Slowing down actively

Deepali Barapatre

This is part 2 in the series on Mindfulness

In this hustle culture, we are rewarded continuously for being busy, productive, and a multi-tasker, which means our brains are always occupied by at least five different things we want to do, are doing, or need to be done. When the pandemic closed down everything, the brain that had a constant stream of stimuli was forced to slow down. I won’t lie, when it happened to me, it wasn’t easy. Even after meditating daily, actively slowing down was downright painful. It took me almost 25 years and a global pandemic to realize I don’t know how to relax or slow down. Our children’s worlds are not very different from ours. Constantly being occupied with school, extra-curricular activities, friends and screen time, they live their own PG-13 hustle culture. Practicing mindfulness daily ensures they exercise the muscle of slowing down and don’t have to wait for another pandemic to have their epiphany. Mindfulness also helps build the 21st century skills our children need to survive and thrive in the world of tomorrow.

  • Mindfulness impacts children’s cognitive functioning, mainly executive functioning. Executive functions are our abilities to self-regulate, manage emotions, plan, organize, and analyze information.
  • Practicing mindfulness affects the overall mental health and well-being of children. The pandemic is one of the crises our children will face in their lifetime. Having a self-care habit that allows them to take care of their minds and bodies helps sustain well-being.
  • Another bonus benefit of mindfulness is that it increases self-esteem in children. Many children struggle with body-image or identities as they enter the teenage phase. A study conducted has shown that mindfulness helped children build self-esteem through self-acceptance and self-compassion.

That’s enough motivation to continue our journey into part 2 of a month of mindfulness.

Breathing exercise:
Starfish meditation
You can also call this five finger meditation, but I like the playful element of calling it starfish meditation.

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes and take three big deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Spread your fingers of one hand out like a starfish in front of you.
  • Using your other hand’s index finger, slowly start tracing the hand.
  • As you trace up the thumb, inhale through your nose.
  • Take a pause on the top and as you trace down the thumb on the other side, exhale through your mouth.
  • Repeat this with all the other fingers, until you have reached the end of your little pinky finger.
  • Repeat the same exercise with your other hand.

Sunday
Spidey senses
If your kids are into superhero movies, then they will love this mindfulness practice.

  • Talk to your children about the five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.
  • Ask them to turn on their superpower senses to Spiderman level – how he is always aware of his surroundings.
  • Ask them
    • What do they see right now?
    • What do you hear right now?
    • What do you taste right now?
    • What do you smell right now?
    • What do you feel right now?
  • Another variation of these spidey senses is to ask
    • Five things you can see
    • Four things you can hear
    • Three things you can feel
    • Two things you can smell
    • One thing you can taste
  • You can also turn this into an art activity where the children can draw the things they see, hear, feel, smell and taste.

Guiding question
• Ask them if they notice something in their superpower state that they hadn’t noticed before. For example, the feeling of the wind on their face or the feeling of clothes on their body.

Monday
Draw a picture of yourself
Things needed: Paper, pencil, art supplies

  • Your children can make their portrait on drawing sheets, or you can switch up this activity to have more fun by creating a life-size picture of themselves.
  • Ask your children to draw themselves. It is also helpful to have a conversation about self-acceptance if your children are older. Simply remind them that they are beautiful.
  • They can either look at themselves in the mirror while drawing or draw from memory. It can be hard to remember one’s own features.
  • If you are doing the life-size version, ask your child to lie down on the paper while you trace their outline.
  • If your children are older, ask these questions before they begin drawing.
    • What kind of hairstyle do you want?
    • What kind of clothes do you want to be wearing?
    • What expressions do you want to have on your face?
    • Do you want to hold anything in your hand in your portrait?
  • Bonus: Ask your children to name their drawing as ‘The ___________ Me’ where the blank can be any word they want,such as ‘beautiful’, ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’, ‘powerful’, ‘strong’. You can also ask them to write all the words they associate with themselves around the portrait.

