You’ve likely heard the buzz surrounding mindfulness practices in recent years. Maybe you’ve even taken a yoga class or two in order to get in touch with your inner self. But what is all the hype about, and does it actually work?

To get a better idea of what Mindfulness is I asked a Nicole De Young, a local Yoga Teacher at Practice Indie for her insight. Nicole explained that our minds are created to be constantly thinking and mindfulness allows us to take time to notice and be aware of ourselves and our thoughts. She further explained that “mindfulness is a practice. It’s the practice of becoming aware of our racing minds, to be attuned to our thoughts and to bear witness to them. Mindfulness is about finding the space between each thought and each breath so we can slow down and experience the NOW.” With the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives its essential to take time to be present and attuned to our surroundings.

I’ll admit that I used to be skeptical about the power and effectiveness of mindfulness practices. But once I tried it with an open mind, I found it to be beneficial. As a working parent with three kids my schedule can be very busy so finding time to fit in mindfulness and relaxation was tough at first. I found that setting aside the same time (and guarding that time carefully) every day helped. I scheduled time for yoga or guided meditation at the end or start of my day and the impact has been very positive. I used to encourage my kids to do yoga or deep breathing when they were upset, without practicing it myself, but I didn’t have much buy in from my kids since I wasn’t practicing what I preached. By incorporating these practices into my life I’m now able to lead by example so my children can see its importance and hopefully the positive effects it is having on my life as well.

We have been starting out our recent visits with our child’s therapist with guided meditation. There was one activity where we imagined that we were a frog and had to stay very still and be aware of ourselves and our surroundings but not move or react. We were directed to focus our attention on our breath. We placed our hands on our stomach and noticed how our breath causes our stomach to rise and fall. This was a great activity that only lasted about four minutes but brought our awareness to our thoughts, emotions and allowed a good transition into deeper therapeutic work during the rest of the session.

Mindfulness is a state of awareness of one’s body, movement, emotions, thoughts, and surroundings. Exercises that can promote mindfulness include guided meditation, body scans, breathing exercises, mindful movement and yoga. Mindfulness can improve behavior, decision making, thought processes, anxiety management and regulation. There are many different methods out there and each person may have their own preference about what helps them most. I tried a new yoga video the other day and the instructor held every pose for about 3-4 minutes each. For me, this was painfully slow, but others might find this relaxing. On the other hand, some people may prefer more aerobic activities and find that running or walking is more relaxing and helps to clear their mind.

Since children with traumatic pasts often have difficulty with self-regulation, teaching mindfulness can help a child become more attuned to their body and develop the self-awareness needed to calm their emotions and control their reactions to daily stressors. Mindfulness activities such as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises teach us how to relax the body and the mind. These activities promote a state of self-regulation where thoughts, emotions, and movements are calm and relaxed.

It is important for caregivers and children to practice mindfulness activities together and do them on a regular basis. Mindfulness exercises are more beneficial when used routinely rather than only as a coping skill for dysregulation. Parents can use mindfulness to help them be attuned to what their children are trying to tell them through their behavior. Children (and parents) can use mindfulness to regulate their emotions. When starting a new practice, it helps to do it together with someone else, someone to encourage and motivate you along the way. Parents often tell their children to take deep breaths or to use their coping skills but practicing the skills with the child is often more impactful.

Nicole provided a good example of how to incorporate mindfulness practice in your daily routines with your children, she explained that “you can practice at bath time by talking about how the water feels on the skin, feeling the bubbles of soap between the hands, the different smells of the soap and sounds of the water.” For a better understanding of Mindfulness, Nicole recommends the book The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn.

Mindfulness activities can be done in a variety of settings whether in the home, school, or out in the community. These activities can be adapted to fit different situation and can vary in length based on the purpose of the exercise. During a FaceTime call last week I walked one of my children through a mindfulness exercise while at work. So, if you happened to drive by you may have witnessed my downward facing dog yoga pose out in front of our office building (I’m sorry!). Mindfulness activities are great to use with children and families in many different circumstances. They can be particularly helpful for children with complex trauma or behavioral difficulties. Not all practices are the same so find what works best for your family and try to incorporate it into your daily routine. A trained therapist can also walk you through different activities to help you determine the best activities for you.

 Photo Credit

Angela Simpson is an adoptive parent, social worker and adoption advocate. Angela is MLJ Adoptions’ Support Services Specialist and works with families throughout their adoption process. Angela and her husband have two sons and have just recently added a daughter to their family through adoption.