So, what exactly is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a technique that can be learned and incorporated into your everyday life; it is a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, and smells - anything we might not usually see.
The technique has roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, meditation and yoga; whether alone or as a part of a broader tradition, people have been practising mindfulness for thousands of years.
In general, religious and spiritual organisations in the East were responsible for spreading mindfulness. And as Western institutions discovered the benefits of Mindfulness, they quickly adopted this technique and are responsible for its widespread adoption.
Mindfulness aims to help you:
Become more self-aware
Feel calmer and less stressed
Feel more able to choose how to respond to your thoughts and feelings
Cope with difficult or unhelpful thoughts
Be kinder towards yourself
Basic mindfulness skills are simple, but because it is so different from how our minds normally behave, it takes a lot of practice.
There's no particular place of calm you have to reach with mindfulness, and it's not about clearing your mind; it's just an honest and kind look at what you're experiencing. Instead, mindfulness helps you become aware of your mind, body, or surroundings.
Mindfulness can be noticing what we don't usually see because our heads are too busy in the future or the past - going over what we have done and thinking about what we must do next, running on autopilot without being aware of our actions and often find ourselves "miles away" without knowing it.
There is so much we need to learn from our little ones; their minds are curious and full of wonder that they often practise mindfulness without realising it! For example, we might go out to the garden, and the first thing we notice as we look around is how untidy the grass is, "it really needs cutting!" But, on the other hand, a young child will call over excitedly, "Look, there's a wriggly worm!". When we run on autopilot, we are more likely to have our "buttons pressed" and feel stressed, irritated, and unhappy.
So begin your mindfulness journey by simply incorporating a mindfulness activity into everyday routines. Begin with something as simple as your daily walk; you can practice mindful walking, even if only for a couple of minutes at a time.
So, instead of listening to your thoughts regarding your day, what you need to do next, and the washing load you must put on as soon as you get home:
Look around and notice what you see, hear, and sense; feel the wind on your face, hear the leaves rustling, and focus on the birds tweeting.
You might notice the sensations in your own body just through the act of walking.
Pay attention to the sensations and movement of your feet, legs, arms, head and body as you take each step.
Notice your breathing.
Thoughts will continuously intrude, but you can just notice them and bring your attention back to your walking.
Practising mindfulness with your little one
Mindfulness benefits adults but also babies and children alike. When we teach mindfulness to our children, we give them the tools they need to build confidence, cope with stress, and relate to uncomfortable or challenging moments. The earlier we do so in their young lives, the greater the opportunity to help them develop resilience and evolve their mindfulness practice as they grow.
Mindfulness has been linked to two core social-emotional skills
Self-regulation and self-awareness. These critical skills teach children to recognise their thoughts, emotions and actions and react positively. Mindfulness can help your little one observe and identify their thoughts and feelings. When children can identify emotions, they can deal with them more quickly, allowing them to regulate their feelings effectively.
In addition, mindfulness can promote joy, patience and confidence by calming the mind and learning to reflect upon and accept thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness in your everyday routines
Mindfulness can be done with children of any age; it's about paying attention to their senses and noticing what they see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and how their body feels (this helps them develop their sensory skills too!).
Just like you can practise mindfulness during everyday tasks, the same can be said about mindfulness with children! The best mindfulness practice can be done during simple daily tasks and activities.
Bath time is such an excellent example!
There is much more to bath time than cleaning your little one. Bath time is a great time to connect with them, and it's the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness because it is a multi-sensory experience!
Being mindful during bath time requires you to tune into your senses as you feel the textures, sensations, and smells! In addition, the touch and massage you provide to your little one are critical for your baby's growth and development and greatly aid their communication and learning. Baby's first emotional bonds are built from physical contact or touch. This contact is the foundation for emotional and intellectual development later in life.
So next time you are bathing your little one, make it a mindful one by slowly putting them in the water, feet first, and explaining, using a gentle voice, what is happening to focus their attention on what they feel on their toes. Then, as you keep submerging them into the water, make a point of verbalising what you are doing. Now add the bubbles to create a different texture and sensation!
For most of us, breathing is an automatic process that we hardly notice doing. However, the simple act of inhaling and exhaling can significantly impact our mood and thoughts; deep breathing sends oxygen to our brain, helping to soothe it. In addition, by doing it intentionally, your little one will focus on the present moment, feeling and listening to how their body feels, developing their sense of self and physical skills.
Practising breathing can be as simple as blowing bubbles. Concentrate on your breathing and support your little one to do the same. Sitting in front of a mirror to enhance their understanding not only that it will be a lot of fun.
Modelling breathing and exaggerating it will help support their understanding.
Inhale and exhale, encouraging your little one to do the same.
Make a balloon washing line, and use it to tell a story, but instead of speaking words, you will be blowing, e.g. give one big blow for the big balloons and a small regular breath for the small ones.
Is the combination of mindfulness and massage. Two great winding down, relaxing techniques all in one.
Giving your little one a mindful massage will help relax them and benefit your little one's development. Mindful massage will allow them to feel what you are doing, every touch, movement, and texture. This type of stimulating environment all support the development of your little one's sensorimotor skills!
Gently massage your little one's body as you softly describe your movements to focus their attention on your touch.
Adding textured objects to your massage and describing their textures (as you roll them gently on their body) will enhance the sensory experience and support language development. So add various small balls of different textures and materials to your mindfulness tool kit, such as a spiky ball, tennis ball, koosh ball, etc., to use in your next mindful massage.
Add a simple story to your massage. Concentrate on the weather and create gentle movements to represent some words. For example:
"Once upon a time, there was a big yellow sun" (with one hand on their shoulder, take the other hand and make gentle circles clockwise and anticlockwise).
"Today is a rainy day, pitter-patter" (pitter-patter movements with fingertips).
"Today is a windy day" (sway your hands from side to side).
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