If you’ve grown up in fast-paced America, you, as an adult, may find it particularly challenging to learn how to be more mindful. Mindfulness, which started out as being considered New Age (a little crazy?!), has now been validated by a great deal of scientific research. Being mindful means you have slowed down enough to have a second-by-second awareness of your experiences without being self-judgmental. Being mindful means you are alert and relaxed. You can achieve mindfulness by noticing your emotions, thoughts, and physiological sensations – all in order to be able to focus on the present moment in time.
You may be wondering why this is now considered to be such a good thing. Well, being mindful helps to relax you, is especially helpful when you are stressed, it can help if you have heart disease, it assists in lowering your blood pressure and even pain, it can help improve your sleep, and even helps with gastrointestinal ailments. And don’t forget that about ¾ of your immune system resides in your gut! Some examples of mindfulness techniques are meditation, doing art or music (for some, even many), Bible study, yoga, tai chi, etc. Mindfulness can be a very individual thing – so if you’re trying to do this once or twice a day, do something that helps you relax and be able to focus more on your senses, feelings, and thoughts.
If this is challenging enough for many adults, then it may be challenging for kids. It is helpful if you are a parent trying to teach your kids to be mindful if you have mastered the art of it yourself. Remember, your role model is extremely important and perhaps the most prominent type of teaching that your kids will want to emulate! There are some books with stories that help teach about topics like mindfulness, so that may be a good way to start, especially if your kids are young. You can read them aloud, and be in a comfortable, quiet place while doing so.
Another way to teach your kids mindfulness is to have them sit still and notice their emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations, while saying them out loud. Make this age appropriate. You can give examples like, “When I think about taking a test, my heart begins to race.” “I love spending time with you.”
There are also CDs available for helping develop mindfulness skills for kids – this will help them lower their stress levels, calm down, and be able to focus better. (Think ADHD!) There are also CDs available specifically for kids doing yoga.
One interesting exercise that might work with some is to hug your child, and together take 3 breaths at the same time. Focus on relaxing parts of your and their bodies that might be tense, like the shoulders, specific muscles, etc.
Also, if you and your kids are eating a snack, you can use this as a mindfulness exercise by observing the food, noticing how it looks, smells, feels in your mouth, and how it tastes. Say all of this out loud. And please enjoy that!
As you teach and practice mindfulness techniques with your kids, remember that this can also help them (and hence, you) academically. Anxiety and depression and stress are powerful distractions and hinder being able to focus on schoolwork. This works equally well for you as a parent regardless of whether you have high stress at work, or perhaps interact often with others who seem to both evoke and invoke anxiety, anger, etc.
You can never start too early to teach your kids mindfulness. That means that you will also benefit by you and your kids being more mindful. In fact, if it becomes the norm, how much better will you and your kids be able to move forward in time, with lowered stress and more coping ability!
I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about mindfulness and nutrition. It makes sense that you can be more mindful if you are making healthier food choices. As most of us already know, fresh (preferably local and/or organic) produce is a given. If you or your kids balk at eating veggies, get creative about fixing them in a very appealing way! Sometimes you just need to hide them in other foods. Eat healthy, clean protein choices, and don’t be afraid of eating healthy fats. Don’t eat too much junk food as this type of eating is pro-inflammatory and will help you increase anxiety, depression, etc. rather than help you relax (although it can feel particularly good in the moment – be aware of after-effects). Be appreciative of what you eat – remember to notice tastes, textures, smells, and pay attention to how full your tummy is getting. Also notice food colors, and even sounds the foods make when you eat them! Take your time chewing and eat more slowly. So, eat when you’re hungry but please not when ravenous! Be grateful for all the bounty you have, and it can be very relaxing to share your high quality, health-giving foods with others. Then notice how good that feels!
And as always – please have a happy, holistically healthy day!
Dr. Donna Poppendieck (Dr. P) has over 30 years of experience in the mental health care field. She is a seasoned college professor and instructor for providers. She uses credible, proven holistic health strategies in instruction for parents of children with mental health challenges looking for another approach as well as healthcare providers seeking to implement or understand holistic strategies.