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Meditation & Kids

March 23, 2011

Meditation is all over the news lately, from which celebrities are practitioners, to the ways it can ward off  chronic disease, to how it can literally change the structure of your brain. The newest news about meditation? It can help children perform better in school and may even help very young children calm down and focus.

A study conducted at a California public middle school followed below-average-testing students enrolled in a “quiet time/meditation” program. Over a one-year period, these students showed significant improvement in English, math, and overall academic achievement compared to students in a control group.

The study used Transcendental Meditation, a method that prescribes two 15- to 20-minute sessions a day of silently repeating a one-to-three syllable mantra. But the type of meditation may not matter, as the study is just one small part of a growing line of thinking that children may benefit greatly from meditative techniques. Even very young children, who might not be ready for the extreme concentration and abstract concepts of traditional meditation, can be taught simple breathing techniques to help them reach a calmer state. From an article in The Daily Beast titled “The Child-Meditation Miracle”

“Maybe it’s because he’s a boy, or because we don’t have outdoor space,” [parent Renee Skuba] says of [her son] Lucien’s bouncing-off-the-walls energy level. “A city kid is different from a suburban kid.” To help Lucien cope, Skuba, a yoga instructor and musician, began doing breathing exercises and chants with him. “At nighttime, when he’s really active and not calming down, we’ll do sounds,” she explains, illustrating with hand motions. “Take a deep breath, fill up like a balloon—now buzz like a bee.” Skuba goes through a small litany of sounds—bzzz, hisss, sssh, mmm—raising her arms with the breath, then lowering them with the sound. “When the breath is really short, the mind is really active,” she says, echoing closely what meditation gurus also recommend for adults. “This slows their breath.” She’ll sometimes pull Lucien aside to take some deep breaths when playdates turn into wrestling matches, “and he’ll be ready to come back and enter from a more peaceful state.”

Spirituality and mind-body medicine guru Deepak Chopra cites age 8 or 10 as being the earliest age to try teaching traditional meditation techniques to children. But for children younger than that, simple techniques like those described above may hold big benefits.

Have young kids at home you’d like to try this with? Adapted from Mind Body Green, here are four meditative exercises for young children:

1. Listen! Bell Meditation: Invite kids to sit up tall in “criss-cross applesauce” and let their eyes close. Ring a bell, and ask kids to use their sense of hearing to explore the sound. Ask them to listen very carefully, and as soon as they hear it stop, raise their hand. They can then practice attentive listening without the bell. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds in your space.  Which are closest to you? Which are far away? Which to the left, or right? You can also try this meditation while walking down the street or lying in bed before falling asleep.

2. Sing! Relaxation Song: Invite kids to sit up tall. Sometimes we sing the syllables Sa Ta Na Ma, or sometimes an English affirmation like “I Am Strong.” With each syllable, touch a different finger to your thumb, starting with the pointer finger and moving to the pinky. We practice singing, whispering, and singing quietly to ourselves in our minds. This is a self-soothing exercise and can be done discretely anywhere kids want to calm down.

3. Breathe! Take Five Breath: Your breath is always with you. Learning to check in to it from an early age is a major tool. Try “Take 5 breath” where you inhale for five, and exhale for five. Use your fingers to count as you breathe. Slowing your breath will slow down your mind. Can you feel your heart rise and fall as you breathe? Can you feel the breath enter and leave your nose?

4. Watch! Cloud Gazing:
A great meditation for older children. Sitting quietly, pay attention to your inhale and exhale. When thoughts or feelings come up, think of them like clouds passing through your mind, which is like the sky. You can watch the clouds come and go just like you can watch clouds in the sky move and shift in their shapes. Kids may not sit too long, but just introducing this concept is a great preparation for adult meditation.

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