Louise Shanagher is a children’s therapist, mindfulness teacher and Psychology Lecturer. She provides creative and well-being workshops, mindfulness classes as well as online and class training. She is the author of three books: The "Mindfully Me" series, Ireland’s first series of mindfulness books for children.

In this video, Louise explains how to introduce mindful breathing practices to children using the Mind Jar. It is one of the easiest ways to introduce mindfulness to kids and self-awareness.

You can find Free Creative Mindfulness activities, training, articles by going on Louise's website: www.louiseshanagher.com

- Inside Out © Disney/Pixar’s Copyright

The first step in introducing mindfulness to children is to introduce simple awareness practices.

The first awareness practice I typically introduce is awareness of the breath. Ask children to put

their hand on their belly and to feel their belly move as they breathe in and out. Other breath

practices include, hot chocolate breathing, ask children to imagine that they have a cup of hot

chocolate in their hands. Ask them to breathe in smelling the hot chocolate and breath out

cooling it down. You can also ask children to practice hand breathing, ask children to hold out

their hand and breathe in as they trace their pointer finger up the length of their thumb and

breathe out as they trace their thumb from top to bottom towards their next finger, ask children

to continue doing this until they have completed their whole hand. Props also work well when

teaching children how to bring awareness to the breath. You can use a Hoberman sphere and

instruct children to bring in and out in synchrony with the sphere as you move it in an out. A fan

can be used in a similar way, encourage children to breathe in as you fold the fan in and out.

Children also love using windmills, straws and bubbles as they do their mindful breathing.

A nice way to introduce mindful listening to children is to ring a bell and ask children to listen

and raise their hand when the sound is gone. Long resonating sounds work best for this

practice, Tibetan singing bowls work particularly well. You can be creative with this asking

children to wave their hands when the sound is gone or ask them to close their eyes and open

their eyes with then sound is gone. Another nice practice is to ask children to close their eyes

and notice how many sounds they can hear from themselves, inside the room they are in and

from outside the room they are in.

You can also help children connect to their sense of touch, sight, smell and taste. Nice items for

this activity include feathers, material, objects from nature, such as stones, shells and

pine-cones, or small pieces of food such as raisins, orange segments or grapes. Give each child

an object and ask them to notice how it feels in their hands, ask them to notice whether it is

smooth or rough, what shape is it? What size? Does different parts of the object feel different?

What temperature is the object? You can also engage other senses by asking children to notice

what the object looks like. Ask them if there is any patterns? How many colours does the object

have? Can they notice the light and shadows. You can also ask children what the object smells

like. If the object is edible such as a raisin, piece of mandarin orange or apple you can ask them

to notice what it tastes like.

Another great awareness practice for children is the 54321 practice. Ask children to identify 5

things they can see, 4 things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can

smell and one thing they can taste.

When we introduce awareness practices like these to children we are helping them bring their

attention into the present moment. We are helping them connect with themselves and the world

around them. Each time children practice mindfulness they are strengthening their capacity to

connect to the “here and now”.

I find that the mantra “Be Kind” can be a wonderful support to our mindfulness practice. In any moment I can ask myself how can I “be” right now. So often we are caught up in the busyness of thinking and doing, in fact some studies have demonstrated that the average person is lost in thought about 50 % of the time. To “be” is simply to be present to what is happening in this moment, to connect and be present to what is happening right now. Being is about directing our attention to the felt experience of our lives, to fully experience our lives as they are happening rather than being distracted in the world of thought.

We can connect to a sense of “being” by noticing where our focus is. If our mind is lost in thought, we can notice that, let the thought go and bring our attention to our senses, noticing what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste. We can connect to “being” by noticing what it is like to breathe right now, by feeling the sensations of our breath as we breathe in and out. We do not need perfect silence to connect to “being, we can do this in times of stress and busyness, on the train, when we are working. It is about getting out of our heads and into our bodies. When we “be” there is an openness and spaciousness, we feel connected to ourselves, other people and our environment. We can “be” while we are drinking our tea by fully feeling the warmth of the cup in our hand, noticing the steam as it rises, fully tasting the warm liquid in our mouth, bringing a sense of openness and curiosity to our attention. We can “be” when we are talking to our friend by listening to her words, by being fully there with her, when we notice our mind wandering away we can use her words as an anchor to connect to.

When we have connected to this sense of “beingness” we can ask ourselves how can we “be kind” in this moment. Kindness always starts with ourselves, we can ask ourselves how can we bring more kindness to ourselves in this moment, how can we be a better friend to ourselves? We can notice the attitude we are bringing towards ourselves, what is the quality of our attention? Are we judging ourselves, comparing ourselves to others, telling ourselves that something is not okay, that we are falling short in some way. Then we can begin to infuse our attention with gentleness and kindness, relating to ourselves the way we would someone who we love. We can notice our “self talk” the words which we are saying to ourselves and see can we speak to ourselves in a gentler, kinder way. As we bring this kind attention to ourselves we might notice that we need to rest, or have a cup of tea or to look after ourselves in some way and we might feel inclined to take some sort of “kind” action.

If we want we can extend this question out to the people in our lives, we can ask ourselves how can we be kinder to others right now?. Maybe that means letting go of some judgement, softening a little, seeing the goodness in a person or situation.

Every time we do the “be kind” practice we are strengthening the connections in our brain for presence and compassion. As psychologist Shauna Shapiro says in her Ted Talk about mindfulness and the brain “what we practice grows stronger”. Each time we practice we are building a happier, healthier brain and I believe a happier, healthier life.

The “be kind” practice only takes an instant, it is like a subtle adjustment that gets us back on track. It can be helpful to have little reminders in your environment, you can write the words on a small stone or piece of card and keep it in your handbag, on your dresser or. Write the words on your mirror. It works in all sorts of situations, in fact I can’t think of any situation that it would not make some positive difference. Much of our suffering comes from our thoughts rather than the actual situation we are in. When we bring our focus back to the present we peel aware the extra layer of suffering caused by thought. Another major cause of suffering is when we turn against ourselves, battling with our inner and outer worlds. When we bring an attitude of kindness we make peace with ourselves and our life situation, it is almost like a healing balm that comforts and nourishes us. In the same way bringing kindness to others connects us to those around us, diminishing feelings of separation and increasing feelings of compassion.

It is important that as we do this practice we never judge where we find ourselves in any moment, we just ask ourselves the two questions and like two points on a graph we note our answer, and proceed with the practice. Mindfulness does not need to be complicated, it is easy to get lost in theories and intellectual perspectives. The “be kind” practice brings us back to the real work of mindfulness and as we begin to relate to ourselves and our experience with presence and kindness it can truly transform how we live our lives.

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Email: contact@louiseshanagher.com

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