Focusing the mind and connecting with a sense of self is beneficial for children on so many levels. One of the best ways to bring that to a child is through meditation. Children can begin meditating at any age as long as the child is willing to try it. Since children are so impressionable and feed off the opinions and emotions of the adults that surround them, the introductory approach to meditation is key. Make it relaxed and fun. The child should not feel stressed or feel like it is a punishment for high energy. Be sure it's a positive experience so it is something the child can revisit during times of shyness, aggression, impatience, or anxiety.
The Alluem Little Kids were introduced to meditation this past weekend. The kids in class were 4, 5, and 6, so naturally we wouldn't be engaged in a seated meditation for very long. Luckily, I came across a wonderful book David Fontana and Ingrid Slack's book Teaching Meditation to Children. A small portion of the book talks about Kinhin. Kinhin is a Zen Buddhist walking meditation that translates to "stillness in movement". The meditator pays attention to each shift in the body upon each step. The goal is to maintain a state of relaxation while focus the mind. After reading about Kinhin, I knew this form of meditation would be ideal for children, especially the younger ages. It's also a great prep for still meditation.
We began our kid-friendly version of Kinhin, by waking up our feet. Lifting the toes, spreading them out, planting them firmly into the ground. Standing tall on the toes lifting the heels, then planting them into the ground. Feeling all four corners of the feet on the ground. We walked mindfully around a line of bolsters - heel, toe, heel, toe. Next on tippy toes with airplane arms. Then taking giant lunges with hands on hips. Engaging the imagination, we took big floppy steps like slashing through puddles, quick short steps like walking on hot sand, and heavy steps like sludging through sticky mud. They moved with awareness paying attention to the difference between each type of walk, varying speeds and intensities.
Slowing down back on our mats, we focused on our breath using the Breathing Ball. Simply watching the breath helps bring awareness to the connection between our breath and how we feel. How do we feel when we breathe fast? Slow? Place your hands on your rib cage and feel how the lungs expand and contract. Feel the cool air pass through the nose on the inhale and warm air pass through on the exhale. While some kids may exaggerate on this exercise, that's okay, as long as they are experimenting with the breath.
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The final stage included a visualization. The kids were asked to place their pointer fingers on the space between their eyes on their forehead and imagine a big white screen there. Without any additional prompts, they were to imagine a picture on the screen that makes them smile, something that brings joy to their heart. Finishing, I counted to 10 while they stayed as still as they could with their picture in mind. The kids came up with beautiful images such as Princess Ella, Martha the Dog, and the bending of the 4 elements (yes, you know - earth, water, wind, and fire) and were given some time to draw them. Easing into savasana with the image in their mind, they seem to rest a little calmer this time around. There is no doubt that having meditation as a tool, will ease the transition from childhood into adulthood in these kids.