We have an incredible group of contributing writers for Global Guardian Project and Kristen Llorca, our favorite contributing Yoga & Meditation Teacher, has written an incredible post on the importance of mindfulness for both children and parents. We're excited to share with you.
We were cramped in a school hallway; yoga mats spread in a haphazard sun shape; a dizzying array of bright colors- eight elementary school boys and girls, and me. We held hands and Om’d, just as we did at the end of every Tuesday’s yoga class. The meditative serenity immediately broken by the brain-piercing school bell. The children jumped up. “No, wait!” I yelled over the bell, “there’s homework.” Mats and jaws hit the floor. I met their gaze, “not, like real homework,” I soothed, ,”yoga homework”. I went on to explain the exercise; a simple mindful eating practice. They were to eat dinner mindfully- meaning, no television, no phones- they were to truly experience every bite. Their expressions read- “not possible”. One eight year old boy called out, “we can do it, but I’m pretty sure our parents can’t”. I honestly hadn’t expected that response. “What do you mean?” I asked him. “There’s no way my mom can put down her phone for a whole dinner,” he replied. There it was. From the mouth of babes.
Often parents bring their children to my yoga classes, expecting that I’m going to “fix” them in some way- make them more focused or calmer. Although I can teach them tools to help them be more aware of their bodies, thoughts, and emotions, a lot of what makes a child ‘behave’ a certain way is picked up by the world around them. According to Bruce H. Lipton, PhD, “A child’s perceptions of the world are directly downloaded into the subconscious during this time (between ages 2 and 6 years old) without discrimination and without filters of the analytical self-conscious mind which doesn’t fully exist.” What the child sees and experiences at home creates what cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget may term a “concrete operational” theory of the world. At first a child may see and feel the disconnect of an adult interacting with a phone instead of them, but they will soon begin to accept this disconnect as normal (how the world functions). I suspect this disconnection is what parents are trying to avoid by bringing their children to yoga class. Though it is a noble intention and shows great love for the child, parents are missing the major role they play in their child’s life and overall development.
Parents are a child’s greatest role models, and not just through physical actions. A child is a highly feeling being. Perfectly tuned to the frequency of those around them. Although children aren’t always able to express themselves in ways adults deem appropriate, the reactions of a child are often outward expressions of the feelings they pick up from the world around them. For instance, when I meet a child and that child appears anxious, I can guess with almost 99% accuracy that the main caregiver in that child’s life is experiencing anxiety, even if they are not yet expressing it in any visible way. The same goes for ADD, ADHD, depression, and any number of labels we use to reason-away a child’s disposition.
Now, I know this sounds like I’m placing a lot of responsibility on the caregiver, and I am, but I am in no way placing blame. Feelings are natural energy patterns. No feelings are inherently good or bad. They just are. And the more we really accept our feelings as adults, just as they are, the better we are at accepting our children, and helping them to navigate the different energies as they arise. When we, as adults, are able to acknowledge what comes up – anger, frustration, jealousy, fear, love, joy – the better we are at communicating, and possibly releasing those energies when appropriate.
We cannot transmute what we do not acknowledge, and therein lies the catch. Space must be created for these feelings to arise and pass through us. The best way I’ve found is through mindful meditation. Mindfulness Meditation was developed by Jon Kabat-Zin who is the Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zin describes Mindfulness Meditation or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Paying attention; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. There’s nothing esoteric or ‘woo’ about it. Simply put, drop the phone and pay attention to everything just as it, is as it’s happening. Be here now. Easier said than done, right? I know. But, with practice it does get easier. When I mention this practice to parents as our ‘first line of defense’, I often hear “I don’t have time,” or “I don’t know how”, or “I can’t meditate”. If you really dig into those responses what you find is, “I don’t want to”, “I’m scared,” and “What if I fail”. Let’s unpack those for a moment.
I don’t have time/I don’t want to. To which I’ll ask, ‘do you really think that meditating for five or ten minutes will be so unbearably painful, that what? you’ll die?’ No, you won’t die and it won’t hurt. The very worst thing that could possibly happen is that you’ll be really, really bored. So what. We are adults, so we can stop using this excuse with ourselves and each other. The truth is we make time for the things we really want. If you don’t believe that changing your relationship to yourself, to your child, and to the world is important, then you will not make space for it. Simple as that.
I don’t know how/I’m scared. Let me put your mind at ease by saying that there is absolutely no way to ‘fail’ at meditation. There is no wrong way to do it. Even if there was, you meditate silently, with your eyes closed, so who would even know that you’re doing something ‘wrong’. I believe the real fear here is coming too close to the truth we know is in our hearts- our past pains, our failures, and what we actively avoid every single day. Know that those things can’t live in your heart forever; your heart will not allow it. All of that muck must be released one way or another. It is better to do so in the safety of your own mind, then have it expressed in some other much uglier way.
I can’t meditate/What if I fail. Allow me to reiterate- there is NO way to mediate incorrectly- absolutely no way. Lamas, gurus, yogis and others who’ve spent lifetimes meditating are still going up against the same forces you are. They are still working on their focus and their peace. This is why it is called a mediation practice. There is no end; only a constant unfolding.
Take on the practice as you would an adventure; with unyielding awe of all you will discover along the way. Seek those further along the path for inspiration and support. Do it for yourself, your children, and for all beings everywhere. We need ALL of you.
If you are in the Miami area, “Mindful Parenting“, a 5-week course and supportive group, begins April 12th. For those not in the area, there will be an online course starting very soon. In the meantime, reach out to myself and others below by contributing any questions that are rattling around your head below.