Get inspired with this fun children’s mindfulness exercise

logoforsiteEditor’s note: Celebrate Screen-Free Week, May 4-10, by turning off your screens and helping your children to unplug from digital entertainment. APtly Said will be encouraging families to connect with one another by not posting next week.

Whether or not you choose to participate in Screen-Free Week with your family — and whatever your approach to this event, whether a wholehearted all-or-nothing dive into a completely tech-free week or maybe dipping in a toe or two by going screen-free for a day or two and seeing what happens — this can be a wonderful opportunity for you and your family to get creative while exploring all kinds of fun, non-tech activities.

Yoga and mindfulness exercises, dancing, singing, story telling as well as reading are just some of a huge array of options. Maybe you have some ideas in mind already: Go ahead and try them out with your kids. If you want more inspiration, how about combining the above activities into one fun practice? How about getting your body moving along to some of your kids’ favorite stories?

Grab a favorite book. Any book will do here, but going with an easy, short and picture-based story with lots of animal characters might best facilitate the exercise. Sit down with your kids, cuddle up, read the story together. If you have kids who are already able to read by themselves, take turns in reading the story to each other page by page.

Start acting it out. Play around with voices, intonation, speed. Get into some body language. Have fun trying out different facial expressions. Move your arms and legs along with the story. Maybe at this point of the process, you will find yourselves standing up, walking, running, dancing and singing, or jumping across the room instead of sitting in the spot where you started out. Fantastic!

Now come up with matching yoga poses for the characters — imitating animals, plants, shapes like triangles, balls and houses that occur throughout the story. Take your breath along for the ride
here, taking deep, mindful inhales and exhales while playing around with different yoga poses.

Let this be a flowing process. Get creative and have fun. You don’t need to come up with a pre-drafted elaborate choreography before you present this activity to your kids. Rather, have the whole family be part of the process — inventing, creating, trying out, inspiring and surprising each other as you go.

In case you’d like to get started now and try this out, but feel overwhelmed, look for a story-based children’s yoga book at your local library or bookstore, such as Jasper’s Journey to the Yoga-Animals, and go from there. These books help by inspiring parents to read to their kids and move along with them, exploring yoga poses and mindful breathing exercises while listening to a fun story.

Whatever you decide to do during Screen-Free Week, I hope you and your kids have tons of fun along the way!

Insight from the International Children’s Yoga Conference on mindfulness

IngaBohnekamp2Last month, I was invited as a guest speaker to the International Children’s Yoga Conference in the beautiful town of Heidelberg in Southern Germany. The main topic of this year’s conference was mindfulness, and my workshop focused on my mindfulness and yoga work with children dealing with chronic illness.

Participants with all kinds of different backgrounds and from five different countries traveled to Heidelberg in order to learn, inspire and grow together over the course of three days. Several guest speakers shared experiences and ideas around different mindfulness topics. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience, and everyone seemed to leave the conference and the town of Heidelberg inspired and happy — but many participants also seemed to be a bit surprised by how their conference experience differed from what they had expected it to be like.

On my seven-hour train ride from Heidelberg up to Berlin, Germany, I had to opportunity to connect and chat with some of these participants and learn in more detail about their impressions on the conference and the topic of mindfulness as the conference organisers advised each attendee. Here is what I discovered:

While many of the (mostly) yoga teachers seemed to have anticipated workshops and lectures providing them with hands-on tips and strategies and tools on how to “teach” mindfulness to children, this is what they got instead: Alongside many hands-on tips and techniques, over the course of these three days, they were taken on a rather self-exploratory journey themselves — tuning into their very own minds, connecting to their intuition, experiencing and exploring mindfulness from the inside out!

This is the true essence of mindfulness work with children and teenagers and adults alike, no matter in which setting. The basic and most important prerequisite is us being mindful ourselves, within our own lives. Only then can we be authentic and function as gentle guides for others — be this our partner, our own children, our patients, clients, students. Once we cultivate a mindfulness practice for ourselves — this can look very differently for each and everyone of us — we will automatically radiate this to our surroundings and maybe start inspiring the ones around us toward a more mindful way of living.

