By Radhika Tanksale, Clinical Psychologist
The term mindfulness has seeped into people’s vocabulary in the last few years. Not just adults but children too have heard the word. Back in 2004, I remember completing my predoctoral degree in psychology at the University and coming back to live with my mother in my hometown in India. While I had acquired knowledge and learned a lot from my teachers, physically I was spent. Stress had affected me significantly. I had low endurance, stamina, gut issues, painful joints, sleep problems, and respiratory issues. I was only 25 years old. In September 2004, my mother, a long-term yoga student, pushed me into giving yoga a go. Reluctantly, I would sit in front of the television, switch on a yoga channel, and follow instructions of the yoga teacher. Gradually, I started enjoying the morning sessions. A few months later there were some noticeable changes. I started regaining my energy levels, and I noticed a change in the way I managed stress. The anxiety and stressful moments were still there but I had learned to relate to them in a friendly manner.
The teacher often spoke of mindfulness, the mind-body connection, and moving mindfully with the breath. I liked the concept, but I do not think I understood the meaning until 2016 when I started my PhD journey. The popular definition was coined by Jon Kabat Zinn, “mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” Attention is at the heart of mind-body practice and can be brought under volitional control. One can place attention on any object (their breath, a physical object, a sensation, a part of their body etc). Once you place your attention at a point, you hold that attention, and most important when you notice that the mind wanders, you bring your mind back and tune in to the object of attention. Curiously observing the sensations, the thoughts, the emotions that arise in the here and now, without any judgments, can help the mind temporarily unhook from the stress-provoking ruminations and perseverations
As research on this topic is expanding, mindfulness has been integrated into neuroscience, medicine, and psychology. There are some mindfulness-informed psychotherapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, and Compassion Focused Therapy. Mindfulness is not just a buzz word but it is like mental training, an experiential practice, which can be cultivated. Mindfulness requires a lot of effort. Many may find the practice difficult. But that is okay. It is definitely not a panacea. It is preferred to start the practice under the guidance of a teacher. For some mindfulness and mind-body practices may be contraindicated and therefore consulting with a medical practitioner or the treating psychologist is important.
For children, there are a few simple ways to integrate the basic concept of mindfulness in their routine. One simple technique is to mindfully bring your child’s attention for a couple of minutes to a sensation that they enjoy. For example, the child can hold their pet dog or cat on their lap. Ask them to feel the soft fur as they pat them, notice the smell, or listen to the purring of their cat. If children like slime, they can notice the colours, the tactile sensation, listen to the sounds of the bubbles popping as they squeeze the slime. Some children like sequin pillows. Asking them to move their hands up and down the sequin as they breathe in and out at their own slow pace, and watching the patterns the hands make could be another way. Some children may like watching the sand fall in a sand timer. Some may like to blow bubbles, watch the bubbles float away, and pop. Ask the children to track the little drops of water as the bubbles pop. Some kids may like to move. A little gentle movement can be combined with the breathing practice such as sitting on a chair, breathing in, arching the back, like a cat, and then slowly breathing out and curling the back.
As for me, I must admit, I have not been consistent. However, I watch the same yoga teacher, but on YouTube! However, this time, I practice with humility and more understanding of the term mindfulness.
Following are some resources for children: