‘Whatever you are doing, ask yourself, “what is the state of my mind?”’
Have you ever had one of those weekends when everything seems overwhelming. I can relate. In fact, I had one of those this week. It was my graduation weekend and I had family members flying in from all over the world. Ok I exaggerate – I had only four family members flying in from Jamaica and the Boston area. Nevertheless, it proved a lot to coordinate. From airport pick ups… to negotiating time off work… to trying to spend quality time with them and other loved ones who all wanted to plan activities – it was definitely all a bit overwhelming.
Amidst all the apparent mayhem and chaos I stumbled across an article which, in that moment, was just what I had needed. The article spoke of the concept of “mindfulness”. This idea is not an entirely new one to me. Mindfulness has indeed become a buzzword in many circles recently. From prolific academics to yoga practitioners, the idea of mindfulness has definitely obtained a lot of traction in the past few years.
What is Mindfulness anyways?
Mindfulness, though quite a frequently used word, is one of those terms which everyone seems to know about, but which everyone also has a hard time defining (much like other buzzwords such as “post-modern” and cultural appropriation”). Christine Carter, author of the book “Raising Happiness- 10 simple steps for more joyful kids and happier parents” sheds some light on this murky area by providing a very good idea of what both what mindfulness is and what it’s not.
Carter references Jon Kabat-Zinn, the scientist who first “translated” buddhist practices of mindfulness into a secular program for people with chronic pain and stress, to define mindfulness as the “awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment.” When we practice mindfulness, our attention becomes focused on what we are experiencing- both internally and externally. We become in tune with how each moment is borne, experienced and how each moment passes away.
However, Carter is also quick to point out what mindfulness is not. She differentiates it from experiencing dullness; a lack of emotion, or even a state of total calm. Instead she states that “I can be feeling sad- even crying- and pay mindful attention to that experience”. Furthermore, mindfulness is not running on autopilot. Carter points out that while there are somethings that we want ourselves to be in the habit of doing without much thought, we should aim to perform even the habitual details of life with mindfulness. For example, we can brush our teeth, take a walk or even cook with mindfulness by simply bringing awareness to what we are doing and by bringing our attention to the present instead of regretting some action in the past or worrying about the future.
Mindfulness- An important part of your family’s lifestyle
Managing a family can be chaotic at time. I’m not even a parent yet, but it often took, on average, 45 minutes to get my family of 5 adults out of our air bnb and into the car for family outings while they were in Vancouver for graduation. As such, I can only begin to imagine the effort it must take to wake up, clothe and feed one or more kids before school each morning. Kids get agitated. Parents get frustrated.
Ellen Sturm Niz, a New York City-based editor and writer who is starting to practice mindfulness at home with her 9-year-old daughter advocates that practicing mindfulness has been scientifically proven to create emotional stability in children and adults alike. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve attention and reduce stress as well as increase one’s ability to regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy. Carter adds to the discussion by stating that mindfulness cultivates emotional balance. On one hand, when our emotions aren’t active- for example, when we cope with stress by shutting down, our life seems to lack meaning which can make us feel dull or depressed. On the other hand, when our emotions are overactive, life can feel chaotic and overwhelming. As such, practicing mindfulness is useful in helping us find that “elusive balance between chaos and boredom, between high drama and stuffing it all down”.
In particular, Carter emphasizes the unique benefits of mindfulness on kids and students. She states that ‘kids who learn to be “fully present”- who learn to practice mindfulness- tend to perform better in school because they focus and deal with stressful situations with greater ease’. She mentions a study which showed that kids who practice mindful breathing were more able to relax and made better decisions when faced with conflict. They were more focused and when they did get off track, they were better at redirecting themselves back to the task at hand. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits to mindfulness- especially for kids struggling with impulsiveness- is gaining the ability to pause before we act. Mindfulness can help us consider options that miss when we act on immediate reflex. This enables us to remain flexible, creative, and productive.
Niz references various studies demonstrating that schools which implement a mindfulness curriculum create students with increased levels of “self regulation, optimism, and planning and organizational skills,”. In particular, a study conducted by the Hawn Foundation in the United States garnered that approximately 90 percent of children improved their ability to get along with other children after practicing mindfulness. About 80 percent were more optimistic and had enhanced their self-concept, self-regulation, and self-management, while three-quarters of the children improved their planning and organizational skills, and the same amount had better impulse control and less reactivity. In addition, visits to the principal’s office, incidents of bullying, and absenteeism—among both students and teachers—decreased. In other words, research shows that mindful awareness—and understanding its pieces—helps students with cognitive and academic growth.
Practical exercises to practice mindfulness with kids
Incorporating mindfulness into your family’s daily routine can accrue significant benefits for the emotional and mental well being of your family.
Here are some simple and practical ways to practice mindfulness with your kids at home or in any setting.
This simple exercise requires only a bell. First, ring the bell and ask the kids to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound. Then tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell. Afterwards, get the kids to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped. Then, go around in a circle and ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This exercise is not only fun and gets the kids excited about sharing their experiences with others, but really helps them connect to the present moment and the sensitivity of their perceptions.
Take your kids on a “noticing walk” by strolling through the neighborhood to notice things you have never noticed before. Try designating one minute of the walk to being in complete silence and paying attention to all the sounds you can hear. For example…the birds…cars…people talking. Afterwards talk with your kids about the sounds you heard and what you felt while listening to them.
Hand out a stuffed animal or other small object to each child and if the room allows, have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down as well as any other sensations that they may notice. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into bubbles and then float away. This activity is useful as the presence of the Breathing Buddy makes the meditation a little friendlier, and allows the kids to see how a playful activity doesn’t necessarily have to be rowdy.
Gratitude is a key aspect of mindfulness. It helps teaches children to appreciate the good things in their lives that they already have as opposed to toys and goodies they may want. A good place to practice this is at the family table over dinner or at night before going to bed.
Scents can be a powerful way to focus our senses and relieve anxiety. Practice mindfulness with your kids by passing something fragrant out to each child, such as a piece of fresh orange peel, a sprig of lavender or a jasmine flower. Then, ask them to close their eyes and breathe in the scent, focusing all of their attention only on the smell of that object.
Try this simple exercise by giving each child an object to touch, such as a ball, a pillow, a rock, etc. Then ask them to close their eyes and describe what the object feels like to a you or a sibling. Then trade places. Both this exercise and the previous one are simple, but compelling, ways to teach the kids the practice of isolating their senses from one another, and tuning them into distinct experiences.
Get moving with your kids by jumping up and down in place for one minute. Then quickly lay down and place your hands on your hearts. Close your eyes and feel your heartbeats, your breath, and ask them what else they notice about their bodies. This is a good activity to get kids to focus on their breath and bodily sensations.
At the OAC kids camp, kids will have a number of opportunities to practice mindfulness, both outside in nature, through our field trips to green spaces such as the VanDusen Botanical Gardens and Queen Elizabeth Park, and inside learning animal yoga poses.
Information gathered from:
Want some awesome tips for adventures in Vancouver for your whole family?
Then click on the link below to download our FREE ebook