Winter is a time of silence. Many of the animals in the forest retreat into hibernation, leaves fall from trees, and many people tend to look inward and reflect upon the past year. This time of year lends itself well to sharing the simplest of comforts: enjoying time spent with loved ones, cooking a warm, homemade meal, or taking time to rest. Could there be a more perfect time to take up a new habit, like meditation? Meditation and mindfulness can be wonderful activities (or, rather, inactivities!) to experience as a family. Not only can they help promote mental wellbeing, they can also become a useful tool to keep in your back pocket for when life gets crazy!
Learning meditation and mindfulness with children may seem like a daunting task. Kids practically live for stimulation and activity! However, by introducing fun and interesting approaches to focusing inward, you can capture their attention! One way to gently introduce mindfulness practices to children is through children's books. Many books exist that combine breathing exercises, short meditations, and captivating illustrations.
We live our lives on-the-go more and more these days, and our children are often rushed from one activity to the next with little time to stop and reflect. Whether it's scarfing down a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice, or running from class to class, children are taught to move quickly and jump on opportunities that arise. While this can be a wonderful approach to life in situations when it truly matters – such as at sporting events and when fleeing danger – infusing urgency into day-to-day tasks can be an unnecessary source of anxiety for many children.
Kate Dopirak's Hurry Up!: A Book About Slowing Down kicks off at a rapid rate as the child rushes to school, in and out of classes, and back home again. Smack dab in the middle of all this activity, there is a giant "STOP!". From this point on, the book sloooooows down. The child takes time to breathe, explore the surroundings, and ponder the beauty of the natural world. This simple and rhyming text would be perfect to read to a child of any age, and might very well serve to introduce concepts about mindfulness to even an infant or toddler. Silas Neal's illustrations are expressive and beautiful representations of what it means to truly slow down and be present.
Along the same lines, a common mindfulness practice that works great for children is to bring awareness to the subtle sensations that their bodies may be experiencing. This can take many forms and can even look like a game! You could play a game where you cycle through each of the five senses: What do you smell right now? What do you hear? What do you see? What are you feeling in this moment? Are there any tastes lingering on your tongue?
Calling attention to little details, such as the air around them touching their skin, or all of the contact points their bodies make with the chair or floor they are sitting on is another way to practice this. Julia Denos's book Here and Now is a wonderful exploration into this exercise! Denos calls attention to what may seem like teeny tiny sensations that are all occurring in the moment of Now! She begins with the reader who is holding the book and eventually zooms all the way out to a birds eye view of the entire planet floating in space! The illustrations alone are enough to spark celebration, not to mention the rich imagery she paints with her words. This is a fabulous book to get kids excited about the wonder of life. How amazing it is that we are all here, now, together!
Let's all take a pause from reading. Take a deeeeeeeep breath in with me, filling your lungs and your belly with fresh new oxygen. Now exhale slowly, letting your body relax completely. (Repeat as many times as you like!) Breathing is one of the simplest ways to calm down the nervous system and truly tap into the present moment. Teaching children about the benefits of breathing exercises can have tremendous impact on their ability to self-regulate. When we slow our breath down, we become more expansive and our heartbeats slow down. This realization can be an indispensable tool for all of us in times of anxiety.
When You Breathe provides a rich introduction to little ones learning what breath is. Combining poetry and breathtaking visuals, author Diana Farid gorgeously explains to us what we are doing when we breathe. Rich imagery ties together the breath that fills each of us with all of existence. When You Breathe is truly a work of art.
Take a break from your busy day to share a book with a child in your life. Being present with the ones you love is one of the most meaningful ways we can practice mindfulness! Check out all of these at the Nashville Public Library!