A column that I wrote for The Winchester Star on April 11, 2013 (revised with a few edits):
An amazing opportunity was awarded me thanks to the annual Health Fair at my children’s elementary school, organized and staffed by town’s Moms and teachers. The Health Fair showcased interactive healthy-living demonstrations designed for our kiddos – from dental care to martial arts. My contribution took place in a quiet corner of the second floor library, where I taught 500 children how to meditate.
Every 10 minutes for 3 hours, a new contingent of tiny people filed into the room. As this was my first foray into meditation instruction, my expectations were low – for myself and for the kids. I assumed I’d experience: A)Eye rolling B)Teeth sucking C)Boyish antics or D)Utter Despondence. Much to my relief, I encountered E)None of the above.
In fact, I found that the majority of children could already accurately define meditation, and a few even shared eagerly that they practice at home, tossing out yogi words like “shavasana” and “om”.
I also found that our children were engaged. They were alert and seemed invested in the conversation. They were actively listening, downright ready, willing and able to participate in the act of non-doing.
I referred to the famous Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who worked with Martin Luther King towards non-violence and peace in the 60’s and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, for a secular meditation suited perfectly for children: “The Pebble Meditation”. The students (with very few exceptions) closed their eyes and took a ride on their own breath, in and out, filling their bodies with Earth’s goodness and affirming their own goodness with every exhale.
The (amazing) school nurse, said to me, “That’s 500 souls you’ve touched today.” I admit, it was hard to hold back the tears. And I’ve felt quite humbled over the past few weeks as moms and friends have approached me to say they appreciated the lesson. Many have shared their children’s requests to continue the practice at home and have asked how they can do that.
I think the best answer is to begin a practice yourself. Our kids don’t do as we say, they do as we do. So when we are living wholesomely and practicing meditation in the home, they will model the same behavior.
There are some gurus and experts that will say you need to do very particular things in order to meditate – hold your hands just so, seat your body this way or that. I always think, “If I had no hands, if I had no legs, if I couldn’t sit up, wouldn’t I be able to meditate?” So I think that the best way to start is by just feeling comfortable wherever you are, without judgment, inhibition or over-instruction. Give yourself a chance to succeed and find peace in your own comfort zone. Once you feel confident in your ability to practice non-doing you can work on posture, form, mantras and breathing techniques. But to begin, just shut your eyes and breath.
Meditation is not only for Buddhists. Science has proven that meditation unites the left and right hemispheres of our brains, stimulating our ability to maintain composure, find peace, perform better at work and school and feel a general sense of well-being. As Dr. Deborah Rozman says in her book Meditating with Children, “The child is helped to develop the attitude that apparent barriers or obstacles to progress are only challenges for greater growth and opportunity, so that she can cease identifying with any limiting condition and can begin thinking in terms of expanded possibilities for herself, for the grip, and later for the world in which she lives.”
Our children seem to understand the benefits of and the need for meditation this innately. At the health fair, our babies took to non-doing easily – almost automatically. They closed their eyes and allowed themselves to be guided into mindful breathing. It was so beautiful. And I’m so grateful and humbled to have been part of their collective experience.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation, please visit Thich Naht Hanh’s website or check out books like 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn or The Soul of Education by Rachael Kessler. If you’d like to see a mindfulness practice incorporated into your child’s school curriculum, please reach out to your child’s educator or school PTO. Reach out to me via email or Facebook and I’m happy to share more.
From mine to yours,
p.s. I am deeply grateful for your likes, shares and tweets. I’d like to grow my audience and could really use your help. Thank you! Peace!