Mindfulness – I’m sure you’ve heard the word before and the many number of benefits this practice has tied to it. But, do you practice mindfulness on a regular basis? You might be thinking, “Life is so busy, who has time to be mindful?” And, this is true for a lot of us. It can be hard to stay present, be self-aware, and not think about your next move at work, home, or school. But, according to research, it’s important we try for our social, emotional, and cognitive health!
And, with stress being the #1 health epidemic of the 21st century, mindfulness is a strategy we need to practice now more than ever. In fact, the well-known fundamentals of neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to adapt in form and function) require these basics:
- Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention to the world around you.
These basics are essential for adults, but they’re even more so for children whose brains and bodies are developing. Below is an excerpt from Dr. Shimi Kang’s #1 best-selling book The Dolphin Parent, which highlights the science behind the positive benefits it has on your child’s social, emotional, and cognitive health, and a few “prescriptions” on how you can implement mindfulness with your child at-home or at-school.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. In this blog, we will discuss mindfulness as a practice of “paying close attention,” which means being aware of our internal and external environments. It’s the practice of becoming (and being) connected to our external senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching and our internal senses of feeling and thinking. Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as looking around you and noticing what’s there, such as looking at your food and noticing what and how much you’re about to eat.
Sophisticated neuroimaging studies show that mindfulness improves brain anatomy. When we pay close attention, our brain releases something called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF)—a key chemical needed for neuroplasticity. BDNF isn’t released when we’re multitasking. So, if you’re not being mindful, you’re missing out on these incredible benefits:
- stress reduction
- greater emotional regulation
- improved learning and working memory
- greater satisfaction in relationships
- improved immune functioning, morality, intuition, and cognitive flexibility.
Create a Favorable Environment
When our bodies and minds are relaxed, we naturally become more mindful of our internal and external states and take deeper breaths with more control. Surround your child with places and things that are known to be relaxing, such as fresh air, nature, and pets. Most children are drawn to things that naturally relax them, so sometimes all you need to do is get out of the way and let them relax.
Be a Role Model
Show your child that you value mindfulness, and deep and controlled breathing. Practice slowing down or breathing deeply a few times per day: at breakfast, in the car, during a walk, sitting at your desk, lying in your bed, or in a lineup at the coffee shop. When you’re stressed or angry, try taking deep, controlled breaths right in front of your children. Even have your child help you do it. If your child sees you making the effort to do it, even though it’s really hard (and you may give up too early and panic and get angry anyway), they will value it and also make an effort to do it. Keep in mind that when we operate in a stressed state, we find it harder to control our breathing, and that’s all the more reason to do it.
The following simple exercises can help develop mindfulness. Try four or five rounds of these exercises, and notice how your body and mind relax.
Balanced breathing. Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four—all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. You can increase your goal for six to eight counts per breath with the same objective in mind: to reduce stress by calming the nervous system and increasing focus. The key is to breathe deeply and slowly (count one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc.). Your child can practice this anytime, anyplace—and this exercise is especially effective before bed, when racing thoughts or anxiety are distracting your child from sleep.
Box breathing. Have your child slowly “draw” the shape of a box with a finger while breathing deeply. Inhale on the left upward line, hold the breath as you “draw” the top line, exhale on the right downward line, and then hold the out breath as you “draw” the bottom line. This exercise allows for a purposeful pause between inhales and exhales. Try this one before an exam, a performance, or any stressful event. Try it, you’ll be amazed!
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”