"Only when the cup is empty is it at it's most useful."
- Lao Tzu
In the same way as we use physical yoga and breath to strengthen our bodies, we need to strengthen our minds.
Our conscious minds are filled with thoughts that are repetitive in nature. These thoughts become imbedded in our minds and stifle creativity.Only when we are aware of our mental habits can we begin to change them.
The process of training the mind beyond its conscious state is well documented and researched using techniques like Yoga Nidra and iRest.
With children, we use adaptations on these principles.
THE “M” WORD
Mindfulness. As a yoga teacher for children, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is “What do you know about mindfulness?”
It seems that most educators and parents are looking to mindfulness as the solution to a fast paced, technology saturated society that values success above all else.
Mindfulness, simply put, is the awareness that emerges through noticing thoughts, feelings and sensations in the present moment without judgement.
It is very tempting, and very typical in our culture, to view mindfulness as a separate solution to the problem of stress much like taking a pill to cure an illness. In reality, mindfulness is most effective when combined with strategies that help children familiarise themselves with their bodies, mind and emotions. Together with a yoga practice, mindfulness can teach children to know and like themselves better. It can help children to improve attention by teaching them to attend to internal and external experiences. It can also improve memory. By teaching children to focus on thoughts without judgement, they can learn tolerance, self acceptance and self control.
In a recent yoga class, Fred the mouse shared his fear of the dark. He visited many of his friends who shared their own fears with him as well as their solutions. The children in the yoga class followed the asana’s for each animal in the story. They were able to share their own fears thus familiarising themselves with their internal and external self. They were able to explore these emotions in a non judgemental way through discussion and compassionate acceptance. They learned that thoughts are not necessarily the truth and that feeling afraid does not necessarily mean that there is danger. The class ended with a guided relaxation and breathing exercise followed by a creative activity during which time the children could focus mindfully on the task.