Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mindfulness w/Kids

And now for a detour from my regular obsessions with food, books and the like for a brief update in the parenting department.

I recently posted a link on facebook about a film that the Michigan Collaboration for Mindfulness in Education will be showing on April 26th, "Room to Breathe." The film is about about a mindfulness program at a San Francisco public middle school and my son and I have bought our tickets and are going to the showing. We started mindfulness practice last summer and do it regularly. I credit it with his having the best school year ever and for both of us feeling better able to manage stress, bounce back from intense emotions and deal with difficult people and situations. As a mom, I also like the connection it establishes with my 13-year old*: it makes me feel like we'll be better able to navigate the storms of adolescence together and constructively.  After the facebook post, I received a number of questions from people and while I'm no expert on mindfulness, it sounds like people are interested and want to know what has worked for us. So I'm going to share some of what I've found here so those people who are interested might have a few shortcuts if they want to try and establish a practice with their kids.

There are a whole lot of books out there about the benefits of mindfulness and why you should do it. I've read some of them and found some helpful and if you know nothing about the reasoning behind mindfulness, then it might be good to pick up a few. Our library has a ton of books that you can check out. Thich Nat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Pema Chodron are all good authors to try and see if what they say resonates. Or, if you prefer to listen to your information rather than read it, NPR has had lots of coverage about practicing mindfulness for everything from depression, to blood pressure control, to developing better business management skills. There are also lots of podcasts that you can subscribe to that discuss aspects of mindfulness. I like Zencast and Audio Dharma--you can listen to or download the episodes at the previous links, or subscribe to them in iTunes. Last summer when I was painting the exterior of our house I listened to many hours of talks by Andrea Fella, Gil Fronsdal and Jack Kornfield on various aspects of mindfulness.**

When it comes to actual practice, both my son and I like guided meditations and the occasional spoken affirmation. Maybe when we're better at it, we'll be able to meditate on our own without any recordings, but we aren't there yet. I am better able to calm my thoughts during the day when they get stormy without the use of a recording, but I still prefer to have a guide when we sit down to meditate. I've learned that there are lots of different options out there and not all will suit all people. My son and I have clear preferences for certain voices: there have been some meditations where we like the content, but don't like the speaker's voice. Some meditations have new-age music in the background and both of us prefer meditations that don't have music. But other people may have entirely different preferences--try a bunch and figure out what you like and what you don't.

Here are some resources/things I've found:

  • The iTunes U series of Mindful Meditations is terrific (and free!). I feel lucky that we started with these meditations--we like Diana Winston's voice, there isn't any new age music that bugs both of us, and they aren't too long. Neither Ian nor I has the ability to meditate for more than about 25 minutes and we often want something a lot shorter to use as a quick "reset".  There are 2 and 3 minute meditations which we've been able to sneak in right before he leaves for school, even on pretty rushed days and 8 to 10 minute ones that we do regularly on non-rushed mornings. I think they help a lot in waking up his brain and making a kid who is totally not a morning person more able to learn first thing in the morning.
  • One meditation coach we like is Jon Kabat-Zinn. Our library has a number of his CDs with guided meditations (and his books, too) so you can try them out and see if he clicks for you. (If your library doesn't carry them, you can also listen to some previews of his meditation CDs in iTunes and see if you like them before purchasing.)
  • There are some free meditations and affirmations here at the web site My Thought Coach. I like some of them and am not so fond of others so it is a trial and error kind of thing. If you find them helpful, there is a month-by-month paid subscription that you can sign up for that lets you access all the content you want. You can download unlimited episodes while you have your subscription so you don't have to pay forever if you don't want to (and if you value the ease of just going to the website and listening from there, the cost isn't crazy).
  • Another one we like is Bohipaksa (he has a nice warm voice with Scottish accent). In particular the CD Guided Meditations for Busy People suits our attention spans.
  • Another set of  meditations that we really like is called The Practice of Mindfulness: 6 Guided Practices and it is available for a free download if you sign up for an e-newsletter at the Sounds True website (you can unsubscribe after downloading, if you want).
  • There are some guided meditation podcasts that I subscribe to (Audio Dharma and Zencast sometimes have episodes that are guided meditations, but they tend to be pretty long), and we use these occasionally. There are two Stin Hansen affirmations that we downloaded from iTunes ("Think Like a Great Student" and "Inner Peace--Affirmations for Growing Up in a Crazy World") that are good on days when we need a positive pick me up. And you can also just type in meditation podcasts in iTunes and see if anything appeals to your particular taste.
I've set up four playlists on iTunes which organize our guided meditations into categories and it makes it easy to pick one from the list without having to dig through my library: Before School, Short Meditations, Longer Meditations, Bedtime Meditations.

I've tried a couple of meditation and mindfulness apps for my iPod touch, but so far haven't found anything that we'll use. Knowing how particular we are when it comes to voices/music, I won't pay for an app unless I get to try it out first, so that does limit our options to the apps that have at least one or two free tracks (and then switch to in-app purchases).  If you have tried any and found them helpful, please let me know.

*So far, my 11 year old wants nothing to do with our mindfulness practice, though she is willing to leave us alone to do it. But she's also a much calmer person and is already naturally able to recover quickly from difficult emotional states, rather than dragging them with her like a ball and chain for the rest of the day.  Maybe when she's more of a teenager, if/when things get rocky, I'll be more persuasive in my sales-pitch, but for now "forcing" her to try mindfulness practice is too contradictory of a concept for me to attempt!

**I should also note here that we are not a religious family and our practice has not included the spiritual aspects of Buddhism. We're atheist humanists and have found mindfulness practice completely compatible with our world view.


Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

Thank you so much for following up with this fantastic list, Kate. I'm looking forward to checking out some of the meditations/affirmations you listed (hello, Scottish accent) and will get back to you on those. Not sure how interested Elliot will be, but maybe if I play them while he is working? Or just ask him to try it once or twice? We'll see how it goes. Thanks again!

Kate said...

Some of the affirmations are things that might work to have playing while working, but most of the meditating is about stopping all your activities and trying to keep your thoughts in the present moment. I'd probably preview some of the short ones and then see if you can find a time when he's receptive to try it. I may be situational: Ian was receptive to the Diana Winston metta (lovingkindness) meditations when he was dealing with a difficult individual at school. They start you off by visualizing someone who it is easy to love and think good thoughts about and slowly move up the ladder towards having compassion for yourself (which ranges in difficulty, depending on the individual) and then for people who are difficult. And when Ian is wired at night he's been open to trying some of the relaxation/sleep preparation meditations. So I think figuring out periods when he might be most receptive would go a long way toward his perception of the practice as worthwhile. I look forward to hearing how it goes for you and Elliot!