For years I scoffed at the term “mindfulness”, associating it with free-flowing hippies and shrugging it off as not for serious people. It certainly did not fit with my fast-paced, high-pressured, very serious New England/New York mindset.
However, working in finance in New York, I realized the importance of at least appearing calm, a skill I had not yet mastered. I also noticed my health deteriorating as I worked long, stressful days with a 3 hour round trip commute to Connecticut. I wanted to be healthy and calm and I kept hearing how activities such as yoga and meditation help with reducing stress, improving health, and helping you live in and be calm in the current moment.
So I started with some breathing exercises I had learned from one of my psychology professors who I thought was crazy for bringing up meditation in a Personality psychology class. But there were two big problems:
ONE: Breathing is boring. I would stop the counting my professor recommended for breathing in for 8 seconds, holding it for another 8, and breathing out for 8. My mind would wander all over the place.
TWO: I was not good at it. I could not breath out for that long! I also could not breath in for that long. I felt terrible that I could not do it properly and thought “This is just not worth it.”
I am not alone in that feeling of failure either.
As the founder of Mindfulness + Magic explains: “During the discussion after the practice, one young woman was in tears. She had noticed her thoughts telling her that she was probably breathing wrong and wasn’t good at it. This led to tightness in her chest, her heart racing, and a feeling of anxiety” (Sharaf, 2015). That is exactly how I felt, but I did not have a meditation coach to highlight the “ridiculousness of not being good at breathing” (Sharaf, 2015).
Finally, two years later, I have found the answers to my mindfulness training problems.
- Coloring books (age/skill appropriate ones). They are not boring. They calm me down. And they focus my attention. As art therapist Lacy Mucklow explains, “The act of coloring can also be meditative in and of itself, bringing about calmness just through the simple act of picking up a colored pencil or crayon and focusing your creativity and thoughts on a single coloring exercise” (2014).
- Yoga. Kids seem to love it. I taught an after-school “yoga” class for 1st through 3rd graders and they were hyper focused and engaged.
- Calm – a mindfulness app. It starts with one 5 minute guided meditation per day and I am now up to 15 minutes per day. The woman tells a story at the beginning of each session and gives you a different goal each time so you know what to focus on. Sometimes it is counting, but it is not always. And she reminds you not to judge yourself negatively if your mind wanders. She makes me feel good about my ability to meditate and keeps me from getting bored.
- 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. I have not tried this one yet, but it is in my queue for once I have finished all of the lessons in Calm. I love the idea behind this app. It was created by a meditation skeptic and a meditation expert. As described on its website, “Just in case you’re worried, meditation does not require a lot of the things people fear it might. For example, you don’t have to sit in a funny position. (Unless you want to, of course.) You also don’t have to: light incense, chant, or believe in anything in particular. There’s nothing to join, no special outfits to wear./To be clear, meditation is not going to solve all your problems. But it might make you 10% happier.”
- Headspace. Recommended to me by a friend when I said I was trying to be able to react calmly in real-time to stressful situations, as opposed to rehashing the experience later and coming up with a good solution/reaction then. In Headspace, you can connect with friends and cheer them on, but sometimes the ability to connect with others is a detractor when the app is for children.
In this stressful world where kids need space to think, mindfulness training can help them focus, de-stress, and ‘smell the roses’. Try it with your family! Let us know how it goes.
Mucklow, L. (2014). Color me calm. Race Point Publishing: New York.
Sharaf, E. (2015). Teach mindfulness, invite happiness. Edutopia.org