So, if you want to “teach” your kids “how to be more mindful,” the starting point is you!

You, cultivating your own mindfulness practice. This can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for three minutes everyday, maybe first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed or last thing at night before you go off to sleep.

You will be in a much better and more authentic place for incorporating mindfulness into your loved ones’ lives.

And although seeking for inspiration at conferences, in books, on the Internet or in classes — once you start your own journey — don’t be surprised if you become so inspired that you come up with your and your family’s very own mindfulness practices and traditions. Wishing you a wonderful journey. If you like, connect with me and let me know how it goes.

Wishing upon a star…mindfully ringing in the New Year as a family

stars-christmas-tree-2-1322945-mToday, I want to share with you a beautiful, mindful way to ring in the New Year as a family: Wishing upon a star.

You can repeat this practice on a regular — maybe monthly — base throughout the year if you like. It is a beautiful way to check in and connect with your loved ones and mindfully, playfully, agree on some core values.

I have to confess that I have never been fond of New Year’s intentions. In fact, I cannot recall ever having set some of the typical New Year’s intentions.

However, I love — and have enjoyed sharing with many kids, teens and families so far — this idea of mindfully and gently inviting whatever it is you wish for…may it be more happiness, kindness, joy, ease, harmony, health…into your lives. You can practice with children and teenagers of any age, simply by adapting your choice of words.

Wishing Upon a Star

  • The setup: A cozy space to sit — e.g. your living room floor (how about sitting by the lights of your Christmas tree, if you have one?), a cozy rug or blanket spread on the floor, a couple of cushions or yoga mats arranged in a circle, or…you get the idea.

I highly recommend turning your session into a fun and creative crafting project. This helps visualize your wishes and gives you the opportunity to create a shared reminder for future reference, which you might pin up on your fridge or another communal spot in your home.

For the crafting, you will need many stars (made of cardboard, paper, foam or any material you feel comfortable writing on and of colors according to your family’s preferences), colorful markers, a large piece of cardboard and glue, or a pin board and pins.

  • The practice:

Once everyone feels ready, all together come to a nice, comfortable, seated position — making sure each of you has some space around them for extending arms on both sides of your body — and gently close your eyes.

Take a couple of deep breaths in and out, letting your breath simply flow in its natural rhythm, giving each of you a chance to settle and check in with yourself for a couple of moments, and to anchor your awareness on your breathing.

Then, gently holding your awareness on your breathing — and simply bringing it back there over and over again whenever your attentions starts to wander elsewhere — gently deepen your inhales and your exhales more and more, as much as it feels comfortable to each one of you.

With each deep inhale, now spread your arms wide open to your sides — much like as if you were about to give someone a huge hug — creating space. Pause. When the exhale rolls in, gently let go, letting all the air float back out of your body. Simultaneously lower your arms to wherever feels comfortable for you: your lap, your sides or maybe bringing your palms together in front of your heart. Pause, settling into the space and calm.

Continue this breathing pattern for a couple of minutes:

  • Inhaling: Opening up, creating new space, making room for whatever it is we would like to invite into our lives.
  • Pause.
  • Exhaling: Letting go, gently letting go of things we might hold on to that no longer serve us and giving us a moment to settle into the clear space we have created with the power of our breathing.
  • Pause.
  • Repeat.

Adapt the length of this exercise to your family’s preferences and of course the age of your children: The younger your children, the shorter the practice will probably be. Once you feel you have continued this breathing pattern long enough, gently return to the natural rhythm of your breathing and mindfully follow it for couple more moments before you gently open your eyes.

Share a smile. Share a hug. Share a huge hug.

Then, on to the crafting part. Each of you grabs as many stars as you like and, one wish per star, writes down things each person would like to invite into his or her lives and into your life together as a family.

Share. Connect. Discuss. Explore. Stay open, and let yourself be surprised. This is a wonderful occasion for connecting with your loved ones and sharing what is close to your hearts. Have fun with this!

Once you have assembled all your stars onto the cardboard or pin board, find a beautiful space for the reminder you have created. And, if you like, come back and check in regularly.

