When my children were small they were like most, busy little kids and into everything. Each had at least one imaginary friend and a host of real-life friends. They would play for hours. Little nooks around our home were transformed into secret hideouts and our yard became a sporting arena or a stage where they would create plays and put on artful performances, as only children can. Springtime brought dandelion bouquets or a bowl of freshly harvested salamanders filled with dirt, sticks and rocks; and as busy a time as it was, I reflect on it as perfection in all its simplicity.
My husband and I did what we could to keep an anxious, hurry-up-world at bay and allow them first to explore their intimate surroundings. This included promoting those healthy bonds with family and close friends, who always helped tip their daily happiness scale in the right direction; but children can’t be insulated for long. Certain stressors will penetrate your home despite your best efforts.
When my son was just 5 and my daughter was 8 my mom passed away from cancer; and a short 5 years later we lost their paternal grandfather passed away from complications to diabetes. We prepared them as best as we could and answered any questions they had; but each child felt the loss, which prompted lots of questions and brief periods of sadness. I noticed, as they began sharing their feelings with friends, they started to realize that their experiences were not unique, but new to them and could be shared and understood by others outside their home.
Children require the space and freedom to get to know themselves beyond the comfort of our care. This allows them the opportunity to explore and question the world and its inner workings. These explorations can help instill confidence that can allow children to think for themselves and teach them to advocate for their own needs. So, how can we help children focus on their own thinking, since thinking is such a private affair (Forman, G., 1989)?
Modeling behavior that is mindful of the self is a wonderful way to encourage it in children. The self is our essential being that distinguishes us from others, especially in our introspective or instinctive actions. Mindfulness promotes techniques that can foster an appreciation of the moment and our larger view on life. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 61% of teens say that stress and anxiety have a major impact on their lives. These statistics accentuate the need to model and foster mindfulness in children, which can help them [and parents] better manage their stress.
There are many ways to incorporate Mindful Meditation Practices (MMPs), like taking a quiet walk or finding the time to meditate each morning. Whatever the practice, the goal is to achieve a state where you and your child feel alert, focused, and relaxed. Many families have found yoga can play an important role in helping to reduce stress and centering their thoughts and ideas. StudiesSee below: Therapeutic Effects of Yoga for Children: A Systematic Review of the Literature have found that yoga not only reduces feelings of anxiety, but also can enhance our selective The ability to react to certain stimuli selectively when several things occur simultaneously. and executive attentionWhen it comes to our short-term memory, executive attention is highly effective in blocking potentially distracting information from the focus of attention.. Yoga focuses on breathing, such as the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils and out of your mouth, and allowing your belly to rise and fall with a deep inhale and exhale. When we breathe deeply we oxygenate the blood. This causes our brain to release endorphins, which helps reduce stress in the body and decrease our level of pain.
I reached out to renowned yogi Monique Schubert to better understand the benefits of incorporating mindfulness practices, like yoga, into the child and family diet. Schubert, who teaches a course on Planting Seeds – teaching yoga & meditation to young people, explains that when it comes to MMPs, like yoga, the brain can also have a placebo effect. Meaning, the benefits of yoga and other mindful meditation practices can come from our own belief and understanding of the practice. The more we believe in what we are doing and why we are doing it, the more it can benefit us.
Schubert attended Quaker School and after graduation enrolled at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Post-college she traveled to India and Tibet to study 13th Century murals in Buddhist temples. It was there she discover yoga. She practiced and learned how yoga connects the mind, body, and spirit. “There is a heightened awareness that comes from being still, which helps us to become more acquainted with ourselves, she explained.” As Schubert began to trust in the practice she also began to notice how her once willowy body was becoming physically strong and how inwardly and outwardly she was becoming more self-confident. Still, Schubert continued to seek answers. “I was seeking a deeper connection to myself. I wanted understand how to live in concert in nature.”
Schubert was introduced to Maya Breuer who became her mentor. Maya is a yoga instructor, author, community activist, and co-founder of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance. She studied Kripalu Yoga with Maya, which focuses on the interplay of the body, mind, and energy and works to unblock any disturbance of energy that can create an imbalance in us. Schubert completed her teacher training and began to explore chanting – a centuries-old technique that connects people with themselves, the universe, and Spirit. Chanting raises vibrations of the individual, which helps create a feeling of vitality, peacefulness, and centeredness. Chanting helps create a detachment that allows the brain to wander and let go of stress. Chanting connected Schubert’s love of yoga, music and art and helped her to realize that they are all essential and inseparable elements of life – not separate entities.
As I listened to Schubert I was reminded of when my children were young and how they could immerse themselves for hours with a quiet project and, later, my daughter’s self-exploration through yoga as a young adult. These practices allowed them time to reflect and reconstruct their understandings of themselves and the day’s events. As parents we want to provide our children with essentials that can promote their social and emotional health. While our genes do provide the blueprint for the formation of our brain circuits, it’s our experiences and how we handle them that actually shape the process that determines how strong or fragile our foundation will be for all future learning, behavior, and health (Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University).
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Monique Schubert for sharing her knowledge and experiences with SUNKISSED FAMILIES. Warmest regards, Jeannine Marie Lenehan
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