I can remember most vividly three books that were a staple of our bookshelf as my children were growing up: Loving Hands: The Traditional Indian Art of Baby Massage by Frederick Leboyer; Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas and Christopher Cerf; and Be a Frog, a Bird, or a Tree/ Rachel Carr’s Creative Yoga Exercises for Children by Rachel Carr.
I often gave my children massage as infants and toddlers; sang with them to the songs of Free to Be You and Me while encouraging their creativity in a safe space; and became that frog, bird, or tree with them. All revolutionary ideas in the United States at that time. Even in California. Even in Berkeley.
(Photo above from:http://anandadallas.org/benefits-of-meditation/)
Today the ideas that were first promoted by sixties youth looking east to the ancient traditions of Asia, are commonplace and a part of school curriculums promoting wellness, conflict resolution, and mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a concept developed for understanding meditation. It refers to being in this place, at this time and conscious of this moment. Teaching breathing techniques to children puts them in the moment. The breath carries with it relaxation and quiet alertness. Often, it simply takes ten deep breaths, pulling air deep into the lungs and into the stomach, then slowly releasing it, fully, letting the mind travel on the air by concentrating on the flow into and out of the body. Yogis have given a name to the unique quality of the energy of the air, calling it prana.
Today, there are a great many new books for children on mindfulness and meditation. Below is a small sample of the wonderful work authors are creating for parents and children.
In an article in The Atlantic “When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom”, English teacher Argos Gonzalez speaks of mindfulness to students in one of New York City’s poorest districts (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/mindfulness-education-schools-meditation/402469/). In his hands he holds a Tibetan meditation bell, a bowl that when tapped, lets out a reverberating sound throughout the classroom.
“Today we’re going to talk about mindfulness of emotion,” Gonzalez [says] with a hint of a Venezuelan accent. ‘You guys remember what mindfulness is…[it’s] being aware of our feelings, our emotions, and how they impact us’.”
Gonzales then begins to teach them about breathing and how the breath can lead to mindfulness and a sense of how to deal with emotions.
Janette Scott, in an article in The Art of Living, lists five reasons children should meditate (http://www.artofliving.org/meditation/meditation-for-you/why-should-children-meditate). First, to harness the monkey mind, the mind that jumps from place to place, and often, the body jumping with it. Meditation has been shown to improve attention and to help children with ADD or ADHD.
Secondly, meditation helps children with the stresses of puberty, the physical and emotional challenges of first becoming an adult. Rather than a child wonder how he or she will be perceived, meditation allows for a center to let thoughts pass freely and often to examine the emotions that accompany those thoughts, in a safe and quiet space.
Third, to de-stress over academic achievement. Meditation allows the brain to focus and mental activity to heighten.
Fourth, the teaching of mindfulness through meditation can lead to a healthy emotional development. Those things that are real and important often become clear in meditation. Studies have shown that meditation increases the capacity for compassion and empathy.
Finally, meditation allows for a different understanding of time. Children can understand that this moment will pass, and that they are a unique individual with a great deal to offer to society. In fact, a lifetime of potential and achievement.
The Telegraph in the United Kingdom recently posted a study: “What’s the difference between these two brains?”: (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/children/9637682/Whats-the-difference-between-these-two-brains.htmlD6B84). The picture on the left is a cross-section of a brain belonging to a three-year-old who is loved and cared for by his mother. The picture on the right, the brain of a child who is ignored by his mother. Through meditation with children, we know that the brain can develop into a powerful and healthy tool.
Schools around the world are now using meditation teachinques in the classroom. Teachers report that children are calmer and more focused as they begin the day.
Durban High School South Africa (http://portals.mum.edu/Customized/uploads/about/publications/achievements/2012_04_15_photos.html)
Evergreen School India (http://voiceofachild.org/morning-circle-meditation/)
The words of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, give us all pause to think and reflect (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu/2014/04/should-children-meditate/):
The sixties gave us a vision of the future, with new tools and skills, and an undeniable glimpse of the power of the mind. If we begin teaching peace, compassion, and empathy to children, giving them the skills to cope with life, growing, and human emotion, where could that mind-energy take us?