a fun exercise.  You have your child tell you about what they do in the morning when they wake up.  Older children can write the steps down.  Younger children will need you to write the steps for them.  Then, repeat the exercise daily adding more details to the list.  By the fifth day the list should be more detailed and will demonstrate for children how easy it is to go through our routines like a robot, forgetting to really pay attention.

I tried this with Andrew.  I asked what he does in the morning before school each day.  Here was his list:

Day One:

-I get up, get dressed and go to school.

Day Two (I read his list and asked him what ELSE he does):

-He remembered eat breakfast and play.

Day Three:

-He remembered brush teeth, wait for school and drive.

Day Four:

-He discoved the little details such as walking to my room to get me in the morning and putting on each article of clothing. 

Ahhh, the little details.   On Monday, I am going to try to narrate for him all the little tiny things he is doing before school and ask him to really think about the list he started with and the one we ended with and all of the tiny moments.  Valuable exercise.

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Mind in a Jar Experiment

The Mind in a Jar experiment is a fun way to illustrate for children how meditation can help them settle their mind.  I’ve seen this exercise done a few different ways.  I really like how the author of Peaceful Piggy Meditation, Kerrylee Maclean, explains the  activity below. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Mind-in-a-Jar Experiment

 

 

 

 

 

Supply list:

 

 

 

 

 

Clear round jar

Water (tap water is fine)

White sand

1 ounce each of different-colored sand and sparkles

Big spoon

 

1.  Find a glass jar (ask your mom or dad – it can be any size as long as it is round and clear). Fill it with clean water and go sit down on your meditation cushion. This water represents your happy, healthy mind, like when you wake up in the morning feeling great and you can’t wait to get up and see what’s going to happen next.

But then, you get out of bed and start thinking – in other words, you start your collection of ‘thoughts’.  

2.  You can use the white sand for ordinary thoughts, (like, ‘I wonder what’s for dinner’) white fairy dust for happy thoughts, and colored sand or sparkles for the rest: black for scary thoughts, blue for sad thoughts, yellow for smart thoughts, and pink for loving thoughts, purple for ‘I want’, etc.

(Avoid red, it discolors the water.)

3.  Stir the thoughts with a big spoon saying, “This is my mind in a hurry… this is my mind stressed out abouthomework… this is my mind worried about getting to school on time… this is my mind thinking about my birthday” orwhatever.

4.  Now sit up straight,cross-legged in a good meditation posture (no slouching, please) and ring a gong saying, “This is what happens when I stop and let go of my thoughts.” Sit quietly (2-5 minutes) and watch the ‘thoughts’ settle down to the bottom. (The sand should help knock down the sparkles, so that most end up on the bottom.) Midway through, take a moment to feel your breath going in and out, your chest rising and falling, thecool air coming in through your nose and the warmed air going out.

5.  Ring the gong VERY loudly to end and sit perfectly still until you can’t hear the gong any more. Notice how extraordinarily peaceful the room has become inthose final moments as you hear the last reverberations of the gong.

6.  When you’re done, pour the water down the sink and the sunken ‘thoughts’ into the trash can, rinse and start all over!

 

 

 

Mind-in-a-Jar_Experiment

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Attention to Thought

I wonder what my next thought will be?  Try to be still and think about the answer.  Each time you have a thought, just notice it.  Tell your children that they are like cats, watching a mouse hole.  What thought will come out of the mouse hole next?

This technique helps children understand that they create their own thoughts, which come and go.  If we are very alert, we can watch our thoughts and they have less influence on our actions and emotions.

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Anxiety Exercises

My thumb-sucker has transitioned to shirt-chewing.  He’s self-conscious about sucking his thumb at preschool so has started to use his shirt for a new soothing mechanism.   I like that he’s found a substitute behavior.  Habits are hard to break.  If they weren’t, I’d be supermodel thin with long, perfect nails.  (I’m not.)  The problem with his new behavior is that he winds up with a very noticeable, soaking wet collar.  Not exactly socially acceptable in kid world.  The shirt-chewing is definetly in response to anxiety.  He chews when he’s in  a new situation or worried about something.  He chewed all the way through his first soccer practice, as he was running through the field and kicking.  My little guy- multitasking already!   I’m going to try to find him a necklace or something more acceptable to use for a while but I know I need to concentrate on the real problem, the anxiety mind monkey.

Anxiety is tricky.  I am anxious as I sit to write this post.  My husband is in surgery for a broken wrist at this very moment.  I’m trying to just stay in this moment and keep worrying at bay.  I love the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  In an interview with Oprah about her  book, Gilbert said, “Isn’t worrying just praying for what you don’t want?”  That quote stuck with me all this time because I believe we often concentrate so much on a potential negative outcome that we unintentionally elicit the very response we fear.  We can be so concerned about losing our job with the state of the current economy, for example, that the fear distracts us, we don’t give our full attention to the job and wind up getting  fired from otherwise secure employment.

Here are a few meditation techniques I use for anxiety that I plan to incorporate with my little guy:

-Go to the Movies:  Imagine your anxious thoughts are your favorite movie and just watch them on the screen in front of you.  His movie could be characters from Cars during their first soccer practice.  Mine might be Gray’s Anatomy watching myself in the waiting room.  (This works because disconnecting yourself from the worry by just watching it helps you let go of the worry.)

-Check in with Your Body:  Do a mental scan of your body.  Squeeze and release any areas that feel tight or uncomfortable (progressive relaxation).  How is your breathing?  When your body is tense, you hold your breath a tiny bit.  Concentrate on deep breathing.

-Check the Time:  No, children don’t have to know how to tell time for this one.  When we’re anxious, things can seem more important than they really are.  The worry feels like an emergency and like it will never cease.  Fortunately, anxiety is temporary.  Every concern eventually disappears.  Ask your child how they will probably feel about this in a week or a year.  Will they even remember it?  They might not have a lot of life experience to draw on so an example from your life (especially from your childhood) will help.

Good luck!

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Making Meditation Cushions

Since the boys have shown interest in my meditation cushion, I decided we could make  their own cushions in hopes of giving them ownership of their practice and encouraging them to meditate.  Don’t cringe- no sewing involved here.  By make, I really mean decorate.  I bought some inexpensive, round cushions and puffy paint and let them decorate.

I explained that our cushions will just help us be comfortable when we meditate so that we don’t get distracted by sore butts.  I emphasized that they are nice to have and we’ll use them when we’re at home but that we can meditate anywhere, even when we don’t have cushions.  In her book Sensational Meditation for Children,  Sarah Wood Valley writes brilliantly about how no meditator needs a monastery or heightened setting to meditate.  In fact, she says, the magic of meditation is that it can happen anywhere- in class, on a swing or a fort made of pillows.

I will post photos our final projects when I can get the images downloaded from my camera.

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