Happy New Year to all of you! May whatever it is you wish for on your stars find the space to enter, enrich and lighten up your lives!

Mindful Parenting

mindful parentingThe Chinese idiogram for “mindfulness” pictured here is made up of two different elements: the top part meaning “presence” over the bottom part meaning “heart.” This makes  for a wonderful translation of the word, “mindfulness,” into “presence of heart.”

I chose this translation as this introduction to mindful parenting, because I feel it is a wonderful way of expressing the very essence of mindfulness. If mindfulness can be described as “presence of heart,” I would like to describe mindful parenting as “parenting from the heart.”

Mindful parenting is parenting from the depths of our hearts, rather than letting us be guided by a set of pre-fixed, often unreflected beliefs about what is right and wrong — beliefs about things having to be done or seen a certain way, standards and rules we might have been brought up by and that might even have been around for many generations.

Mindful parenting in a way is about making your own rules — rules that nourish and suit your family’s needs at this very moment of your life. It is about connecting to your heart, to your instincts, to your intuition — all these parts deep down inside of you, which might be hard or even scary to access at times. It is about tapping into these — our own! — very powerful sources of wisdom while letting go of limiting beliefs that might rather blind us and make us prone to getting caught up into the same old drama and vicious interaction circles with our children, over and over again.

Mindful parenting is about looking at your loved ones — and your whole life! — with open eyes, an open heart and a curious mind. It is about taking life and the great and overly important work of parenting one moment at a time. It is about intentionally bringing your awareness to your life as a parent, and with the same intentionality, gently letting go of blinding and limiting judgements that might not serve you and your family any longer.

Once you embark on this exciting journey, mindful parenting will open your heart and mind to all kinds of new and creative views, to greater happiness and contentment. It will lead you to higher levels of compassion for your children, your family, yourself. It will organically guide you toward a way of parenting that is more in sync with what really matters to you as a human being and with what you would like to instill and ignite in your children. It will help you feel connected to your children and those around you at the very heart — naturally instilling a deep, raw and honest sense of interconnectedness and secure attachment.

Mindful parenting requires us to stay present, open, curious, willing to let go of our  “inner judge,” who is constantly censoring and judging whatever is going on around us as well as what is going on inside of us — many times without us even noticing.

A wonderful way to begin with mindful parenting is to start with your own breath. Try tuning into your breath at different moments of your day. To start, you don’t even need to schedule this practice into your probably already über-busy days, although you might naturally want to gently make more room for it over time. You are breathing anyways. At any given moment. As long as you live. So start right here! Right in this very moment!

Right where you are at:

  1. On your next breath in, follow your in-breath. Obeserve it. Can you feel the air flowing into your body? Where do you feel it? At the tip of your nose? In your throat? In your chest, maybe expanding your ribcage? Further down in your belly? What does your breath feel like? Warm? Or rather cold? Does it feel shallow? Or deep? Fast? Or slow?
  2. Now follow your out-breath as it comes about. What does this feel like? Can you feel the air leaving your body? Where? What does your body feel like while you breathe out?

Explore! Be curious! Ask questions. Your breath can teach you a lot about yourself and your (inter)actions in this very moment. This will, at a later point, help you better understand and reflect on your thoughts, emotions, actions and your interactions with your children.

Once you start regularly bringing your awareness to your breathing, you will notice that you breathe differently at different moments. These variations in your breathing pattern are likely linked to different emotions, bodily sensations, activities or thoughts . They depend on what is going on in your life at this very moment. For example, if your stress levels are just about to skyrocket because it is one of those crazy Mondays, your breathing will likely feel very different in such a moment — can you feel it at all!? — compared to a moment where you are more calm and relaxed.

Can you observe this? Notice these differences? Stay present. Can you stick with the breathing and observing, without judging, or trying to make immediate changes? Give it a try! Start right now. Stick with it for a while. Go with the flow of your breath and see what it tells you and where it guides you.

With some practice, you will soon notice that you become more sensitive toward yourself, your children, your family, your whole environment. You will become more aware of what is going on inside of you — thoughts, feelings, impulses — as well as around you. You might feel a new or deeper compassion for yourself, as well as for your loved ones.

