Meditation, Mindfulness and Children
I was talking to a group of people recently about the types of meditation I work with: reflective, receptive, guided journey and mindfulness. I was asked “does anyone do classes for parents and children together?” No one I knew of. Then a memory came back to me from when I was nursing children many years ago: encouraging a child to focus on a toy, and another to pay attention to their breathing, in order to deal with painful or scary things like injections or wound cleansing. I certainly wouldn't have called those meditation techniques back then, but I had a good reputation for managing psychological distress before I even started training down that line. It was a natural beginning.
I left nursing to pursue a degree in psychology which wasn't quite what as expected, so by the second year I was also doing a diploma in psychosynthesis in tandem. This was more like it: a spiritual counselling and psychotherapy model resonating well with my natural instincts. Guided journey meditation, combined with mindful attention, was the major method of creative self-exploration.
With my move to Devon 16 years ago, I began to pursue other routes of self-development and awareness, particularly with the body: yoga, zero balancing, dance (Argentine tango), and getting on stage as a public speaker. All of these are methods of mindfulness in action and I have written about some of them here before.
The trouble was my personal daily meditation practice was erratic. Slowly I became more interested in moving my body than sitting still. It was good: my bad back and neck became better, my chronic wrist problem is barely there, I 'inhabited' my body more fully and it is more flexible and better than twenty years ago which pleases me as the potential for the future is not all about ageing in the way that is usually expected.
However, simple body awareness and attention to breathing lost its appeal if not attached to dance, and although I tried, seven days a week dancing was impractical. Being an introvert, I didn't even like the amount of people I had to engage with at so many dances. I was on the road far too much, seeking a kick from connection with another person to the detriment of connection with myself.
I am not sure whether a long period of stress was the cause or result, but one day I woke up to the fact that I had let sitting meditation drift out of my life completely. It's funny how you can not notice you have gradually abandoned something that helps, like that good friend you haven't called for years.
Something had to change to get myself functioning fully, and enjoying life again.
Picking up with a dual practice of morning writing and mindfulness felt like coming home when I finally made that commitment to myself.
“I don't have time”
Someone whose name I can't remember, who is wiser than me, once said “If you don't have time to meditate for twenty minutes a day, then meditate for an hour”. The curious thing is that mindful active focus actually clears the mind of the things which take up time. It really does work that way.
Mindfulness meditating for a chunk of time on a daily basis and you will find you start gaining “more time” in your average day. That is so exciting and when it starts kicking in is a great motivation. I have started running classes again too. Mindfulness used to be a way into the guided journey meditation, which makes it a minor part of the equation: almost like the boring bit to get the treat. I divide the class into two parts far more explicitly: mindfulness as the regular practice, and journey meditation as the variable self exploration. To have the latter without the former, I realised, is like eating jam without the bread.
Parent and Child Meditation and the Weather Report
Lucy Flanagan-Martin who runs Mumazing Success is the person who asked me about parent and child meditation and we met to chat about what she was interested in and knew parents were looking for. Research and a lot of careful thought resulted in piloting some small groups with parents and children aged 5 to 8 years for one hour sessions. Thank you for those lovely people for volunteering for me to experiment with them :)
A basic, I believe, is that children can more readily communicate what they feel in images. A great one is to ask “what is the weather like inside of you”. This way parents and children can share emotions in simple creative language that everyone can relate to, one that stimulates resonance in the senses.
Such an aid to expression and communication is valuable and uncomplicated. We don’t need to fully understand in our brain; we can resonate with the image. Acknowledging where the other person is at is the first step to better relationships and also to change.
Children’s attention span can differ hugely so my class plan breaks our hour into short segments, allowing check-in and movement/re-arrangement in between for those who may struggle to maintain concentration or are more active.
Stillness is not a necessary part of meditation, as walking meditation demonstrates, but mindfulness is. So movement can be incorporated in careful ways which require attention and a quiet focus.
Notice also the language I use: lively children. Acknowledging that a child is feeling the need to be active acknowledges that feeling and their experience rather than judging it. The liveliness may just be that day, or it may be a regular thing. Either way, being curious and noticing how they can be present and move or adjust in a way which intrudes less on those around them gives the ability to self-regulate. For a quiet child, to notice another's liveliness and to not get caught up in it is a precious resource. We're building skills for getting on in life, and inner resilience.
For example, a sensory exchange was a great opportunity for parents to experience their senses mindfully. Each child received from me something to share with their closed-eyes parent. Moving with slow careful attention, we ranged through the senses. Gently rubbing a herb in their hands for the parent to smell, softly moving an object which makes a sound near their parent’s ear. When role reversal came, the children were calm enough to settle into their turn to receive. They had already seen that what will happen is safe and interesting. They had experienced how their parents responded calmly, with a spirit of curiosity and interest. Yes, parents gain too.
My aim is to ensure equality, simplicity and a contained peaceful ambience. At the discussion end of the sessions, everyone was whispering initially – a sign we were touched by sacred connection. The parent and child mindfulness meditation classes will start properly in the autumn term, (including, on request, a daytime one for home-schooled children) and if you are interested in attending, or have a group of parents who you would like me to visit, please call.
Copyright Cathy Towers 2015
Cathy Towers is a BACP Senior Accredited Practitioner (Psychotherapy) and a fully certificated Zero Balancer. She runs workshops and classes on self-development and meditation/mindfulness.
01395 278437 or 07989 564660