“My kids sit for too much of the day already…now I’m asking them to sit more to meditate?”
“I’m scared to even try to get my kid to sit down…they have so much energy. How can I introduce mindfulness to them?” “Isn’t meditation a lot of sitting?”
Lots of parents and homeschoolers have questions like these. Is the answer yes?
Here are a few books about incorporating mindfulness in a non-sitting way! I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that the quiet stillness of meditation, the tuning in to body and mind, is a much different kind of sitting that that while watching TV or playing a video game or doing school work. And if you’re child is in Occupational Therapy, like mine is, talk about these programs with your Therapist. I bet they’ll be so excited that you’re doing these at home (they are supportive of, and in some cases very similar to, OT therapies). They may also have great suggestions on personalizing them for your kiddo.
We’re talking about four books, the first of which I’ve reviewed before:
- Planting Seeds (the first three are by Thich Nhat Hanh)
- How to Walk
- Mindful Movements
- ABCs of Yoga
Last week I wrote about being in nature on our family vacation, a week of bringing mindfulness of the earth into our day. If you don’t want to go into nature without a plan, Planting Seeds has a chapter with ideas and structures to use with kids in nature:
- In silence, or “what do you hear?”
- Walking barefoot
- Making a nature art mandala: rocks, leaves, flowers, grass
- Doing part of a walk blindfolded
- Storytelling walk
The goal of these mindful exercises is to invite the opening up to explore with all the senses.
For my son we modified our walks to ask What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? He had to remember the four colors of flowers we saw, he stopped to hear woodpecker in the forest, and later on that same walk we saw holes made by a woodpecker. I had him touch different trees, comparing a rougher barked tree to something smoother like a beech, and the birch trees that feel like paper peels right off of them. My son naturally likes to move fast (and on some walks pretend he was a race car, etc) so we found ways to slow him down. On one walk, I we lay down on the path with me and looked up–and to notice the change in perspective, how the trees and sky looked from that vantage point. To introduce him to a wider lens through which to be in nature. Planting Seeds also has a Cloud Meditation. On the right day full of clouds in the sky, it’s a great one to have saved in your back pocket.
The second book is for us, the ‘adults’. Howto Walk by Thich Nhat Hanh gives insight into how to move mindfully so that we can model it and pass it on. It’s a small book dedicated to showing us how to
“recapture wonder, express gratitude and diminish suffering” all while taking a simple,humble walk.”
It gives tips on how to make it a part of your day, from dedicating a staircase to mindful climbing, to walking mindfully in different environments like the city or a busy place. The last few pages give meditations to recite as you walk mindfully, which I personally find helpful and enjoyable. A formal meditation group that I *try* to frequent (I love the group but it’s at a time that doesn’t work too often) the sitting meditation is broken up by a period of walking meditation, as a group. It’s an interesting practice, especially if you tend to be a fast, goal-oriented speed walker. If you are trying to build, to get into the habit of, a sitting practice, then walking/moving meditation can extend your dedicated time without more sitting. Sometimes our hips, knees and/or back thank us for this!
My favorite mindful walking practice is from this book,and other teachings by Thay. You simply repeat a poem or mantra or set of words as you mindfully take a step. For kids at Plum Village in France, they say Oui, Oui (yes, yes) on the inhale and Merci, Merci, Merci (thank you) on the exhale. I also use some of his other mantras, like “Calm” stepping with the inhale, “Release” with the exhale.
Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being is another lovely book, styled similarly to Handful of Quiet. I love the color drawings, and the book is paper over board with spiral binding (Love!). It includes a dvd as well as illustrations of the ten movements. The dvd includes a slower instructional option with a monk from Plum Village, then a normally paced practice option led by Thich Nhat Hanh. For me, Mindful movements distills the more mysterious practices of qi gong and tai chai, that might intimidate people
from trying them, into a simple, secular set of movements that brings you one step further in meditation and mindfulness–from sitting mindfully, and breathing mindfully, to moving and breathing mindfully in a more dynamic way.
During my training to become an acupuncturist, I learned qi gong and tai chi and practiced it regularly, alternating it with yoga. Tai chi is more involved and has you moving from one movement to another in a set sequence (that you have to remember. That’s where I often fall behind!) Qi gong is one movement that you repeat. Qi gong is like gentle vinyasa yoga or Viniyoga, is easy to remember, and the movements coordinate with the breath is soothing and beneficial to all systems of the body. When you coordinate movements with the breath, like simply inhaling as you lift your arms up (s-l-o-w-l-y) and exhaling as you bring them down, you can change your body. These slow movements foster deeper and slower breathing, which relaxes your nervous system. This benefits your digestive system, both through the relaxation (you digest better when you’re calm) and through the massaging actions of the movements. Your brain relaxes, your cardiovascular and lymphatic systems benefit…
As with other parts of yoga, meditation, qi gong and tai chi, science is starting to show that what has been claimed for centuries is true–there are amazing benefits to practicing regularly. And qi gong and tai chi (and some types of vinyasa yoga) are meditation in motion. They are a way to be mindful, and to do so in a way that gently moves the body and helps the awareness of our bodies. We’re a heady, brain-centered society and any chance to get back into our bodies should be welcomed 🙂
For homeschoolers, this is a great for starting out the day, for a midday school break if activities or lessons require more sitting and concentration. You could choose 1-2 movements to do alone for a midday break. You can also schedule them at the end of the day, to relax before bed and shake off any tensions of the day. If it sounds like there isn’t a bad time to do them, well, there isn’t.
The fourth book for mindful movements is the ABCs of Yoga which has a yoga pose for every letter of the alphabet, like B for Butterfly pose. As a yoga therapist and yoga teacher, I wanted a kid-friendly book my son could see and identify as ‘for him.’ We do a few yoga moves and incorporate any OT homework we have into our yoga time. So, parents, have patience. With my kiddo, for the first weeks, I had to physically put him into the poses, and if it required balance, I had to either stabilize him myself or having something close by for him to use. The first time, only pick 2-3 poses to see how you and your kiddo do. You can build from there.
My son moves at two speeds: sitting and running. Slow movement is challenging for him, partly because he’s an exuberant little boy, but partly because of apraxia. We are still working up to doing the activities in these books, so don’t worry. You can’t do them wrong unless you’re hurting yourself (as I say when teaching yoga or qi gong, if it feels wrong or hurts, don’t do it!) Give a few a try–I think some aspect will appeal to your kids, be it the colorful, inclusive illustrations or the gentle waves of the movements, or the calm and relaxation afterward. This would be something to teach deliberately–before any of these activities, or sitting meditation, have your kiddos check in with their body, mind and emotions to see how they feel. Then, afterwards, do the same check in. Is there a difference?
Expectations. In short, try not to have them for these activities. Do the practices yourself, and hold the space with your kids that they may enjoy it too. Keep the initial stages short and sweet: 1-3 moves as an introduction. No one starts with a 90 minute morning yoga practice (well, there are those people). I remember a favorite teacher telling us how important intention is, and how some days if all we do is roll out our mat, well, we did that, didn’t we? Keep plugging away. There is SO much evidence, both historic and scientific, that shows these practices can be keys to building mental health, mental immunity, and resilient kids.