Meditation & mindfulness for kids

How about replacing school detention with mindfulness practise? Erin O’Hara shares why teaching children mindfulness is good for them.

In recent years there is a growing popularity in bringing mindfulness and meditation into schools. The importance of meditation has begun to arise as we are starting to understand its power. Scientists are proving the transformational benefits of meditation by showing how it can influence behaviour and rebalance the mind.

It has been evident that teaching mindfulness and meditation in schools is helping to improve how children behave. A school in America replaced detention with a mindfulness programme and, since implementing this programme, no children have been expelled. By teaching children how to breathe and by providing them with these important tools, it helps to build their emotional intelligence.

The tools of meditation and mindfulness could be integrated into school programmes and valued just as much as learning maths, English, or science; children would be learning life skills, which will help them to understand and manage their own emotions. Doing this provides children with the skills to recognise when they are feeling aggressive, angry, sad, or stressed and what they can do to transform how they feel without reacting in an unreasonable way.

These tools are invaluable, as without them we can easily behave irrationally out of reaction to our emotions. Through learning to be more self-aware instead of just reacting, it gives children the awareness they need to pause or take a breath, to reflect on the situation at hand, and to change their behaviour and how they choose to respond.

With teaching meditation to children, it is important to teach these tools in a fun and interactive way. I usually start a class with some high-energy yoga movements, as well as brain gym exercises to get them focused while using up some of the abundance of energy they have; that way, by the time we come to the meditation and relaxation part of the class, children are ready to sit still and unwind.

With meditation, there is so much available, but for children it is really important to have many focal points, to keep their little, busy minds present and to prevent boredom. Meditation and mindfulness are a lot more than simply sitting still and breathing. The points of focus could be the breath pattern, the awareness of sensations they are feeling, the mechanics of the breath, sound (mantra), or hand movements (mudras).

REALLY “COOL” BREATH

A great breath to cool the body down physically and emotionally. Helps to calm the body when feeling angry, as well as, cool the body temperature if you have a fever.

  • • Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position with tall spine.
  • Curl the tongue into a “U” shape. Breathe slowly in through the “U” shaped tongue like you are sucking the breath in through a straw. Breathe slowly out through the nose.
  • Continue this breath for 2-3 minutes or use counting 10-26 rounds of the breath.

SAA TAA NAA MAA MEDITATION TO REPROGRAM YOUR MIND

This meditation involves singing the sounds "saa taa naa maa" along with repetitive finger movements, or mudras. It has been shown to reduce stress levels and increase activity in areas of the brain that are central to memory. Repeat the "saa taa naa maa" sounds (or mantra) while sitting with your spine straight.

  • On "saa", touch the index fingers of each hand to your thumbs.
  • On "taa", touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.
  • On "naa", touch your ring fingers to your thumbs.
  • On "maa", touch your little fingers to your thumbs.
  • For a minute sing ina normal voice.
  • For the next minute, sing in a whisper.
  • For the next minute, say the sound silently to yourself and keep moving your fingers.
  • Then reverse the order, whispering for a minute, and then out loud for a minute, for a total of five minutes.
  • To finish the meditation, inhale very deeply, stretch your hands above your head, and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale.

Breathe away the bad

  • Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position with a tall spine.
  • Place the hands together so the little finger sides of the hands are touching and the hands are in a little bowl shape.
  • Take a long, slow, deep breath through the nose, then breathe out through the mouth. When you breathe out through the mouth, try to direct the breath into the bowl of the hands. You might need to readjust the position of your hands so you can feel the wind of your breath.
  • Once you have the breathing pattern established, start to think about the items that are worrying you, making you feel upset, or thoughts you want to let of of.
  • As you breathe out, visualise releasing these thoughts and problems into the hands.
  • Continue this breathing for 2-3 minutes or use counting 10-26 rounds of the breath.

Tips

  • Do a little practise everyday. Start with just a couple of minutes a day.
  • Make it fun so they look forward to practising.
  • Always ask them to reflect how they feel at the end of the practise.
  • For older children, ask them to count the number of breaths to keep the mind focused - i.e 26 rounds of breath pattern.
  • Try to practise at a similar time every day - In the morning before school, after school, or just before bed. meditation will soon become a habit.
  • A few minutes a day is better then making the sessions long and boring. Try for three to five minutes daily.
Erin O'Hara is a yoga and mediation teacher who runs the Golden Yogi studio (golden yogi.co.nz, 46 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna, Auckland)
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