Got a jumping bean on your hands? I do. Literally. Unless he's outside, in nature, my 5 year old cannot be still. If he's sitting down to eat, he's got to fidget. He has to being playing with something in his hands (I mean, besides a fork). And if he's not fidgeting with something while he sits, then he is standing. And, if he is standing then he is jumping up and down on the spot. When something particularly captures his interest, he jumps up and down some more, and flips his hands back and forth like a baby bird attempting first flight.
It's one of his idiosyncracies. A lot of other children with hearing loss are also jumping beans. And, he's a little boy and he has a lot of energy. But, sometimes, he is expected to go for lengths of time sitting still, like at school. And learning to harness and direct all that energy on one-pointed focus is a powerful skill to learn young.
In general, the Vata element (Air + Ether) is out of balance in our frenetic world. We exist like sparks of electricity constantly firing off without rest. Our culture of technology and dissociation from nature keeps us plugged in to an alternate reality that exacerbates the effects of a system out of balance. (This is a whole other blog topic for another day...).
Our children need to feel something solid under their feet. Need to feel tangibly IN their bodies and intrinsically connected to this world. Without that connection, how can we expect them to forge the future; that sometime spoken expectation we have of our children?
The following are three simple practices for children and grown ups that need to find a way back to solid ground.
"How can you know God if you don't know your big toe?" --BKS Iyengar
I love the above quotation from beloved yoga guru, BKS Iyengar. We often have this crazy idea that we (or our children) can jump into subtle practices like concentration or meditation or relaxation without having had any opportunity to work with what's tangible first. Hence, how can you know or have a relationship with what you cannot see ("God") when you don't even have that awareness of what's right in front of you ("your big toe" / your own body)?
The same is true for grownups as it is for children: you take a person who is having difficulty relaxing (say they are anxious, jumpy, fidgety, wound up, whatever), if you tell that person to relax, it isn't exactly helpful because it does nothing to help change their state. The ancient wisdom of yoga sets out a good rule of thumb: work with what's tangible first, then move to more and more subtle layers until you are able to get to a place of natural ease and relaxation. What does this mean? First use the body. Before the body can relax, it must be engaged. Then leverage the breath. Then use more subtle techniques such as guided relaxations, or meditations.
You'll notice that the three practices below are set up like a progression: the first focuses on the body, the second focuses the body and mind together with the breath, and the third uses the breath to focus an intention or idea. You can use the practices in a progression as provided, or you can use them independently. The key is to be aware that they will vary in effectiveness based on when they are used (re: rule of thumb, above) and the nature of the person using them. Practice and observe the resulting effects.
Be open to the experience. Witness the effects of practice. Enjoy and use practices you find effective as techniques in a toolbox in a regular routine of mindfulness.
1. Solid, Like an Oak
A simple awareness (body sensing) exercise in which the person becomes aware of the feeling of their body as sensation, in space.
Stand (or sit) with your feet planted on a solid surface. How does it feel for your feet to press into the surface underneath them? Feel your feet as solid, grounding you down like the base of a tree. Let your roots grow out from under your feet, and feel yourself steady and well supported. Now feel your legs, sturdy and solid. Sense your bottom, tummy and back. The whole of your body sturdy and solid like the trunk of a big Oak tree. Your arms soft and heavy at your sides. Draw your attention to your neck, relaxing your throat and jaw. Sense your cheeks and nose, your lips and your ears. The place between your eyebrows. The top of your head. Sense the left side of your body and the right side of your body. Sense the front of your body and the back of your body. Your whole body together. Take a slow breath in, and a long breath out. Know that you can return to the feeling of the Oak tree whenever you like.
2. An Ocean of Undulation
A simple practice I customized for my son to focus his attention when he is about to fly away. The charm in this practice is the fact that body and mind (awareness) are focused together by the breath.
1. Inhale, gazing at one of your hands, take your arms out to the sides of your body and up over your head. Exhale, gaze at the opposite hand as you return your arms slowly to your sides. If possible, use your whole breath to carry the movements through.
2. Repeat, beginning with the opposite hand.
3. Inhale, slowly gaze up as you take your arms out to the sides of your body and up over your head. At the top of the inhale, you should be gazing at your hands, palms together, over the head. Gaze with your eyes - avoid crunching your neck all the way back. Exhale, continuing to gaze at the hands, keep the palms together lowering hands in front of your heart.
3. Smiling Practice: Set an Intention
A lovely and simple practice I learned from one of Thich Nhat Hanh's recorded talks.
There is nothing quite like smiling to change a mood. I sometimes encourage yoga students to smile when performing an asana (posture) they find challenging. The yogic practice of Pratipaksa Bhavanam teaches us that when we have challenging thoughts, we can focus on the opposite thought to change our mood or attitude; this is helpful for short term changes, and with the right effort and teacher present, for long-term change as well. I began employing the smiling practice myself when my boys were very little and I found myself getting angry or frustrated when they became challenging. It is very difficult to be angry or frustrated when you are smiling. :D Try it. I then began employing the smiling practice for my son on our morning walk to school as a way of setting an intention for his day. He continues to enjoy this practice very much.
The practice is simple:
1. Inhale - Calm body, calm mind
2. Exhale - I smile
You may continue the practice for a length of time, or alternatively, just do three rounds of breath, calming body and mind on inhalations and smiling on the exhalations.
**Disclaimer: The practices in this post are good, safe general practices for a wide range of people. However, if you or your child have any specific conditions or concerns, it is always valuable to see a certified yoga therapist in your area for individualized recommendations and considerations. Yoga therapy and mindfulness are complementary practices that are not intended to replace medical care. **
Yoga Therapist. Mom of boys. Conservationist. Accessibility advocate. Self-described bibliophile. A believer in the power of stories. Personal stories. Communal stories. The power to change lives and the world, one breath, one moment, one story at a time.
About this Blog
The intention of this blog is to offer various resources for grownups and children to practice mindfulness & share stories together.