children’s lesson: breathing room

by vanessagobes

I’m reading a TERRIFIC book by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community called Planting Seeds, Practicing Mindfulness with Children.  It’s a compilation of teaching moments and mindfulness lessons that are suited for anyone dealing with children.

This is a book that every teacher or parent should read, though if you are new to meditation I’d recommend reading a book like Goldie Hawn’s 10 Mindful Minutes first to familiarize yourself with the science behind meditation and the benefits associated with a regular practice.  Those who are “in the know” can jump right in and get to work.  The lessons are easy and practical.

There were so many stand-out lessons for me in this book, so I decided to choose a few from the first half of the text and experiment with them on my children.  When the kiddos woke up this morning, I told them we were going to be having a “Lazy Sunday”.   Daddy was golfing so it was just us.  I kept the day a bit of a mystery but offered a few teasers to get them eager to participate.

  • After breakfast, we got dressed and prepared for our first Pebble Meditation by collecting four stones each.  I told them they could go outside and find stones in the garden or they could raid the tumbled crystal collection in my bedroom.  Of course they went straight for my stash.
  • Next we visited my sewing station.  We each selected a bit of fabric so that we could stitch up our own tiny pebble bags.
  • After that, we reinvented our sleeping porch by turning it into our very own Breathing Room.  (Sorry, CG, you lost your room again, but we’ll find you a worthy alternative. 😉 )  A Breathing Room is a space devoted to devotion.  If you don’t have a separate room available, just create a quiet corner in your classroom or living space.  We carried my altar into the room and talked about its adornments.  A Buddha statue, a bell and a vase of fresh flowers.  The Buddha reminds us that the Buddha lives inside us, a bell will help us engage in mindful breathing each time it’s invited and the vase of flowers remind us that we are alive and fresh.  We then scattered some cushions and rugs around the floor and stepped back to admire our work.
  • Then I showed them how to bow when we enter the room, creating a separation between the chaos of the house and the calmness of the Breathing Room.  We also talked about taking the time to bow to the great energy that exists within us, the Buddha within.  We tried some different ways of bowing – bending at the waist, prostrating our bodies to the ground, taking child’s pose.
  • When we settled onto our cushions, we sat criss-cross apple sauce, stretching our backs long and keeping our heads high.
  • The first thing we did was talk about the bell.  Every time the bell is invited, we stop whatever we’re doing and take 3 cleansing breaths.  I taught the kids to fist “wake up the bell” by tapping it lightly with the stick,wait a second, then “invite the bell” by striking it confidently one time so we could all listen to its sound and think about our breath.
  • We spoke about breath.  We felt the rise and fall of our bellies for 10 breaths, just paying attention to the changes in our bodies.  We held our fingers under our nostrils and took 10 breaths, noticing the temperature and humidity changes in the air we took in and out.  How does that happen?  Why is it warm?  What does breath do?  Where does it go?
  • When I felt the kids understood the calming effects of focusing on breath, we moved onto the Pebble Meditation.  You can download a worksheet created by the nuns and monks at Plum Village here if you’d like.  My kids are very young so I created a custom version of the meditation that gave them a little wiggle room.  Here is what we did:
  1. Lay out plain paper, folded in quarters, and a box of crayons.  Ask them to pick out a pebble from their bag and lay it to the left of the paper.  In the first box, ask the kids to color a picture of a flower.  While they color, talk about flowers.  How they grow, how the smell, how we feel when we see them.  Reference the book here, Thich Nhat Hanh provides a beautiful script for us.  When the kids are done coloring, they’ll want to talk about their work.  When they’re ready, ask them to hold their pebbles and sit up straight and tall.   They can examine the pebble, rub it, squeeze it while they sit.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.  Breathing out, I feel fresh.  Flower, fresh.”  Ask them to repeat the words.  Then one child invites the bell (they love that bell) and we breath in and out three times together, imagining ourselves as flowers.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  Then put the pebbles in their little homemade pouches and move onto the next picture.
  2. Reach for the next pebble and place it to the left of the picture.  In the next box, ask them to draw a mountain.  Again, refer to the book for just the right words.  But ask them what they think lies in the center of a mountain.  Is it loud?  Is it busy?  Is there life?  What happens to the inside of the mountain when it snows or when the wind blows?  Does it change with the conditions? (See where we’re going here?)  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.  Breathing out, I feel solid.  Mountain, solid.”  Then invite the bell and follow the same routine, substituting flower/fresh for mountain/solid.
  3. Place the another pebble next to the paper.  In the next box, invite them to draw a placid lake.  Read Thay’s words from Planting Seeds, then provide them with any extra interpretation that they might need, as this one is a bit loftier than the others.  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as still water.  Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.  Water, reflecting.”  Then finish this portion in the same manner as the others, closing by moving the pebble into the pouch.
  4. Rest the final pebble next to the picture and encourage the children to fill the last box with a picture of space.  They might need some direction drawing space or even understanding what it is.  I chose to point out the space that separated the four of us sitting in the room, but even while it separated us, we were still very much together.  Everyone drew something different, my oldest left the box blank.  All of it’s okay.  Take this time to share Thay’s words then pick up the last pebble.  Share the gatha.  ” Breathing in, I see myself as space.  Breathing out, I am free.  Space, free.”  Take you breaths after inviting the bell then finish up that segment of the meditation.

  • When you finish the Pebble Meditation, take a few minutes to ask the children how each portion made them feel.  Ask if they were able to take three breaths without getting distracted.  Ask how they felt when they pictured themselves as a mountain.  Did they feel strong?  Can they remember that feeling next time they are scared or worried?
  • We ended our practice by bowing to each other with hands at heart center and saying, “Namaste,” or, the sacred light in me bows to the sacred light in you.

After this, we continued on with our Lazy Sunday by taking a walk downtown.  We had lunch on the town green then treated ourselves to a froyo at Swizzles.  Even Rufus was rewarded with a cool treat.

We then bought some poster board so we could create our very own Pebble Meditation poster  to hang in the Breathing Room.  But before heading back, we spent a little more time in the park to play.  We did a walking meditation that is suggested in Planting Seeds.  We started walking in circles around a raised bed flower garden in the center of the garden.  With each step, thought about how our feet felt each time they connected with the bricks.  We moved in slow motion.  As slow as we could.  Then we walked super fast.  Then we pretended we were walking through as swamp.  Then we were business men late for a meeting.  Then we were bunnies then moonwalkers then tightrope performers then superheroes.  This went on for five minutes or so.  And we all had a ball.

Once we got home, I suggested we work on the poster but the kids were done being BUBs and preferred to pull out blankets and sheets to built a fort.  It wasn’t long before they started screaming bloody murder and bludgeoning each other with their stuffed animals.  Ah well.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa