Studies have shown that young people who learn healthy coping skills early on are better able to navigate problems later in life and thrive as adults.
Now more than ever, in our social media era, news blasting culture, “everything creates a trauma” attitude, post-COVID, whatever else, giving our children tools to deal with it all is so important.
Mindfulness techniques can provide children and teens with helpful strategies to deal with a variety of mental health issues and life challenges they face such as depression, anxiety, bullying, eating disorders, trauma, and self-esteem problems.
With their relatively short life experience, children and teens lack the skills to put life events, discomforts, disagreements and other challenges in perspective.
It is hard for them to see how in a day/week/month/year time this may not seem as significant and even good may come out of it.
As grownups, we have learnt that some things can be fixed with the right effort, and other things just need time to heal or come back into order... but those same events, may make a young person feel like it's "the end of the world" and all hope is lost. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
Mindfulness can help a lot in creating the distance necessary from our thoughts and emotions to be able to process events in a healthier way.
We are obsessive thinkers (60,000 thoughts a day on average) and we get attached and fully identify with every thought and feeling that arises inside of us.
Even though those thoughts and feelings are very impermanent, and they move and change rapidly, without mindfulness skills we are totally consumed by them, many times to a point where we may feel helpless.
Being able to observe our thoughts and feelings and identify them, gives us the power to be free of them and even the power to change them at times.
Knowledge is power. When we don't know our inner world we are controlled by everything that arises and falls within it. When we are more familiar with it, we can more easily surf its waves.
Also, if we don't learn how to deal with stress in a healthy way, we end up doing it in unhealthy ways such as substance abuse or other harmful or self-harming activities.
Mindfulness is a simple tool to awaken the wisdom that already exists inside of you. It is a way for you to become your own best friend and advisor.
Why Practice Mindfulness:
- Handle everyday stress
- Handle anxiety before taking an exam at school, a performance, or a social interaction
- Enjoy your daily activities more, such as the bus ride or walking the dog
- Better handle arguments with parents and friends
- Concentrate more while studying or in class
- Handle repetitive negative thoughts such as memories, worries, and regrets
- Transform negative and self-harming thoughts about oneself
- Improve your relationship with friends, family and significant others
- Handle difficult moods such as depression and anxiety
To summarize though, Mindfulness is about two things:
- Dealing better with stress, and
- Enjoying life more.
We often get caught up in trying to do as much as we can, as well as we can, to please as many people as we can, that we don't take time to enjoy anything. We don't take enough time to listen to ourselves and to love ourselves. Mindfulness helps to do that.
Mindfulness is sometimes described as a bird with two wings: Awareness and Compassion. The practice needs both wings to take flight. Whenever stress or difficulties arise, awareness will allow you to understand what is happening and why. Compassion will allow you to relate to the situation with kindness. Only with both you will arrive at a resolution and to a place of peace.
There are many ways to be mindful… We can be mindful of our body and all of the sensations in it, we can be more aware through our 5 senses, we can watch our thoughts and learn to direct them to better places, we can observe our feelings rather than drown in them.
Different approaches and techniques are suitable for different age groups and different people. This class focuses more on the younger children.
Let’s get right into it here and now!
To Bring: Tibetan Medicine Bowl, Bell or bells if you can, Cotton balls or any large amount of small objects
Sun Dance with Song
Try this one by Kira Willey
Best to learn and sing and do with the kids (rather than playing it on the stereo).
Sun Salutation, Dance for the Sun,
Sun Salutation, Dance for the Sun,
Sun Salutation, Dance for the Sun,
I can do it, You can do it, We can do a Sun Salutation!
Stretch up high, (into the sun)
Hang down low, (tickle your toes)
Feet jump back, (just like a frog)
Belly on the ground, (just like a snake)
Look at the Sun,
Now Downward Dog.
And Breath, (and breath)
And Breath, (and breath)
Feet jump up, (just like a frog)
Hang down low, (tickle your toes)
Stretch up high, (into the Sun)
Mountain Pose. (look what you've done)
Today we are going to focus on mindfulness.
Mindfulness is minding our mind and growing flowers in it rather than weeds.
Instead of letting it run wild and think thoughts and feelings that make us worried, stressed, anxious or sad, we can create a relationship with our mind that cultivates peace, calm and joy.
Animals have thoughts and feelings too and we can learn a lot from them about how to be more focused and carefree. Each animal (symbolically) has a certain quality we can be inspired by to be more mindful - Let’s explore that!
Today we are all going to be explorers!
Explorers of animals AND explorers of our minds!
Each person in their turn will share now their favourite animal and something they can learn from it… A quality, an attitude, a way of behaving or living.
You can use the Tibetan Medicine Bowl here and pass it around for each child to ring when their turn to speak comes.
