One of the pitfalls of parenting is that your time is never your own. Hence when the latest cold virus sweeps through the family you find you suddenly have no time to work on that blog you just created! Sorry it’s been so long.
As I continue to practice I find I am gradually becoming more focused and therefore more aware of my mind and my actions throughout the day. I am less likely to react to my emotions as they arise and I am keeping more of an even keel. Of course most of the time I am at their mercy but let’s just say I have noticed the ride has become a teeny tiny, little bit less bumpy. I notice I am more considerate of others, including strangers and this in turn has uplifted my mood and made me less irritable and more tolerant of my children’s demands on me (often irrational) throughout the day.
I would like to introduce some of these benefits of meditation to my children and I don’t think they are ever too young to learn. Even babies. So, with that in mind I would like to share a technique I practice with my children. It is something I’ve come up with on my own but my children have really responded positively so I hope others find it works for them too.
Watching the Breath
I believe there are benefits to starting this practice with newborns. At the very least it will enhance bonding and all the benefits that simply a loving touch can bestow. To start, position your child in a way in which they are comfortable but gives you access to their back. I like to have them laying on you or touching you somehow as I think they can synchronise to your own breathing pattern or at least listen and learn a relaxed way of breathing. For babies this is easy as they generally love lying tummy down over one arm, legs dangling either side of your forearm, craddling their head in your palm. Keep them close to your body for stability and sit down comfortably yourself. I am aware that for babies with reflux and breathing difficulties they may be more comfortable upright in which case lay them on your tummy and chest as you recline in a chair or lay down on the lounge or bed where ever is comfortable. As babies tend to be rugged up in snug fitting clothing it is easier if they have their top off or just a singlet so that you can easily get your hand underneath. For older children let them snuggle on your lap however they like as long as you are able to reach their back. No need to have their top off as generally the clothing is much looser.
Ok, so once comfy, I like to take a few mindful breaths myself to get focused and while I do this I am generally rubbing their back with my whole palm just to get them relaxed. Then I gently run a finger tip or several finger tips up and down their back in time with their breath. Make sure you are running up their back with the out breath and down with the in breath as if your finger is following the path the air takes. Children’s breathing is a lot shallower than our own as they have little lungs so don’t worry if it feels as though they’re breathing rapidly. After a few times going at their pace I then start to slow down gradually until I am going at my pace. With older children their breathing isn’t as shallow so you may find it is the same anyway. I find my 3 year old does slow his breath slightly to match my own and in doing so he often relaxs further.
So while I am doing this I have started saying “Breath in, Breath out” with my 3 year old as he is only just becoming aware of what breath and air is. I think if I had started this earlier with him he would have been aware of his breath and understood the concept much sooner. Prior to this I was saying simply “Up and down” to get him connected to the sensations of breathing in and out. For my 1 year old I like to say words like “calm”, “peace”, “love” but more often than not I find myself just saying “Mmmmm” on the out breath. Sometimes now he will join in and say “Mmmmm” himself which is incredibly cute. He generally has a huge smile on his face when he does!
I’m thinking about trying to do a visualisation with my eldest. Just something simple, again just to connect him to his body and breath. Something similar to the purification meditations where you visualise the breath as black and white smoke but I need to modify it so that it’s not so scary to a 3 year old. Maybe just keep it as white and describe it as love and happiness? I’ll post it when I come up with it!
It’s not going to work all the time, babies will need to be fed, changed and burped before attempting this and toddlers can have a tantrum over anything at anytime so pick your moment carefully. After a bath is a good time to try. Or when they’ve just woken up from an afternoon nap. I wouldn’t worry if they fall asleep it’s about getting them used to touch and teaching them how to relax and quieten the mind. If nothing else they are bonding with you too! With my 3 year old sometimes he jumps straight back up squealing that it tickles him and other times he’ll climb on to my lap asking for it but won’t want me to talk and instead will tell me a story or something that he’s thinking about. I just go with it.
Do this for as long as you are both comfortable to do so and at the end be sure to dedicate any merit gained towards our enlightenment so that we may be able to help all sentient beings.
My 3 year old came up with a nice variation at bed time. He likes me to lay down with him at night and he asks me to stroke his forehead while we both say “Mmmmm” and it’s just naturally on the out breath so a nice calming rhythm is created as he winds down for the day.
So that’s one technique I practice with my children in order to introduce them to the idea of meditation and mindfulness. I hope others benefit from this too.