I struggle with meditation, it challenges me. I find it hard and simultaneously fulfilling. So the idea of teaching this practice to my kids and their peers terrified me. Yes, I’m an Indian woman, yes I live in California, and wrote this in my yoga pants; one would think I’m 100 percent qualified, right? All joking aside, truth is it’s a practice I take very seriously. A practice that has saved me at times when I’ve felt frenetic, it’s helped me battle some sleepless nights and overall made me a slightly better parent and human. So why wouldn’t I want to spread some Oms and breath work to my kids.
When I left Dateline NBC back in 2014 I finally found time to certify in mindfulness and become a facilitator. After all, how else was I going to offset the heaviness from years of speaking to criminals, empathetically helping victims’ families? My goal had always been clear, I wanted to one day lead a meditation in my kids’ academic school because I am certain that stress and anxiety lead to so many mental health issues. This could be my way of providing a few tools to these children to help combat these everyday battles?
We are so very lucky to have an amazing principal, Principal Wang (quick shout out) at our school who immediately understood and supported my idea of holding mindfulness meditation sessions with the kids, and a unique, involved parent community.
Whether or not we remember it, childhood can be a frightening and stressful time of life. The rigid structures and demands of elementary school can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. Add to that earthquake drills, active-shooter drills, and adults (who are supposed to provide comfort) constantly staring into their phones, angry about the latest outrage in Washington, and you’ve got all the ingredients of a mental health crisis.
When I read about corporate CEOs and Silicon Valley executives describe how they use meditation to cope with stress and pressure, a voice in my head would always pop up “think you’re stressed? Try switching places with my fourth-grader”.
Our principal understands that and works hard to foster a culture of kindness and empathy. Our parent community has embraced that message and contributes so much in terms of energy, time and expertise. Along those lines, when we got the ok to plan our first meditation session this year, another mom – who just happens to own a yoga studio – immediately volunteered to be part of it.
This wasn’t the first meditation I’ve hosted, but there’s something uniquely intimidating about a huge empty public-school auditorium. It felt like I was back in school, like I’d be judged. Would the kids sit still and listen? Or would they run wild and clown the whole time? I tried to think of the space like a blank portal waiting to be filled with focused energy. As almost 70 squirming 9 and 10 year olds piled in and formed a circle I looked at each of them and tried to put them at ease.
Without speaking I tried to tell them “Relax! I’m not going to quiz you! Or hypnotize you! We are here to nourish the sweetness in your minds and hearts.
Our focus was on a “five senses” meditation, in hopes of going past the two senses (seeing and touching) we seem to use most often these days. My partner and I thought the children would be more open to the practice if all their senses were being used. So we brought in scents, crystals, and sound bowls – all the ways I could think of to make the kids believe Meditation could be the new Minecraft.
We began by breathing like lions to exhale negativity. Would they take it seriously? Would they goof around? Amazingly, they took to it naturally – understanding instinctually the power of conscious breathwork.
Then we moved to a theme of self-love. I shared how I sometimes wake up and find myself in a rut of self-criticism and negative judgment. They looked at me slightly puzzled, like grown-ups feel this way too?
I encouraged them to realize that comparing themselves to others, (or even to their ideal version of themselves) can be the enemy of peacefulness. We closed our eyes – their little faces now relaxed and calm – and put our hands over our hearts, whispering to ourselves. One word only – our own names.
We finished the session with a sound bowl meditation – then the children gathered around and opened their eyes. “How do you feel?” I asked the group. Most smiled and nodded with happiness. One boy hollered out “I’m hungry!”
Well, that’s real too, isn’t it?
For me, the most moving part of the experience came from their questions: “What’s the difference between meditating and breathing?” “Can I meditate all the time?” “How can I use meditation to help me with conflicts on the playground?” These honest, wonderful questions made my heart sing, knowing that their curiosity and natural thirst for knowledge was being engaged.
I can’t say for certain where this will lead, but I hope to expand it to become a regular part of the curriculum. Our society underestimates the power of mindfulness and its impact on our youth. These kids were not just hungry, but also hungry for meditation and lessons in how they can bring mindfulness to help deal with everyday life.
I also know these fourth graders wowed and humbled me. Their ability to focus and pay attention during 30 minutes of mindfulness far exceeded my expectations. Quite frankly, they were better equipped than many adults I know to remain present and focused without reaching for their phones. I sought to teach a lesson but walked away being the one who was schooled. And now, I’m hungry too.
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