Archive of ‘Meditation’ category

8 Ways to Practice Mindfulness with Children

Often, when we think about mindfulness, we think about meditation or a formal, structured exercise that helps us tune into our thoughts or somehow clear our minds entirely. Perhaps you have heard that mindfulness is good for children, that you can even practice it with your preschooler. Maybe you have tried this and it worked, or maybe you tried and your child squirmed, wiggled, and complained that it was boring. For some children, particularly those who are young, have experienced trauma, or appear to be bursting with energy, sitting still for more than a few seconds may seem impossible. Today, I want to share some ideas for sneaking simple, fun mindfulness activities into everyday life and everyday play. While mindfulness can be a discipline, a way of moving through the world, it shouldn’t cause added stress or power struggles. 

So what is mindfulness?

According to Sylvia Boorstein, “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” It can be practiced at any time, in any place, during any activity, without changing a thing except the way that you relate to the present moment. 

Why practice mindfulness?

You might wonder, why even bother? I often have parents tell me that their children don’t seem to know how to calm themselves down, or they’ll explode, seemingly out of nowhere. When the parent asks what happened, the child may shrug, or say that they were mad. While they may have been angry, there were likely other thoughts or feelings that led them to express anger. If children (and adults) can tune into themselves in the present moment and notice their emotional and physical states, without judgement, they may begin to notice when difficult feelings are just starting to bubble up. How much easier is it to calm ourselves down when we’re just a little bit upset than when we’re hysterical? Mindfulness can help us connect the sensations in our bodies with our thoughts and feelings, thereby increasing our understanding of ourselves and our reactions. Further, research is showing that mindfulness can help children and teens who struggle with symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety. It gives them an experience of stillness and calmness. It helps them focus on the present moment without worrying about the future or lamenting the past. 

While mindfulness is less about the specific activity, and more about our relationship with the present moment, the activities below can help facilitate the practice of mindful awareness. Ideally, these are practiced when your child is calm, and then can be used to help them return to calm when they begin to feel anxious, angry, or frustrated. 

Mindful Listening

Tell your child that you are going to play a game. They can close their eyes if they’re comfortable doing so, or just soften their gaze. Tell them that you’re both going to listen carefully and see how many sounds you can hear. Pick an amount of time that you think is doable for your child, up to about a minute, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, compare notes on the different sounds you heard. This exercise could be completed on a nature walk or while sitting at your kitchen table.

Nature walk

Take a walk in nature and ask them to notice what they hear, see, feel, and smell. You can also have them find an object in nature and then explore it together with different senses.

Bag of Objects

Fill a bag with objects of different shapes, sizes, and textures. Have your child reach in without looking and describe what they feel. Have them guess what’s in there.

Bubbles

Blow bubbles together and notice the colors, sizes, and how/where the bubbles float. Blowing bubbles is a great way to practice breath awareness too–have your child take deep breaths, filling up their belly like a balloon, then breathe out slowly. They can even see how big or small the bubbles get depending on how quickly or slowly they breathe out.

Strike a Pose

Do a yoga pose together, such as tree pose. Have them imagine that one of their feet is rooted to the ground, and slowly lift the other until it is resting on their calf. See if they can raise their arms up to “grow” branches. Can they sway in the wind? You can ask them what sensations they notice in their body. If you or your child loses balance (which will probably happen), laugh together!

Rocking a Stuffed Animal

Have your child lie down on the floor with their favorite stuffed animal or doll resting on their belly. Tell them that you are going to rock their animal to sleep. Take slow, deep breaths together and notice how the animal moves up and down with their breath.

Chime or Singing Bowl

Tell your child that they are going to practice listening. Tell them that you will ring the chime or singing bowl and that you’ll both listen closely and see how long you can hear the sound. When they can’t hear it anymore they can raise their hand.

Engine Checks

One way to help children tune into the physical states is to have them think of their body like a car engine. Ask, what happens if a car is going too fast? They might say it crashes or runs off the road. What about if it goes too slow? It might cause a traffic jam, or stop all together. What if it is going just the right speed? How would that feel? Tell them that our bodies are kind of like car engines. Sometimes they feel like they’re going too fast, sometimes too slow, and sometimes just right. What is it like when they are going “too fast”? (Maybe they have lots of energy, can’t stay still, get in trouble at school). What about “too slow”? (maybe they are tired, lack energy, it’s hard for them to do things). What does “just right” feel like? (calm, focused, in control, etc.) Check in with your child occasionally by asking how their engine is running. Once they get used to this language, you can ask them when you start to notice that they might be starting to run “too fast” or “too slow.” When children are more aware of their physical and emotional states, they are more likely to use calming strategies like mindful breathing.

