Anxiety management, Connecting to nature, Mandalas, Meditation, Meditation home practice, mindfulness, stress management

Meditation and ADHD

The brain is the most complex organ in the body and has approximately 100 billion neurons, which are nerve cells.  These neurons gather and transmit electrochemical signals.  Between the neurons are chemical messengers called neurotransmitters that trigger responses in the transmitting and receiving neurons.  It is the neurotransmitters which are at the root of ADHD, as these messengers do not go where they are supposed to go and they often react erratically.  When acting erratically, they either cannot bridge the gap between the neurons, take too long to convey the signal or they connect the wrong two neurons. This is what leads to ADHD behaviour.

Recent research has shown that mindfulness training can be adapted for people who are diagnosed with ADHD and in trials mindfulness training has been shown to improve the concentration levels in individuals with ADHD, as well as children without ADD/ADHD.

If you have already worked with children or have your own children/grandchildren then you will know that anything that encourages children to self-regulate their sometimes unsettled emotions is a very helpful skill,  especially so in a formal  classroom environment where one child’s unsettled emotions can set a few of the other children off as well.

If you follow this  link , you can read a study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies which discusses the effectiveness of mindfulness training for children with ADHD and simultaneous training in mindful parenting for the children’s parents.

With a few small modifications to some of the mindfulness exercises, like starting a meditation practice by meditating for shorter periods of time and practicing mindfulness exercises which use visual aids (many individuals with ADD/ADHD are visual learners), mindfulness can be enjoyed by children with ADHD and be of great benefit to them.

Here are some simple mindfulness exercises you might like to try:

To introduce mindfulness to your family or children at school ask them to sit quietly and try to observe the following:

  • Sounds in the environment.
  • Details of their breath.
  • Body sensations, for example a sore foot, uncomfortable shoulder, or aching stomach.
  • Looking closely at their immediate environment. What do they see now, that they may not have seen before.

Introducing mindfulness to your home environment has to be approached in a unique way as unlike adults, not many children will just sit down on a mat, close their eyes and start focusing on their breathing bringing their awareness to the present moment.

Activities which require movement such as yoga or tasks which focus on the five senses are all appropriate means of teaching a child to be more mindful.  Guided meditations such as the body scan are all helpful in teaching individuals to live in the present moment and be more aware of how they feel and how their feelings and reactions to stimuli will impact the word around them.  Remember to keep this shorter for more energetic children.  They will not want to sit or lie down for long.

Other ways of cultivating mindfulness in children are, practicing a musical instrument, reading a book and doing artwork.

Colouring mandalas or pictures from a colouring book are great ways to be mindful.   These activities are considered mindful as they require the individual to be “focusing in the moment”.  If your child prefers building things then building with lego, or building something outside in nature, like a hide, or mandala made out of items found in nature can also add an element of adventure as they run around looking for the correct materials to build with.

Do you remember this game from your childhood?  I do!

Memory game  – noticing the finer details.

Select a number of objects which you can lay out on a tray.  Ask the children to memorise the objects for a minute and then close their eyes, whilst you pack the objects away.   How many objects can they remember? Can they describe the objects in detail – colour, size?

This memory game will encourage children to focus and pay attention to things in detail as opposed to just casually noticing something and not really noticing the finer details around them.

It is worth remembering that mindfulness is an enjoyable and natural skill and we need to provide the right environment and encouragement to the children in our lives to enable this skill to develop. 

Children are very distracted by how busy our lives are with televisions and radios blaring, traffic noise, constant talking, phones ringing, text messages, Facebook and various other app notifications going off and noise in general.  If you live in a city and you sit quietly for a moment, notice just how many different noises you can hear.  Our lives are filled with noise.   All this noise makes it more difficult to stay focused and comes between our natural ability to be focused on real life.

 

 

 

Connecting to nature

Connecting to the cyclical nature of time through mandalas.

For the past few years, colouring pre-designed mandalas either using templates from colouring-in books or downloaded from the internet, has been hugely popular and has inspired many people to colour-in as a way of enjoying some mindful quiet time. Colouring-in is another way of promoting focus and concentration, encouraging the “here and now” and colouring mandalas is a great meditative experience for people of any age. Colouring mandalas helps you to slow down and reconnect to the cyclical nature of time, the rhythms of nature and the reality of change.

