Part Six: Its a Wrap!
This is the last of the six-part series on the practice of mindfulness. To reap the full benefit of everything we have learned from the last six posts, it is important that you start this journey with openness and curiosity. In the absence of an agenda and preconceived notions you will be able to view your experience in a new light. Start this journey with the mind of a child, being open and receptive to whatever you may experience. Paying attention to your energy and attitude towards practice is crucial because if you are forcing yourself to feel calm or expecting something magical to happen as you are meditating then you defeat the whole purpose of being in the moment and letting change happen naturally.
So I ask that you make a commitment to yourself to practice meditation on a daily basis. Whether it be for 5 minutes or 40 minutes, consistency is key. Practice both formal and informal mindfulness with a sense of curiosity and willingness to explore what may unfold for you. Lastly, learn to honor your limits – whether they be physical or emotional.
The key concept of mindfulness is to pay attention on purpose to the present moment without judgment. So no matter where you are or what you are doing, simply be aware of whether you are present (both physically and mentally) to what is going on. From time to time ask yourself, ‘Am I fully awake?’, ‘Am I paying attention to what is happening?’, ‘Where is my mind?’, ‘How is my breathing?’ etc. Tune into the sensations of your body – consciously relax those parts of the body where you feel tension. Tune into your thoughts – be aware of what your mind is up to. Tune into your reactions to people and situations– become aware of how you react to them. What prompted you to react the way you did? The moment you become aware that your mind has wandered from the task at hand bring your attention gently back to the present moment – and do this repeatedly. You are creating new neural pathways in your brain by doing this!
Talking to children about their day, spending quality time with them, reading to them etc are great ways to connect with your child and show them you care. Equally important is to show them how to be mindful – to be in the present moment and enjoy it, without worrying about what happened in school yesterday, anxious about the test tomorrow or sulking over why they did not get that extra cookie. Children have an innate quality to simply be present in the moment. Here are some ways to hone it.
- Take a walk with your child and talk about what you see. Talk about the changing colors of the leaves or the smell of the flowers. Pick up a leaf and examine the texture, the color, the sound it makes when it rustles in the wind. Hold the pine cones lying on the ground and notice how perfect each one is. Become curious and excited about nature and see how your child forgets about the worries in their little head and embraces the wonders around them.
- Choose a mindful activity that your child will be able to relate to and have fun doing it. The spider-man mindfulness activity is great for children. Link: http://kidsrelaxation.com/uncategorized/spider-man-practicing-mindfulness-and-increasing-focus/
- Set aside some time every day to give your undistracted attention to your child and immerse yourself in their play, letting them set the terms and rules of play. The key term to note here is ‘undistracted attention’.
- Mindfulness involves paying attention to breathing – the breath is used as the object of concentration. This simple discipline of bringing awareness to breathing helps our mind focus on the present moment. A fun way to teach children to bring their attention to their breath is by having them lie down and placing their favorite stuffed toy on their belly. Have them watch the toy go up and down as they breathe in and out.
- Introduce the habit of taking three mindful breaths (bringing attention to breathing in and breathing out – noticing how cold or warm the air feels, how the belly goes in and out) at least three times a day. Teach them they can always use this as a tool anytime they feel emotionally unsettled.
Studies have shown that doing these simple and fun mindfulness activities on a regular basis changes the structure of the brain improving the quality of thought and feeling. Children who practice mindfulness on a regular basis show increased patience and focus, higher tolerance for frustration, ability to stay calm amidst emotionally challenging situations, improved cognitive and performance skills and decreased worry and anxiety.