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Meditation has a history that goes back to the Vedas in ancient India around 1,500BC. Roughly a thousand years later, Taoists and Buddhists in China and India had also adopted this practice. And now, meditation is just one part of the mindfulness movement that’s enjoying a surge in popularity.
Schools in Singapore have jumped on the trend, as more than 10 primary and secondary schools have introduced mindfulness practices as part of their daily routines. These range from deep-breathing sessions, to journaling and reflection.
Studies have shown that mindfulness has a positive effect on one’s mental, emotional and physical health. It can reduce stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. The schools here that adopt mindfulness practices have reported benefits that include an improved ability to focus and self-regulate. Parents report that children are calmer and more relaxed.
If you or your family would like to give mindfulness a try at home, here are some tips:
No one makes their first run a marathon, and no one begins a mindfulness or meditation practice by trying to sit for an hour like a Tibetan monk. Studies have shown that even a few minutes of mindfulness can make a difference, so start by doing what you can, whether it’s sitting for one breath or one minute.
Begin with your breath
It’s hard to teach something if it’s foreign to you. Start by incubating a mindfulness habit in your own personal routine. Here’s how: Find a comfortable spot to sit. Begin to breathe deeply, and with intent. A good beginner technique is to simply start to notice your breath – perhaps think to yourself “in … out …” as you breathe. If distracting thoughts appear, simply release them. Imagine that each thought is a helium balloon. Release it, and watch it float away.
If conscious breathing proves difficult to teach to your kids, here are a few ideas to help them incorporate it into their mindfulness practice.
Go for a walk
Another great technique that works for kids is to go for a mindfulness walk. Instead of practising mindfulness by sitting still (which might be too challenging for a young child), head outside for a quiet stroll in nature. Simply walk together, and notice things you haven’t seen before. Focus on the sounds that you hear – mynahs, your neighbour’s karaoke, the chime of the bus, the rustle of the trees in the wind.
Lots of people swear by this technique for releasing stress and negative emotions, and it’s a technique that works even on the youngest child. Colouring can be a gentle way to introduce the idea of sitting still and clearing your mind. Try one of these calming colouring books together with your child – not only will it help both of you lower your stress levels, it can be a great way to bond as well.
Squish… and relax
If breathing exercises seem difficult with a child who is prone to fidgeting (as most kids are), try the squish and relax technique instead. Ask your child to lie down and keep his eyes closed. Have him squeeze every muscle as tight as his can – scrunch up his face, curl his hands into fists, and so on. Hold this for five breaths. Then ask him to relax every muscle in turn. Breath five breaths again. Repeat.
If you or your child don’t get the hang of this straightaway, don’t stress about it! This would defeat the purpose of being more mindful. Remember that, like learning any new skill, mindfulness can be tricky to grasp at first. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself wanting to practise it every day.
For more inspiration, check out The Little Book of Mindfulness, a collection of more than 150 tips and techniques for people at every level, from beginner to expert.