Stress is bombarding our children and grandchildren who constantly feel the pressure to succeed. Research suggests meditation has benefits for both grown-ups and children, including improved focus, better test scores, boosted immune systems and lower blood pressure. Meditation can rewire key areas of the brain that are associated with stress, self-awareness and compassion, which is why it’s becoming more popular in the classroom.
Want to experience a little bit of peace? Meditate once a week. Want to experience a lot of peace? Meditate every day. For a growing number of us, meditation is the secret weapon for maintaining our sanity!
Meditation has made a difference in my life. For 10 years I tried to meditate regularly but I couldn’t develop a daily practice. Last October, I attended a week-long retreat and meditated every day. I finally realized the benefits and vowed to continue daily meditation when I got home. Since October, I’ve started every morning with a 15-minute meditation session. I can definitely feel the benefits of this quiet, focused daily ritual. I invited Patty McLucas to our July 9 GaGa Sisterhood meeting to explain the benefits of meditation and teach us some simple practices we can share with our grandchildren.
Patty McLucas has been a wellness consultant for over 20 years and teaches mindfulness meditation at Stanford, Apple and Google. She practices what she teaches and has been meditating for over 30 years.
At our meeting she explained that 47% of the time our mind is not in the present moment, instead it’s rehashing the past or rehearsing the future. Learning to manage our nervous systems by being in the present will help us respond to internal and external stressors.
She also addressed the most common misconception about meditation — we must clear our mind. Being mindful or meditating doesn’t mean that thoughts don’t intrude or that the mind doesn’t wander. It does. Mindfulness occurs at the moment you are aware of the distraction. Then, you escort the mind back to the breath.
Simple Breathing Practices
It’s all about the breath, Patty explained. She taught us three simple breathing practices:
- Noticing the physical sensation of breathing: Locate where in your body you notice the physical sensation of breathing most prominently. That physical location will become the anchor point for your attention. Notice the sensations of the inhale, and then the exhale.
- Conscious breathing: Repeat silently to yourself: “Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in. Breathing out, I am aware I am breathing out.”
- Counting the breath: Use silent labelling of the stages of the breath to help anchor attention. During the inhale, silently say “one.” During the exhale: “two.” During the next inhale: “three,” and so on, up to ten. Then return to one. If you lose your focus, return to one, without judging yourself!
There’s a fourth — a simple one that’s perfect to teach young grandchildren called “candle breathing.” Hold your hand in front of your mouth with all five fingers extended. Then slowly blow out each finger imagining it’s a candle.
Informal Meditation Practice
The last exercise Patty gave us was a homework assignment she called an “opportunity activity” to remind us to practice our awareness of breathing. Think of an activity you do 3 – 10 times a day. For example, wash hands, drink water, open the refrigerator, answer the phone. Each time you do that activity, take 3 breaths while you perform the activity. No need to close your eyes. This is considered an “informal meditation practice.” It’s a wonderful complement to any formal practices (where you might sit with eyes closed and meditate) already being done.
Benefits for Children’s Brains
In a Forbes.com article from 2016, the writer listed the following benefits from meditation:
- Increased attention
- Improvement in attendance and grades in school
- A reprieve from outside trauma
- Better mental health
- Self-awareness and self-regulation
- Social-emotional development