Actress Goldie Hawn has been known to have worked neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and educators to develop a mindfulness curriculum for schools. A lot of research says that mindfulness education in schools has recognised benefits: it increases confidence and cheerfulness in classrooms, decreases bullying and belligerence, develops kindness and empathy and helps students resolve skirmishes. Ashley Green tells us more.
Mindfulness. Meditation. Mindful Meditation. The list goes on. There are so many options available to us when we are looking to care for our mental well-being. These practices have always been there however now, the spotlight is gently lighting the way for the masses, unveiling different pathways through the forest of the mind. The beautiful part is, they are all part of the journey to ‘Samadhi’ or ‘enlightenment’. Meditation is a torch you can switch on at any time to brighten and navigate those dimmer trails.
Most yogis, myself included, look forward to Savasana at the end of their practice, the chance to be fully awake in self-awareness after our physical endeavours. Lots of people from all walks of life are now practising mindfulness daily, it isn’t just the yogis and religious. People in the corporate world are taking notice and reaping the benefits of a more mindful life. It’s so encouraging to hear about more and more people nurturing their well-being and this got me thinking. When I’m not busy teaching, I enjoying practising mindfulness and meditation as often as I can. During one particular hour of stillness, the lotus flower opened; the jewel inside was a beautiful idea, I should teach the young children in my care how to practice mindfulness and meditation throughout the curriculum. If I sow the seeds with the younger children, the following teachers can water, nurture and encourage to them to grow. And so, www.mindfulteachinguae.com was born. The practices mentioned came to me a number of years ago during some very difficult times in life, I knew I had to find a way to care for my mental well-being. Often people look for solutions when their mental health is compromised and mental illness arises however, if preventative methods are in place, the risk of stress, anxiety and depression are lessened. Now imagine a world where children are educated in the benefits of practising this mental care. Beautiful isn’t it?
Why should we teach children mindfulness?
In a nutshell, mindfulness means being present in the moment in a non-judgemental way. It helps us not only to be aware of our physical surroundings but our emotional weather at that moment. We have all seen a three year old throw a tantrum, unable to verbalise how they are feeling but what if we started teaching them the emotional vocabulary? We can begin helping them label and understand emotions from a young age. Children who practice mindfulness with parents, teachers, or independently when they are a bit older, have improved focus and attention. They develop more resilience, empathy and a deeper sense of compassion. The whole child is nurtured when they are in touch with mindful concepts and we should be gifting them methods to enable them to care for themselves in future, when life’s inevitable curveballs are thrown. It has been predicted by 2030 that depression will be the biggest health issue facing the millennial generation; mindful living is a powerful anti-oxidant to this toxic statistic.
Why should we teach children how to meditate?
Scientifically, the more we meditate the more we develop parts of the prefrontal cortex in our brain. This is the part of our brains that makes us stop and think about things, it helps us to analyse and plan, responding to situations that arise. Studies show that the Amygdala, the ‘fight or flight’ area of the brain, decreases in those who meditate regularly, in turn reducing fearful or anxious reactions. If we encourage children to meditate, starting little and often with the younger ones, we are helping their neural pathways develop in such beneficial way. Neuroplasticity allows us to rewire old pathways and thinking habits so it’s never too late to begin! Imagine the strength in mind of an adult who has meditated from childhood.
How can you introduce mindfulness and meditation to young children?
This is the fun part! There are so many gorgeous activities that you can do with children or as a whole family when looking to introduce them to mindfulness and meditation. I feel very grateful to be able to try all my ideas with the children at the ‘chalkface’. My class are always receptive to the activities we do together and as the year progresses, so does their astounding level of well-being vocabulary. They can freely talk (in child speak of course!) about using various strategies, breathing techniques and ‘mindful minutes’ to regulate their emotions. Pretty impressive stuff from a five year old! So what can we do to introduce children to this concept? Begin with trying the activities yourself first! When we begin our own mindful practices and see the personal benefits, then we can enrich the experiences of children. I think the best way is to integrate practices into normal routines throughout the day so one of my favourite activities is mindful munching!
Eventually, mindful eating leads to an overall, positive relationship with food, gratitude and healthy choices are a by product but most importantly, children love this activity! It can be practised at any snack or meal time and the adult can guide the children to ‘mindfully munch’ just the first bite. This can initially be introduced as a fun game for little ones where the dialogue is encouraged but older children and teenagers can be taught about the deeper purpose and benefits. To begin, the child can choose one thing from their box or plate. Ask them to really look at it and see what they notice. Work through the senses enabling them to become aware of what they feel, smell and even hear (yes- hear, apparently raisins ‘squeak’!) Eventually ending with taste. Although taking a bite and letting the food rest in their mouth for a moment whilst ‘noticing’ the sensation is a challenging ask of a little one, they can do it and the language they use afterwards when discussing the experience is fantastic. Practices like this can sharpen focus and attention in children over time. In school, if I ‘mindlessly’ begin a snacktime without this activity, the ‘mindful munchers’ are quick to tell me!
When babies breathe they breathe freely, they inhale and exhale so naturally. But as adults we tend to breathe more from our chests, which isn’t as beneficial for our bodies. So it’s important to give children opportunities to practice ‘yoga breathing’ through mindful meditation. A favourite activity of mine is to ask children to lie down with their favourite cuddly toy on their tummies. Encourage them to watch the movement as they breathe. (Warning; fits of giggles may ensue as the toys fall off!) Eventually you will be able to lead the children in short guided meditations in this way, maybe walking through a park or floating on a cloud, and they will now know what proper breathing feels like.
There are so many benefits to introducing these practices to children from a young age, many well-being centres are now starting to provide mindfulness and meditation opportunities for children. I always think back to my first encounters with the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of mindfulness. “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf…” What a refreshing thought and I can’t help but think we can give little ones’ boogie boards to help the balance before transitioning to fully fledged surf-boards where they will navigate the calm and stormy, waters ahead.
About the Author: Ashley Green
Ashley is a teacher who has lived in Dubai for 7 years and currently works in Jess Jumeirah. She is passionate about mindfulness and has practised meditation for around 5 years. Ashley enjoys yoga and has recently completed her first 200-hour yoga teaching training course in Rishikesh. She recently amalgamated her passions for education and well-being with the creation of herwebsite www.mindfulteachinguae.com, where educators can share ideas for the classroom, based around mindfulness, meditation, and well-being.
Source: YogaLife Magazine January-March 2018 Edition