Any of the above techniques can be incorporated into everyday life. These tools will help your child (and you!) become more aware of the present moment and their relationship with the here & now. What mindfulness technique are you going to try today?

Written by: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

The Practice of Gratitude

With December marking the end of the year, it is natural to reflect on what kind of a year you’ve had. I encourage having reflections that include gratitude’s and appreciations; it is imperative reflect on the positive things that have occurred over the past year. Having that perspective on how you have seen growth and change, or maintenance and consistency, in a positive light can reduce stress and anxiety and make it easier to reflect with a positive outlook in the future.

I’ve heard the different perspectives of positive and negative described as a cloudy lens and a sunshine lens. I love the simplicity that provides as a visual because looking at your past year in a cloudy lens could lead to feeling sad, conflicted, and unmotivated. This cloudy lens has the ability to reach in all areas of life and makes it hard to find those sunshine moments. Looking through a sunshine lens doesn’t mean negative and bad things don’t occur, rather a sunshine lens means choosing to find something that you are grateful for, no matter how big or significant that something is. Examples could be feeling grateful that you survived your day, you went to a concert, hanging out with close friends, or ending your day with a nice hot bath.

To start a gratitude practice, set yourself up for success. Choose a time during your day that you can have 5 minutes to reflect. Once you have your daily time scheduled, reflect on one thing of gratitude. Just one. If you think of more, that’s great! But only start with one, so that way you feel encouraged to continue this gratitude practice. Once you feel like your reflection time has become consistent, then move up to listing three to five items of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude is like building strength in a muscle. It takes time and consistency to see growth and change in how your perspective shifts from a cloudy to sunshine. I hope with the reflection of this past year, you are able to find those moments that you truly appreciate and are grateful for!

Julie Smith MA, LMFT-A under the Supervision of Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S Senior Clinician at Austin Family Counseling


A Critique on Mindfulness in the United States

Our culture is increasingly saturated with the word mindfulness. We use it so frequently and in so many different contexts that we obfuscate its meaning. Companies, authors and individuals have begun to capitalize on the word’s positive connotation by attaching it to their products and ideas, much as they have with the words, all natural, artisan, and organic. Mindfulness is packaged as something you can buy. It appears that the allure of internal peace and contentment is so powerful we will pay exorbitant sums to have it.

By: Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

By: Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

Mindfulness is marketed as a behavior, an attitude, and a lifestyle. There are mindfulness retreats in beautiful places. There are books on mindful parenting, mindful work, mindful eating and even mindful shopping. There are mindfulness applications for our smart phones. Teachers use the word with their students as a substitute for “be kind” or “be quiet.” There is undoubtedly a place for mindfulness in our culture, but these applications distort the meaning and complicate its purpose.

Mindfulness is a relatively new practice in the United States. Even twenty-five years ago the concept was foreign to most people and those practicing it were on the fringes of society. It was a term associated with eastern religious practices with little traction in mainstream American culture. The speed and reach of the cultural shift toward adopting mindfulness has been remarkable. The fact that some major corporations are now offering mindfulness training for their employees is a testament to the extent to which it permeates our culture.

That mindfulness has become the latest cultural buzzword is not entirely a bad thing. As it grows in popularity, more people have an opportunity to learn about the powerful positive effects a mindfulness meditation practice can have on their lives. A recent surge in academic interest shows that a mindfulness practice has positive effects on health, ranging from depression and anxiety, to memory, learning, creativity and interpersonal functioning (Shapiro 2001). There is further research showing that a meditation practice correlates with elevation in mood, positive affect, and happiness (Shapiro 2001). These findings have galvanized people and institutions to incorporate mindfulness practices in their work and personal lives. Another positive consequence of adopting mindfulness in the West is its potential to bridge eastern and western cultures. By embracing a long-term eastern tradition, we are opening ourselves up to a world beyond our borders and bridging two worlds through a shared practice.

As mindfulness sifts its way through our culture, there is reason for excitement and curiosity as well as caution and discernment. It is easy to be swept up in the fervor of the moment. In my next post, I will provide a brief history of mindfulness and explain its core principles, function and original intention. By broadening our understanding of mindfulness we are less apt to be cajoled by external forces and more capable of looking inside for the answers. Stay tuned.

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