Close your eyes. Imagine a warm liquid oozing out from the crown of your head, spilling down your back, and coating your skin. Feel it wash away your fears and worries...
Adults practice meditation for different reasons: to gain control of the mind, to dive deeper into a connection with their inner self, or to let go of the material world, says Karen Stepp, a yoga instructor and hypnotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Your child may benefit from meditation, too. “Regular meditation brings peace and calm to us no matter what age we are,” says Stepp. “It teaches us to disengage from the spiral of internal self-doubt and messages that we are bombarded with in our society.” Your child lives in a world of imagination and visualization – a state that is best for learning and unlearning, says Stepp. It’s easier for her to tap into her subconscious, where her memories, beliefs, and “deeper, more spiritual layers” reside.
Still, the concept of meditation – and its benefits – may be unclear, particularly for your little one. “To a young child, I might say that meditation is a way to slow down, to get really quiet, and to find that still, quiet place inside of them,” says Stepp. Your child can discover who she is, and learn about herself, by listening to an inner voice.
Because children are naturally active, sitting still and silent may be challenging. But “they find it refreshing to get out of our rule-driven world of boundaries and slip away into a limitless world of endless possibilities,” says Stepp. “Ask a child to dream something up – to close their eyes and imagine a place where anything is possible – and now you are talking their language.”
According to Sarah Wood Vallely, the author of Sensational Meditation for Children: Child-Friendly Meditation Techniques Based on the Five Senses, children are fascinated by everything from the clouds in the sky to stories on TV, but they are most captivated by their own thoughts, as well as creating images in their head – a process that can foster concentration. If your child has trouble sitting still, have her study an object, such as a ball, for instance. Ask her to examine its size, texture, color, and shape. She can then close her eyes and keep thinking about this ball, which teaches her how to gain control of her mind. Using guided imagery gives a child permission to create without limitations, says Stepp.
Eager to try quick and simple activities at home? Below are introductions to Wood Vallely’s techniques, which are starting points for longer meditations. (You will find scripts of some of these meditations on her website at www.sarahwood.com.)
Release energy down your grounding cord. This meditation brings your child into balance with the earth and is a fitting activity for when she is angry or frustrated. While closing her eyes, she takes deep breaths, relaxing a different part of her body with each exhale. She imagines a cord connected to the bottom of her tailbone, which goes down into the floor, continuing through the ground to the center of the earth. Your child, feeling attached to the center of the planet, imagines energy particles she doesn’t need moving out from her head, down her body, and down the cord.
Winding down with the sleepy cloud. Perfect for bedtime, this exercise helps your restless child fall asleep. First, ask your child to describe his nightly routine, from brushing his teeth to reading a short story to getting tucked into bed. Then, have him close his eyes, and walk him through this routine. He will take deep breaths as you describe him snuggled under the covers, and then describe a soft, sleepy cloud floating above his head. The cloud, which can be any color he wishes, even plays calming music as he drifts into a slumber.
Picking fruit from a happy tree. This activity helps teach your child how to nurture herself and listen to her needs and wants. After getting cozy and relaxing her body, she imagines a tree. The tree has happy and sad fruit, and you ask her to look for the sad ones. Tell her that she will take care of each one and become aware of what it needs to be happy. After she picks one, ask the question: “What does this fruit need to be happy?” Let her find the answer in silence.
Ditching stress with the hokey pokey: This activity works best with a group, but is possible with one child, too. Stand in a circle with the group, or face your child. “Ask the kids to think of something they don’t want to think about right now,” says Wood Vallely, “then pretend the ‘something’ is in your hands.” If the child’s “something” is homework, for example, cup this in your hands and prompt the hokey pokey tune: “Put your homework in, take your homework out. Put your homework in and shake it all about….” Repeat this with the next child, but encourage everyone to sing and dance each time. “This is a great way to let go of stress, evoke laughter, and teach children that they can let go of thoughts easily,” says Wood Vallely.
Finding zen with a stuffed friend: Ask your child to lie down with a beanie baby or other small stuffed animal on his stomach, making certain he can see the animal’s face. Tell him to breathe deeply and watch the stuffed animal rise and fall on his belly. After he does this five times, ask him to close his eyes and continue to take deep breaths, but this time encourage him to imagine it rising and falling in his mind. “The idea is to focus on their breath and the stuffed animal,” says Wood Vallely. “This exercise will offer children a tool they can use to fall asleep, calm down, or just be still in the midst of a busy day.”
As you can see, meditation activities are varied and can be fun, interactive, and healthy ways to gain focus, relax, and massage the mind.