Focus on The Breath
Mention incorporating meditation into family life or teaching meditation and relaxation to children and many people will look at you with amazement and disbelief. Very few people will believe that you can encourage children, especially small children to relax and meditate. In this article we look at three simple breathing exercises which can add some quiet time to family life for all ages.
As children experience the benefits of slowing down, breathing better and feeling more relaxed they will look forward to spending quiet time with other members of the family. Children are able to get into a relaxed state much faster than adults as research has found that children naturally exist in a meditative state and it is only when they reach adolescence that their brains move into the beta state necessary for analytical tasks. This beta state is the state which most adults settle in to.
So how do you encourage the children in your family to participate in some "chill out" time? Well, to begin with, ask everyone present to take a minute to find their inner calm by taking two to three deep breaths and imagine they are a very large tree. With every out breath they need to imagine the roots of their tree being firmly planted into the ground and any irritation from their day flowing from the leaves, along the branches, down the tree trunk and into the roots growing into the ground beneath them. To top up their energy levels, imagine a big rain cloud sending cleansing rain down onto the leaves of the tree to help wash worries away and revitalise the tree. Children of all ages will enjoy this visualisation.
Breathing is the link between the mind and body and is essential to our survival. The quality of our breathing dictates the quality of our physical and mental health and ultimately our lives. Explain to children that the breath is the mirror of how we feel and that through conscious breathing we can change our tension into relaxation. Focusing on the breath is one way of anchoring our meditation practice and is a good place for all family members to start.
Here are three simple breathing exercises to teach the family:
Relaxed natural breathing with awareness:
-Sit in a comfortable position, making sure the soles of your feet are connected to the ground.
-Rest your hand on your thighs and let your shoulders relax.
-Gently close your eyes and let your spine grow tall like the trunk of a tree.
-Take a moment to notice how your body feels - breathe in and out through your nose.
-Now focus on the flow of your breath. You do not need to breathe in a special way. Your body knows how to breathe. Simply notice each breath coming in and out of your body.
-See if you can notice the cool breath entering the nostrils as you breathe in and the hotter air leaving your nostrils as you breathe out.
-If you notice your mind is busy and caught up in thoughts, concerns, emotions or body sensations just let these thoughts go.
-Every time you get distracted by thoughts, focus on your breathing again.
Counting the breath:
-Sit comfortably and raise your right hand in front of you making a fist.
-Take a big breath, breathe out and then breathe in through your nose.
-As you breathe out through your nose, release one finger.
-Breathe in and breathe out releasing the next finger.
-Keep going until you have completed five breaths.
-If you wish, you can do the same with the left hand.
-Even very young children can participate in this exercise.
The counting breath is excellent for calming individuals who are overly excited or active.
Child friendly alternate nostril breathing:
Alternate nostril breathing integrates both sides of the brain and body, clears the mind, calms and energises and improves focus which is why it is a good breathing exercise for children to participate in before sitting an exam.
There is a child friendly version of alternate nostril breathing. This easier version involves the following:
-Press your right pointer finger over your right nostril to close it.
-Breathe in slowly and deeply through your left nostril three times.
-Press your right pointer finger over your left nostril to close it.
-Breathe in slowly and deeply through your right nostril three times.
It is not necessary to practice all three breathing exercises in one sitting. It would be better to choose one breathing exercise to practice after the grounding exercise and when family members are comfortable with the breathing exercise after a few days/weeks then move on to one of the other three exercises. Family members may develop a preference for their "favourite" breathing exercise which they can also practice on their own when feeling anxious. Simple breathing exercises are an excellent way for children to calm exam nerves and approach daily challenges with more clarity.