I recently visited my son’s class to share with them some of my techniques for calming and meditation.
Sitting still and meditating can be hard for adults so it’s understandable that it can seem nearly impossible for kids.
They are such sensory beings, while it is a natural part of their development, it poses a challenge when the task of meditation is to withdraw from the senses to go inwardly and still the mind.
The mind is the mind and it will try to reach out to sensory stimulus if it isn’t given something higher to focus on.
It goes into primal mode, linked to what we needed to survive – the smells, touch, taste, sounds, like listening to be aware of a predator or prey, the smell or taste of something toxic or nourishing. When we meditate we are moving to a higher state, away from our primal, reactive state to become aware and conscious.
Being mindful that these kids are just starting out on their journey, we can give them the tools to have a fulfilling meditation practice later in life, without the expectation that they will be engaged for long periods of time. The key is to make it play based, to give them something to sit still for and focus on.
Here are a few of the ways I do kids calming and meditation:
Firstly, I always start a meditation session with a breath exercise. The deep breathing exercises trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the "rest and digest" activities of the body. It is especially required when the children have been particularly active or stimulated when their bodies will be triggered by the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight actions)
When doing the breath exercises, the exercise has to be sensory. They need to see it move something, hear it or feel it move in their bodies.
Make their breath move something; feathers, bubbles, a toy on their bellies that moves up and down with their breath or link it in with a movement so they can feel it move in their bodies. They can make a shhhhh sound when they breathe out or cover their ears and listen to their breath.
Breathing exercise Balloon arms and breath.
Have the children sit and make arm movements with their breath. Inhaling raising their arms like a balloon (try to make the breath in at least 4 seconds long) Hold their breath (again 4 seconds) then slowly exhale whilst lowering their arms (about 6 seconds). You can, as they get better at breathing, extend the time taken to inhale, hold and exhale longer. Remind them to make their bellies fill up like a balloon and let go of all the air when they breathe out.
Belly breathing exercises the diaphragm and allows a full breath and therefore facilitates the exchange of more oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the body. Holding the breath for a short amount of time also helps this exchange.
By taking a deep belly breath the diaphragm descends and releases the pull on the pericardium (the fascia that surrounds the heart and is connected to the diaphragm). This pull is associated with anxiety and often is the cause of the tight chest feeling in anxiety attacks.
The one time it's okay for the children to shrug their shoulders. As they inhale get them to draw their shoulders towards their ears and squeeze and hold. Then exhaling drop their shoulders back down. Do this several times. You can also roll the shoulders forward and backwards in sync with their breath or alternate between shoulders, raising one up then dropping it down then the other.
Rolling our shoulders backwards triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and releases a endorphins making us feel relaxed and calm.
Singing Bowl - Meditation
Have the children lie down and place the singing bowl on their stomachs one by one. Striking the bowl and engaging the children to listen till they can no longer hear the ring and asking them to signal when they can't hear it any longer. Remind them that, if they fidget or talk, they won't be able to hear it ring. Change up the strike so that from time to time it will ring softer or louder. If you don’t have a singing bowl, a bell or other chime that fades will work just as well.
This is a form of mindfulness, fostering attention solely at the task at hand.
Placing the small stone or glass bead at the child's third-eye centre, inviting them to stay still otherwise it will fall off and the "magic" will be broken.
Fun in this game - Get the kids to close their eyes before you place the stone, then invite them to look through their third-eye to see what colour it is, reminding them that they shouldn't touch the stone or open their eyes to see it.
Alternatively, you can place a stone on the child's third-eye centre and gently press it before secretly removing the stone. The child will feel as if the stone is still there. (This can be good to use if there aren't enough stones for everyone or the children and too fidgety to lie still and keep the stone on.)
Using a scarf, tissue or other light fabric or paper, invite the children to make the material move with their breath. Engaging them to fill their bellies up with air and then slowly let the air out and blow the material.
Extra fidgety kids
Placing a blanket or some other weight on extra fidgety kids can help soothe and comfort them. Occupational Therapy supply stores have purpose fidget blankets that are weighted.
For those extra, extra fidgety kids - a gentle foot massage or stroking their hair or even just placing a hand on their shoulder whilst reading the guided meditation works wonders. I find giving them passive attention stops them seeking it out in other ways (like talking through the guided meditation or moving or disturbing other children.)
I always come away from a yoga session with kids feeling so joyful. They are so beautifully complex and individual. Celebrating those differences and letting go of any idea of how the practice should be is something we can grow in their practice as well as our own.