Teachers and parents: What if we told you you were only 10 minutes away from having studious, focused, well-adjusted, compassionate, and happy children?
Some researchers say the secret is mindfulness, a daily meditative practice that emphasizes bringing one’s complete attention to the present moment.
Enter Mindful Kids Miami, a non-profit working to introduce mindfulness into Miami-Dade public schools, oncology wards, and centers that serve abused children and their families.
Valerie York-Zimmerman, who has studied with Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh as well as Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of University of Massachusetts's Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness, founded the pilot program in 2011.
In the years since, she has trained teachers to reduce children's stress and combat over-stimulation by bringing their focus to their direct experience as they become aware of physical sensations such as breathing.
"Children and teens are experiencing much higher levels of stress today," York-Zimmerman told The Huffington Post. "And stress impairs the ability to learn and effects executive function in the brain. Executive function correlates with working memory, emotional regulation, resilience, and socially appropriate behavior – all important functions in development and learning."
Here are five ways a mindful child can benefit in the classroom and at home, according to York-Zimmerman:
See below for Bear Breathing Practice, an example of the kind of activities York-Zimmerman uses at Mindful Kids Miami.
"It’s something teachers can do in the classroom and parents can do at night when putting a child to bed," she said. "Even big kids like focusing on their breath with a lovable stuffed animal."
Breathing Bear Practice:
Mindful Kids Miami has adorable, stuffed teddy bears wearing hoodies that have the MKM logo on the back and "BREATHE" on the front. These friendly bears help children to become aware of their breath, to relax, and to learn to breathe fully into their bellies.
Intention: To experience relaxation with your Breathing Bear.
1. Ring the mindfulness chimes 3 times.
2. Ask the children to lie down on their backs and put their Breathing Bear on their belly.
3. Invite them to close their eyes if they are comfortable doing so. If not, almost close them. And see if they can feel their friendly bear resting on their belly.
4. Now encourage the children to feel their breath flowing into and out from their nose.
5. To feel their chest rising with each in-breath and falling with each out-breath.
6. To notice if they can feel their belly moving up and down gently with each breath… feeling the belly expand and deflate slightly like a balloon with each breath.
7. Now invite the children to focus on feeling their Breathing Bear riding on their belly.
8. Seeing if they can take their Breathing Bear for a relaxing belly ride up and down.
9. Invite them to notice if their Breathing Bear helps them to feel their breath.
10. Continuing on in your own words if you like.
11. Now invite the children to listen to the chimes with their mindful ears without moving until they can't hear the chimes anymore.
12. Ring the mindfulness chimes 3 times.
Teacher Training at Mindful Kids Miami.
Valerie York-Zimmerman (far right) and participants in Mindful Kids Miami.