Updated: May 13, 2020
I believe I've shared this before, but for many years while I was aware that I was uneducated about #meditation and had on my list to explore further, I really was under the impression that prayer was more the "Christian-way" and meditation was more for those outside the faith. Having spent some time educating myself these last several months and now being somewhat more than a novice, I've come to appreciate that prayer is more speaking to #God and meditation is more listening. It honestly is more about silencing the mind entirely, and recognizing that we are not our thoughts, but meditation can really dig some deeply buried emotions and memories up and cause you to gain insights you simply may not have offered space previously.
This month I have committed to meditating twice each day. I plan to start with ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening. One of my sons has experienced some #trauma so lives in a bit of fight-or-flight, struggling really to calm his nervous system. This presents itself like Attention Deficit Disorder, but meditation is a perfect way to help him calm his nervous system and become a bit more embodied. Another one of my boys has #Aspergers, so he has some #proprioception dysfunction and #vestibular issues. Essentially he struggles to engage his mind with his body, not always knowing where his body is in space or being able to coordinate his movements as he might desire. He has a bit of difficulty being mindful - of time, others, feeling pain, or his place within his environment. Meditation can also help him build these connections.
This morning I thought I would include him in my meditation, and I'll share that my current personal improvement guru has shared a number of times that among all the coaching recommendations he offers, exercise, #journaling, diet, sleep, nature, self-study and of course, meditation, it is the latter that most people dread and often try to skip over entirely. Two years ago, I quite literally could not do it. I couldn't even lay still for an hour massage. Today, I can fairly easily meditate for fifteen minutes but still struggle with really silencing my mind. Those to do lists still bubble into my consciousness and I want to write them down before I forget them. As we concluded our ten minute meditation this morning, Samuel says to me, "I think I stopped breathing for a minute. I don't know why but I realized that I don't think I was even breathing." My younger son, Simon, says, "Probably because you wanted to die." So I guess we still have some work to do before they embrace the idea of meditation.
Meditation & Kids
Into the future, I hope to offer a yoga and mindfulness class for #teens because I believe it is not only important for their overall well-being, but for this age group in particular, it's important for developing a healthy self-awareness. Children of all ages really do need opportunities where they can take time to unplug themselves and just relax and focus. Meditation offers this break.
While I've clearly developed a passion for yoga and a growing appreciation for meditation, this recommendation isn't simply mine. The American Academy of Pediatrics (#AAP) now encourages parents to share meditation with their children and teachers to incorporate mindfulness training into their lesson plans. Teaching the little ones how to catch themselves, pause, focus, and just breathe could be one of the greatest gifts you give them.
The most common types of meditation practices are concentration, mindfulness, movement based, cultivating positive emotions, and emptying. There are also #zin, Qigong, #mantras, #yoganidra, and honestly, thousands upon thousands more. Some concentrate on a specific word, thought, sensation, or image. Others are more about mindfulness and stress reduction. Some are even movement-based such as #Ashtanga yoga or Tai chi. Buddhist metta practices cultivate compassion and loving-kindness and then emptying-focused meditation utilizes a #centering prayer, waiting on the inner voice or inner light.
Many practices uses breathing techniques to promote a sense of calmness, closing one's eyes and focusing on their breathing. Thoughts may sneak in but these are allowed to just drift through, turning focus back to breathing without any judgment. Certainly sitting quietly can be tough for kids which is why a movement-based mindfulness might be a better introduction.
Meditation is a Wellbeing Practice
Essentially all faiths and religions practice some sort of mindfulness and none that I am aware contradict meditation. Resting the mind, body, and spirit supports the soul. The literature has grown so significantly that meditation and #mindfulness practices are not integrated not only within primary schools and universities, but also within programs for disease prevention and treatments of a plethora of chronic disease.
Studies are abundant in the benefits this practice offers those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (#ADHD), anxiety, #depression, school performance, sleep, behavior problems, and eating disorders. It has also shown to be an important healing modality for children with post-traumatic disorder symptoms (#PTSD). Meditation calms the nervous system and decreases our stress hormones. It calms the gastrointestinal system, improves obesity, headaches, high blood pressure, pain sensitivity, and immune function.
