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How to Learn Mindfulness From a Child

02/27/2015 06:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015
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Mindfulness is trending. Google is blazing the corporate trail by encouraging mindful lunches and offering an in-house mindfulness training program called "Search Inside Yourself." Celebrities and corporate leaders, including Oprah Winfrey and Arianna Huffington, regularly espouse the benefits of this discipline. Elementary schools are adopting mindfulness programs in droves. Even the NFL is getting their mindfulness on, with the Seattle Seahawks using a sports psychologist to guide regular meditation sessions for the team.

As the proponents of mindfulness are growing, so too is the research supporting its ability to decrease stress and anxiety while increasing well-being.

So, how can you learn to have "an awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally" as mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn explains? Should you download an app? Take a class? Perhaps. Another option: spend time with a young child.

Research here and here shows not only do children realize benefits (better grades, more self-control, less stress) from mindfulness training, they also want to practice it. If you've spent time with a small child recently, this probably comes as no surprise.

Take a walk with a child, and you'll notice that they don't walk in straight lines. It's pretty entertaining, actually. Children stop and touch, smell, and taste things (whether they should or not!) and, in many cases, they come up with observations that adults tend to miss. They pay attention to the experiences in the present moment. In short, children are natural-born mindfulness practitioners.

Drop back into some of your own childhood memories, and you'll see that you were practicing mindfulness as well. Remember lying stretched out on the lawn on a warm summer day? Remember noticing how each slow, deep breath drew in smells of cut grass and the delicate perfume of flowers? Remember how you had the knack to pickup on the faintest sounds, such as the drone of a bee in the foliage, the crinkle of each blade of grass under your feet, or a mower being used in the distance?

You were once an expert at being present, and you can be once again. Here are some fun ways that you can practice mindfulness as inspired by a child:

1. Take a walk with a child. When you walk with a child, you see their fascination with small things -- goose bumps on their arm on a cold day or a fly cleaning its own legs. Approach your next walk like a child would. This will turn a normal route in your home or workplace into a sensory adventure.

2. Brush your teeth like a child. When kids first start to brush their teeth on their own, there's no rhyme or reason to the process. The brush may start on their tongue or even outside their mouth. Next time you brush your teeth, try to do it like a child would, or as if it was your first time brushing. Experiment with this alternative: brush with your opposite hand.

3. Try a physical exercise. Mindfulness practices need not be done in a meditative pose. Go swimming on a quiet day and practice floating in the shallow end. Sit still in a crowded area; concentrate on the faintest noises or the echoes in your surroundings.

4. Engage in a childlike activity. Draw with crayons. Read a picture book. Ask for a children's cup at the next restaurant you go to and enjoy slowly slurping down your drink.

All humans practice mindfulness instinctively. Although formal training and regular practice have great benefits, you can uncover the mindful version of yourself by reverting to your childish instincts.

Interested in practicing mindfulness as a family? Join us on GoZen! to learn mindfulness and anxiety relief exercises via animation.

This article was first published on Psych Central as "How to Learn Mindfulness From a Child."