Ok, so, what does yoga and mindfulness looks like for younger populations?
Ever wonder what a kids yoga class might look like, or whether or not a child can truly meditate or practice mindfulness, let along WHAT that would look like? You are not alone. I find it pretty humorous sometimes when I ask another yoga teacher to sub a kids class or mommy and me that has never done it before. You would think I just asked them to do the worst thing imaginable and then, if they agree, they want a play by play break down of the entire class minute to minute. I give them a summary and tell them to have FUN with it! Games, acting characters and animals and creatures out, over exaggerating every move, adding sound effects, not worrying about how you look doing it or if you are doing it on the same leg as everyone else. Then the props – books and stories, and toys! The sky is literally the limit. And by moving with the ebb and flow of the class, well that is what really makes it a kids yoga class! Because trust me, it can and it will EBB and FLOW. There will be laughter and silliness and a little rebellion but they always come back to their mat to participate, or maybe just to sit and watch – which is OK.
Flying away on a summer afternoon in Warrior 3 – or bird, plane, Superman, Supergirl, or any other flying creature or superhero – the list is endless…
Then finally, when its time for meditation or our “final resting pose” – this is where I add a guided meditation or a mindfulness activity to it or in place of it. Stories for them to imagine in their mind while I walk them through it or a short activity that involves all the senses. Maybe its just a guided coloring activity. These guided meditations and mindfulness activities become the most worthwhile experience because of the feedback and reflection from the kids – solicited or not – which is where the growth happens! This feedback I feel like we, as adults, usually just keep to ourselves to ponder and consider but could lend to so much more growth as adults if we had time to reflect and discuss with others.
But really, children and mindfulness meditation?
One of my favorite quotes of all times when it comes to children and meditation is this, “if every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation” – the Dalai Lama. That is a pretty hefty quote if I do say so myself, but break it down and think about it and consider the recent evidence.
A child’s brain is an insanely complex place – growing and learning and growing and learning and building pathway after pathway. They are so quick to pick up new languages and skills, without judgement or preconceived notions, like little sponges. Think about it, this is why we are able to teach SO MUCH to children in elementary school. Reading, writing, math, the list goes on and on. There is a reason we don’t wait until they are 13 to do it. So when the Dalai Lama speaks to erasing violence by teaching children, he is speaking to the social and emotional regulation that comes with meditation and mindfulness. The stop before you speak and act. The self introspective and noticing of strong emotions. The making of these habits well before these children are able to make true life altering decisions.
And guess what, schools and non-profits are implementing these techniques to much success in the classroom and the community. The Dalai Lama may just be on to something.
The proof is in the Baltimore school pudding…
In 2016 a Baltimore Maryland school made the news and Facebook feeds everywhere with the headlines “school replaces detention with meditation.”
Through the Holistic Life Foundation, teachers and specific individuals within the school were taught to incorporate meditation and yoga into the school day or provide individualized instruction in the meditation room. And, like the news headlines said, instead of detention, students were sent to the meditation room when they issues arose. With just a few minutes every morning the school saw amazing improvements, and, if you watch the video, learn that they now have zero suspensions.
And then the research started to roll in…
A study written for the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology noted that the meditation practices and interventions by the Holistic Life Foundation had a “positive impact on problematic responses to stress including rumination, intrusive thoughts , and emotional arousal.” In layman’s terms – children were spending less time stewing on negative thoughts that were interrupting their school work and were less likely to react on these thoughts.
In another study for Mindfulness with the Holistic Life Foundation several major themes emerged within their findings. The first, students not only learned but retained breath work skills and poses. Second, and this is my FAVORITE, armed with the knowledge about the health benefits of these techniques, students continued to practice on their own AND began sharing these skills with others. Not only that, with this keener emotional awareness and students new and improved emotional regulation skills, they were able to de-escalate negative emotions, promote calm, and reduce stress on their own. And finally, both students and teachers reported “realistic and optimistic expectations for the future with the utilization of these skills.” So not only were students using these skills in and out of school, they were able to control outbursts due to negative thoughts and emotions (keeping them out of detention), and gain a true excitement for the what the future holds. This is huge when you consider just what a positive outlook could mean in a historically under-resourced community.
I could go on and on with more findings from various others who have also conducted studies alongside the Holistic Life Foundation. And if you are interested in more, you can check them out here.
But wait, there’s more…
Mindfulschools.org, who offers in school programs as well as training for teaching mindfulness in the classroom, has partnered with the University of California, Davis to conduct one of the largest randomized-controlled studies to date on mindfulness and children. The Mindful Schools curriculum produced statistically significant improvements in paying attention and participation in class activities versus the control group (who didn’t receive this instruction but I sure hope they circled back around with these kids and did) with just 4 hours of mindfulness instruction for the students.
Mind Up, a program created through the Goldie Hawn foundation, has also been a part of countless studies assessing their program. All finding similar results to ones I listed above. You can spend hours finding more and more research if this is something you are interested in. I just used a few well-known organizations with easily found research.
So can this truly save our kids?
So do I think we can save our kids by teaching them to utilize yoga and mindfulness meditation? Yes, yes I do. I believe that providing our children with these tools is key to helping our future generations and pulling us out of whatever funk it is that we have found ourselves in. Is it the end all be all, maybe not, but it sure is a good start that could lead to many other good starts when we have taken the time to take a breathe and look around and look inside ourselves. And once its implemented it doesn’t cost a dime. And quite frankly, in many cases, implementing it doesn’t cost a dime either, just a willingness of the staff to learn. No expensive equipment, just a few minutes out of the day or interspersed between lessons or activities.
What I can tell you is this, I have personally trained teachers within the Head Start program here in the state of Texas on mindfulness and mindful movement. School districts and private schools across the country are hiring professionals, like myself, to come into their schools and teach this to their students and their teachers. Parents are downloading courses and apps are being made by the droves. I have watched kids class after class process and learn from these tools and tell me about using them at home to great success. Parents commenting on the success. So if you still aren’t sure, check out the resources I listed above, check me out in a class or training, shoot me an email, or even better give it a try yourself! I love this mindful body scan and its a guarantee to calm an anxious body!