Tips to Consider
If #meditation is new to you or your child, consider that there are a multitude of ways to approach it and you may need some time to explore the practice before you find your comfort zone. Preschool children can practice mindfulness just a few minutes per day to gain benefit, and grade school children, about three to ten minutes twice each day. Teens and adults can practice from five minutes to 45-minutes once or twice each day.
Deep breathing might be a nice introduction for the little ones. Prior to bed, help them wind down for the night using meditation, even guided meditation, helping them to become more aware of their breath, slowing it down and calming their nervous systems. Grade-school children can be taught to take a few breaths before they answer challenging questions at school, before taking a test, or before an athletic performance. Deep breathing can be exceedingly helpful when they are facing tough emotions. Adding #tapping to this practice an also be quite helpful, especially for those dealing with #anxiety.
Meditation is not currently covered by insurance plans, as I am aware, unless part of therapy by a licensed counselor. These practices have been incorporated into in-patient mental health programs for more than three decades however, and are a fairly common aspect of mental health wellness programs today. Flexible medical spending programs may count meditation training as a medical expense and certainly, if your child has ADHD or any other challenge, and is also on a state program, speak to your case worker about grant monies for obtaining training to utilize this practice with your child.
Overcoming Just a Few Barriers
One of the toughest aspects of meditation for many, is maintaining proper body support. A cushion or pillow can certainly help minimize discomfort while helping to improve posture during meditation. The right tools certainly can help to ensure more successful practice.
You've likely seen people or images of those meditating in a full-lotus or half-lotus (cross-legged) position, maybe even kneeling. Some prefer sitting in a chair and those of us who practice yoga will joke that we prefer shavasana, or the lying position. You can try any one or all of these as you explore what works best for you. Generally avoiding the bed for meditation is wise, as the goal is not to fall asleep but rather sink into that place of relaxation just prior to sleep.
If you choose a sitting meditation in either full or half lotus, a firm foundation is crucial. You want your spine elegantly raised straight but not to the point of discomfort. If your core is a bit weak, this may be harder to maintain so the lift can be especially helpful. Taller individuals or those with more limited flexibility may also find greater comfort in having their hips supported higher than their knees by either a blanket or cushion. You may also need to lift the cheeks of your bum a bit, sort of moving them out from under you a bit, so your pelvis can rock a bit forward.
Meditation cushions come in a variety of options. The Zafu and Zabuton Meditation Cushions are more traditional, with a round pleated cushion and larger, rectangular cushion. One would sit on the round cushion upon the rectangular one so that their knees can rest lower than their hips, encouraging a more natural curve in the spine while also supporting their ankles. (I have no relationship with this company and am not necessarily endorsing them, but wanted to offer a visual.)
There are a number of meditation benches and chairs available, which may be more supportive for those with weaker knees. Yoga bolsters and blankets are also popular. One can even straddle the bolster and maintain themselves with their lower legs beneath them. If savasana is your preference, one can simply lie on a yoga mat, placing a bolster or blankets over them, under their head or knees, or tucked around their body for security. Cushioned cotton mats are also available for increased comfort. Remember comfort and proper alignment is the goal so when first starting to meditation, mentally scan the body and take notice of any areas that need additional support or adjustment.
If you're shopping for yoga cushions or bolsters, I'd love to hear what you choose in the comments. I found that some believe the color of one's cushion can influence their personal energy in specific ways, such that red is thought to offer a fire energy, elevating your energy. Violet is thought to restore balance, including also plum and purple. Yellow lifts the mood and clears the mind. Blue is calming and helps with relaxation. Black induces deep inward focus and discipline. Orange induces healing both physically and mentally. Green creates balance and calmness, encouraging slow, deep breathing. Brown combines the qualities of green and orange, and generally, the stronger the color the more powerful the effect.
Finally, mats may come with either kapok or buckwheat hull. Kapok is a cotton-like material that comes from trees in Asia and the southern regions of the US. It is more firm than cotton, foam, or batting typically used in cushions, but still conforms to the shape of the body without collapsing or becoming unsupportive. It is also lightweight. Buckwheat are small, dark, saucer-shaped grains that are much like a bag of beans or sand. These are a bit heavier than a kapok cushion, but they do conform easily to the shape of the body and offer a very grounding feeling. They are often the preference in meditation cushions. Please share a picture with me of your meditation gear, area, or littles trying meditation.