If you wish, they can even combine it with a yoga pose with each animal as they are shared around the circle.
With very young children it will suffice if they simply share their name and favourite animal and you, the teacher, can add a sentence about what you may think we can learn from that animal.
Deep Animals Breaths
Breathing Helps calm both our bodies and our minds…
Let’s breathe with the animals, 5 deep breaths with each:
Whale Breath - Sitting criss-cross applesauce, sit up tall and take a deep breath in, Hold it while you count to 5 with your fingers then tilt your head up to blow it out of the blowhole. You can also put your hands up on top of your head to create the blowhole to “blow” out.
Snake Breath - Breathe in, pause briefly, then breathe out slowly while you make a hissing sound for as long as you can.
Bunny Breath - You can do this breathing either while sitting, or add movement to it.
Sitting version - make “bunny” hands in front of the chest and take quick sniffs like a bunny.
Movement version - start in a squat and hop forward while taking quick bunny sniffs.
Bumblebee Breath - Breathe in and pretend you are smelling a flower. As you breathe out, make a humming bee sound. Try different ways of making the sound - longer or shorter, high or low sounds.
Peacock Breath – Inhale, moving your arms up, and exhale to open your peacock tale by moving your arms to the sides and down. Add some jazzy fingers for decoration!
Dog’s breath - Stick your tongue out and breathe in and out through your mouth, panting like a dog; this is how dogs cool themselves when they're hot!
Lion’s breath – Kneel down, sitting on your heels and bring your hands to your knees, shaped like lion’s claws. Breathe in and draw your claws in toward your hips. When you exhale, draw your claws out, open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, roll your eyes up, lean forward, exhale forcefully through your mouth and roar like a lion!
Bee’s breath - This is an ancient yogic exercise. Sit up tall and inhale through your nose, producing a male bee sound by making a long snoring sound at the back of your throat (keep your mouth closed). Hold your breath for a few seconds, keeping your eyes closed and then exhale making a female bee sound by producing a very high-pitched, long sound, like a hum. Try to feel the vibration of this sound between your eyebrows. Repeat 3-5 times.
Horse’s breath - Neigh!
Elephant Breath - Standing with feet apart, inhale through your nose and lift your trunk (your hands with interlocked fingers) up, and exhale through your mouth, dropping your trunk and body down.
Butterfly smelling flowers or Sipping Nectar – Breathing deeply in Butterfly Pose try bringing your nose to your toes!
Turtles are famous for being slow. You may think that being fast is better, but there are many benefits to being slow such as enjoying more all the beautiful things around us - It can be tiring and un satisfying to always rush!
This is one of my favourites of late and the goal of this exercise is to help kids slow down and practice observing what’s going on around them.
And I like to bring in at any time of the class… Many times during the class… Simply by saying “Turtle Time”!
So whenever you call “Turtle Time”, everyone needs to stop and look around like a turtle in a slow, exaggerated fashion.
Take turns sharing details about what you see and notice around you that maybe you haven’t before. It can be objects that you notice, sounds, people or even behaviours.
A great mindfulness exercise!
Practice now and bring it back anytime during the class where you feel that the children need to re-focus!
This game is a good way for children to practice and remember animal poses. It encourages stillness, quiet time and self-control. You will need your Tibetan Medicine Bowl or a bell for this game.
Choose a Yoga Animal, or let the children take turns picking an animal, and get them to move about the classroom freely, moving and making sounds as this animal would.
When the children hear the Tibetan Medicine Bowl, they must freeze in that animal pose and stay there quietly until they hear that the bowl has stopped singing.
Eagles have sharp eyesight and can see tiny creatures scurrying on the ground even from a mile up in the air.
Let’s see how attentive and sharp your eyesight is!
Divide your group into partners (find someone with a similar eye colour to yours) and have them face each other. Give them a few minutes to look at each other and then have the pairs turn back to back and make a few changes in their appearance.
For example, they may move a hair accessory or change their hairstyle, button or unbutton a shirt, roll sleeves, cuff pants, etc.
Then the students face each other again and attempt to identify the changes. Change partners and repeat as many times as you wish.
This exercise is great for developing our attention, and especially our attention to details - Fun!
Spiders are very patient and are very sensitive to all of the subtle changes around them. That’s why they are such good hunters with their spiderwebs.
In this moment,
- What can they hear?
- What can they see?
- What can they taste?
- What can they smell?
- What can they feel?
Guide students as they stay in this Spidey state for a few minutes.
Owls are wise because they are great observers. They take their time to observe both the world around them and their inner world. Let’s learn from them how to do that.
Give each child a pile of cotton balls or pom-poms, you can use any small object like beans for example but it is easier with ones that don’t make much noise when you move them.
