Meditation is an ancient practice that provides many benefits for our modern brains. A 2010 study found that meditators’ cognitive skills (sustain attention, visuospatial processing, working memory, executive function) improved after meditating just 20 minutes a day for four days. Another study in 2012 at the University of Leiden showed that meditators performed better on creativity tasks after a meditation session. An increase in gray matter in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory were shown to improve after an eight week mindfulness training program in 2011 at Harvard. Regular meditators have been shown to need fewer hours of sleep, regardless of age and gender.
With the data backing up anecdotal evidence, isn’t it about time you started practicing meditation with your family? If benefits can be seen after just a few weeks of meditation practice, can you imagine the benefits your child will reap if they meditate for years? To that end, here are some quick little meditation practices (less than 5 minutes) that the entire family can try.
Solid as a Mountain: Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice where your body is touching the floor (or cushion or chair seat). Can you feel the ground pushing up on you? Now really feel your whole right leg and say to yourself, ” My right leg is as heavy as a mountain. It is as strong as a mountain. It is as still as a mountain.” Imagine your leg actually becomes a mountain, growing from within your body. Repeat the same thing for the other parts of your body (legs, arms, torso, neck, head, and face). If your child gets fidgety, you can just do both legs together and both arms together. Then focus on your whole body. Say to yourself, “My whole body is as heavy as a mountain. It is as strong as a mountain. My body is as still as a mountain.” Imagine your whole body has grown into a mountain. It is large and steady. When you are ready, start wiggling your fingers and toes, then arms and legs, and then stretch the whole body. Talk as a family how the meditation felt and ask children to describe the mountain their body became.
Look Closely: Choose an object that you want to gaze at. Each person may choose their own or select an object as a family. This could be anything that doesn’t move: the moon, a pebble, a photograph or illustration, etc. Arrange your body and head so that the object is at eye level. Sit comfortably and take three deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Fix your eyes and mind on your object, like it is the only thing that exists in the entire world. Don’t force yourself to stare, just blink naturally. If you notice that you are frowning or your eyebrows are squeezing, you are tensing up. Stretch your face in a wide yawn, squeeze it into a tiny prune-face, and then relax and begin gazing again. Thoughts are going to come and go. If you have trouble staying focused, say the name of the object to yourself over and over, like a mantra, “pebble, pebble, pebble.” When you are ready, close your eyes for a while and rest them. Share with your family how the meditation felt. What object would they like to try next time? Some children may enjoy using a magnifying glass to really study their object and keep their focus longer.
Superpower Hearing: Sit or lie down, close your eyes, and take three deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Bring all of your attention to your sense of hearing. Pretend that it is the only sense you have, so it is super-sensitive. Scan your environment for any and all sounds. It can be sounds outside like birds singing or leaves rustling. The sounds could be coming from your own body. It doesn’t matter where the sounds come from and you don’t have to identify them. Gradually, start listening for sounds that are further and further away. Really let your ears work to hear sounds like it was a superpower. Now choose one sound that seems to always be there, like the air conditioner or traffic. If there are no sounds, listen to your breath. Keep your awareness on your chosen sound. Other sounds will come into your ears and that’s okay. Just keep listening to your chosen sound. When you are ready, let go of your sound and begin to wiggle your body, little by little. Talk with your family about what sounds they heard and which sound they decided to follow. How did the sound make them feel?
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