Tuesday
Tense and relax
This one is longer and has more guided instructions. Follow along with the instructions:

  • Lie down and relax your body.
  • Close your eyes and take three deep breaths to calm yourself.
  • Continue breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth as we proceed.
  • Start with your face – close your eyes, press your lips together, scrunch your eyebrows, and wrinkle your nose. Squeeze your face for one deep breath and then slowly relax your face and make everything soft.
  • Next, we will focus on the shoulders – press your shoulders up closer to your ears. Do this for one deep breath and relax your neck and shoulders.
  • Now imagine that your arms are made of wood. Stiffen them up and pull them closer to your body. Tense your arms and hands for one deep breath. Relax slowly and make your arms soft.
  • Now let us focus on your hands. Imagine you have two squishy balls in your hand. Press them as tight as you can for one cycle of breath, relax and wiggle your fingers.
  • Focus your attention on your chest and belly. Tighten them up and squeeze your belly muscles. Relax after one deep breath.
  • Now it is time to tense your bum. Tense it, take a deep breath and relax.
  • Coming down, it is time to tense your legs. Imagine you have wooden legs that have stiffened up. Tense for one breath and relax.
  • Last, before we end, tense your feet, curl your toes. Relax and breathe.
  • Now, tense your whole body, take one breath and relax!

Guiding questions
• How are you feeling?
• Did you notice that some of your body parts were already tensed?
• Next time you are angry or sad, notice if you are tensing your body and slowly relax.

Wednesday
Happy feet
This can get slightly messy but during the pandemic, we can let cleanliness slide for once.

Things needed: Papers, paint

  • Use this activity to help your children ground with a little fun.
  • Pour some paint on a plate or container big enough to fit your children’s feet.
  • Spread a paper on the floor.
  • Ask the children to dip their feet in the paint and slowly walk on paper.
  • Encourage them to feel the sensation in their feet where it touches the paper.
  • Children can use different colors and walk mindfully at home when they cannot step out.

Thursday
Affirmations
Affirmations can be powerful when done consistently. That is why it is important that your children make their own affirmations.

Things needed: Paper and art supplies

  • Along with your children, create five affirmations.
  • Ask them to include things they believe about themselves, their goals, and things they can’t do yet.
  • Encourage your child to say their affirmations in the morning, before bed, or before mealtime.
  • A better idea is having a visual representation (drawing or collage) of their affirmation at the place where they can see every day.
  • You can also affirm your children using the affirmations they have chosen. Hug them and tell them they are loved and they are wonderful.
  • Some sample affirmations – I am strong, I can do things I find difficult, I am unique, I am kind.

Friday
Kids yoga
Yoga has been one of the practices that have allowed me to be present, especially, when I am trying balance postures. If you have practiced yoga, you know what I am talking about. You are perfectly balanced as long as you are present, the moment your mind starts wandering, your end up wobbling.

There are a lot of kids’ yoga postures and videos on the Internet that you can search for. If you do not know where to begin, check out the ‘Cosmic Kids Yoga’ YouTube channel. It has great yoga and mindfulness interactive adventures that I am sure your children will enjoy!

Saturday
Blind drawing
This one is more fun with a partner.

Things you need: Paper, pencil, colours

  • Choose a partner or take an object if you don’t have a partner.
  • Remember to wash your hands properly if you are working with a partner.
  • Feel the face of your partner with one hand.
  • Using the other hand, draw the face on the paper.
  • Feel the outlines of the face and the texture.
  • Repeat this exercise with eyes closed.
  • Compare both the drawings.

Guiding questions

  • What did you notice when you were touching your partner’s face or the object?
  • How are your drawings different?

We are half-way through our series on ‘A month of Mindfulness’.
Enjoy the present of being present!

References
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-017-0839-2
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-018-0998-9
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797613503853
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337506/
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-015-0407-6

The author is a passionate educator who believes in nurturing good human beings before anything else. She works as a Programme Officer at Udaan India Foundation where she leads the Children’s Programmes. Udaan India Foundation is a Mumbai-based not for profit organization working with children and youth from low-income communities in the field of education. She can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Reply