The world “mandala” is Sanskrit for circle, completion or sacred centre and for centuries Hindus and Buddhists have used mandalas as an aid for meditation.   Even in Western cultures, colouring mandalas has been used as a stress management and meditation tool. Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) a Swiss psychoanalyst was fascinated by mandalas as he found out that by colouring and drawing mandalas he could access the images and energy of his own unconscious mind.  He then decided to use this art form in his practice with his patients, to facilitate their process of inner reflection.

In its simplest form a mandala is a geometric pattern that is said to represent the universe.   The mandala represents a circle, the primal form of the universe and if you look carefully you can see mandala patterns everywhere.  Take a look in your garden, notice the patterns in the plants growing there.  Glance at the night sky, notice the moon (and the sun) are circular.  Our earth is round and looking microscopically at atoms and cells you will notice they also take on a rounded form.  Have you ever seen the cross section of tree trunks, really looked at flowers and even snowflakes if you are lucky enough to see enjoy an annual snow fall (we love the snow in this house).   All these things I have mentioned, have geometric patterns.  Next time you are out walking and there is water around, drop a pebble in the water and see how the circular water patterns naturally move from the centre outwards. When looking around us in nature, everything starts from a “growth point” and grows or moves outwards. Modern physics and mathematicians believe that everything has a “centre” or point from which everything emanates.  The Hindus call this point a “bindu”, which is a sacred point.

Today, find some time to be outside and see how many mandala patterns you can see in nature.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

 

Connecting to nature

Cultivating an appreciation of life around us with mindful walking.

How often do you enjoy a country amble or a saunter along the beach?   Have you ever tried walking mindfully and really noticing how you feel when you walk, or noticed the environment around you?   When I think of mindful walking, I think of walking very slowly and paying attention to my breath and how my muscles feel in my body as I move through the movement of putting one step in front of the other, completely immersed in the art of “how I feel when I walk”.  You can extend this awareness to feeling the ground beneath your feet, you might also notice the breeze on your skin and some sounds in the local vicinity.

If you wish to practice a more formal form of mindful walking which involves walking slowly with awareness.  Then follow these steps below. After these steps, we shall look at simple ways to introduce mindful walking to younger family members.

  1. Start by becoming aware of how you are standing and aim to stand up straight with your back upright but not stiff.
  2. Ideally take your shoes off and feel your feet touching the ground and let your body weight distribute through your feet evenly.
  3. Before you start walking and to prevent your swinging arms from becoming a distraction, you can curl the thumb of your left hand into your palm and wrap your other fingers around it. Then place this “fist” on your abdomen just above your tummy button.   Place your right hand over and around the left hand.  You can place your right hand thumb in the space created by your left hand thumb and your index finger.  You should feel well balanced.   Try it and see if it works for you.
  4. To help you focus, drop your eyes slightly towards the ground just in front of you.
  5. Start  walking.  Feel your foot swing forward and feel your heel touch the ground, followed quickly the by the ball of your foot and finally your toes.  Keep moving forward in this way, one foot at a time.
  6. Walk at a steady pace and ensure it is slightly slower than your normal walking pace.  If you become distracted bring your awareness to each foot individually touching the ground and how that feels for you.

However, if you are going to introduce your children to mindful walking, you need to view your walk as an opportunity to walk a bit slower than normal and the chance to take note of everything going on around them – including how they feel.  Children, especially young ones will not embrace a slow more formal form of mindful walking.

As parents I am sure you can identify with the overwhelm of spending quite a bit of your time dashing from one place to another dragging your kids along with you.  Think about how often you collect the kids from school, race home quickly to fetch something, dash off to one of your children’s activities, dash home to quickly make dinner, race back to the venue to collect your child and possibly a second venue to collect your other child.   Most of this might be done with a  car, but you could also be walking or running!

This weekend, slow down and encourage your children to notice life around them.  Take a child friendly mindful walk, ideally somewhere in or near nature like a park, forest, field or if you are lucky enough to live near the sea, walk on the beach.