Measure one minute, and ask the children to watch their mind with a heightened awareness for that time period, moving one pom-pom to the side for each thought that passes through their mind.
At the end of the minute, count your thoughts. Repeat a few times, trying to have fewer thoughts at every round.
This is a fantastic exercise to help us be more aware of our thoughts. When we are not aware of our thoughts they control us, when we do we can start directing them into more positive and useful places.
You’ll be surprised to discover that with practice all thoughts tend to run away and disappear when you consciously watch them in this way.
Be Still & Listen Like A Tiger
Tigers are some of the best hunters because they are able to move so mindfully and silently.
You will need a Gong, a Tibetan Medicine Bowl or a bell that makes a very long sound for this practice.
Have the children crawl around the room like tigers (Cat Pose) totally silently. Once you ring the gong or Medicine Bowl, everyone stops and stays absolutely still and closes their eyes. They listen very carefully to the sound, and only once the sound has completely disappeared and they cannot hear it at all, can they start walking again.
A comeback of what we did before in Animals Paradise but a much quieter version of it.
Repeat as many times as you like.
Quiet As A Fish
Sit in a circle and pass a bell or bells around the circle. In the first round, everyone can ring the bell.
We are going to this all over again now but be as quiet as fish are… So on all the consecutive rounds, pass the bell around the circle without ringing it - This requires lots of mindfulness.
For older kids you can pass a bell and a candle, one in each hand, trying not to ring the bell AND not let the flame die out. Or try a bell and a full cup of water trying not to spill any water.
Chilled Out Sloth
Sloths don’t like to move much… They prefer to be lazy and slow and sleepy and still.
This game can encourage children to lie still for an extraordinary length of time. This is very good for developing their listening and concentration skills, it is also a wonderful way of quieting things down for relaxation. You will need your Tibetan singing bowl, and eye pillows are useful too.
Ask the children to turn and lie down on their backs with their hands by their sides, eye pillows on or lights dimmed. Tell the children that you are going to ring the singing bowl and that they’ll need to listen very carefully. When the singing bowl has stopped they’ll need to gently place their hands on their bellies. When everyone has their hands on their bellies, ring the bowl again. When the children can’t hear the singing anymore have them gently place their hands by their sides again. Repeat these steps for an oh-so-quiet and tranquil classroom, or for as long as the children will stay there!
When dolphins sleep they only turn off one side of their brain at a time so that they can still stay aware and keep themselves safe while they half-sleep… That’s what we’ll do now.
Start breathing deeply imagining that you are floating like a half-sleeping dolphin in the ocean.
Imagine that you are floating in the ocean and each breath is a wave around you. Each in-breath lifts you up, and each out-breath sets you back down.
Try not to make it feel like work. Being mindful can be relaxing and enjoyable.
We breathe in and out 20,000 times a day.
How many of those breaths are you consciously aware of?
How many of those breaths do you really enjoy?
Pay careful attention to your breath, following it and floating with it as you breathe in and out.
Notice the beginning of your in-breath, follow it all the way through the middle, all the way to the end. Then notice the pause between your in-breath and your out-breath. Follow your out-breath slowly through every little change and continuity in it.
All animals have the ability to express their emotions, but smiling is a special way that humans and other apes such as chimpanzees have to express their pleasure and joy.
The essence of mindfulness can be boiled down to 2 words: Breath and Smile (Tich Nhat Hanh).
Breathing gets you in touch with the present moment. Smiling opens your mind and heart.
When you are feeling happy and enjoying life, there is only one thing to do: breathe and smile.
When you are feeling stressed out, angry, or upset, there is still only one thing to do: breathe and smile.
Smiling when you are unhappy is not fake, it is not pretending to be happy when you are not. Rather, intentionally smiling can help you bring loving-kindness and self-compassion into whatever situation you find yourself in.
When you are in a pleasant situation, smiling can help you enjoy the moment more. When you are in a difficult situation, smiling can remind you to take care of your stress with less judgment and more compassion.
Smiling is like yoga for your face - it relaxes the muscles, and it sends positive signals to your brain.
One of the best ways to cultivate loving-kindness is by intentionally smiling.
Take a moment now to observe your thoughts and feelings... no judgment, not even an attempt to change them... breath and smile at them and see what happens.
You can smile at anyone and anything, whether pleasant or difficult. You can smile to your breath, you can smile at your own thoughts or emotions, you can smile at your neighbour, you can smile at the exam at school that is stressing you out.
Sending friendliness in this way, you can begin to let go of your stress. And happiness is contagious - So help spread it around!
When you practice mindfulness, you don't practice just for yourself. Your mindful presence can help your family and friends too.
The benefits to you will then multiply because when people in your life are less stressed, you will also be less stressed.