Can kids meditate? My answer to this is, yes, absolutely! I was pleasantly surprised the first time I realized I could just sit and meditate, however brief, even as my daughter played with her toys nearby. She came and sat down to imitate me and looked like a pro; she even put her hand together in front of her heart and chanted om! It was just for a couple of minutes, but that’s not bad for a 2 ½ year old! Even 30 seconds can feel like quite a while with a group of younger kids, and in my experience, it is often enough to create a sense of calm and silence.
I’d like to share some creative ways to guide kids towards a meditative state. Meditation is so much more than just sitting still with eyes closed. Just as with adult yogis, it helps to have some kind of preparation, such as having practices some yoga postures and breathing exercises. That goes for younger yogis, too! But I’d like to say that the activities below can also be seen as a sort of preparation for a lifetime of meditation. We might not be able to get young kids to sit more than a minute or two at first, but as they slowly get the concept and the feel of it through activities that are fun and age appropriate, sitting for longer periods will hopefully come naturally once they are mature enough.
In traditional texts, meditation requires a withdrawal from the senses (a practice sometimes referred to as pratyahara) in order to experience the light of your true self. It’s hard for many people to completely withdraw from their senses. It is especially challenging for kids who are more likely to be awed by the ordinary things in our surroundings that most adults take for granted. There’s no magic button for shutting off the senses (at least I haven’t found one!), so in the beginning, meaningful engagement of the senses can be a way for yogis of all ages to focus the mind.
Take a mental walk: Maybe, during time in a downward facing dog posture, you’ve heard a yoga teacher say, “Now walk your dog…” That just means to raise and lower the heels alternately. I’d like to propose that we take this to a more subtle level. Ask your young yogis to imagine that their mind is like a dog that they are taking for a walk. Maybe sometimes the dog likes to wander off the path to sniff a tree, paw a hole in the dirt, or watch a bird flying by. Explain that this is a lot like how our minds work when we sit still to meditate. Guide your little meditators to gently bring their dogs (minds) back to the path each time their furry friend gets distracted. Perhaps think of a creative destination at the end of the path so that the walk ‘goes somewhere.’
See pure colors: This is an open-eye meditation. Ask your yogis to glance all around and notice all the red things in the environment, then all the orange, then yellow. Continue until you’ve made it through the whole rainbow, or just focus on the colors that are most predominant. A similar meditation can be done with shadows if the meditation is done in a setting where there are enough shadows to appreciate.
Sound meditation: This is best done with eyes closed. Begin by chanting OM or having your yogis do bee breath or some other type of breathing exercise that involves sound. Then let them sit a moment with silence before you invite them to notice the sounds all around them. You might mention some of the specific sounds or just guide them to notice the quality of the sounds: loud/soft, musical/random, near/far. To finish the meditation, bring their attention to the sound of their own breath. Then have them take in 3 breaths, each time letting out a sigh through an open mouth.
Tactile meditation: This one requires a prop, such as some sand or a piece of flannel or velvety cloth. The idea is to have something that each yogi can trace shapes or patterns in. Guide them to draw circles, squares, triangles, stripes, zigzags, or any abstract shapes and patterns on the surface. A cloth surface is perhaps least messy and most practical (unless you plan to have a little tray or shallow box for each yogi to put sand in…or conduct the meditation in a sand box!). Depending on the age of your yogis, you might even get them to coordinate their breath with each shape, for instance, inhale as you draw a vertical stripe upwards, then exhale and draw the next one downwards.
Visualize the breath: One of my favorite ways to help kids do this is to bring in a Hoberman sphere. Sit in a circle and allow each kid a turn to expand the sphere as everyone inhales, then slowly collapse it as everyone exhales. When everyone has had a turn, you can build upon this by asking them to close their eyes and imagine that their lungs are like balloons that expand on the inhale and shrink on the exhale. Then at the end of the meditation, everyone takes in a super deep breath, holds it in for a few seconds, then ‘pops’ their balloon by poking their belly and letting the breath out slowly with a shhhhh sound.
Ideas from books
In his book, The Whole-Brain Child: Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Daniel Siegel talks about what he calls Mindsight. He writes about the Wheel of Awareness, an activity kids can use to get perspective on troubling thoughts and emotions. Honestly, as I read about it, I thought that most adults could use this method, too – I know I could! The first time you do this with a group, do it as a drawing activity. Each yogi draws a big circle (the rim of the wheel) with a little circle in the center (the hub). Think of the hub of the wheel as your calm center. On the rim are thoughts and feelings that each yogi carries in their mind; maybe some positive and some negative. Have everyone write some of their own thoughts and feelings on the rim. Some of these will come out as beliefs about themselves, perhaps there will be a thought there that tries to reason away the belief, and then there might be more specific thoughts that are recollections of a recent event. Whatever forms they take, the thoughts and feelings on the rim are meaningful and personal to each yogi and therefore best kept safe as private. Drawing the wheel is simply a tool to get the thoughts out onto the paper. After that, guide everyone to close their eyes and gently bring their mind back to their hub each time their attention wanders out to the rim. Remind them that any time they feel worried, afraid, or upset about something, they can picture their wheel and try to bring their mind back to their calm center (hub). If you repeat this with a group, you won’t need to have them draw the wheel except in their mind’s eye.
In Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey, there are so many great tips for mindfulness, breathing practices, and physical practices that help kids focus and release tension. The book is divided into 5 chapters: Be Calm, Focus, Imagine, Make Some Energy, and Relax. Recently my toddler has asked me to read this book to her, so we sit and do some of the breathing exercises and relaxation techniques as I go over them. However, the activities are worded in a child-accessible way so that a yoga teacher, parent, or other caregiver could have their little yogis close their eyes and be guided by the adult’s voice. What I love about this book is that it is so playful! It allows kids to explore meditation while also using their imagination in connection to animals and nature. It reads like a picture book and it has really sweet illustrations. Someday when my creative juices are flowing, I’ll improvise some stories to go with some of the exercises in the book.
Here’s to making meditation more fun, not just for our young yogis, but also for us adults that love sharing yoga with kids!