If you can, take off your shoes and feel the ground beneath your feet. If you can walk along the beach notice the grains of sand.  If you are walking on the grass, feel the grass between your toes. Notice the temperatures and textures of the ground beneath you. Extend your awareness and look at the texture of the ground, hear the sound of your footsteps as you walk and notice any smells in the air.  Feel the temperature of the air around you on your skin.  What do you see?  Cats, dogs, leaves, trees, flowers…litter? In colder countries if you are walking with your shoes on, notice how your feet are feeling inside you shoes. Reflect on how your body feels as you walk.  Do your muscles feel stiff, or is your body feeling fluid? Is your breathing deep or shallow?

To inspire children, you could introduce the game “I spy”.  For example, I spy something orange and crispy to the touch….. autumn leaves. Doing this makes a mindful walk a bit more fun and interactive for younger children and teaches them to pay attention to the world around them… without them even realising that you are cultivating within them an interest in slowing down to become more mindful.

The benefits of mindful walking are many.   By bringing more calm, clarity and connection into daily life, you will enjoy heightened awareness of yourself and life around you, better concentration (good for school and work) and enjoy an overall feeling of calm and peace, which is often missing in our lives.    If you are keen to develop your own meditation practice, mindful walking can enhance your practice, increase your mindfulness reducing your anxiety and stress levels and  lead to increased feelings of contentment and joy.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

 

 

Connecting to nature, mindfulness, stress management

Mindfulness and the anxious child.

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological problems among children of all ages. Anxiety triggers the psychological and physiological fear response even when a child is in a safe situation and this is where chronic anxiety becomes problematic. Taking time out in nature is one way to help reduce anxiety and encourage children to re-connect with nature.

If a child is constantly feeling anxious, the body is constantly releasing adrenaline and cortisol to counter the effects of heightened adrenaline. 

The body eventually becomes used to this heightened feeling of unease and this becomes a new set point – a new normal.   Learning to be more mindful helps increase awareness of the thoughts and bodily sensations that are part and parcel of this mental fear.  The benefit of this, is that we can learn to recognise when we are feeling fear over an event or situation which does not need to be feared, before the fear really takes a hold and we are totally caught up in our cycle of anxiety.

A direct route into the present moment is through our senses, which is why as parents we should look at different ways of bringing awareness to our senses whilst continuing with everyday life. Remember that when we are being mindful and are in the present moment, at that particular moment…feelings of anxiety are not at the forefront of our thoughts.

Keep it simple; when you next go for a walk, start by noticing sights, sounds and smells.

In the UK we are enjoying Autumn.  The leaves are a fantastic display of light to deep oranges and fiery reds.  It is a very beautiful season.  To connect with nature and inspire some mindfulness you could take a country walk and pay particular attention to sounds you year, the  sights you see and the smells you notice.

Sounds in the environment.   Ask children if they heard that sound (bird, aeroplane, car, insect etc.) and start a discussion about the noise they heard.  If it was a bee buzzing, you could talk about the importance job bees have in nature.  If it was a car sound, you could ask them what car they think it might have been?  You could turn this into an opportunity to play a game where they close their eyes and try and hear as many sounds around them as possible.

Sights all around.  Life tends to flash past us as we rush around.  Helping our children become more aware of their environment and “seeing more” not only enhances their life experience, but can also protect them from danger (ie. being more aware when crossing roads).   Children (and adults) tend to walk around mindlessly – either rushing or daydreaming.   In either “mode” we are not aware of our surroundings.  When you next take a walk, ask your child what they see (it could be flowers on the side of the road or in the park, beautiful trees, squirrels, insects – or it could be litter).  Either way, start a conversation around what they see around them.

What is that smell?   Admittedly some smells are not that great.  But if you are smelling pollution in the air, then it does give you an opportunity to talk to children about looking after the environment.  On the other hand, you could bring your child’s attention to the smell of any beautiful flowers you are walking past, or the smell of rain in the air.

When encouraging children to be more mindful, make a game of it and approach the mindful activity playfully.  Children may not want to be told that they are about to go out on a mindful walk and that the idea is that they pay attention to the world around them.  Cultivate their awareness in a gentle way so that they do not feel they are being observed or having to do something which reminds them of a school project.   Your child might not appear to be paying that much attention to sights, smells and sounds around them, but on a deeper level they are noticing and will be connecting with nature.  The more you walk outside and the more fun you make it, the more likely they are to take notice of life around them and may even point out things you are not seeing, hearing or smelling.

This week, before it gets too chilly out there, enjoy some walking in nature.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

being-mindful-in-nature