Over time, this will open up a whole new universe of compassion, love, creativity and space. You will notice that no matter how stressful, tense or messed up the situation you are in seems to be, you always have a choice. You have a choice on how you would like to react to a certain situation or interaction with your child, as opposed to reacting on autopilot or jumping into a judgmental mode right away.

Let me know how it goes.

Born Into the Present Moment

BirthdayMy son turned three yesterday. As I’ve done every year since his birth, I spent the week leading up to the actual day recalling what I was doing and thinking, and who I even was, right before he was born. All of that anticipation about what our lives would be like was the beginning of my mindfulness practice. I grew up in Taos, New Mexico, where my parents moved in 1969 to study with a guru. So I grew up with the “be here now” philosophy but never managed it. Instead I felt bad that I couldn’t manage to live in the present moment, couldn’t meditate, and honestly couldn’t even sit still.

Five weeks before I had Cavanaugh, I was put on bedrest with pre-eclampsia. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I couldn’t run around, drive, madly nest my house into the perfect baby haven; I couldn’t even sit up. I was supposed to lie on my left side all day and night and because it was for my son’s safety I managed what had been previously impossible; I stayed still. For some, this might have been a perfect time to ruminate or imagine, but anytime I started to try to picture what Cavanaugh would be like, who my new mama self would be, or what parenthood would mean for my marriage or my life in general, I couldn’t do it. My previously (over)active imagination just stopped. The still small voice inside me told me that I had no way of knowing and I shouldn’t try. I should be in my body, be in this moment, live the last days of pre-parenthood as they were happening rather than filling them with fantasies of what might happen next.

That pull to be right here, right now is still a constant, though more often it’s my toddler’s small voice asking me to give him some attention to play.  He knows when I’m not with him even when I’m sitting beside him. What he’s really asking for is that I be here in my mind as well as my body. He tells me he doesn’t like my wandering mind, whether he’s actually saying that or doing something to get my attention, like pouring a cup of water on the floor. This is my spiritual practice; my call to what is right in front of me. I can still get caught up in telling myself stories about what’s going to happen, but anytime I just stop to be in the moment, the pull to stay there is so strong that I am learning how to do it, how to live in this present moment.

So what of the present moment? After 35 years of thinking about the past or predicting the future, I live most of my days looking at the dried playdough or rice grains in the carpet, walking outside to feel the weather so we can make plans for the day, and just being wherever I am. But the week of Cavanaugh’s birth sends me back to these same days last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Who was he? Who was I? What were either of us capable of doing at the time? I enjoy remembering, but I’m loving who he is right now, how he’s begun saying “yes” instead of “yeah” and sounds so proper doing it, how when he’s delirious or very excited he shakes his head in a quick “no” motion over and over as he runs full speed, or how when he’s drawing or playing with his trucks and builders he gets so focused that he narrates what he’s doing or his little tongue sticks from the side of his mouth in utter concentration. That boy is right here, right now, no past or future projections. He has a lot to teach me and I am a lifelong learner.

Sonya is a writer and mama living in Austin, Texas. She blogs at mamaTRUE: parenting as practice.

Stay at Home Mondays

We recently added a new event to our schedule: Stay at Home Mondays. The start of the week was being hard for us. Most often, we’d end up staying home anyway, but only after I felt like I’d failed to get us to the standing park playgroup Monday mornings with all our AP buddies, only after I’d imagined the grocery store trip we needed to make, and reviewed and been unable to accomplish anything on the errand and to-do list that had lengthened over the weekend.

I was feeling like maybe everyone else had figured out something I hadn’t; they had their weeks and time scheduled so they could get out of their homes more easily, keep a clean house and stocked fridge, manage their time and their things better than I could. That me vs. them thinking that inevitably leaves me coming up short while the rest of the world got some rule book I can’t seem to find. I posted on my blog asking for time management tips. I imagined setting up a routine for myself so that I would have a set menu-planning day, grocery day, cleaning day, etc. Then I started feeling hemmed in. I hate following schedules. I hadn’t even assigned days yet and already I wanted to tear up the calendar. For dumpster rental service you can go through website.

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