by Jocelyn Yedlicka
There’s no doubt that the subject of Mindfulness is well known in the yoga community. Asana (postures of yoga) and pranayama (breath control or breathing exercises) are often integral parts of mindfulness activities. Dharana, the 6th limb of yoga, closely relates to mindfulness in that it means the focus of our attention on a single point through concentration. Cultivating a sense of presence in the body and stillness in the mind is a vital component of our yoga and a part of our regular practice on the mat. Beyond the mat we are faced with continuous sensory stimulation and our singular focus is put to the test. Our brains are constantly processing information and we, as adults, work hard to return to the place of peace that mindfulness brings. Children are just as susceptible to the impact of overstimulation. In fact, we may see the results of this bombardment of the senses in poor sleep, anxiety, attention issues, depression and more. These are problems we hope no child would suffer, nor carry forward into their adult lives, but we do know it happens, so what can we do about it?
The Need for Children to be Mindful
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Sutra 1.2 reads “Yogas citta vritti nirodhaha.” One translation: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Yoga and mindfulness are tools adults use to manage the rampant fluctuations of thought. Children also need a means to create a still, quiet mindspace — a refuge from the constant barrage of information the world imparts. Annaka Harris, author and consultant who specializes in neuroscience and physics writes, “For children, mindfulness can offer relief from whatever difficulties they might be encountering in life. It also gives them the beauty of being in the present moment.” Another expert in the field, Susan Kaiser Greenland, states in her book Mindful Games that “A growing body of scientific research supports what contemplatives have known for centuries: mindfulness and meditation develop a set of life skills that allow children, teens, and parents to relate to what’s happening within and around them with more wisdom and compassion.” As the evidence is collected and support grows, it is hard to dismiss the power of mindfulness and the promise it holds for our youth.
Children who practice Mindfulness reap the rewards through life:
Establishing a mindfulness practice in childhood creates and strengthens the pathways in the brain necessary to achieve focus, patience, and tenacity. In his article “Mindfulness for Children” written for the New York Times, David Gelles claims:
Children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness practice. Habits formed early in life will inform behaviors in adulthood, and with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to give our children the habit of being peaceful, kind, and accepting.
And Dan Goleman, author and expert on Emotional Intelligence, says:
Students are better able to learn, they score better on tests because their attention is stronger, which means their working memory operates better, which means long-term memory for the tests. It helps people manage stress better. If you’re a mindfulness practitioner, if you meditate, it turns out this strengthens the circuits in your brain that help you react less, be triggered less, and recover more quickly, which is what we call resilience.
Through mindfulness practice, children are preparing to become grown-ups who are poised to create a peaceful and productive world for their own generation, and those to come.
Helping Children Practice Mindfulness:
Teaching a child mindfulness can be a wonderful way to bond while you enjoy the benefits. But, one cannot expect the child to understand the practice through explanation alone. One of the best ways to offer mindfulness is to create a practice of your own for the child to observe. Then, look for ways to include the child in activities that speak to their sense of wonder and curiosity. Summer presents a beautiful opportunity to take advantage of nature’s resources to tune in to the mind and tune out the noise. Below I have listed a number of activities appropriate for any age, but especially attuned to our young yogis. May you be inspired as you enjoy summer mindfully.
Summer Mindfulness Activities
Nature Walk: 5,4,3,2,1: Enjoy a beautiful walk on a trail, in a park, or just down the sidewalk. While you walk, use your 5 senses to notice the world around you. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Pictures in the Clouds: Spread a blanket on the ground and get comfy. Take some deep breaths and allow your body to relax into the soft earth. Gaze upward towards the sky and take in the sights. Use your imagination to create pictures from the clouds in the sky. Perhaps the trees and the movement of the leaves evoke an image. Or simply close your eyes and describe how the light filters through your eyelids.
Outdoor Yoga: Practicing yoga outdoors is a wonderful way to embrace a beautiful summer’s day. But don’t let the outdoor yoga concept end there. Playfully recreate what you see in nature using the shapes you make with your body. For example a rock becomes Child’s Pose. A bird becomes Warrior III. A tree becomes…Tree Pose. Well, you get the idea. Allow the child to make up their own poses.
Wild Art: Explore an area in your yard and gather small objects such as sticks, leaves, flowers, and rocks. With some glue, string, cereal boxes, paper…you name it…You can make beautiful art. Allow the child to use the materials in whatever manner they choose. Option to play soothing music, or better yet continue the project outside while you listen to the birds chirp and the breeze blow.
Ideas for Littles:
Create sensory experiences for our little yogis and allow them to explore freely. A bin full of stones, leaves, and water will engage a wee-one with little effort on your part. Point out the sound of the water as it splashes around and note the textures of the items. What sinks, floats, twirls? Burying shells, small stones, even dinosaurs in a sandbox or a sensory bin provides the same focus with a different tactile experience. What sounds do you hear when you pour the sand? Combine them to create muddy fun!
Blow bubbles and watch as the youngster tracks its movement through the air, lifting a little finger to enthusiastically pop! Offer the bubble wand to the child and encourage deep breathing with a slow breath in and a long exhale. Bubbles galore!
Jocelyn Yedlicka developed a love for movement beginning at a very young age when she was first introduced to dance. Many many years later, yoga helped her return to her body and rekindle a love for herself. Jocelyn received her 200hr Yoga Teacher Training Certification from Evolution Yoga, STL and Blue Sky Yoga STL. She enjoys teaching classes full of options that allow all bodies and abilities to experience the full spectrum of physical movement and mental presence that yoga offers. As a mother of two young boys and a paraprofessional in an early childhood special education program, Jocelyn has a calling to serve individuals with special needs and their caretakers. You may find her teaching staff at her school, leading a caretakers class at a special needs gym, skipping around in a Family Yoga class, or offering a nurturing restorative class.